Kliph Scurlock is a remarkably talented and driven person. He was born in Topeka and lives in Lawrence, KS. His drumming skills are ridiculous… I’ve never heard him make a mistake – not one missed beat or uncalculated stroke… I’m sure he’ll tell you differently, as he is a modest gent, but I feel he resides in some super-human category of synchronicity and taste reserved for the greats. To give you an idea of the cut of his jib, here are his five favorite drummers: Steven Drozd (The Flaming Lips), John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Keith Moon (The Who), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), and Jody Stephens (Big Star). As you may or may not know, Kliph worked his way up from being the drum-tech of his favorite band to being the drummer of his favorite band – The Flaming Lips. In skaters-terms you might recognize their music through Cairo Foster’s part in The Lakai Video. Anyway, luckily for me, Kliph let me pick his brain a little bit. Welcome to Scurlock’s world via a series of random questions.
What’s the key to performing a good rock show?
Once you reach a certain level, you have to treat what you’re doing as a job and be completely professional. There’s no calling in sick because you’re too hungover. The people that pay money to see your show usually have to work the next day….and they might have kids and had to arrange a babysitter…..or any number of things. But, no matter what the person’s situation, they have a life and they usually have only a certain amount of money to spend on frivolities (which, let’s face it, a rock show is) and their time is valuable. If they spend money and time to see you, you’d better deliver or they’ll just forget about you and move on to some other band……because there are thousands who want to be where you’re at. People can tell if you’re going through the motions and they won’t stand for it…..and they shouldn’t. Not to belabor the point, but it doesn’t matter if you’re tired or hungover or sick or grouchy or whatever, you’d better go out and deliver the best performance you can every night. And, as I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, the body bounces back less quickly the older you get. I lead what most people would probably consider a boring lifestyle while on the road because nothing is as important as the next show. I hardly ever go out after shows and, if I do, I rarely have more than a drink or two. And I always drink plenty of water so I don’t get dehydrated on stage, etc.
The Flaming Lips seem to always have wild ideas: Designing an album to be played on four separate audio systems, a-la “Zaireeka,” was a great one. Recently you guys broke a world record by playing 8 shows in 24 hours. Who comes up with this stuff?
It depends. In the case of “Zaireeka,” that was an extension of the Parking Lot and Boombox Experiments they were doing (this was in 1996-1997 and I joined in 2002, so….before my time…..though I was a huge fan). I forget if it was Wayne or Steven who was walking through a parking lot after a concert and he heard 3 different cars playing the same song at the same time and they were almost synced up. That was the spark of that idea. For the 24 hour tour, I think VH1 called Wayne to see if he/we were interested in doing something weird during their award show thing and tossed out a bunch of ideas and Wayne jumped at that one. But you never know what tiny thing will spark an idea.
What was it like being a drum-tech for Helmet? Did Stanier always keep his crash that high?
John’s cymbal wasn’t always that high, plus he used to have more of them. I hadn’t seen him in years and we played a festival in North Carolina with Battles last fall and I got to hang out with him for the first time in ages. I had seen live footage of Battles and saw that he had his cymbal super high and asked him why he did that. He told me it was because he felt his natural inclination would be to play way too many cymbals for what would suit Battles, so he got rid of a couple and made the one super high so he had to really mean it if he was going to hit it – no more just jamming on the cymbals because it felt good. And I thought it was really cool that he was more concerned with the music overall than him jamming out when he wanted to…..but that’s one of the reasons he’s such a bad ass. To “relive the old days”, he let me sound check his drums before they played and I had to stand up to hit that cymbal. I know he’s taller than me, but I don’t know how he does it. But, again, he’s a bad ass. There are lots of things he plays that I can’t figure out.
I had the pleasure of witnessing you go off on a guy one night at The Tap Room who drunkenly made the obtuse statement that “there is no good new music.” Who are a few of your favorite new artists and why?
