Meet: The Clockworks on recording at Abbey Road studios, getting a manager during a pandemic, and that support slot with the Pixies in the USA…..

The Clockworks onstage
Credit: Julia Mason

The Clockworks headlined a gig as part of Independent Venue Week at The Factory in Worthing on 2 Feb 2022 supported by Cheap Teeth and Niches.  During that set they played 5 singles and a staggering 10 more tracks which were new for the audience.  It’s been six months since previous single ‘Throw It All Away’ was released but the band confirmed there will be a new track out in the next month or so.  The Clockworks are currently on the road supporting The Reytons for 9 dates on their UK tour and I grabbed the opportunity to chat to the band in Glasgow during the afternoon of gig day.  Greetings done and refreshments ordered I got down to the serious business of learning more about The Clockworks.

I’d like to touch briefly on the pandemic as it’s difficult to ignore.  You were just over a year in London having moved from Galway.  How was that time for you?
James McGregor (Vocals/Guitar):  It was tough, I think it was tough for anyone in our position, who had similar issues to us, and a lot of people had a lot more serious issues than we did.   It gave us a good chance to write songs which is something that has come out of it.

Damian Greaney (Drums): Before the pandemic we were writing songs very much for a gig setting and because we didn’t have any gigs we started writing songs for the songs ie what’s the best song?   It taught us a nice lesson, and us all being in the same place meant we could still rehearse.  We were lucky in most ways, and grateful for that time considering how bad it could have been.

Seán Connelly (Guitar):  Now we’ve got the fun challenge of making the songs that were made during lockdown playable live.   ‘Feel So Real’ for example was written at a time with no gigs.  So it wasn’t written necessarily with the intention of playing it live.  The first time we played it live the song was already out on Spotify and released to the world before we had even played it.  That was a first for us.

James:  I think a lot of bands writing-wise, skew writing for live or for recording in the studio.  Some bands write for live, and that’s kinda where they live and some people live in the studio.  We were always for live. But because of Covid we couldn’t really do either.  So we just wrote songs and we now have a new appreciation of the studio and for live.  I feel like we appreciate recording and live in equal measure now.

I think it also depends on where a band is in their career too.  Some successful bands who were having a crazy time were grateful for the rest but for young bands who were just getting going it came at the worst time. 
Seán:  I think we were in quite a good spot.  We weren’t as big as some but we weren’t as small as a band who hadn’t been signed, or had an agent.   So we had enough of a team to pull us through.  I’d say it would have been awful tough if we had been in the situation we were in in 2018. 

Damian:  Coming out of it would have been a lot tougher.  Luckily we have a great team of people behind us who are always looking to get us out there, like on this tour with The Reytons. 

Seán:  And all the festivals that we had booked for 2020 were luckily rescheduled with us on them and I’d say a lot of bands that didn’t have a good agent would have them rescheduled without them on it.  We got to keep everything we lost, we just pushed everything back. 

Tom Freeman (Bass Guitar):  And we got a manager. Alan McGee put the feelers out and we met a few but this guy was very sincere.  He’s got a soft spot for our music.

Damian:  His name is Peter Katz, and I remember on the zoom call (he is based in LA) when we first met him, he said at the end “Well listen I love your music and I want to do it so……“.  He laid it all on the table, he didn’t play any games, and he wasn’t playing hard to get.

Seán:  We have chatted to and have not gone with a lot of different people since we started years and years ago.  We’ve turned down so much stuff over the years so that we knew when to say yes.  We didn’t say yes to the first 5 or 10 managers, or agents or labels that came to us.  When you know its right, you know its right.  We now have the perfect team because we really chose them.

Damian:   I think that helps with longevity as well.  These are people that actually give a shit about you, the music and the band.  You are going to have a better working relationship with them because its good to know they are as passionate as we are.

James, you’re the main song-writer for the band.  The lyrics are beautifully crafted.  They are very real and very observational.   You’re not trying to be smart and use complicated words.  Its all very relatable.  You sit and look around you, is that still your inspiration, the real world around you?
James:   Inspiration can come from anywhere.  The same with the music.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the furthest place.  Watching someone at work might inspire you to write a song about love.  If you see the world through that lens it can come from anywhere. I really like books. You learn about other peoples lives through books. You learn how to put words together from books. 

