Album of the Year: Club Night – “What Life” (Interview)

What Life, released April 5, 2019 on Tiny Engines

(John’s Pick)

Bear witness to the unmistakable sound of nails begrudgingly being pried from atop the coffin of meaningful indie rock. Something is stirring in Oakland, Ca. A spirit and energy I believed to be a thing of the past has resurfaced and I find myself trying to spread the gospel of Club Night to everyone I know. Those that heed the call are as perplexed as I that this group isn’t…well…bigger than they are.

It felt as if something was terribly wrong. A glitch, of sorts, in the musical matrix. I friend plays a song (Cherry) and I forget whatever we were talking about. I ask that age old question; “Is the rest of the album this good?” Because, let’s be honest, how could it be, right? Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice and all that.

See it’s normal to go through periods where you are reaching and compromising because music, as a whole, is dipping into some low point. You tell yourself you’re enjoying something because you think you’d lose your mind if you had to accept the fact that there really is nothing worth listening to anymore. So you say ah, this is okay. I’ll decide to like it. And you may even fool yourself for a while. Then you find whatever hack mediocrity you resolved to like a year later in some forgotten corner of your online library. 

That’s the kind of thing that was happening with me when Club Night first reached my ears. 

From the moment you put on What Life and let it take you through it’s alluring, oddball tunnel, you can tell that it’s only to be a downhill journey. No arduous trudges uphill. The listening is as effortless as it should be. 

Throughout the opener “Path” there is the sense that pandemonium is being carefully controlled. Josh Bertram’s vocals feel on the verge of breaking into a full on scream most of the way. But with the mix and frequency they could almost be mistaken for a whisper. It’s ghostly. The push and pull of the melody from verse to chorus to bridge make a game of tug-of-war out of your emotions. 

“Cough” morphs from one strange, be-witching beast into another, into another. This is a favorite of mine. The way it comes in languidly for a few measures of verse before it doubles pace gets me every time. Again with the whisper/scream that could pass for a choir of mad children.

“Mute” keeps the tradition of changing up cadence mid-tune with a beautiful, subtley prog stamping out with Bertram belting in time,

“Sleeping in a bed of horsehair

Starving

Yeah we wanted it all

And we fall like ribbons

Who lust with a vague sense of purpose

Yeah we wanted it all

Unravel your tears onto my breastbone

Yeah we wanted it all”

The longing for meaning or purpose appears to be a central theme all through What Life, obviously.

They up the ante considerably with the last side-A offering “Cherry”. Noting here the drums are constantly rolling across many pieces without leveling off into a commonplace beat. Impressive. This tune, at it’s core, is almost like the alien Club Night attempting to fit into the human skin of indie rock. Not to say that it’s a mockery or standard. But it does bring to mind forebearers of the genre and the influences become more apparent. Alas, Club Night fail to hide their own unique take on things. Especially with the magnificent finish; a more muted, repeating melody that brings to mind Modest Mouse’s “Out of Gas” or “Heart Cooks Brain”. The loop here showcases all instruments and players without any one element dominating. To say it goes on too long would be ridiculious. As it goes past the mark of a sensible stopping-place, you realize that you needed more of this groove. The only sensible way to make music is to ignore conventions. I’m glad they did here. It’s one of punk rock’s (Yes, I said it) most shimmering moments.

The record loses no steam with “Trance”. It’s overall quality is anthemic and almost uplifting. Everything is (as with all these tunes) strategically placed. The piece ends on a bombastic note with distorted guitar leads interweaving (again, not dominating) with the rest of the delicious onslaught.

“Wit”s three chord verse alternates with it’s At-the-Drive-In-esque chorus perfectly. This one staggers out on yet another bastard bridge out of it’s place. 

A ballad of sorts, “Village” seems to be a love song to ones-self. It’s one of the more optimistic tunes, lyrically. It’s a brief one for this band but like with the jam at the end of “Cherry” it is as long as it need be.

What Life ends as monumentally as it lived and breathed. Club Night pulls out all the shifting stops with “Thousands”. From one movement to another to the final thunderous chorus(?) I am struck again by the words “punk rock”.

You can’t convince me this isn’t a punk record. At it’s core, punk is simply ignoring the conventions and doing your own thing. The sense of loss of purpose in the lyrics speak to punk ideals and the screaming certainly doesn’t hurt my case. 

Punk was conceived in New York with bands like Television, The Talking Heads, Blondie, Pattie Smith. Innovative musicians inspired by and living for art. You follow that line of thinking out and Club Night is the only natural conclusion for the year 2019. Best Punk Album. Best Whatever Album. 

Best Album

As an aside, be sure to check out Club Night’s 2017 EP Hell Ya. It’s revolutionary. 

Here’s my interview with Josh Betram himself:

First off, tell us about how Club Night started.

