Camera-shy and highly mysterious German DJ/producer extraordinaire Claptone has been tearing it up as a producer/remixer and on the decks over the past few years. Brandishing a wholly unique style that ignores limitations, he’s pushed the musical envelope with each outing. Earlier in the year he issued his standout track “Ghost,” an absolutely brilliant collaboration with Alec Ounsworth of the acclaimed indie-rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Built over a steady, dark groove calling to mind Radiohead, the combination of Ounsworth’s voice and the delicate melodies render the song an instant after-hours classic. Look for another collaboration between the two on Claptone’s forthcoming artist album.
In this exclusive meeting of the minds, Claptone and Alec Ounsworth interview each other about Satan, lyrics and masks.
Claptone plays Verboten in Brooklyn on October 10 and Vinyl in Denver on October 11. His remix of Metronomy’s “I’m Aquarius” is due out shortly. CYSY play Electric Ballroom in London on October 10 and Academy 3 in Manchester on October 12.
Claptone Interviews Alec Ounsworth
You seem to be an expert on this [subject]: How are Satan and dance related?
Alec Ounsworth: Satan loves dancing. Generally, it’s all he wants to do. He can be a real pain in the ass about getting everyone to join in.
Your lyrics in general seem to be far out. How do you write? Are the words you choose more about how they sound or do you create meaning with your choice of words?
The lyrics are pulled from the well and brought into the kitchen where they occasionally become something else entirely. The truth is I’ve worked both ways — really, many different ways — but the most natural way for me is to try to pick a melody that fits the mood of the music (so usually the music comes first) and go from there but always trying to match the sentiment with the music. Usually, the melody comes in the first few tries (or I have the whole thing in my head — music and melody) and then the lyrics, which usually take quite a bit longer, come last and are worked over until they make sense to me (if no one else).
Your cover artwork seems to be very particular. Is there a special relationship between your music and the artwork?
I think it helps to have a cover that fits the mood of the album.
You did some living room shows where you visited fans at home and played in front of a very small crowd acoustically. How did this come about and why do you think does this work particularly well with your music?
Living room shows are something I’ve wanted to do for years. It restores intimacy. I think this is important for both the performer and the audience as it helps them both understand a bit better what the musician is really after. The club and festival shows are fine too but are often overblown and sometimes rely too greatly on spectacle — bright lights! big sound! — rather than substance. Also, I generally like to know (directly) who is out there. I appreciate being able to carry on a dialogue with him/her. It makes it much more entertaining for me.
“I just visited someone I met on a recent living room tour in Charleston. He took us out on a boat to look for dolphins and a bald eagle.”
When you do these living room shows you invade a private area of someone you did not know before. There must have been some strange experiences when doing this?
There have been some strange experiences but nothing is really too strange. The best part is that now I have friends across the country I didn’t have before. I just visited someone I met on a recent living room tour in Charleston. He took us out on a boat to look for dolphins and a bald eagle.
Alec Ounsworth Interviews Claptone
Where did you get that mask?
Claptone: I did not get the mask — the mask chose me. On one of my travels some hundred years ago in what is now known as France I came by a small town and played some songs in their tavern. After the gig a blacksmith handed me this golden mask as a token of his appreciation. I accepted the gift. Wearing the mask since then it became part of me, so today there is no Claptone behind the mask anymore.
I think a general misconception of people who are not of the DJ world (like me) might have is that songs composed by DJs are merely lifted from somewhere else and repurposed. Having worked in the studio with Dan the Automator, an accomplished musician in his own right who plays the parts on his songs or has them played, I know there is quite a bit more to it. What is your approach to crafting your songs?
I can only give you a basic idea how making music works for me as the details are a well-kept secret, and I love my secrets to stay just secret. My song starts in my head — with an idea — then this idea gets translated into sound. This process can take a day or 52 weeks, but when the track is finished I know it.
“Claptone is the sound you create when you clap your hands and say yeah.”
Clapton, Claptone? What’s up with that?
I know what you mean. Some hundred years after I started roaming the world… in the ’60s of the last century this guy from the band The Cream decided to start a solo career. His last name is quite similar to how people call me. But don’t be confused. Claptone is the sound you create when you clap your hands and say yeah.
Last mask question: A performance mask seems an incredible luxury for a number reasons. Have you ever considered providing masks for people and having them perform your music? Claptone plays 20 cities in one night? I always wanted The Residents to do this.
Since rock music conquered our planet the myth of authenticity needs to be kept alive to find an audience for your music. I don’t yet see myself in the position to change that. But it is a challenging thought indeed. I just need some more time to get famous enough to pull that off. Playing 20 cities in one night would be a wonderful way to end my career.
I think our collaboration is natural but just wondering how you came to think I might have worked [on the track].
Though I produce what they call deep house I listen to indie rock or however you wanna call this music since forever. And I have always been an admirer of unique voices, singers you recognize straight away, vocals with character. Your first album rotated on my turntable for ages — did I mention that I love vinyl? Songs like “Heavy Metal,” “Is This Love?” and “The Skin of My Yellow County Teeth” have been and still are mysterious, captivating, haunting to me. After the instrumental of ‘Ghost’ was there it was obvious this song needed a singer with these exact qualities. When I heard your first demo vocals for that track — I never told you — it sent shivers down my spine. Perfect match.