By James Lanik
“Clipping.” are nothing if not timely. Their last album “There Existed an Addiction to Blood” was released to the public just in time for the Halloween season, but despite their self admitted passion for genre fiction and vintage hack and slash horror films, their recent output isn’t your typical Halloween camp. Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson elegantly weave elements of old school horrorcore music while deftly leaning on their cinematic influences, of which they’ve all had experience with.
All three members are well versed in the visual arts not just because of their affection for the art form, but because they all come from a kaleidoscopic background of film and theater work, including Hamilton, Battlestar Galactica, Trespasser and Room 237. For them, “clipping.” has become the creative inflection point in which all of their history and experience comes together to create something unique, a culmination of the techniques and artistry that most musicians don’t have such a background in. While their new album, “Visions of Bodies Burned” (October 23rd) wasn’t entirely written in response to the chaotic state of the union we find ourselves in, however, it certainly feels punctual nonetheless.
This interview was conducted on October 21st, two days before the release of their fourth album.
James Lanik: Knowing that you two have worked together and been friends for so long, does “clipping.” feel like more of a personal endeavor than your past work on films and TVs like Trespasser and Room 237?
William Hutson: Out of all of the things we’ve done in the past, “clipping.” feels the least like a job to me. It definitely still feels like I’m just hanging out with friends and doing what we want, which is one of the major differences, but it’s also the only thing we do where we’re completely in charge. There’s no director or producer or necessarily even a market expecting anything from us, so in that sense, “clipping.” is still the thing that seems the most like a personal endeavor and less like the other things we have to do to feed ourselves.
Jonathan Snipes: I will say the line between those things has blurred a lot of overtime for me. You used to definitely feel that the theater and the film work was like, a job; and any music that wasn’t for those things was somehow a reflection of myself as an artist more than the work for media, but I’m not sure that that’s true anymore. It’s all connected, and “clipping.” definitely did not start as being a personal project. We were intentionally trying to divorce the ‘self’ from it and our identities from it, ya know?
WH: It didn’t start out as a career move. It started out as something we were doing for fun, and at first it was intentionally impersonal in the work we were trying to create, at least in terms of the rules we were trying to follow while creating the work. Following a bunch of rules to obscure our own perspective and emotions and political ideas really did just turn it into something uniquely personal. Our artistic choices began revealing those in a way that like actually just singing about our feelings doesn’t necessarily.
JL: I see what you’re saying.
WH: We couldn’t contain them anyway. I mean John Cage setup all these limitations to eliminate authorship or his own values and ideas from his music, and what do you get by following those rules? You learn exactly what his aesthetic is, his politics are, his values, what his philosophy is; so this sort of distancing sort of ends up being as revealing as any other art piece.
JL: I suppose where I come from when I ask that question is that it seems you two approach music production in a very different way because you come from such a different background and back catalog of music, with your work in field recordings and Musique concrète.
JS: Maybe our toolbox is different from some people, but I’m not sure that we’re approaching how we incorporate the things that we know how to do in a different way. We’re not actually intentionally pushing ourselves into territory that’s that uncomfortable for us because of our lives as musicians and sound designers. This is all stuff that we’re comfortable doing. And we’re drawing from influences I think in the same way that crate-digging, boom-bap beats are also drawing from influences, they’re just pulling them from records, and we’re sampling ideas and techniques in the same way.
JL: So really it all kinda started in that same crate-digging way that hip hop first came from.
JS: I think so, I think what we’re doing has a lot more in common with that idea than people initially think. And this is what I mean when I say clipping. became a really personal project for us, because it would really be kind of fraudulent and inauthentic based on who we are and what our lives have been like for us to cut up a bunch of jazz records and make a bunch of boom bappy sounding beats because that doesn’t really relate to our lives of what we’ve learned how to do as musicians and what we do in clipping. I think that only the three of us could make sounds that sound like clipping. And that’s because of our trajectory, it’s all so related.
JL: I really liked your comments on authenticity and I think when you look at it from a critical perspective, I think “clipping.” occupies a really unique niche in rap right now where you reject the overtly autobiographical nature that is always implied with the mainstream rap canon. Fictional personas and story arcs are pretty commonplace in other genres, but I feel like in hip hop, a lot of people would immediately write you off if they got the impression that what you’re writing about isn’t your story. Have you gotten pressure in the past about that? About doing more conceptual stuff like Splendor and Misery which obviously has directly political overtones, but is based on a science fiction narrative?
