Clipping. is one of those bands that it feels wrong to describe as “a band” but at the same time it feels just as strange to call them a “rap group.” They’re a noise project as much as they’re a hip-hop trio, making some of the wildest beats in the game. Accomplished sound engineers with the utmost regard for popular music, yet with an unwillingness to make music any other way than exactly the way they want to.
Regardless of how you choose to categorise them, what they’re making is authentic. Authentic in the sense that the music that results stems from a genuine love of experimentation, the creative process and the often agonizing details that go along with it. The mad scientists of modern music, blasting away at 12-bar progressions with a blowtorch then using the most detailed of craftsmanship to wield golden era inspired beats that crackle and pop in all the right places. The perfect balance of calculated exploration, while still allowing for those beautiful mistakes to seep through, clipping’s June 10th release is one of the most charmingly subversive albums of the year.
As the band unveils a live stream of their forthcoming Sub Pop debut, Best Fit took some time to sit down with the guys and find out what makes them tick. From their painstakingly methodical musique-concrète techniques, to making weird music that’s still accessible, working with Three 6 Mafia, and the evolution of their live show, the Los Angeles trio introduces us to their disturbingly unique take on music, it’s clipping (bitch).
When you guys first came out in 2012, I would imagine a lot of people compared you to Death Grips. How did you feel about that?
Bill: People continue to compare us to Death Grips.
Daveed: I think we sort of understand why that happens, although we don’t think we sound anything like Death Grips.
Bill: And you know they’re doing great, they have a lot of fans, if it makes us more visible to mention them, that’s fine. I would love to take all of their fans.
John: I remember when—before we thought this was going to be a band or a project, before Daveed was involved. Bill and I started doing this as a remix project. We’d take like existing acapellas and make beatless beats to them. And we had done like two or three of them maybe, and we were like, ‘Ah this is pretty cool,’ and then that Death Grips song “Guillotine” came out. Basically Death Grips happened, and remember you said it to me, you were like “Well… crap.” [Laughs] And then every other Death Grips song came out, and we’re like “Oh, they’re not actually making rap music at all, it’s a totally different thing.”
The reason why I asked is because I hear a lot of Outkast and Three 6 Mafia vibes on the new album, and get more Shabazz Palaces on the older album. I’m curious where you’re influences come from.
Bill: I think, maybe they’re not as obvious, they seem pretty obvious to us, in each song. They get transformed so much through the actual making of the songs. Most tracks start out with mainly influences, and us saying, ‘We’re going do our take on a thing like this.’ Also that’s part of why, I think the guest rappers we got on this new album are who they are.
We were like, who are the people we’ve been listening to for our whole lives, that we really admire, that we think somehow had something to do with shaping what we want to do? So it was like, Gangsta Boo, you mentioned the Three 6 Mafia vibes, and it’s like yeah, we love Three 6 Mafia, and Gangsta Boo is one of our favorites, he’s our hero from way back.
So we wanted to wear our influences on our sleeve, like with King T and Guce, Daveed and I are from the Bay Area, where Guce is like a super star and nobody knows him outside of the Bay Area unfortunately, which is a shame cos he kills.
John: Like first choices. So obviously, 90s gangsta rap, and just sort of the history of musique-concrète and experimental music is a lot of the techniques that we use when we
make the beats.
Daveed: I think also as far as rap influences, sort of borrowing techniques from a lot of newer artists that aren’t necessarily in the common vocabulary yet.
In other interviews, you guys have said that you’re just making rap music. You’re in Los Angeles, and right now LA is killing it with DJ Mustard, YG and TDE. Where do you see yourselves fitting into the LA scene?
Bill: We worked with Cocc Pistol Cree and she is like Mustard’s go-to lady rapper, and we listen to all that stuff, we follow it like crazy, and I would say that stuff has a huge influence on us, but it gets so transformed through our hands that you might not hear it.
Daveed: Particularly, while we were working on this last album, two albums, we were listening to so much Schoolboy [Q], a lot of that stuff comes through to me when I listen to it.
I think certainly being in the Los Angeles climate, and being exposed to all of those artists all the time, of course is influencing. Rap is a very regional art form, and because we’re in LA, the sounds in LosAngeles are influencing the music we make, but I think we’re also very consciously reaching into other areas and pulling from there too.
John: Yeah, the whole fitting into a scene thing I think is tough. There’s a lot of sort of that regional chauvinism in rap music where it’s like people really ride for their cities and have huge fan bases at home — and I think because there aren’t a lot of people that sound like us, and we’re not really the most likeable type of music in the world, we have a lot of fans, but it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, three dudes in Dublin. And this one guy in Poland really likes us.’ Our fanbase is really scattered.
And we don’t have a crew of other rappers like us, you can’t be like ‘Oh yeah we’re a movement, we’re a scene.’ We don’t have like a whole bunch of other rappers that sound like us that we’re like trying to bring up. I mean we would love for that to happen, I want a crew, but we just don’t have that yet.
So I want to talk a little bit about the new album. Midcity versus clipping., they’re so different. What’s changed from one album to the next?
John: Well Midcity wasn’t really an album, it was just kind of every song we had made through a period, and when we had enough, we kind of capped it off and said, ‘That’s an album.’ And if you took those songs and sort of arranged them in the chronological order, the way we made them, I think you really hear us learning to make music… this way, over the course of that. Half of those are sort of finding this journey and then there’s kind of half that I feel are more coherent. We got to sort of the end of making songs and realized we were on our way to something.
Bill: What feels different to me is like, there’s a drastic difference between us working as ‘This is our primary thing.’ Which is what the new album is, versus, ‘Oh we’re squeezing this in in our free time and it’s fun, and only we like it,’ cos we didn’t think anyone was gonna like it. And even when we played it for our friends at the time, before it was out, we would get like sort of blank stares like, ‘Cool, yeah… you dig rappers from the past. That’s awesome. Um, alright, way to go guys.’
John: Definitely a lot more care was taken on the new record. I mean it would happen on Midcity too, where we would get to the end of a song and we would go, ‘Well that’s a song,’ and like, ‘Aww if only we had done this one really time consuming thing right.’ But here, I can think of a particular sound on this record that we recorded maybe four or five times, that each attempt to record this particular idea that we had involved like a two hour trip to the desert and like really trying to get this one thing right.
Daveed: The vocals on clipping are like agonised over, cos I think I spent so much time in the studio, just like, ‘Do it again, do it again.’
John: We recorded all of Midcity in my home studio, and recorded all of clipping. there too, but we would go redo the vocals at a different studio with a different engineer. Cos we sort of learned that we
needed to do that first pass of vocals, cos it was the first time that Bill and I would hear the vocals, then we could all kind of talk about them and then that would give us a chance to rethink them a little bit if we wanted to, give you [Daveed] more a chance to get more familiar with how to do them…
On both Midcity and clipping., the intro. What are those are about?
Daveed: It’s kind of proof of concept, you know?
Bill: Here are the things that we do, really fast, all at once. It’s an overture.
Daveed: Yeah, it’s the overture. It’s just like, really sort of canonic. An impressive sort of virtuosic verse, that kind of black, sort of broad—sweeping visuals that covers the territory that the album is gonna cover and then also some kind of really specific, aggressive noise idea.
John: And also, rap albums have intros. And skits. And we’re trying to maintain the tradition…
Bill: There’s no skits on this new one, we couldn’t think of anything funny. But we love that stuff. It’s just another attempt to indicate that this is rap music, we’re fans, we’re not trying to dismantle rap, we don’t sound like this cos we hate it and we’re trying to destroy it. We’re just playing along, we’re doing what we can, in a genre we love.
John: And doing it this way. I mean making beats the way that we do is—I think, is way more sort of honest to our backgrounds, and our interests, then if we were just trying to make a bunch of 808s and rave sounds.
That should be your next skit.
What? 808s and rave sounds?
There’s this raw energy to your live show - sometimes it elicits an energy in other people as well. How did it develop to become what it is now?
Daveed: It’s been a process. When we first started it was like, you know, do a lot to sort of, get rid of the first person aspect of the lyrics, so let’s make the show the same thing. And sort of remove this connection that an audience gets with a human being on stage, but that’s just no fun. At the end of the day, if you go to a rap show, you want to participate, you want to interact. And call and response is a part of the tradition. Being engaged with the audience is part of the tradition.
So for me, it’s been a real process of figuring out where that balance lies, and trying to make it something that is still exciting, but is not necessarily, ‘Here’s this guy Daveed on stage, and we all know a whole lot about each other after we’ve finished this show,’ right. We can save that for after the show when we walk out and talk to everybody, but like during the show it’s really about energy management. It’s about, ‘This song is a hype song, how do I get the audience to feel the way the song feels to us?’ This song is a more introspective song, what are the things that we can do to make that feeling wash over the crowd?’
John: Our shows were very kind of stoic and there was a wall, and we were presenting recordings and presenting ideas, but we weren’t engaging.
Bill: We were flashing really bright lights that were in between us, at the audience, so they couldn’t even see us.
John: These really sort of gnarly Home Depot work lights. It was cool. But I mean we’re not making music that’s designed to be alienating. I mean the reason we make these sounds isn’t because they’re alienating and weird, the reason we’re making these sounds is because we like these sounds. We engage with these sounds. I mean this is what I want party music to sound like. When I go to a show and want to be engaged and want to party, this is what I want to hear.
If you had to pick a food or a dish to describe your sound, what would you pick and why?
John: Is Fernet Branca a food? Our tour rider requires that they get us Fernet Branca. Only one place has done it.
Clipping’s self titled album is released today on Sub Pop. They play ATP’s Jabberwocky Festival on Friday 15th August - tickets available here.