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March 20, 2007

Clean Clocks, Pills of Winter and the Blood of Brothers

The Winterpills: return to Louisville Friday, performing at noon on WFPK’s Live Lunch and again at Uncle Pleasant’s at 8 p.m. The group has just released its follow-up, The Light Divides.You can, if you’re cynical, say the week’s events at music clubs feature backwash from the South by Southwest Festival. If your town is in any sense between a group’s homeground and Austin, the week before or the week after mid-March often provide opportunities to see talent that doesn’t tour frequently. Two such acts from the Northeast were at SXSW in mid-month and will be stopping in town this week. John Sharkey leads the punk trio ClockCleaner into some strange territories. The songwriter/guitarist/vocalist takes a look inside himself and his fellow man, and it doesn’t always come out into clean and easy words or even concepts. Compared with ClockCleaner, The Ramones are a marketing suit’s dreamband. But if you’re ready to check out the “Vomiting Mirrors” of an outfit that pours out raw thoughts and obsessive ponderings — amid noise that’s equally bracing but more consistent — the Philadelphia trio are at The Rudyard Kipling Friday (422 W. Oak St., 636-1311, 10 p.m.). Sharkey took our call from a favorite oasis (a club that’s generous with food for hungry musicians) in Denton, Texas. LEO: You brought in a new bassist not long ago. What was the process like? Did you hold auditions?JS: Our original bassist moved to Florida — get this: to work at Disney. He’ll be at the theme parks, as one of the people dressed up as Mickey Mouse, or Minnie.We really can’t stand most of the musicians in the greater Philadelphia area. But we knew Karen Horner and liked her sound. She’d been in the group Green Apple Quickstep. She’s a little older than us but fit in right away.LEO: What’s the songwriting process like for you?JS: What, for the band? I write the songs and then I show them. Richie The Winterpills: return to Louisville Friday, performing at noon on WFPK’s Live Lunch and again at Uncle Pleasant’s at 8 p.m. The group has just released its follow-up, The Light Divides. can’t write because he doesn’t play guitar, and I think Karen is relieved that she doesn’t have to write.LEO: You’ve recorded tracks that sound like a modern poetry slam backed by a throbbing three-piece. Do you have books of lyrics or journals with poetry?JS: No. I write lyrics as an afterthought. I’m a screen printer in the day, and I can’t get loaded at work, so I start up songs in my head. Our last record, Nevermind — only two of the songs had a lyrical basis. A lot of what I put into vocals is, like, primitive. And paranoid.LEO: But some of the stuff you write is well developed — yeah, with paranoia and confrontation. “Interview with a Black Man” with its “Guess what I saw at the abortion clinic” lines — where’d that come from?JS: Well, that’s not biographical. I’d be in jail if it was. I wrote that one when I was in Cleveland, working at a plasma clinic.LEO: How much of what you write is autobiographical?JS: Some of it. What happens to you — it plants seeds and then they grow. I also have gotten a lot out of reading Philip K. Dick — characters that are in my songs are a lot like his characters.LEO: OK, I can see similarities. How’d you get into him? JS: I had just moved back to Philadelphia. I didn’t have money for drugs or anything. So I went to the library. A friend had recommended Dick. So, for a year, I read one book after another by him … My favorites are probably “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” “Valis.”LEO: You’re just heading toward Austin as we speak. Then Louisville gets you on the way back to Philly?JS: I saw Louisville once. We played in someone’s garage.LEO: Well, this time it’s The Rud. The place is legendary with local musicians. JS: Sweet. That’s good. I don’t like to see confused looks about where I’m playing.•••Winterpills shows many of their musical strengths by the time the first chorus hits in opener “Lay Your Heartbreak” of their second album The Light Divides. The track opened with picture-perfect lilting folk-rock.Then Philip Price begins the verses, and the lyrics creep into peripheral consciousness that more was going on than a pretty Sunday’s retread. Then come the real grace notes: Flora Reed’s voice twirls around Price’s, and the dance of the two voices weaves through unexpected chord choices. Listening to this, it’s like you’re a passenger in a strange flying craft, taking off through a low ceiling of clouds in colors and shapes like you’ve never seen before. And yet, Winterpills plays somber stuff, and their album confirms the prevailing atmosphere. A cover that’s predominantly gray, despite only three small clouds across its landscape. Inside are pictures of the band members on the ground, fallen like the autumn leaves around them. When a sunny day comes calling, Price greets it with thoughtful gloom: Something had to be declared/and I have to face July with two holes in my heart.The Northampton, Mass., band was all crowded in a van driving through the South when LEO got in cell-phone contact with songwriter/vocalist Philip Price.LEO: Do you have songs fully written before you know which (singing) parts are yours and which go to Flora?PP: As I finish writing a song, I’ll have vocals about 60 percent figured in advance — then we work it out. We’ve developed our own ways — often she’ll add something that I hadn’t thought of. LEO: The group quickly sets an intimate sound. The audience would seem to benefit by being in close quarters — in spirit at least, but literally also, if possible. Is it difficult to sustain mood and atmosphere in different cities and different clubs when you’re on tour? What do you do if the mood breaks?PP: Sometimes it’s tough … because of the acoustics in the room, or the audience is expecting something else. It’s a tricky thing. We had something like that the other day. It ended up as a real good gig, but … It was a noisy, smoky room, but we stuck to our guns. It’s hard to convince people to stop talking to their friends, y’know? We just have to stay confident. We’re capable of rocking out so that we’re heard. LEO: Your set in Louisville — will it draw on both albums?PP: Yeah, we divide it up. We only play one or two covers, and they’re obscure. The second album — those are new songs, still pretty new to us. For the first album, we just got together and recorded what we’d been playing for a while. This time, we built the songs in the studio. These are songs that are more layered. Winterpills play WFPK’s Live Lunch at noon on Friday (619 S. Fourth St.; doors open 11:30 a.m., free). Later that night, they’re at Uncle Pleasant’s (2126 S. Preston St., 634-4147, $10); 8 p.m. doors; Dennis Crommett opens. •••The spazzcore collective known as The Blood Brothers are on the road, too (though their SXSW presence this year is limited to a film festival showing of “Set Fire to the Face on Fire”). Headliners Music Hall has them Friday, and as always, they’ll be constantly aggressive, most often angry, frequently theatrical and sometimes atonal (but it’s an all-ages show). The Brothers’ fast-moving near-chaos is something that should be experienced live at least once. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $13. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com