JS: I mean I think we just get dismissed. I don’t know that anyone’s outright attacking us, but I do think that a lot of that, in the beginning, a lot of the sort of distancing mechanisms and the novelistic way of writing– you may be better asking Daveed this– but I just know his answer from other conversations with him that a lot of the stories he raps about are things he is familiar with that he could say from a first-person perspective. [Since] “clipping.” is the three of us, there are experiences that he has that he does not sort of feel pertain to all three of us as a unit. He can write stories about aspects of his upbringing and aspects about where he’s from and his experience but the authorship of “clipping.” songs as a whole are very much coming from the three of us, and he (Daveed) wants to emphasize that it’s not like, “clipping.’ is me and I get beats from these two guys.” It’s the three of us and that has a lot to do with where the storytelling and distancing mechanisms come from, you know, emphasizing the trio authorship of everything.
JS: I think I get accused of being “inauthentic,” I mean I have a lot of problems and ideas about that word as it relates to music that we don’t necessarily need to get into but that’s an extremely problematic idea for me. I think when we get accused of being inauthentic I think often time those people aren’t noticing that the songs are in the third person, and they assume Daveed is rapping about his own life, and the stories that he’s telling are meant to be in the first person even though they’re not. And so I think the idea of us being inauthentic in some of those reviews stems from the fact that they’re not listening to the tracks and they don’t understand that songs aren’t always autobiographical.
WH: I think the criticism we receive always dances around that word to imply the idea that Daveed went to an ivy league school completely eliminates his credibility as a rapper, and this idea is always from this perspective of white journalists deciding what black perspective is and isn’t allowed in the rap music they listen to and what is or isn’t a real black male masculine perspective.
JL: I agree. So your last project felt like a horrorcore inspired project tinged with bloodsoaked political messages at every turn. This isn’t a new concept to your project, Splendor and Misery tackled the concept of anthropocentrism in really unique ways, but your more recent work has definitely shifted into a more John Carpenter-esque world of blood and fear. Does this shift in genre fiction come from a shift in the message that you’re trying to convey? Do you relate this choice to the current political climate we’re in?
JS: I think innately they are related, but we started making the horror stuff and had the horror idea even before we had the science fiction idea and I don’t think the move from Splendor and Misery to these records means we’re necessarily done with science fiction or that we abandoned science fiction. This was just the next sort of world we wanted to live in after that.
WS: We didn’t decide upon horror because of how uniquely horrific the world became between that album and these new ones coming out, this has been the plan and these were already in the works. If people listening to this think that there’s something about horrorcore and our relationship to the way we deal with horror and monstrosity in the record that seems fitting for the time that’s just kinda lucky for us, because this was already planned, the earliest song on these two records was completed in 2014, and we just sat on it and built around it since then. These two records have been in the works for a long time, and maybe the newer songs are responding a little bit more to the nightmarish scenario that the world and particularly the United States has become, but we were gonna do this anyway.
JL: That kind of answers my question as to whether this new album is a sequel to “Addiction to Blood” or if it was created within the same recording sessions of the first album.
JS: We made all the songs around roughly the same time. We arrived at a place where we realized we made too many tracks and we had to decide how to deal with that. Tony (Sub Pop) mentioned offhandedly that “well someday I would love it if a band would let me take the best song off their album and release it as a single a couple months later” and I was like, “oh we could do that, we have so much material, why don’t we just make two albums and then drop the second album like three months later when we can tour for it,” because we weren’t gonna be able to tour for Addiction to Blood, so I wanted the first album to come out in the fall, and then spring 2020, we have this big tour, and we have a brand new album that is the second half of the first album, and so that was the plan, and then, well, you know the rest.
WH: When we made that plan, we wrote some new songs too, we added some new material to the record, so there are some songs that are newer than others on this one, sort of filling in little gaps in what we wanted to do.
JL: When did you record Chapter 319?
WH: (laughs) We recorded it and finished it about two days before it was slated to come out!
JS: I think we were giving mixed notes to the studio at like 10 pm on June 18th (Chapter 319 released on June 19th).
JL: Were you surprised to hear about the song blowing up on TikTok with the “Donald Trump is a White Supremacist” snippet going viral?
