David Kilgour, in the shadow of the Clean, discusses with BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM his solo breakaway, the Dunedin Sound, and being world famous except in New Zealand.

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“I THINK anything I’ve ever done is always in the shadow of the Clean and everything I ever do is always going to be in the shadow of the Clean. It’s fine. I can’t complain. I’ve been lucky in some ways. It’s a big shadow that Clean shadow. It’s dark, well where I live, it is anyway.” David Kilgour is New Zealand royalty, a member of one of the world’s finest bands of the last couple of decades, a band who overseas music fans talk about in hushed whispers, and the general New Zealand public for the most part are oblivious to. But despite that shadow that follows a solo artist breaking away from successful band, Kilgour has also managed to win renown also for his solo work. He still lives in Dunedin, enjoys his surfing, is still making music and is about to embark on a massive New Zealand to showcase his compelling solo work – the type of work that has got him work with Yo La Tengo and Lambchop in the States, and also the work that he’s going to be taking with him over to the US in November.

Kilgour’s solo tour goes every where from Hokitika to Palmerston North. “I guess I haven’t done a tiki tour like this for a very long time. The out of the way places I think the last time I did this was mid to early 80s with The Great Unwashed [a band with both Hamish and David Kilgour, and other former members of the Clean], we did a summer holiday adventure tour. That was pretty interesting. We did it with two small cars, a dog and a generator.” It’s also a chance to play in areas that wouldn’t fall into most people’s definitions of rock n roll, and Kilgour for one is relishing the travel prospects. “Hokitika’s going to be interesting to see if anyone comes. Takaka, Russell, Leigh. Even Palmerston North, haven’t been there for a long time. We’re just doing really small little coffee shops in little tiny wee places and we’re just travelling round with the three of us . Its’ a very simple little tour, I don’t normally do solo gigs, I don’t normally enjoy them. It’s going to be interesting torturing myself every night.”

It’s a far cry from the early heady days of the “Dunedin Sound”. There must have been something that blew in from the Pacific Ocean onto the South Island in the late 70s to 80s that led to so many damn cool bands appearing. Most of the key Xpressway and Flying Nun bands seemed to have appeared from Christchurch or Dunedin, and dragged New Zealand music to that rare sort of musical credibility overseas that money can’t actually buy. As the man famous for coining the phrase “The Dunedin Sound” it’s not something Kilgour can pin down. “I don’t know. It was just one of those things. Timing, place and time. New Zealand was a sleepy place, walk down Dunedin now and it’s a totally different place. Partly it was a fluke, a lot of young people with nothing to do. Post-punk, new wave thing, DIY, yadiyadiyada. If we left it up to the music industry we’d all have been ignored. It’s time and place, it’s timing and it’s coincidence.”

I’d always assumed part of it was due to the fact that people were bored, starved of international music and had to create a live scene themselves (this assumption is partly based on all my Dunedin uni mates who lament their lack of international gigs, and my assumption that the South Island in the 60s and 70s, like Seattle, was too boring to visit). However, back in the day at least, some of the biggest names in music history would make the trip down South, and the local live scene was thriving, provided you were old enough to get into the hotels. “Most of us tried to get in... The touring circuit was pretty healthy. The whole pop scene was pretty healthy and a lot of international acts used to come to New Zealand regularly. We were exposed to lots of good stuff – Lou Reed came a couple of times, a lot of new waves acts came really early on – The Cure and the Talking Heads.” However, times have changed with the South. “They don’t come anymore. But the list that I saw is very long – the first big show I ever went to was Chuck Berry. Joe Cocker, Split Enz. Shit I could go on.”

However Kilgour does state that despite fewer international bands making it round, the local scene is as thriving as ever. “I can barely keep up with the young bands who are touring and making records. The last show I did go to was Teen Wolf and Haunted Love, a local band, they were great. Have you heard Teen Wolf? They were fun. But I missed the Brunettes, but I like some of their stuff from their new record. I do check some stuff out. I also go up to Christchurch. I went and saw Dylan a few months back.”

The Dunedin Sound was famous for picking up on the cooler, edgier music sounds such as the Velvet Underground and Dylan, rather than necessarily the Stones or the Beatles. So does the recent Dylan compare to the Dylan who had an indelible influence? “Yeah it’s always interesting. I do enjoy him. He’s hit and miss. It was the best band I’ve seen him with. With a better drummer, he’d be pretty bloody good.” Though Dylan’s incessant worldwide touring does not appear to be a possibility for Kilgour. “If my fee goes up a hundred fold, I’m considering. I keep telling my partner I’ll be retiring from touring at fifty. I love the playing but I am tired of touring. But I still love playing live.”

The Clean were one of the great live bands in their prime according to local legend. Solo Kilgour is not so bad as well – he’s always maintained a strong distinction in the sound between the studio and the solo work, thrashing his guitar live, despite his sweet melodies and occasionally acoustic folk on album barely hinting at this possibility. Kilgour’s also working on another solo album with the Heavy Eights (due for release next year), following on from this year’s excellent The Far Now. He discusses his albums with disarming modesty, a quality that seems to pop up everywhere in connection to Kilgour, and was apparent throughout his interview. “We just made it [The Far Now] like we always do. We made it over a year or two. We’d have a handful of songs and we go and record them. We kinda made the album like that. I haven’t made a whole album with the Heavy Eights which is also what we’re doing right now. I would say we’re very different. We’ve been recoding over winter. The idea is to make this album live with a band in the studio. It’s more guitar orientated rock and roll instead of the singer songwriter material. Well, they’re sorta rock n roll... We’re trying to make a rock and roll record. We’ve cut about a third of it so far.”

Kilgour also mentions that the new album features work written by the Heavy Eights too, a band who had typically simply been seen as Kilgour’s backing band. “We’ve been getting a bit more experimental, getting away form the idea of me just recording everything. We’re co-writing more and more. It’s good. I do prefer making music with people whether it’s a rock and roll setting or a studio.” The Clean were more noted (perhaps a little unfairly) for their singles and EPs rather than their ability to focus their sound into an album, something which solo Kilgour seems to do a lot better with each album expanding or shifting focus on the previous one. “I guess they tend to be a bit more polished whatever that means. I think everyone’s a little different.”

Yet as seems to frequently be the way with New Zealand, our best artists aren’t world famous in New Zealand, despite being world famous. Though at least, Kilgour received an Order of Merit in 2001, and his music is slowly being discovered by people of the younger generations. “I think I’m lucky I get any recognition at all to be honest at this stage in my life. I would like to sell more records around the world but certainly in New Zealand, I don’t sell them here. People say ‘why don’t you tour around New Zealand more’, so I go out and tour with the band. Financially it’s difficult. I get pretty good reviews though which is nice. It’s not getting any easier. There’s more of a following in America for the Clean and for the solo stuff. Some of them are split. Some of them don’t know much about the Clean stuff and like the solo stuff and some of the Clean freaks don’t know much about the solo stuff. I’m just generalising here...” It’s something that will surely assist as Kilgour plots another visit over to the States. “It’s a lot of fun really. It’s always fun to go there and tour. It’ll be three weeks non-stop touring and three weeks non-stop driving.” Yet for all his prodigious output, Kilgour still keeps putting the music out there. It seems that all that drives him is “I still have to make another record”.

But one question that all the Clean heads will be wanting to know is there a possibility of another Clean album. “Funny you should ask that, we are trying to work out how to do that. We’ve been talking about it for a year, maybe next year you might see another Clean record. It’s obviously difficult with Hamish living in New York and Bob [Scott] with kids.” But the Clean is another story, another coda to add to a group of New Zealand icons. But there is another tale to tell – a rare musician who has managed to step out from the shadow of a great band, and confirm his reputation as one of this country’s greats.