PROGRESS REPORT: Prepping their album, The Creatures In The Garden Of Lady Walton, for release on March 2nd. Featuring Sufjan Stevens, and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden.
Poor Padma Newsome. The Clogs singer/songwriter/instrumentalist had to use simpler vocabulary and visual metaphors just so I could understand how he and fellow Clogs members Bryce Dessner (also of The National), Rachael Elliott and Tom Kozumplik wrote and recorded the band’s long-coming album The Creatures In The Garden Of Lady Walton. Well, explaining why it’s taken them four years to make another record is easy: Newsome lives in Mallacoota, Australia (population: 1,300) while the others live on the East Coast of the U.S. Harder to explain are the methods and techniques that went into writing many of the songs. Take “We Were Here,” which Newsome describes like this: “Think of a guitar as being a sort of geometrical constellation and then I make a copy of it and I flip it upside down and the two constellations are sort of floating forward in time, but they’re mirrors of each other. Also the celeste is in that one. It’s a mirror but it gets offset by a small amount of time.”
In simpler terms it’s a pretty song that also features Shara Worden and Sufjan Stevens. But Newsome says figuring out what kind of band they are, and what kind of music they make — the same one that hits many of the bands that they’re friends with like the Books and Bell Orchestre — always comes up: “Is Clogs an orchestral or indie rock project? For a lot of people it’s the idea of what is intellectual music and what is emotional music. Why is it that Clogs sound classical to some people?” she says. “It all seems like it’s emotion to me. All of it seems like expression of emotion. None of it seems intellectual.”
Well, it kind of seems like both. “We Were Here” is geometrical constellations built into a “funeral lullaby,”but “Crocodillo,” a song where Newsome locks into a vocal round with Worden, has a complex-sounding melody that plays a little like sacred music. That song is in Italian, since it’s about Lady Walton’s garden, La Mortella, where modern composer William Walton lived, and where his widow set up a foundation to support working composers. The album, like their live shows, are a mix of structure and improvisation (“The score’s not so precious to us [here] as in the classical world.”). And though the band is clearly at home working within the formal structure of Italian residencies (both Dessner brothers recently finished a residency in Italy), Clogs also function like a regular band, picking up to play small gigs and releasing music independently.
The way the band met also seems like a mix of structured and unstructured, well-timed moments. Newsome said that while he was at Yale, he had a dream about starting a band called “Loose-Fitting Clogs.” He took cues from the dream that led him to fellow music student Dessner, along with members Rachael Elliott and Thomas Kozumplik, whom he knew peripherally. The dream was “very instructive,” he says. Less clear has been the path to finishing the record, which Newsom says has been recorded here and there over the last few years, with tours from the National delaying Clogs recording. But the time let them record in many places (Brooklyn, New Haven, the Sydney Opera House), and include lots of people who are and aren’t familiar. Worden appears all over the record, on songs like “Raise the Flag” “On the Edge” and “The Owl Of Love,” her performances make her pretty much a fifth member, according to Newsome. But they also recorded with the Osso String Quartet, gamelan players, and baroque guitarist Luca Tarantino. The band’s own geographical restrictions, plus the number of extra players on The Creatures In the Garden of Lady Walton, make touring close to impossible, except for one-off shows like 2009’s Brooklyn Academy of Music show and a musical tribute to poet Pablo Neruda. Plus Newsome doesn’t like the idea of doing a Clogs tour alongside touring with the National. Or with leaving Australia to make it easier to travel. “I have koalas and kangaroos and all sorts of birds in my backyard. I live by the sea! It’s crazily gorgeous,” he says. “You’d have to chop off my right arm to take me away from here.” And that would also make touring difficult.
The Creatures In The Garden Of Lady Walton is out 3/2 via Brassland. Here’s the aforementioned “On The Edge,” featuring Shara Worden:
Clogs – “On The Edge” (MP3)
Clogs will release an EP titled Veil Waltz as a sort of prologue to the album, on 1/26 also via Brassland. Here’s an instrumental appetizer from that set:
Clogs – “Three-Two” (MP3)
The Creatures tracklist:
01 “Cocodrillo” (feat. Shara Worden)
02 “I Used To Do”
03 “On The Edge” (feat. Shara Worden)
04 “Red Seas”
05 “The Owl Of Love” (feat. Shara Worden)
06 “Adages Of Cleansing” (feat. Shara Worden)
07 “Last Song” (feat. Matt Berninger)
08 “To Hugo”
09 “Raise The Flag” (feat. Shara Worden)
10 “We Were Here” (feat. Sujan Stevens and Shara Worden)
February 19 & 20 – Minneapolis, MN @ Southern Theater
March 26, 27, 28 – Knoxville, TN @ Big Ears Festival
If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.