Featured Guest is the section of my website where I interview actors, artists, musicians and many kinds of cool people I have crossed paths with over the years. Tonight our guest is none other than the great Clementine. Known for holding down the drum throne in Zepparella and the vocalist for the group Stars Turn Me On, I met Clem many years ago when she was the drummer for NYC based all girl band Bottom. Clementine and I catch up on her activity these days in California, a little about her history and latest news on her music and life. - G
1.Hey Clem, how are you today? Great to speak with you.
CLEMENTINE: Hi Gideon, it’s a pleasure! I’m so happy to have you back in my orbit after so many years. You’ve always been a light on the planet and I see it’s only grown brighter.
2.You too and thank you so very much, same to you in all ways. What have you been up to lately and how is your music?
CLEMENTINE: I have had a month off from playing shows, and while I love playing I’ve learned to really appreciate the time off. Enjoying the San Francisco Springtime and happy to be spending time at home. Music is always a joy!
3.Tell us a little about your history in music and life. When we first met you were rocking in an all girl band from NYC called Bottom.
CLEMENTINE: Yes, we met when I was on the year-long tour with BOTTOM in 2000! I’m from California. I started playing drums in 1992, in New York City. I lived in New York for 14 years, and BOTTOM formed in 1997. In 2000 we gave up our New York lives to move into the van for a year and at the end of the tour I settled in San Francisco with my now husband Tim Moss. BOTTOM ended in 2004. In San Francisco, I played in an AC/DC tribute band and then formed ZEPPARELLA with the Angus for that band, Gretchen Menn. It’s now been about 12 years that we’ve had the band going. In the meantime, I started writing lyrics and fronting projects, and at the moment my other bands are STARS TURN ME ON and BEAUX CHEVEUX. My life in music in a nutshell!
4. What inspired you to play drums and start jamming in a band?
CLEMENTINE: Playing drums is for me an example of the magic of coincidence and circumstance. I never expected to be a musician. I went to school for writing. A series of things happened though. I was surrounded by close friends who were playing music, and I ended up singing (badly) in a band. When we lost our drummer, it occurred to me that it might be fun to learn how to do that. My partner at the time set up a little kit for me in our apartment and started showing me some basics. Then I happened to be referred to the best drum teacher in NYC, Fred Klatz, and we just happened to have a really magical connection. I lucked out that he was looking to test his teaching methods on someone who knew nothing about drumming in order to complete a book he was writing, and I happened to be there at the right place and the right time. Also, I lucked out to have a funny connection to rhythm and several things sort of clicked into place for me when I sat down at the drumset. I never thought of myself as having a very mathematical mind, but then when I started playing drums I realized, actually, I really do think that way. Pretty quickly, if there were drums in the room, that’s what I wanted to do. It was the first instrument that I liked to practice.
5.Did you have bands before that time?
CLEMENTINE: Nope. I played piano for 8 years as a kid, but really never considered being a professional musician, ever.
6.What were some of your favorite bands growing up that really inspired you?
CLEMENTINE: My father was a true lover of rock, and I listened to his music growing up. Stones, Beatles, Skynyrd, The Band, Dylan, John Lee Hooker, all of that stuff. And my grandmother and mother loved the big band stuff, so we heard lots of standards growing up. The first record I loved was Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence, that was really when I was maybe 4 years old. I loved Elton John, singing along with him. Cheap Trick, ELO. Then, later, I loved the Clash, B52s. Nothing really out there, just all the stuff you’d expect from a Southern California suburban girl with very little sense of anything outside of her cultural experience. AC/DC and Zeppelin were pivotal for me. They were the bands that my father didn’t really care for, so those became mine. I was never a record buyer, but instead was addicted to the rock radio station, and shunned TV when I was in high school so I could listen to the radio. I would make cassette tapes off of the radio and that was what I listened to constantly.
7.What concerts inspired you that stand out most in memory?
CLEMENTINE: I was blown away by seeing the Melvins for the first time. I saw them when I had just started taking drum lessons, and Dale Crover was the first drummer I saw when I was just starting to really pay attention to drummers. I felt that there was something in the way he played that moved me in a familiar way, like he was opening me up to the possibilities of the instrument and also like I understood it for the first time. He was, and still is, a huge influence. Then, this is sort of random, but I saw a drummer named James Wormworth, who had just gotten the gig subbing for Max Weinberg on the Conan O’Brien show. He was playing in New York for just a handful of people, I can’t even remember why I was there. That was the first time I saw someone play so joyfully, so exacting, with so much authority. There was something about the way he was hitting the drums that sort of turned a switch on in my head, and I started to realize that strong Intention when playing meant so much. Other bands that were influential when I first started playing were Barkmarket, Swans, New York bands who were in my circle of acquaintance that were filling my head up with ideas about how people live as musicians.
