Squeezing Out Sparks: An interview with Carrie Clark
As critics rush to categorize every subtle nuance of the modern rock genre, the label most often applied to Austin’s Sixteen Deluxe is that of “Noise Pop.” But the quartet’s major label debut for Warner Bros., Emits Showers of Sparks, being so heavily saturated with essences ranging from Mazzy Star, The Sex Pistols, and San Francisco’s long-defunct Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, is deserving of a category uniquely suited to their hard edged yet ethereal sound. Offered here for your consideration: “Dream Punk.”
“Yeeeaaah, I think it totally works,” says the groups’ 28-year-old lead singer/guitarist, Carrie Clark. “Just speaking for me, I think that’s safe to say. We are influenced by everything from Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen Three and Spiritualized, Blondie, Pink Floyd, and the Ramones. We’ve got such a total wide range of music [taste] that — I hate to say it — between the four of us (her band mates are guitarist Chris “Frenchy” Smith, bassist Jeff Copas, and drummer Steven Hall) we like everything. I’m generally the most Indie rock of everybody. I grew up on MTV and [programs like] the I.R.S. Cutting Edge.
If what you crave is an overdose of feedback alongside a wall of fuzz that will vibrate your skull and echo through every synapse of your brain, you’ll find that in abundance on Emits Showers of Sparks. Clark’s adaptable vocals range from Chrissie Hynde sass to Hope Sandoval’s soporific croon. “Burning Leaves,” a cathartic heart-tugger finds Clark and Smith collaborating on a just-slightly-off-key harmony ala Joe Doe and Exene Cervenka. Similarly, “Mexico Train” sounds like it would have been at home on X’s Los Angeles. Regarding “Lullaby,” arguably the most narcotic song on the record, Clark confesses, “I wrote that song right when I was just learning how to play guitar, around 1990. I was taking a lot of acid at the time. So yeah, that song’s psychedelic.”
Not to be confused with the plethora of bands with numbers tagged onto their names and the bumper crop of “Deluxe Somethings,” Clark defends the band’s name. “We called ourselves the Sixteens, after the Sweet, that song on Desolation Blvd. I’m passionate about glam rock, so we were gonna call ourselves the Sixteens. Then a friend of ours — way before the rage of all the “Deluxe” bands — was like “Man, put Deluxe on the end of your name! It’ll look cool.” It was really that simple. I wasn’t thinking that there would be this whole wave of 16 Horsepower and Super Deluxe. We thought we were being original, gosh darn it, and we weren’t.” Not to worry, Carrie, there aren’t that many Dream Punk bands floating around out there right now.
How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
Twenty one (laughs). I never took guitar lessons. I took piano lessons and knew how to make bar chords, but I never said “I’m going to play guitar in a rock band” until I was 20. Chris is a really good, really accomplished guitar player. We just complement each other on what we do… so together we’re like one big guitar player.
It’s nice to see that the band appreciates the importance of good visuals to go with the music.
Oh yeah, we’re going out [on tour] with our film guy, who we got to know through the local scene because he did films for Ed Hall, a punk rock band from Austin who were around for over ten years and were real close friends of ours… that’s where we got the idea from. When we started playing, that was a rock show. It’s not a rock show unless you’ve got lights. And they’re giving us a budget to take out a light guy. Corporate rock rules!
What’s the most surreal thing about getting signed to a major label?
Oh man, I would say — this is the fan side in me coming out — the most surreal thing that happened to me was [when] we were riding out to California on our last tour. Our manager called and said “Guys, the Flaming Lips’ listening party for Zaireeka is gonna be happening at Warner Brothers the day that you’re there” — the Flaming Lips are one of my favorite bands in the universe. There we are, in Burbank, California with all these adults around, like the President of the record company, Steven Baker. We’re sitting there, drinking beers and listening to this very strange, four-CD experimental art coolness. It seemed more like “Hey, shouldn’t this be happening at someone’s house in Austin?” It was something that we would be doing anyway, and people are giving money for us to do this, and that’s a trip. The whole thing of signing to a major label is surreal, if you look at it that way. It’s not 100% peachy all the time, but it’s what we chose to do. It’s like a total Johnny Rotten style scam, to have somebody give me a load of money so I can sing about the time that I took ecstasy in San Francisco (laughs). We look at the full major label thing as “This is the Rock and Roll Swindle.” We’ve got everybody fooled. That’s totally punk rock!
