When I meet Xav Clarke at Rough Trade in Brick Lane, he’s looking longingly at the rows of vinyl. “One day I’ll have enough money to buy them all,” he sighs wistfully. “Till then, at least there’s Spotify.” A psychedelic purple cover of Irma Thomas, sat cross-legged in a teardrop face, catches his eye. “I always think vinyl covers are the best way to judge how good the record’s gonna be. I’ll have to check this out.” We spot a poster for Itchy Teeth’s latest gig and I grab a pic for the gram, before I remember this is supposed to be an interview and we sit down for coffee.
Xav’s been making music with the indie pop quartet Itchy Teeth for about a decade now, but it’s only with the current line-up that the band has really found its sound. They’ve played hundreds of gigs in the last few years (“about 150 in 2016”, he mentions casually), touring round Europe and recording their last eponymous album in a bunker in Germany. It’s imperfect, infectious spaced-out retro pop rock, variously reminiscent of WE ARE MATCH, Papooz and The Flaming Lips – and there’s already another album in the works.
This year is looking just as packed. Having just released a second album, “Love From The Angel Gun”, with his personal project, Captain Fix and The Midnight Honeys, he’s moving to Berlin with his girlfriend in the spring and continuing to tour with Itchy Teeth. In a blue cord jacket from Sweden, knitwear from Pop boutique paired with black trousers and silver boots, and topped off with rainbow glasses, his look loosely resembles the record we’re here to discuss: it has 70s written all over it.
Enjoy the video for single “Let Sleeping Dogs Dream” below. Read on for the full interview.
What is Captain Fix and The Midnight Honeys? A collaborative bedroom project, where I can make the sort of music that’s different from what I do with the band, with some of the really cool people I’ve met around London with very different music styles. There’s less expectation than with the Itchy Teeth stuff, I can really just explore.
When I heard the last album, I did wonder if I was just rediscovering some futuristic 70s synth-pop. What influence has that music had on “Love from the Angel Gun”?
It’s had a huge effect. I actually got into the synth from Tune-Yards though – I saw an interview with her where she talked about how important her synth was to her, so I sold my banjo and bought a synth, and it’s completely changed the direction of my music with Captain Fix. The 70s are all over the album though, the microchord was definitely a catalyst for the whole album.
There’s a big difference between this album (which was a bit more alt-rock) and the last one, especially with how conceptually different and synth-heavy this one is – did you consciously want to move away from the Itchy Teeth sound, or was it quite organic?
It was a bit of both. I thought there’s no point having another project and making the same music. Around the time I was writing the latest album we were doing a lot travelling, I met so many artists from so many different places and everyone had a different take on music, and that influenced my writing – I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Veda Black (the other half of Xav’s cover duo Sas) has really inspired me, she wrote on a lot of tracks with me. Another solo artist Millie Upton did a lot of writing too, and they both sang on the album along with my girlfriend Franzie.
Let’s talk a bit about the concept behind “Love from the Angel Gun”.
It’s a loose concept album – “Let Sleeping Dogs Dream” probably best represents the album as a whole. It’s about someone who keeps having a memory of being a 70s chat show host on a show they used to watch as a kid. But it’s kind of a hyper-memory, they realise the show never existed. From this realisation opens up a whole conceptual world – am I sharing a reality with someone in an alternate universe, is my reality fake, who am I? I’ve been really inspired by Phillip K Dick – when I was writing I went through every book of his – and I think he’s been a bigger influence than any musical influence. There’s a book called Valis, where the protagonist feels like he’s been hit by a beam of pink light and it transforms his whole universe. I like the idea of a sudden realisation changing everything – I think that’s what the album’s really about.
So “Love from the Angel Gun” might be a violent point of realisation?
Maybe a violent but positive existential realisation of how cosmically doomed we are, interwoven with some psychedelic web of amazingness. So, yeah – to sum up, you probably don’t exist and your life is basically this huge fake enterprise but at the same time you still have the opportunity to dream.
What about the music video, how did that come about?
I collaborated with a good friend of mine called Mads Junker – Millie introduced us and we met over this shared love of David Lynch. Audre’s Dance in Twin Peaks, a science-fiction film-noire sort of thing. When you start of with these as your reference points that’s never what you somehow end up with though. A big idea running through was feminine energy – Millie, Frankie and Veda, three of my most talented female friends sharing space and energy. We had a great time filling baths full of milk and other mad ideas.
What’s next for you?
I’m moving to Germany in April which should be fun. I’ve got loads of gigs across Europe with Itchy Teeth, and we’ll be releasing an album at the end of the year which I’m really excited about. And I’m halfway through another Captain Fix album. I don’t really plan my life much, for me it’s just about harnessing this time where I can travel and explore – and making as much music as humanly possible.
Words by Amardeep Singh