When I played in BOTTOM, I played with all of the great stonerrock drummers across the country, and what a thrill and an education to get to experience so much music, every day another phenomenal player, so much fun! A few of my favorites are Trinidad Leal from Dixie Witch, Ruben Romano from Fu Manchu and Nebula, Miguel Cancino from Unida, Cheshire Augusta from Stinking Lizaveta, Joey Osbourne from Acid King and Des Kensel from High on Fire.
In the past few years, I’ve been really fortunate to get to see some mind-blowing concerts due to my husband’s job of being the Manager for Faith No More. Getting to be side-stage while watching the machine that is Mike Bordin has been such a rush. And then while traveling with Tim while he’s working I’ve gotten to see Dave Lombardo, Terry Bozzio, Danny Carey, Dave Grohl, Brann Dailor and so many other amazing drummers and musicians. Seeing Mike Patton enchant 50,000 fans in a light rain at a Chilean music festival lives in my mind like a dream. I will never take for granted that my music career has enabled me to get to see and meet so many spectacular virtuoso musicians who are endless inspirations for so many. Again, so incredibly lucky.
(Photo credit: Jack Lue)
8.That's really cool. Favorite films or books?
CLEMENTINE: Oh man, Gideon, that’s a big question, and sort of unanswerable! Let’s see, for films, I try not to see anything with horror, suspense, torture, or misery in it, which makes for an unfortunately miniscule number of movies, and drives my buddies crazy when we’re trying to choose something to see! I’ve never seen a Tarantino movie for instance. I like stuff to be uplifting, or funny, or silly. I got enough junk in my head that keeps me up at nights to add to it with film. Defending Your Life, Funny Girl, Reds, these are the kinds of films I dig. I’ve seen a puke-inducing number of romantic comedies in my life. Sorry to burst the bubble of expectation there might be around Hard Rock Female Drummer stereotypes! Hehe.
As for books, I am a reader. Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to spend days just reading, and I make it a priority. I could never list favorites, but maybe I can answer this way; books I’ve read in the past month: Consolations by David Whyte; The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor; which led me to Understanding Fiction by Chenoth Brooks; and then I reread Thoreau’s Walden and really dug Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I want to dive into more of his catalog. The two I’m just about to start are 2666 by Roberto Bolano (which should keep me occupied for quite some time, it’s huge!) and The Art of Practicing, which was a gift from Gretchen who is the best practicer I know. I definitely need that one. Also on the list, Way of the Outlaw Spirit! Know where I can get one of those? ☺
I’m a magazine junkie too, and have to read the New Yorker and New York magazines, The Atlantic and Tape Op when they come out. I also am addicted to the podcast On Being, and am working my way through their whole episode list. People in my life are sick of me talking about that podcast, but I find the interviews so incredibly inspirational and uplifting, and I love thinking about the big questions that the program brings up. Plus, it gives me ideas for more and more books to add to the reading list.
I realized recently I have to prioritize reading over other things like television shows, movies, and especially the news, which was the easiest to give up. I wish I could see and read it all! But I start feeling panicked if books are backing up.
9.Bottom released several cds then you guys parted ways with the original line up then you started playing drums in your Zep tribute band Zepparella. How did you find your way to returning to California and jamming with the LZ band?
CLEMENTINE: I started the band because I wanted to learn the Bonham catalog. I figured this would be a great way to get better on my instrument. Of all the greats, Bonham is the one who really speaks to me, to my natural instincts behind the kit, and it made sense. Gretchen got on board immediately and it’s been a remarkable experience, getting inside this music. I just don’t tire of it. It was there for me during the misery years of teenage times, and I think many of the people we play for feel that way. So it makes for a wonderful sort of connection and celebration with the audience, to play the music.
(Zepparella Group Photo..Left to right: Clementine, Noelle Doughty, Gretchen Menn, Angeline Saris.)
Check them out with this live clip of "Dazed and Confused" :
10. Zeppelin is such a powerful magical band. Have you always loved their sound and how does it feel playing such great classic music?
CLEMENTINE: I recorded Zeppelin A to Z on cassette tapes when I was young and I just wore those things out. It’s magical music. When you learn someone’s songs like that, you come to sort of inhabit their bodies in a way. Tribute bands are fantastic educations. You’re not only learning the music, you’re learning with people who are playing the other parts. So those crazy things that happen live, where the bottom falls out and you have to depend on your instincts in the moment, those are referenced by the whole of what you’re playing, and in a way you see yourself clearly as a player and you get inside the mind of the originator of the song. What would they have done in that moment? Well who knows, but when you’re in that moment, trying your best to play the parts they laid down, your instincts are colored by theirs but then of course your own tendencies shine out. Especially with music like Zeppelin’s, in which we get to improvise within their structure. That’s really why the band has been around so long. When you can improvise within the structure of the songs, then you get to become a band within a band. I guess it’s like writing a sonnet, a poem with an established structure. Sometimes when you play within a structure, it frees you to speak with and be very true to your own voice.
