Shyness Can Be Golden 

Liverpool's Clinic is a lousy interview -- good thing the music speaks for itself.

A lot of bands claim that they don't care about fame, that they just do it for the music. Be wary. For a band truly committed to its art, a more honest statement might be: We're not in it for the fame, but we'd like to make enough money so we don't have to work shitty jobs.

Ade Blackburn, the soft-spoken singer for Liverpool's Clinic, fits into the latter category. "I had a totally bollocks job when I was younger," he says. "It was answering queries from people for a catalogue company. That was an absolute nightmare."

That, however, is probably the boldest statement this introverted yet endearing gent makes in an entire hour of conversation. He doesn't like talking about his band -- which, yes, is in it for the music -- and he really doesn't like talking about himself. The guy would probably be an excellent date, having mastered the art of deflecting any self-centeredness, instead asking the other person questions. Which makes for an interesting interview in which the tables are often turned. An example:

Clair: So what are you going for? Your music has a nice spunk to it.

Blackburn: (Shy laugh.) Yeah. How would you describe it?

Clair: Um, hahaha. Okay. ... Reminds me of Television, with the vocal things you do. The music is funky, good, almost garagey, though not trashy.

Blackburn: Do you mean that kind of late Gang of Four thing?

Clair: Ah, sort of. ...

Blackburn: Like a minimalistic thing?

Clair: Well, how would you describe it?

Blackburn: I haven't a clue.

Perhaps it was Clinic's ... shall we say, subtlety of attitude that drew fellow oddballs Radiohead to invite Clinic on its 2000 tour, which introduced Clinic's keyboard-driven indie rock to new ears. My goodness, you've gotten your moody peanut butter in my thoughtful chocolate. And, like Radiohead, Clinic is a critic's Viagra, undoubtedly landing on the Top Ten lists of more than a few by bending genres while cranking out intelligent, unique, and super-catchy melodies tinged with anxiety.

Clinic also has a shtick, a word foreign to the Liverpudlian. "What does that mean?" he asks, sounding like John Lennon's chimney sweep. This band's gimmick is that it wears surgical masks on stage. According to Blackburn, it's so that no single member will get all the attention -- but perhaps it's also a clever excuse to cover up for painful shyness. Besides, it actually draws more attention to the band's "mystique," the way whispering makes people strain to listen. "It's a kind of strange thing to do, I s'pose," the singer chuckles, a bit embarrassed. "But I like that it's quite democratic." It has also given Clinic fans a prop to don in solidarity; at least at its shows in England, the band gets to look out over a sea of kids that resembles an indie-rock emergency room shift.

Clair: Tell me about Radiohead.

Blackburn: Um ... no ... they are just really okay. Yeah.

Clair: You seem like you have similar attitudes about music.

Blackburn: Yeah, I think so. I think that Thom Yorke is just real easy to get along with. Is he considered a really big rock star in America?

Clair: No, not like Springsteen, but they are known for being difficult.

Blackburn: 'Cause they don't play "Creep"?

Clair: Yeah.

Blackburn: Yes. To me he just seems intelligent.

Though Blackburn's a bit nervous in anticipation of the band's two upcoming nights at Bimbo's, he looks forward to returning to the Bay Area and visiting old Beat haunts like City Lights Books and some record shops. "Last time, we played with the Pattern. I think they're absolutely brilliant. They are really good stage performers," he says.

You like their shtick?

"Yeah," he says, laughing softly. "I like their shtick."

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