The general idea of the project started incubating over the course of a few years prior to us getting together. It started to solidify into a reality when on a trip up north to Rebecca’s dad’s house while we were listening to music in the car and we laid out a bit of the sonic blue print for what we each wanted out of the music. We were both very interested in creating something aggressive but also sassy and playful in a way, something in-between early The Mae Shi & Blood Brothers. I had only seen her play drums at that point, but Rebecca really wanted to play keys and we both really wanted Ian Tatum to play lead guitar as they both had previously played in a band together called Sad Bitch and I really admired Ian’s writing in Meat Market. Devin Trainer came up as the natural choice for bass as we were all big fans of his work in Twin Steps, and Josiah Majetich was the last piece of the puzzle – he had recently moved to Oakland from Michigan and I saw his band Care play at my house 5 years ago and was totally blown away. 

Who are the artists that have influenced you the most where Club Night is concerned?

A few bands I can think of off the top of my head, At The Drive-In, Built to Spill, Pinback, The Blood Bothers, Saddle Creek Records, Don Caballero, Dilute, The Mae Shi, The Books, Kickball, Bear vs Shark, Xiu Xiu, Black Eyes, Daughters, Mewithoutyou, Minus the Bear, Q And Not U, Owls…

How is Uncle Charles these days?

Sadly my uncle passed away while we were writing the Hell Ya EP so that’s why I wanted to include that voicemail into a piece of music. I found myself constantly listening to his voicemails after he was gone and he had always been such a huge supporter of my musical endeavors over the years so I thought this would be a good way to memorialize his beautiful spirit. He was an avid jazz fan and was one of the few family members that could kind of understand the experimental music I was interested in making. 

Do you have any material written for a follow-up to What Life?

We do! We have 4 songs composed as full band songs, and the rest of the record still needs to be fleshed out with the group but I’ve got a ton of guitar parts/rough sketches that I’m excited to bring to the table. We’re a 4 piece now and have undergone pretty big line up shifts this past year and a half, Rebecca and Josie have moved to different states so with a big transition like that we’ve also been playing catch up and restructuring old material with our new drummer Nicholas Cowman of Religious Girls.

What does Club Night do for fun, barring the obvious?

I play soccer 4 nights a week, Nick loves to play tennis and runs a screen printing business, Devin is always tinkering and adding to his modular synth set up, and Ian regularly has his head in a book or a drawing pad. We all love to camp and bbq together when can 🙂

Your sound is very specific to you. You seem to have stumbled upon something wonderful with Club Night. What went through your head the first time you heard your own recordings?

Thank you that’s very sweet 🙂 Personally I was pretty taken back by how fun it was to listen to, up until that point I hadn’t been apart of a project that made music like this with so much rhythmic energy. I remember riding my bike to work listening to rough mixes while we were first recording and feeling that momentum and it was really cathartic.

When you’re performing what goes through your head? 

“Don’t fuck up” is usually what’s going through my mind. I am super self conscious about playing with everyone in this band, they’re all such virtuosos when it comes to their respective instruments. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to play with them because it makes me have to try and keep up with their level of consistency.

What inspires your lyrics, meaning, what are the general themes and/or what or who inspires you to write at all? 

For this band it’s been mostly writing about what’s happening around us in our city and sometimes the country as a whole. I tend to keep a list of words and phrases I overhear throughout the day and end up composing the lyrics from that pool. Usually once the song is all done being written musically is when I try and dissect what it’s mood is and where it’s dictating the themes/words to go. 

Is there a scene to speak of in Oakland? If so, any bands worth noting here?

Oh yeah so many talented projects right now! Rose Droll, Boy Scouts, Pardoner, Blues Lawyer, Dick Stusso, Marbled Eye, Freak No Hitter, New Measurement Group, Half Stack, Unity, Twompsax, Bobby, Pendant.

What are you listening to lately?

Pretty obsessed with the new Arthur Russell album that surfaced this month https://arthurrussell.bandcamp.com/album/iowa-dream

Reading?

Currently reading “Trout Fishing in America” by Richard Brautigan

What did you grow up listening to?

Pretty much whatever was on the radio, I wasn’t lucky enough to have parents with a vinyl collection or an older sibling with good music taste.

Any tour plans?

Not at the moment, we’re mostly just focused on writing new music as a 4 piece. Although we’re always open to touring if the opportunity arises. 

Can you hang a genre on Club Night (Cause I cannot)? If so, what would you call it?

Honestly we can’t either, I did like when Ian Cohen called it “Celebration Rock” All these new genre titles are probably a little corny at this point, but I definitely think the music tries to feel like a celebration of the chaos that is being alive in this reality.

Where can we buy your record? 

At our shows in the Bay Area, but if you’re not local you can find the physical on Bandcamp and digital on any of the sites where people buy music these days.

Parting words?

Hug your friends ❤

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