I know that tribute bands get a lot of crap in the music community, but I would never trade this experience. It has had a huge part in me finding my own voice as a drummer. I have such a huge appreciation for what he’s given me as a listener and as a player. Plus, I get to play for people who love this music deeply. I feel so fortunate to get to love something so much and what I get to participate in is the sharing of love.
The other badass thing is that I get to play with women who are spectacular human beings, fantastic musicians, brilliant minds, and so much fun it should be (and can be) a crime. Gretchen Menn on guitar, Angeline Saris on Bass, Noelle Doughty, vocals. I am a lucky duck.
11.You guys seem to be very successful, that is awesome. Have you ever met anyone from Zep?
CLEMENTINE: I’ve met Robert, and had a momentary magical eye-lock with JPJ.
12.What Zep songs that are more obscure from their catalogue do you ladies play or would you like to ad to your set?
CLEMENTINE: We try to throw in things like In My Time of Dying, Sick Again, Wanton Song, things the mainstream fan isn’t familiar with. Then the list of songs I’d like to play is basically 9 albums worth. We’ve got about 40-50 under our belt so far. There’s a lot to go. I guess I’d say the pinnacle will be Achilles Last Stand. That’s probably years away.
(Photo: Matthew McSheehy's Photography)
13.I never knew until this year that you had the group Stars Turn Me On with Justin Caucutt. How long have you guys been together and how did it form? I had never heard you sing and it is so cool. Great sound, you sound great and I totally love it. You are a total natural at fronting a band, it made me really happy to find out you are doing that. Tell us all about it.
CLEMENTINE: Aw, thanks Gid! I love writing with Justin. We started playing together about 7 years ago, in a band we formed called The Solid, in which I was playing drums. After about a year of that I came to the realization that I was being called to write lyrics and learn to front a band, and so we started writing together as Stars Turn Me On. I had put out my first solo record under the name Francis Bakin, but barely performed those songs. I wanted to keep learning and growing at writing lyrics and singing, so I was ecstatic that Justin wanted to write with me. I love the way he writes riffs and songs. He left SF for a couple of years, came back last year and we’ve started playing the songs live with bassist Judah Collins and drummer Eric Peterson.
14.Was it difficult to leave the drum throne and front a band? You seem like you have really embraced it and have a lot of fun with it.
CLEMENTINE: You have no idea how difficult. I so admire front people. It is such a mindf*ck! I love it so much though. I wake up every morning sad that I’m not Aretha Franklin, but learning to do something with the voice I’ve been born with is the big lesson. I really love to perform. Some people just live for it. I am one.
15.Do you feel freed up to some degree to not be playing an instrument and just sing?
CLEMENTINE: I definitely like the difference in equipment loading!
16. Are you writing the lyrics and what has inspired you with the new band's sound?
CLEMENTINE: I write the lyrics. I love writing lyrics. I have written for other people as well and it may be my absolute favorite thing to do, lie in my window seat, look at the San Francisco Bay and enter the world of the song. I guess my lyrics are mostly about finding light in darkness. Love. All that fringe-y stuff.
17.Really cool. What have you guys been up to lately?
CLEMENTINE: We’ve been opening a lot for Zepparella, and now we’re about to take a writing break and get some new material going. Very excited!
I’m also nearly finished with an album for a new project I’m doing with Adrian Conner of Hell’s Belles. That project is called BEAUX CHEVEUX, and it is a complete blast to write with her. She has had a long career as a solo artist and the two of us have similar performing styles….. Adrian as Angus and me as Bonham, that’s sort of silly right? But the writing works really well. The music that is coming out of this collaboration is a surprise and a delight. We’re aiming for the end of Summer for the completion of the disc, and I can’t wait!
18. Sounds great and look forward to hearing it. You seem very laid back, peaceful and happy these days. Has returning to the California lifestyle influenced your state of mind and your music?
CLEMENTINE: Well, you know, Gid, you and I are both hippies. Meditation, cultivating equanimity and harmony, that’s really a lot of how I spend my time. I’m finding that getting older is such a gift. I will always be challenged with letting go of old patterns of thought that don’t serve me anymore, but so much old dumb stuff has left me, and I get to be really peaceful and happy so much of the time. I spend a lot of time wishing this sort of peace for everyone.
19.I can dig it for sure. What takes up your time when you're not doing music? Any news or last words today for your fans?
CLEMENTINE: I think I have painted a pretty picture of just how dull I am! Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Ha! That’s pretty much my dealio. I am so grateful that music chose me and that I get to have such a lovely group of people to play it with and for. I hope I always show my appreciation by giving everything I have when I’m performing and recording.
20.Clem, it's an honor and a pleasure. So fun to catch up with you and hear your news.
CLEMENTINE: Gideon, thank you so much for asking me to contribute! You’re wonderful.
Same to you, thank you and wishing you well in all ways. - G