Along the journey of learning to write a song, you start with bad songs badly written, then you write songs with very simple language which doesn’t quite express what you want and then you develop your vocabulary and then you use those long words.  But then you can get to the next level where you can use the simplest language to describe the most esoteric or philosophical ideas and emotions.

TS Elliott, I think his best poetry is:
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table”

So simple, you know really simple words. Seamus Heaney, John Lennon, Alex Turner, Morrisey and Alan Bennet, that’s how they write.

But there is still an intelligence and cleverness in the use of the words, even if the words individually are straight-forward.  It’s the way you put them together that’s the key, that’s what makes you such a good lyricist.
James:  I’d listen to a Radiohead song or a Smiths song and I’d pour through every line, The Libertines song dissect it all the words all the rhyme.  Eminem, his first album. What I loved in The Arctic Monkeys first album when it came out I couldn’t get over it lyrically.  That line “and he told Roxanne to put on her red light” (from ‘When the Sun Goes Down‘) that passed me by the first million times I read it. And then I heard the song ‘Roxanne‘ (by The Police).  I think that’s when its most interesting, the illusion, it refers to something relevant, it’s not just a cultural reference, the reference actually has a reason.

You have the lyrics so how does that become a finished song?
Seán:  It helps if, say if the lyrics come first, which they often do but not always, I find its easiest for us to know where to go with the music if James has a sense of how its going to sound.  But some songs start with the music first like ‘The Future Is Not What It Was‘. It was jamming in a rehearsal room and James said he had lyrics that fit this, and it was put together that way.

Damian:  If James has the lyrics done and a bit of a structure, we see it almost like we’re scoring a film.  James will have the story he wants to tell and the music doesn’t necessarily have to go with the words but the feeling that he is trying to get across. But sometimes we’ll be jamming something and James latches onto that.  It can go either way.

Seán:  ‘Stranded in Stansted‘ took about 3 years! You have a million ideas and you don’t know what’s right, which is fine, its good…..

Tom: I don’t know if Stansted is right now! Its recorded and released! We play it live, and I’m like what was I thinking! It’s so busy!

Seán:  I like the fact that if we put out a single and then put out an album, it might not be the same as the single. . Over the 2 years its been out we might have decided its not quite right and change it. People will probably go crazy you changed the song we know…..

James:  That is almost part of being a fan of a band.  Its part of that relationship, the give and the take.   You allow your band, because they feel you’re your band, to develop and change, and to frustrate you and to do things you don’t like at first then they suddenly come round “they were right all the time”!     If you’re a real fan of the band you’ll go with the highs and lows

Like a football team……
Seán:  Football team is a good way to put it, you might get relegated!

I think the pandemic has created situations that you are describing.  You have created music together in the last couple of years not necessarily for the live set.   It has been an extraordinary time.       

Damian:  It’s definitely changed the way that we write.   We are coming out lockdown but we are still writing songs in the way that we were during the pandemic so that has changed, for the better I think.  The last three songs that we have recorded in the studio have been the most fun.

That is a beautiful segue into the next question!  How did you feel walking into Abbey Road Studios?

Seán:  You could feel the history in the walls.  Step into the room and you knew that was recorded there. It was almost tangible.  And the gear that we got to use.  The piano that we got to use was in various Beatles songs.  I never thought I would care too much about that until it happened. It was actually quite emotional, to have heard these songs for years and years and now to be playing the same keys.

James:  This is not a word I would use lightly but there was almost a spiritual feeling about it. 

And did that have an impact on your playing?  Was there any nervousness or did it just feel amazing to be there as musicians and that’s what you do?

Seán: Once the guitar’s on it could be Glastonbury, it could be Abbey Road, it could be Worthing, I don’t think it makes any difference.

James:  I did feel a certain sense of presence, I felt like we were doing something special at the time, regardless of what the songs sounded like, it could have been the worst song in the world that we have recorded but it was a special moment for us. 

Seán:  Back to the pandemic and lockdown I think something that I gained the practise of being present.  And Abbey Road coming after learning how to be present.  Another level. When everything could have been taken away, and it was, to come back out and now I am in Abbery Road.  I am never going to forget this.  

Tom:  To appreciate it as an opportunity.  Just so grateful.

James: It wasn’t a means to an end it was the end itself.

Tom:  We recorded for the first time without a producer, just us and the engineers and walked out with a 5minute long song.

Seán:  When we go into the studio we tend to do singles.  But when we were afforded this opportunity we thought why don’t we do something that mightn’t be a single.

Tom:  We got the date five days ahead of the day we went in.  We also had the studio booked for this one two weeks later so we knew we doing that one. We had that bought and paid for.    We could afford to do a 5minute song with an intro and an outro and a fade out.

James: What lockdown has given us in a big way is room to fail.  In every element that we have done we have allowed ourselves room to fail  Room to fail has meant that we’ve had the three best recording sessions we have ever had.  Done things we probably wouldn’t have been comfortable with before.  Giving yourself that room to fail is probably the most liberating thing you can do.

Damian:  We thought maybe we should put some light switches on it (clicking the light switches in Abbey Road Studio!).  Then I was wacking a box with a stick.  Normally I record the drums and we’ve done.  But there we were looking around thinking what can we use.   

James: Why be right when you can be interesting…

Moving on to playing live, you have done two nights with The Reytons so far and seven more to go.  How does it feel to be on the road? (Now if I can paint a picture here, it would be of beaming smiles from all four around the table!)

Seán:  We’ve been very good so far.  We’ve been to bed early, we’ve been drinking tea and coffee.

Damian:  But tonights a Saturday and we don’t have anything tomorrow so….   But this is why we’re doing it, This is why we are working hard so we can do this – to be on the road, so its great.

Seán: Very very enjoyable.  Everything has gone smoothly so far, the crowds have been class, very good so far. 

You were also lined up to support the Pixies on their US tour last year.  Obviously that didn’t happen but how did you feel when you found out about it.

Tom:  Elation, but the gigs don’t happen until they happen and it didn’t happen obviously but you can’t take away the fact that we did get it in the first place.   That’s tangible.

Damian:  We were all in different places.  James called the group chat on Whatsapp and no-one answered.  James put a message in saying “boys you need to answer your phone right now”.

Seán:  I felt like it put us in another tier in the zeitgeist.  People were like “They are big enough to open for the Pixies in America” Whether it happened or not it changed mindsets a little bit, in a positive way.

And how is it going to be playing back in Ireland?  You are playing The Road to The Great Escape is in Dublin in May

Seán:   It will probably be about 30months by then.  I didn’t realise it until I thought about it and announced that gig.  Considering we used to play every four weeks.  More or less.  Its bizarre.  I don’t know how big we are, we might be smaller we haven’t played there in so long.  We could be bigger we could be smaller

Damian:   Either way I’m looking forward to it   Just getting back to the crowds.  There is something about playing at home.  It’s always nice. We don’t have anything planned yet but really excited for playing in Galway again.

Tom:  We are playing a lot in Ireland this year, we’re playing with Inhaler too.

Finally with regards to new music, is there a plan to put any vinyl out with singles?  You have done a lot of online releases.

Seán:  The only reason that we haven’t so far is because of the delay in vinyl is about 10months, so its hard to commit. But yes probably, there is a lot of appetite for it.

And are there plans for an album?  You do get asked that a lot on social media!

Damian: We have a wipe-board in our house with all the songs we could feasibly put on.  We are trying to get the right ones.  Something we are working on at the moment. There are a lot that we know we definitely want to be on it.  Its definitely something we want to do. 

Tom: I feel like when the days approach when you are going in to do it, the last push then that is when you are going to call the shots.  The sets we are doing for The Reytons are, we think, the first time every song has been recorded in the studio even though they haven’t all been released.  It’s a strong set.

James:  I’m looking forward to album 2 and 3!

Seán:  Yeah I wanna get album 1 out the way!  I kind of just want to album 1 now so we can get onto album 2.  Album 2 is where bands generally hang on to fans from 1 or lose a lot of fans.   Its exciting.  I love that moment, where its divisive.

James:  The songs we are putting together now is for the first one (album).  In some ways its like a positive towards the second album.  What we have now is this big thing that we are going to put together.  The second you just run with it, you just pick something and go.  Right now we don’t have to pick and run.  On the second album if that pressure is there you have to pick and run.

Tom:  The absence of limitations is a bad thing sometimes.

James:  Whereas spend 11 years to write first album and then 6months or a year for the second.  The first one is great because you have ages to do it and the second one is great because you have no time to do it.  Complete opposites.

So there we have it, an hour in the company of The Clockworks in Glasgow with the promise of new music and plenty of gigs to look forward to.  For more information on the band and details of gigs please check out their facebook and website.

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