Named for a character in William S. Burroughs' beat-era novel Naked Lunch, Clem Snide began by performing noisy, dissonant punk-jazz that could have served as a soundtrack for the book. Today, nearly 18 years later, the band's sound is more pretty than jarring, a nod to old-fashioned country and pop, and occasionally cool jazz, but typically without the saxophone that dominated its early efforts.
Last week Isthmus spoke with Eef Barzelay, Clem Snide's founder and front man, about close encounters with stardom, adventures with spoken-word poets and the making of Hungry Bird, the new album the band's touting at its March 26 show at the High Noon.
There's a new press release that describes Clem Snide as an "indie rock semi-legend." How do you feel about this label?
Barzelay: I actually gave myself - well, Clem Snide - that label, so I guess I'll take it! I think I kind of had my moment six or seven years ago, never quite soaring but almost. I semi-soared. Whenever something good happens, something bad happens, too, in this constant equalizing of things, so I think that was at play. But the future's wide open, and it feels like we're getting some goodwill from the world, so everything seems set for a soar.
How did Franz Wright's spoken word make its way onto Hungry Bird?
My wife was one of his students at Emerson [College], and they became friends after she and I moved to New York. One day about 10 years ago, I was like, "Who's that dude with the super-intense voice?" and decided to record some of his poems with no real purpose other than keeping them alive, so there was this warbly little cassette tape lying around for all these years. Then, I made this pretty little instrumental piece that seemed just right for Franz's poems. I dug out the tape and added part of it to "Encounter at 3 AM," in the middle of Hungry Bird. I'm not sure how it fits into the whole record, but I love that track, and he loved it, too.
You've played Madison several times. What do you remember most?
We love Madison and we remember it as one of those weird and wonderful little markets for people who like what we do. A lot of this has to do with [NPR producer and former Madison resident] Stephen Thompson, who connected us to the city, and the great fans there.