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Column258Live at Sonics

Column258 live at Sonics. Photograph by Julia Andrews-Clifford

An interview with Column258’s Ross Clifford

Ross Clifford from the psych-noir band Column258 talks to Jude Montague  Ross Clifford is the driving force of collective improvisation group Column 258. The band has two upcoming releases: a flexi disc with our label Property of the Lost, and an EP the group started back last year entitled ‘The Imaginary Album’.

What is Column258?

Column258 is a multi-disciplinary & groove making, sensory explorer… a 7-piece neo-psych group, a true experimental collective, combining spoken word + improv. Mischievous art-rock pulsates at sonic outer-limits… as the Column deliver one big addictive sound and huge cinematic atmosphere. Blending analogue with digital, from found objects and samples, from horns to korgs, hypnotic guitars weave through inventive song cycles.

The band often play against a backdrop of projected films and have a live dancer – depending on stage space! Each vocalist having unique styles of attack and delivery
from Robert Wyatt to Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. This band is all about the psych sounds of kraut and freakout ’60s folklore crossed with punk and delta blues.

JM: Tell me about the making of this new release. What tracks have you chosen and why?

RC: Selecting tracks can’t be a science, it can depend on which recordings really move the song to a new level making it worth hearing, or it can be a song that in live situations gets a lot of positive feedback, so we figure that there’s something magnetic in the dna of that song worth getting to tape – so it’s a mix of many things.

We were working with one of our group just before she left to go on an extended tour of New Zealand, so wanted to get a bunch of tracks down before she flew as she has such a beautiful voice – somewhere between Janis Joplin and Sandy Denny … We bundled into an old Victorian workshop surrounded by boats in various stages of build, and without any fixed preconceptions of either what we wanted or how we might record it, and some pretty amazing stuff came out which is all on the album. ‘Man with the Flame’ is a harmony rich Jazz breakout, featuring our very own ‘Miles Davis’ – Andrew Cooper on horn. ‘Black Jaguar, is more road movie raw blues and there’s a song called ‘Riva’ about Berlin which is played on a beat up piano with 2-part vocal and features Ted Barrow from the Homosexuals on circuit bending, injecting some cool atmospherics… to name a few.

I’d place the sound of the album anywhere between the music making cracks of Massive Attack to Gong via The Alabama 3… but I only say that as to provide a field of reference, Column258 is pretty non-categorizable, and therein lies most of its beauty and enigma.

Column 258 live at the Beacon photo by Chris Broughton

Column 258 live at the Beacon. Photograph by Chris Broughton

JM: What is the current line up of your collective band? What roles do each of you play?

RC: Column’s line-up is always definitely in shapeshifter mode … The group has sort of settled into a core unit but with a collective mentality, with our love of collaboration it is often expanded to include musicians we love and respect working on the edges of their practice … So we are currently working with the fantastic Belgian dancer called Yanaelle Thiran for instance.

Matt Williams sits behind the drum kit and brings a pop and prog dynamic to the sound, with the multi-instrumentalist Yair Katz on variously percussion, guitar maybe flute … bringing some Eastern feel to the rhythm section that includes the meister riff-maker Nick Weekes on bass guitar, and suitcase of effects.

Andy Cooper brings a big country English psych in both acoustic guitar and voice and plays cornet like butter wouldn’t melt, helixing melodies with our wondrous Kath Allsopp on violin. I play electric guitar, write the lyrics and because of that often take vocal duties. On the album also, you’ll hear the massive voice of Evelyn Conn lifting the songs to new highs.

JM: You describe your music as ‘psych noir’ sometimes – what does that mean to you? Is it hard to sum up your music in a phrase like this – do you feel like it is too reductive?

RC: Definitely reductive, Column258 couldn’t combine more sets of influences … and within that Russian doll we each have quite broad tastes… We don’t all sit down and listen to Randy California… we’re all into our own thing, but when the sum of that weaves together you get this sonic tapestry that falls outside of popular genres…
‘Psych noir’ I think comes pretty close as a descriptor… We are definitely aligned to psychedelic soundscapes,
and the poetry underpinning the music is often dark, creating cinematic narratives that fall well within film noir. This album is our most melodic yet, and the rambling soundscapes are more clipped back to create more punchy 4 minute songs. Did I mention it can be fucking punky? Cut and paste art rock with Classical flavours?

Column 258 live at St Andrews Mews Photo by Andrew Davies

Column 258 live at St Andrews Mews Photo by Andrew Davies

JM: What are the ambitions of Column258?

RC: Ahhh, to keep on moving on… expanding our sound, drilling down to the bare bones of what makes a song then
charging at it from all directions to break it apart to find the rainbows inside. More festivals, more albums, more collaborations, countries more love.

JM: Why are you called Column258?

RC: When I first moved to Hastings I worked on the new pier, and the foreman told me the divers had been under the structure to cat mark out all the supporting columns – but one, the central one which supported the old ballroom was missing – Column 258 … roll on a few years when I was starting the band and thinking for a name that would have a Hastings connection, Column 258 just dropped in!

Column 258 live at Sonics photo by Julia Andrews-Clifford

Column 258 live at Sonics. Photograph by Julia Andrews-Clifford

JM: I believe you are working with a dancer. Tell me about this.

RC: Yanaelle yes – he popped up at one of the ‘Off-Radar’ events we used to run at The Beacon, and she’d come over from Eastbourne to check out the scene … We realised we shared a passion for interdisciplinary collaboration and whenever possible she joins us on stage and if you’ve seen her, know she just brings a special dimension to whatever it is we are creating in any given moment.

JM: We loved the ‘Off-Radar’ performance series that took place at The Beacon. Can you describe the series briefly – do you think it will return?

RC: ‘Off-Radar’  was to bring artists, poets, dancers and musicians together who were working in some kind of renegade outer edge way, who were usually not part of the big names that carousel in a boring fashion in the town, but to champion these talented DIY-ers, these troubadours and unlisters and offer them a platform and spotlight to do what the hell they wanted – no bars, no formulas – it was pure fucking magic.  As for more in the future – would never rule that out!!!

JM: If people come to see your band play, what can they expect to hear and experience?

RC: Wow! I think they can expect the unexpected … Truly … Often the band don’t know what is coming next… I’ve been known to disappear mid-performance, Nick sometimes treats us all to his electric pinecones … So yeh!

And of course the manifestation of the Silver Glove is in the spirit of all that!
(The band comprises some exceptionally gifted and inventive musicians – so no matter what you are into if you like music there’ll be plenty of takeaways for you)

RC: I would say if you are intrigued come and experience us … we’re next playing with Montague Armstrong, with their new drummer Stiv Rippengal at The Pig on Friday 17 May (doors 7:30pm)

Column 258 at The Pig

Column258 gigs:
17 May: 7.30pm at The Pig with Montague Armstrong  Rippengal
18 May: at the Jenny Lind with Thee Headshrinkers (Property of the Lost)

Find out more on the band’s website  and facebook page.

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Posted 16:25 Thursday, Apr 11, 2024 In: Music & Sound

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