Garth Brooks gets mentioned and it all makes sense.
See, you’ll hear something vaguely familiar listening to the New Brunswick alt-rock outfit The Clydes—steady grooves overlaid with smart lyrics, taut guitar and big, triumphant swells that recall My Morning Jacket, St. Vincent and The Smiths.
You’ll also hear a big voice that rasps like Jason Isbell, modulates like Sturgill Simpson and throws flames like Neko Case.
That’s Brent Johnson’s voice, and I ask him the thorny, hard-to-track, damn-near-useless question about influences just to figure out how one develops a voice with such character.
And so, to repeat, Garth Brooks gets mentioned and it all makes sense—the subtle twang, the boom, the control.
“The way Garth sings is very powerful but has a bit of soul to it,” Johnson says. “Brian always likes to joke whenever we’re recording music, ‘Put a little Brooksiness in it.’”
“To be fair, I think I said that once in my life,” Brian Johnson amends by way of deadpan. They’re brothers after all.
The Clydes formed a few years after the Johnsons finished up at Rutgers, playing shows at the Court Tavern, “a magical place,” Brent says, and elsewhere. They released three albums, added new members (the current lineup includes Pete Gambino on drums and Andrew Lord Chandler on bass), and released a new single last week, “Modern Girl,” which come son the heels of the release of the ripping “The Fate of California,” earlier this year. They were building momentum, and then the pandemic hit, and like so many other artists, had to put a pause on things.
So they made a music video, bought a piano, shot an album cover… things a band does in a pandemic. It gave the brothers more time to hammer out songs — what were they going to do after work otherwise?
“Picasso says inspiration exists but it has to find you working,” Brian says. “In a pandemic, we had to get on a schedule, where we’d find inspiration. We kept playing constantly.”
So Garth Brooks, Picasso, so far. Add Oscar Wilde and Joseph Heller. Brent, a journalist, and Brian, an English teach, add the two writers to their list of influences, which show up in the word-smart (which is, ironically, not a great way to say that) lyrics and song titles The Clydes derive.
“One thing I try to think about,” Brent says, “I want song titles you can’t find anywhere else. ‘The Fate of California,’ it evokes an imagery. I like the alliteration, I like all the ‘f’ sounds. I worked the word ‘cutlery’ into the title track on Old-Time Monarchy, because cutlery is my favorite word.”
Trying to pin these guys down is the original sin of this article, tempting as it may have been. As Brian says: “We talk about this a lot: Music has certain categories, but music doesn’t have to fit into them.”
If there is a box The Clydes are OK with being in, something like music noir—that is, behind the tight musicianship, steady grooves and catchy hooks, there’s something sinister. Just listen.
But why bother trying to categorize it? You may hear a little bit of a lot — Garth or The Smiths or, heck, Oscar Wilde — but, ultimately, The Clydes are just something else.
“Modern Girl” by The Clydes (Mint 400 Records and 3143 Artist Management) is out now. Stream it wherever you stream good music. Learn more about The Clydes at facebook.com/TheClydesMusic, and listen to the new track above and here.