JS: I still…don’t really know what even really TikTok is….
WH: When someone first told us that there were 70,000 TikToks using that bit of audio, I downloaded TikTok for about 2 hours, and I was so glued to it. It just works so well on my brain, I was just like “this is evil,” I will never do anything if this is on my phone, and I deleted it so now if something happens on TikTok I make our friend Kyle send it to me because I’m not gonna open the app.
JL: I have enough media addictions as it is, I could probably keep that in check by not adding anymore!
JS: Exactly. I read too much Slashdot, and all those nerds are really upset about the invasion of privacy that app brings.
JS: Yeah. I mean I think the community it fosters has some really great things happening in it from what I read about it at least so–
WH: Oh my God, there are people I follow specifically on Instagram because they round up really funny TikToks in their Instagram stories, so that’s how I curate TikTok for myself, because people are doing amazing stuff on there, and it’s unbelievably creative and hilarious.
JL: From a production standpoint, I’ve always found the way you incorporate field recordings into the instrumentals to be the most interesting part of your work. These inclusions always seem to feel like they have thematic purpose, taking the EVP recordings on Pain Everyday for example. Are there any other examples of field recordings like this on the new album that you’re particularly fond of?
JS: All of our tracks are always full of field recordings, some by me, some things we make here, and a lot by our friend Christopher Fleeger too, who–when we were looking for something specific has become a really great resource, he recorded the live album for us as well.
JS: Yeah, for example, there’s a lot of bees which he recorded in various parts of the world and some of which I recorded at my mother’s house where she had a bad bee infestation in the walls. He (Christopher Fleeger) mentions this in the New York Times article, but there are a lot of morning ambiances and city ambiances, some of which are in the Yoko Ono piece and some of which are scattered throughout the rest of the record. For about a week I recorded dawn choruses at the sight of the Black Dhalia murder body discovery which turned out to be quite close to my house, and then we had Chris Fleeger also record a lot of overnight recordings at the sight of another Los Angeles murder that we wanted to make some references to that are more opaque and oblique so I won’t say what it is, and then those are scattered throughout the record.
WH: There’s also a bunch of concrète sounds we used in the new Enlacing music video, sounds of nitrous oxide canisters and balloons being filled with nitrous.
JL: I gotta admit that the Double Live record is not what I thought it was gonna be when I booted it up for the first time, haha! I knew that you were gonna take some pretty unconventional approaches to recording, like snaking microphones down drainpipes and across the room but even still, it came out so much more abstract than I thought it was going to be. Was that Chris Fleeger’s idea?
WH: It was our idea for the most part.
JS: We were in Long Island, and I remember you (William) went to the bathroom in the green room, my friend and I were standing outside and the Flaming Lips started sound checking, and everything in the room started shaking, and we were like “holy s**t, we should be recording this, this should be a whole album! Let’s call Chris Fleeger right now,” and we kinda made the whole plan in that green room.
WH: My idea was to have one track be one microphone in one place. When we ended up making the album we ended up doing a lot of editing and not doing that, but I was thinking something much more austere and conceptual that would be one microphone in one place for the duration of one song and each song would be from a different perspective but we ended up going way more out there.
JS: That was definitely the original intent, but you know, Fleeger can’t help himself when assembling a thing, and this is kind of my favorite clipping. release to listen to because I did the least work on it. So I don’t have as strong of a relationship with it. Bill and Chris mostly assembled all the tracks, I did a little mixing at the end, but when Chris started making his edits they very quickly started to sound like his music.
WH: All of the gating, using the drums from one track to gate an unrelated field recording is such a Christopher idea, and so all the really fast, rhythmic cutting, you can tell he made those.
JS: i think the only actual programming I did was when he finished “A Better Place” and then he had me take the recording of me doing his vocal warmups and made a sampling instrument out of it and I wrote new harmonies over the track he made using Daveed’s voice, and that’s the only real bit of editing I did on that record.
WH: I just got a text from Frank at Sub Pop that Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park added “Say My Name” to his “Songs He’s Listening To” playlist.
JL: That’s dope, haha!
WH: Hell yeah!
Visions of Bodies Being Burned is now available for streaming on all major platforms.
Special thanks to Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson for speaking to KTSW 89.9.
Featured Image by Christina Bercovitz