Clean Cut Kid are trying to break the stigma of the modern bearded man.
In true fashion, they’re doing it their way. The thing is, the chief modern bearded man is trying to break the stigma whilst cautious that there’s flecks of last night’s sick caught up in the hairs. Apparently, you’re not supposed to consume alcohol whilst on antibiotics. Or prawns that are on their two and a half day of the two day eat-by date. Or tapas with two bottles of wine…
From listening to 70s LPs spinning in the background of Bold Street Coffee, to wandering around Palm House in Sefton Park, to Pigments tattoo studio in Liverpool, this is the world according to Clean Cut Kid.
Living outside the box
“When people hear recordings now they’ve got to put them into boxes. It’s really strange.” Starts Mike. Our human attraction to categorisation, has left Clean Cut Kid outside the box, but embracing it.
If the music world is a standard 99, they’re a Screwball. A whirl of colour with a pop surprise at the end – which always ends up being the best bit.
“We just think we’re a rock n roll band,” they say, “but it’s so hard to say you’re a rock n roll band to somebody because it’s really not cool anymore, so you just shrug okay it’s fuzz pop.”
So far across their back catalogue we’ve heard swinging melodies weave between punchy beats and instrumentals with a blood orange tang. Essentially writing “straight up pop songs with the fat trimmed off”, the band stay true to traditional song writing roots, and put their spin on it. The four tear up rule books and write their own, but it hasn’t been easy with pressures from labels and the media.
“The music we make, plus how we look, plus how we record, plus how our personalities are, because it’s so honest, a lot of people thought that all of the different elements would have to be chiselled in a way that people would understand.” Explains Mike. Though, it’s hard to grasp what’s difficult to understand about a bunch of straight-up music loving Scousers making tunes.
Yet, for the band there’s a sense of fulfilment that comes with straying from mainstream expectations.
“We’ve learnt that it’s so much more fulfilling to gain fans by the most honest representation of us and what we want to be.” Says Evelyn, as Saul chips in and comments on how at least by not conforming to a fashion, it can never go out.
Felt and the perfect break up song
Break-up songs are one thing that will never go out of fashion, and for Clean Cut Kid, the best are the ones that put themselves on the line.
Their debut album, Felt (5 May), acts as a chronological arch documenting a relationship break down to present day. Opening with the healthy radiance of ‘Vitamin C’, the revved up energy continues on to ‘Runaway’. Whilst a leap to ‘Stay’ shows cracks in a relationship, “then ‘Leaving You Behind’ is the last day of the relationship whilst ‘Make Believe’ is the last five minutes.”
Excitedly explaining how turning to the B-side signifies the end, the electric ‘We Used To Be In Love’ “is the first post-breakup song, then once it’s run through the break-up songs it moves to closure like, ‘Time To Let You Go’.”
The “perfect timeline” brings us right up to Mike and Ev’s current relationship, honoured with the energetic zest of ‘Pick Me Up’ and a personal ode to ‘Evelyn’. To which, she makes a mini air punch in result.
The air punch is deserved, as the band fought for the running order, for the artwork and for the album to fully be them. It’s discussed with pride and a giddiness like a hit of espresso.
Described best as a “straight up break-up album that isn’t going to make anybody feel worse when they hear it.” With chanting choruses and melodic embraces, shots of adrenaline pulsate through the tracks. Harmonies soar and grab you by the hand, as rhythms move and wiggle your finger tips to your toes. Where, “sometimes you want to listen to music to make you feel worse if you’re sad anyway”, the band’s “idea is that this album will drag you through each stage of a break-up.”
Clean Cut Kid make happy music for sad moments, and the title track, a co-write from the couple, is that embodiment. A song with a punk core that wishes an ex all of the best, they beam “it’s completely arranged in a way that’s so uplifting, it’s such a cool tune to listen to that you probably wouldn’t even think about the subject matter.”
