The Past Has Been Crazy: An Interview with clipping.
clipping. Photo: Suzy Poling
Los Angeles experimental act clipping. recently performed the final show of their US tour at Sound On Sound Fest, and it’s their first tour in two years. The group, consisting of Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, could be known from one of many things, but many are familiar with Diggs’ prior role as Thomas Jefferson in the critically acclaimed play Hamilton. The group also made their network television debut on the Late Late Show, accompanied by a large modular setup. While on the road, the group spoke with Free Press Houston about their upcoming tours, Sub Pop Records, and our electoral history.
Free Press Houston: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time for the interview. Could you start off by describing a shortened explanation of how the band formed? Is William the core of this group, as he knew the rest of you at different times?
Jonathan Snipes: Well, Bill and I started the group together without the idea that it would be any original songs, it started as a remix project. A few tracks into that, Daveed moved to town from the Bay Area, heard a little bit of what we were doing, and we all said, “Oh, let’s try to do an original song.” So, that’s how that came to be.
FPH: On Wikipedia, clipping. is labeled as experimental hip hop, noise, and industrial hip hop. Do you think that labeling like that divides genres further than they need to be?
Snipes: Genres don’t really exist. I mean, they’re just created by journalists and music marketers. You can’t really think about that when you’re making music.
FPH: I know that the band is fans of fellow label mates Theesatisfaction, a group with a somewhat similar sound. Why do you think Sub Pop is starting to add hip-hop to the roster? Historically, the label is known for rock, especially grunge, but what is the future of hip-hop on labels like that?
William Hutson: Well, that started because Shabazz Palaces was put on the label through — I don’t remember by whom, but Ishmael Butler, who’s in the band, had connections to Porter Ray, who’s a rapper and should have a record out pretty soon. Sub Pop is known for certain things, but as far back as the founding of the label, they’ve had a ton of different genres and styles. I mean, they’ve had Six Finger Satellite, Reverend Horton Heat, Earth, Codeine, etc. None of those bands sound alike, and none of those bands sound like Mudhoney or Soundgarden, but those were all from those early days.
FPH: Prior to this interview, I spoke with another label mate of yours, METZ. Are you guys friends? Have you seen each other live? Basically, do you believe that the Sub Pop community is tight?
Snipes: We’d go out of our way to see METZ, for sure! We like them a lot. We don’t know too many other people, but I’ve hung out with Morgan Delt a little bit, he’s really nice. He’s from Los Angeles, too.
FPH: Without being too specific, the band has been compared to Death Grip — who also played Sound on Sound — in the past, but do you enjoy that? What separates you from them and what do you still have in common?
Snipes: Um, we don’t really listen to Death Grips, and I don’t think they actually make rap music, so I don’t understand the connection, personally.
Hutson: I mean, we get it, but, like, their first thing came out after our first thing, and that became something to identify us. You know, I think it was a good way to point early bands towards us. I appreciated that, but yeah, I don’t know. We don’t pay attention to it. I’d say part of the reason we don’t listen to anything new put out by Death Grips is because we don’t want anyone thinking we could have been influenced by them, even though people tell us that there is similarity. We’re not trying to imitate, reject, or be influenced by them.
FPH: So clipping. made their debut late night performance on James Corden, set up with moogs, which was surprising to many. Do you think you could take that gear on tour?
Snipes: No, maybe if we had a totally, radically higher budget with a lot more resources we’d do it and bring something like that out, but it’s pretty cumbersome and delicate. Actually, the modular synth broke from that trip, transporting it from my studio to theirs. I blew up a power module. Yeah, so it’s not the best portable touring rig.
FPH: What drew you to that, was it the complexity of learning the instrument?
Snipes: I like the music that other people have made with them, with modular synths.
Hutson: As a sound design tool, you’re going further and further back to the core aspect to what it is: you have to make the connections by hand to actually end up learning a lot about electric sounds.
FPH: Have you gone into the history of Moogs on records, in particular the Switched On Series by artists like Wendy Carlos?
Snipes: Yeah, of course!
Hutson: It wouldn’t specifically be Switched On Bach, but any of the ones by Wendy Carlos are really good. The imitators? Not so much.
Snipes: There are a few pretty cool Switched On Country records, but I forgot who made those. Usually, I’m not super into the imitators. Those first four Wendy Carlos Bach records are incredible.
FPH: This is your first tour in 2 years, so how have you prepped for it? Obviously, Daveed’s role in Hamilton delayed the touring process, but why was now the best time to begin?
Snipes: It was the first opportunity that we really could. We’ve been trying to tour with our friends, Youth Code, for a really long time, and they had this tour booked that happened to align with the Sound On Sound offer for us, so it made sense to jump on that tour with them.
FPH: In addition to your show at SOS, the last date on your small tour, have you made any progress on a more extensive one in the foreseeable future?
Snipes: We’re touring Europe in December, not a big tour, but we’re going to Europe in December. When we get off of that, we don’t have any specific plans, yet.
FPH: What about the studio?
Snipes: To make another record? I mean, I live in my studio, so we’re always working. We’re making stuff. We recently released a new song.
FPH: To conclude, I wanted to ask you guys which was more intense: the election of 2016 or 1800?
Daveed Diggs: Oh, man. The election of 1800. I’m the only here that would know about it. The election of 1800 was way more brutal. I don’t know. I think that it’s a nice reminder when we get really frustrated with politics these days. If you actually look at those old elections — the kind of things before they had any traceable accountability — it’s crazy, you know? Like, people actually put out articles saying an opponent died. One of my things with doing Hamilton was that politics has always been interesting, and the past has been crazy.