There is a definite Sex Pistols influence in your music. I noticed “No Shock” has an intro similar to “Bodies.”
Actually, we got accused of sounding like “Dive” (Nirvana) on that one because of the part that goes (makes “Nr Nr “guitar sound ).
Nirvana did not invent grunge rock. Iggy Pop was around years before Kurt Cobain.
Oh man, I saw Iggy Pop live at SXSW two years ago. Iggy Pop still kicks ass. I didn’t get into Iggy Pop until I was in my 20’s. I listened to Duran Duran as a teenager. I was going to marry John Taylor [laughs]. Hanging out with Duran Duran, that would be an ultimate rock moment. That will be one of my goals for next year.
And you’re big TV fans too.
Yeah, I don’t watch TV except for on tour, but Steven — he knows everything there is to know about TV. Classic TV… we watch a lot of Nick at Nite on the road. Steven’s like the kid in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Mike TeeVee), and Frenchy’s more like the current white trash Fox/Warner Bros. television… Melrose Place.
But I can’t get into Melrose anymore, because all the new characters are like totally bunk. There’s this high turnover rate of characters. We’re hardcore, old school Spelling fans. The height of 90210 [was] when Dylan was all fucked up and crazy. When Dylan stopped smoking heroin, it was just downhill on 90210. We love South Park! Eric Cartman is my all time hero. I’m totally in love with Eric, especially that episode where he ate Beefcake all the time and got buff. We got really fat last tour — none of us exercise and we love to eat a lot and drink a LOT and we all got really fat. We saw that episode on tour and we were like [imitating Cartman’s voice] “We’re not getting fat, we’re getting buff!” [laughs].
Why is Chris called French Fry or Frenchy?
He used to have a really nasty, nappy, greasy head of dreadlocks, circa 1990. The place that he was working at was like ‘Boy, you look like you got a set of french fries on your head.’ and they started calling him French Fry. He adopted that and French Fry just kind of went into Frenchy. He fancies himself to be able to speak French when he gets drunk, so that kind of works as well [laughs].
The more drunk you get, the better it sounds.
Exactly. Everybody in the band has a good nickname except for me. Jeff has the Copus Millions, and Steven has AC and Little Kev. I don’t have anything, and I’m disappointed about it. Our sound guy is MC Bathtub. I’m working on getting a nickname.
What’s it like touring with a bus full of boys?
I don’t like touring, but I like being different places. I hate travelling, I hate the process. I like riding though, in a van. And not to sound like a weirdo, but I’m really happy we’ve got a female tour manager for this tour, because a lot of times I’m the only girl. I’m a low maintenance babe, I’m not super-girly, but after a while I get kind of tired of it. I keep wishing I had another of my species near me.
I read that you used to work as an art therapist — is that something you’re still involved in?
I used to be the art and music teacher at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. TSB and Wheatsville Food Coop, where a lot of us work right now, those are the two really good places for touring bands to work because they’re real flexible with letting people go on tour, and you make good money and have job security when you get back. I started out just working day to day, daily care with deaf/blind kids.
Deaf and blind?
And mentally challenged. Some of the kids were real hard core. Actually, a lot of the material [on the previous CDs] like “Baby Head Rush” and “Reactive” are directly influenced by working with TSB kids. I was on the Campus Improvement Board and I was like, man, these kids should have more music in their lives. You should have a music teacher. So I created my own job and gave myself a pay raise (laughs).
Very good, you go girl.
By the middle of the second year, the band was doing so well that I had to leave the job that I created, but it was cool. That was a pretty bad-ass moment when [I realized] man, all these kids need a lot more music in their lives.
It sounds like you did a very good thing.
Yeah! There’s lots of kids singing Blondie songs at TSB. Lots and lots of Flaming Lips and Blondie and ABBA songs going down [laughs]. Some Sixteen Deluxe tunes, too. I’ve got a good tape somewhere of me and my crew, there was bunch of adolescent girls — really crazy, literally, adolescent girls — singing “Idea” with me. I think we should bring them in and put them on an album. I mean, I dug it. If I wasn’t in a band, I’d probably be doing that kind of thing. You know, either playing music for mentally challenged people or playing music with mentally challenged people [laughs]. Which is what I’m doing anyway. It’s just fun and it’s easy. Rock people and “exceptional” people are a lot easier to deal with than real world office people. They give you a lot more slack.