Recognising that the best break up songs “are honest in the subject matter, so when you hear the words it’s heart-breaking”, Mike laughs that the best “make the writer seem pathetic.”
“If it’s from an honest place then people are going to feel it, but if it isn’t then nobody is going to have an emotional response to it.” Thriving from the catharsis, but acknowledging that “you switch off from break-up songs if they’re just miserable”, the songs wear a bittersweet coating.
There’s fire in the heart when discussing the live set. For them, “it’s sort of untouchable, because we always play live, and how can anybody interfere with that?”
Their old school approach with no triggers or backing tracks is a conscious attempt to keep alive the traditions of live music. Mike explains how “I’m really not into the thing where you play a load of tunes and then you hit a tune where everybody goes mad and you keep the rest of it like that.” Whilst a Clean Cut Kid set induces grooves and clap patterns, like life and the tales they tell, it isn’t a simple ride.
“I will actively throw the biggest ballad into a hole in the set, because people used to do that shit and I don’t want it to die out.” he continues. The heart-warming ‘Jean’ cranks the live set down a notch, allowing you to fully lose yourself and be touched by its classic essence, as the dramatic ‘Brother Of Mine’ proves the utter strength of the bond between band members and their instruments. Their set leaves moments for power grabs, for chants, for waves, and triggers the urge to ride the energy they project.
“Every time we play I think ‘this is the honesty of the four of us.’”
When deciding to permanently mark your skin perhaps the greatest option isn’t to go to a tattoo studio that closes in fifteen minutes, with no idea of what design you’d like.
“I’m thinking of getting ‘life’, but in the shittiest writing in the world.” Mike tells Alex Trowell, at Pigments Tattoo. The marking signifies a new wave of life with the album release and run of shows. Ev opts for a tribute to her mum and dad, whilst Saul ponders the logistic of marking himself with a bowl of Quorn spaghetti bolognaise to join his Stephen Fry as a fly sketch.
At this point, Ross decides to make an early exit as whispers of a Simpsons’ donut start spreading around the room.
Each band member is marked with small cartoon-like ink; a keyboard where the ink is raised and feels like it could be played, a snake with wings, their own lyrics and Babe Magnet Records logo – so many that they admit they couldn’t name them all blindfolded.
If Clean Cut Kid were a world; the floors would be fuzzy carpets, the walls would have rocket ships on them like in their rehearsal rooms, steps would be replaced by Ubers that can fly upwards.
“It’d be like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory world, but without small slaves.”
But, there’d be dogs. Lots of dogs.
The towns, Ev says, would be “run by baby dogs”, for it’s a common agreement that “small dogs are called baby dogs even when they’re grown up.” The dogs would also work in the music and coffee shops, spread sporadically.
Babies themselves however, could have a better rep. The solution is simple. A special shop to just hold them. “If you’re holding a baby and it poos or something, the moment that happens the staff would whip it out of your hand and give you a fresh one. So you’d have none of the disadvantages.” Mike discusses, confidently “Like if it was going to sick up on you, somebody would be there with a little cup to catch the sick. So you’d have all of the good stuff. Freshly talc-ed.”
Of course, there’s an undeniable chemistry within the band. Not only can you hear it in the harmonies and feel it in the rhythms, but there’s a secret world that Clean Cut Kid live in together, and it’s as busy, lively and fun as their Instagram feed.
But, within the band there’s certain disagreements. Saul likes the avocado mural on Liverpool’s Bold Street, the others don’t. Saul drinks questionable green smoothies, the others drink at least five cups of coffee a day. Saul has a real hatred towards feet, the others think that feet are just feet.
“If Saul met his ideal woman and asked him what she could do to improve herself, he’d say to be finished at the ankle.” they agree, as an argument for people having hooves is prepared. In Palm House we find Saul’s perfect woman; a statue with rounded ankles, surrounded by nature.
Felt is out May 5th.
Clean Cut Kid tour the UK this May.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan