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  • Interview: Patrick Cleandenim
    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    IBaby Comes Home, the debut of Patrick Cleandenim, is a surprisingly fresh collection of big-band pop with a flair for the dramatic. It's even more impressive when you consider the record was made by a man barely out of his teens at the time. The arrangements are grand, delicate, and surprisingly intricate; they are show tunes for Broadway noir, if such a thing existed. Cleandenim is a soft-spoken, thoughtful young man, and as you'll read below, he's a man with a vision for his art--even though the idealistic vision might overlook practicalities. No matter; being young means trying different things, and what he does next is an exciting prospect.

    I've read several reviews of Baby Comes Home, and many of those reviews focus on comparing your work to artists such as Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach, and yes, it is easy to understand where those comparisons come from. What struck me, though, was reading an article where Elvis's name was mentioned, and when I went back and listened to the record, to me, that comparison overrode the others. Because I do hear stylistic shades of Elvis's recorded work, especially his 1970s work. Was he an influence on your style?

    Oh, certainly, I'd have to say that Elvis was a huge influence for me growing up. For me, I'd have to say that, at least initially, it was mostly his early work that I really immediately fell in love with, and then I fell in love with some of the work of his later career, such as the late 60s, "Suspicious Minds" and the more orchestral work he did.

    I'm a big fan of his work in the final years, because to me there's just something so wonderfully transcendent about the bombastic nature of that era. Well, it's not bombastic in a negative way, but when you play it loud, it hits you like a wall of sound. When I listen to your work, I hear a young man who is trying to do the same thing, who is trying to make a sound and make it BIG, while at the same time making it colorful.

    Yeah, that was definitely one of my goals when I worked on the arrangements for the album. I wanted to create an imaginative space for the listener, where I would have the music existing on one level, where it's not so one-dimensional, as if it were coming out of a radio, but almost like you were surrounded by the source of the music.

    I know that Elvis tried to do that with his material, where he would have a sound that was loud and big and would transmit the same energy as his live performances--and that he could easily perform for his stage show. If you turn up the volume when listening to some of those songs, you could easily think you were in a live show. Were you trying to create that feeling, composing arrangements in a move towards having a big live show?

    It's definitely something I have been working really hard on now. Unfortunately, the way I was working with those songs and the production of the album, I was creating that sound within a studio, and we didn't have a live show prepared for when we came out of the studio. So once we were finished, we had a big question about how we could achieve that live. I have tried on a smaller scale with a smaller orchestra with a few horn players and a rhythm section, and it worked OK, but it didn't hit me with the same impact as the recordings. The live work I am doing now, it is on a smaller scale. It's a four piece, with keyboards, bass, a conga player, and a drummer.

    Are you satisfied with the arrangement?

    I think that arrangement suits the new material. I'm certain that setup can't begin to represent the album, so currently we're playing primarily new music, and very little from the album. I want to be able to perform those songs to their fullest capacity, and what I'm waiting on is to try to settle the means of achieving those sounds. It's not something I am able to do right now. As you could imagine, it would be very expensive to have so many people to perform and tour live.

    I understand. I don't think that the songs would work any other way.

    I think that's true, and that's why the new band is--and it is a new band, completely different players from Baby Comes Home, except for my brother, who played drums on the album, and he now plays congas and auxiliary percussion in the new group. Because I know it doesn't work to play those songs

    When you wrote the songs that made up the debut, did you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get the arrangements just right, without taking into account the ability to reproduce them live, or did you simply come up with arrangements because you had the live show in mind?

    The way I was writing then was with the intention of recording them directly, right off the bat. I'd been working on writing for about a year or so before I really entered the studio. I had been working on the songs for a long time, and my goal was to pick out arrangements piece by piece for each instrument, and once that was completed, that pretty much settled how each song would be. Then we went into the studio, and for many of the players you hear, some of their parts are the first takes. It was a very developed project before we went into the studio.

    I'm sure that as an artist, you must feel conflicted by the excellent material you composed and the material you're almost forced to perform live.

    It's something I've been struggling with, and there's also the issue of time passing. This December will mark two years since the recording of the album, and that was when I was 20. I'd just turned 21 when we finished the album. I'll be turning 23 this December, so it's almost a feeling of wanting to catch up with myself. I am disappointed that we have not been able to totally follow through with the aesthetic of the album live.

    Do you see yourself more as a songwriter or an entertainer?

    I see myself as an entertainer primarily. I have also been investing my time in directing and acting some films, and I think that...I dunno. I also see myself as a songwriter, but it's harder to identify a specific identity as a songwriter, as I see that my style is going to be something that is constantly changing. It would be easier to call myself a "folk songwriter" or a "rock songwriter," I guess, but the way I perceive myself in my head is as an entertainer who is going to pursue a number of different angles with what I am doing.

    Does your new material tone down the feel of what you did on Baby Comes Home, or is it something different? In a way, I'd say it's a refinement of the songwriting. My main goal with writing every song is to create infectious and memorable pop melodies and hooks and to make each song have an emphatic element that singles have. I wanted every song on the album to be a single; I want every song I write to be a single. That is definitely consistent with what I'm doing now. I am still writing music with the same approach; I want my music to be interesting yet appealing to the ear immediately the way all of my favorite songs do. I still see myself as a pop songwriter, but I would say my songs are wearing a different veil now, because the instrumentation I'm working with is different and the players I have now are different. They sound dramatically different, but it's exciting. It's exciting to work with the foundation of each song, and in my head I might see the result as being something closer to the material of Baby Comes Home but working with the songs and working with these new restrictions, these songs turn out as something entirely new.

    Are you consciously addressing the live element with your new songs? Are you intentionally performing your songs live over a an amount of time before you take them into the studio?

    Absolutely--that's been the overarching design of the process I'm working on now. We rehearsed the material constantly and have performed it every week for several months now as a group, as a 4-piece. Going through that rigarous routine of rehearsal and performing for an audience and seeing what works and what doesn't, that's going to help my music a lot, and it's certainly a different process than what I've done before. It's a much more collaborative process, and there's a physical toll--I spend less time at a piano and a lot more time running about, working with my bandmates, which is great.

    I see these things as working out to your benefit. I know that people focus way too much on how you sound like someone else instead of accepting what you do for what it is. (Agrees) I'm sure those Scott Walker comparisons must get old after a while! (Laughs)

    Oh, it got old really fast. (Laugh) I understand that for an artist putting out their first full-length, they need to create a framework for what they might hear as a point of reference, as there is a pressure to create these comparisons to get people interested in a band or an artist. So I understand it from that angle, but I hope as people are exposed to the new material that they understand my focus is on growing as a songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and performer, that my music is not tied down to one specific genre.

    Again, I think it's a really good record, and I think that the changes you've made will work to your benefit, as people will expect one thing and be presented with a whole other facet of your style.

    I hope so.

    Patrick Cleandenim's debut, Baby Comes Home is available now on Ba Da Bing

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 5:06 PM  
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