Talk Talk: A Conversation With David Kilgour

It's Legends Week in D.C. Jay-Z was in town on Friday (after a stop in Baltimore), Bruce Springsteen on Sunday and Monday (perhaps you heard?), Neil Young will be here tomorrow and Friday and David Kilgour plays DC9 tonight.

Wait, who? David Kilgour?

So he's clearly not on the same level as the folks listed above. Few are. But once you enter that slightly oxymoronic world of "minor legends," they don't come much bigger than New Zealander Kilgour. Along with his brother, Hamish, he was the driving force behind the Clean, often referred to as "the Velvet Underground of New Zealand." When that band started up almost 30 years ago it sparked a vibrant underground rock scene in the remote Pacific Rim island that produced groups like the Verlaines, the Bats, the Chills, the Doublehappys, the Tall Dwarfs and others that made life somewhat tolerable in the 1980s for those poor outcast college radio DJs. The Clean's off-kilter, catchy, psychedelic pop (check out songs like "Tally Ho" and
"Anything Could Happen") were also a huge influence on American indie rock bands like Built to Spill, Pavement and Yo La Tengo.

The Clean has been playing together off-and-on for the past 15 years, but during that time Kilgour has remained active as a solo artist, releasing a string of consistently excellent and understated albums, the latest being this year's "The Far Now," on Merge Records. He's made the very, very, very long journey from New Zealand to support the new album and talked to us about the birth of the New Zealand rock scene, what life's really like down there and what it's like to play in America.


David Kilgour's shimmering psychedelic-pop has made him a cult favorite. (Merge Records)

Post Rock: What was it about New Zealand in the late-'70s that made the music scene so vibrant?

David Kilgour: That's a good question, not easy to answer. Punk hit New Zealand around about 1976-77 and this was the main catalyst for all the music that came out of New Zealand at the time. The isolation certainly contributed to the "scene" and the
"sound."

PR: Explain to us people in the opposite corner of the world what New Zealand is like. Is it just sheep and great indie-pop?

DK: It's more like a great big dairy farm now but there are plenty of sheep still. There is still a healthy indie pop scene with bands like the Phoenix Foundation, Bachelorette, Die Die Die and Surf City. The New Zealand landscape is spectacular, two islands, island weather, an old outpost of Celts and English, Chinese, but of course there's also a large Maori and Polynesian population. Auckland is seen as the largest Polynesian city in
the world. The north is sub-tropical, the south mountainous, you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. You can drive across the south island in one day, drive the length of the country in two days.

PR: Does the isolation from the rest of the world ever make you feel lonely? I sometimes harbor dreams of running away to New Zealand -- even though I've never been there, of course -- just because it's so isolated.

DK: It feels safe down there, away from the hubbub of the mad world we live in. It's frustrating that we are so far from the world but it does have its charm.

PR: What made you break up the Clean and then re-form nearly a decade later? And how did the music stay just as strong?

DK: I got tired of the pressure of being a "pop star" and the treadmill we seemed to be on making music and touring and being in the spotlight. The music has stayed strong because it's a part-time thing and that keeps it fresh.

PR: Do you like coming to America to play? How is it going from being hometown hero to cult favorite?

DK: I still see myself as a underground artist in New Zealand so it ain't a problem. I love coming to America, I get to see my brother and his family and catch up with all the lovely friends I've made here over the years.

PR: What's it like playing music now as compared to 30 years ago when you first started? Both in terms of the actual playing and what you get out of it.

DK: I'm still enjoying it as much as I did when I was a kid. I still feel like a kid at heart though I don't look too close in the mirror any more!

PR: Is the whole blog culture as big in New Zealand as it is in the U.S.? Bands just come out of nowhere to overnight success nowadays, only to be spit out a few months later when a new band comes along. How do you think that's affecting the bigger picture?

DK: I'm not sure what the "bigger picture" is anymore, maybe thats it. It's almost impossible to focus! If you know what I mean. The disposable culture is as strong as ever and life gets eaten up and spat at before you can blink. I think eventually there will be a movement called SLOW DOWN PEOPLE! What the hell are we running for! Where the hell is the human going, NOWHERE! Humans are just as stupid now as they were when they were beating the hell of of each other in the cave times.

By David Malitz |  November 14, 2007; 11:10 AM ET Indie Rock , Interviews
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Great interview. I just checked out The Clean and his new album. It was easy to spot how certain US bands were influenced by The Clean. Kilgour's solo effort is quite pleasant. I shouldn't be surprised. Merge seems incapable of releasing anything but the best music.

Posted by: Jumbo Slice | November 14, 2007 12:32 PM

Jumbo Slice (and anyone else), Kilgour's first three solo albums are exceptional. The Clean's Vehicle is a masterpiece of driving guitar pop. Everything he's dones is quality, but I think the above are particular standouts. -E

Posted by: Jet Age Eric | November 14, 2007 2:48 PM

i still remember quite fondly the show back in the mid-90's in which david kilgour, playing solo, opened for pavement.

Posted by: marcus | November 20, 2007 1:34 PM

Yes! That was my first ever club show, at good ol' WUST, which is now just a bit fancier and called the 9:30 Club. Kilgour was pretty good, but solo electric is pretty tough to pull off.

Posted by: David | November 20, 2007 1:39 PM

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