Deerhoof is my favorite band in the whole world right now and have been for the last several years. I honestly can’t describe their music, but part of that is because each record sounds different and they can jump effortlessly from one thing to something completely different several times in one song. Which is, I guess, part of why I love them so much. The level of musicianship they have individually is absolutely ridiculous and they apply this virtuoso musicianship to writing their version of the 3 minute pop song…..which, to most people, isn’t poppy at all, but to me are some of the best written songs ever. I also really love Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Again, they are a band made up of amazing musicians trying to make their version of pop music, but Ariel is such a weirdo that it comes out very skewed. But, again, to me, the songs they play are just amazing and catchy and clever and everything a good pop song should be. I would gladly cut off a limb to be able to write anything as good as “Round And Round.” I also really dig Tame Impala, a psychedelic band from Australia; Skating Polly, a two piece band from Edmond, Oklahoma; I’ve been listening to Cate Le Bon, a folk-ish singer from Wales, a lot lately; Euros Childs, who is also from Wales, and who has been making music for over 20 years solo and with Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Cousins and Jonny seems to have something new out every few months that always floors me; and I can’t not mention Gruff Rhys, who is also from Wales and who also has been making music forever. He’s best known as the main guy in Super Furry Animals, but they’ve been on break for a few years and he’s been doing solo stuff and his music just keeps getting better and better. I’m certain there are more, but those are the ones that come to mind right away.
It took you seven years of playing live for The Flaming Lips to make your way fully onto an album. “Embryonic” is a personal favorite of mine. Did you have a lot to do with the Miles Davis influence on that record?
I had played on stuff before that, but, yeah, “Embryonic” was the first one that I was part of the process from beginning to end. I would love to claim credit for the Miles Davis-ish direction we went in for that one, but it originally happened by accident and, liking the results, we kept going down that path. Besides, Steven and Wayne were also big Miles Davis fans for years. In fact, since he has such a huge catalog, we all had different favorite albums of his and turned each other on to those. I had never heard “Sketches Of Spain” before I met Steven and I don’t think he’d ever heard “Live-Evil” all the way through. But that’s another great example of some tiny spark becoming something bigger: we knew we needed to do something different for that record before we (and the audience) got bored, but we didn’t know what that would be. We tried lots of different things for several weeks and got nowhere and then we were messing around one day and hit on this early 70’s Miles Davis-ish groove and it was the first thing we’d done that excited us. We luckily happened to be recording it, even though it was all through one mic. We really liked what we had done and weren’t sure if we could replicate it with that kind of energy in a real studio, so we took our shittily recorded track up to Dave Fridmann to see if it was salvageable. I don’t use the word genius lightly, but he is absolutely a genius at what he does. Within 30 minutes, he had our track spread across 5 channels with different eq settings on each so we could actually ask for “more guitar” or “more kick drum” and we built on that song from there. We did that with several others on the record as well and it was really liberating to be able to fuck around and not be wasting anyone’s time but our own and then take these great moments we’d accidentally arrive at and build on them from there. We still do a lot of stuff that way.
Is there anything else you’d like to address, Kliph? You seem very politically-minded. What makes you tick?
What makes me tick? Ummm…..well, music obviously. I think about it more than I think about sex (and I think about sex a LOT). I love the seemingly endless possibilities of combinations of notes, words and sounds and I love that there are no rules and your only limitation is your own imagination. And nothing gets my heart racing like hearing a great new song or album. Right now, I’m hooked on the new Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti record and the second I popped open my eyes, I threw it on and, before my brain was even properly functioning, I was in a state of bliss and was inhabiting a world of their creation. As soon as this record is over, I can put on another one and enter someone else’s world for a while. I feel that those who can properly craft a great tune with cool, unique production can get more across in 3 minutes than most people can get across in a 2 hour movie or a 200 page book.
Lately I’ve seen a lunatic fringe of the Republican party becoming increasingly vocal, violent and influential and I’ve been doing whatever I can to stop them from running (and therefore ruining) our planet. The problem, as I see it, is they believe the Bible word for word and believe there is some kind of apocalypse coming, so why not destroy the whole planet to get all of the oil out of it before that time comes? Now, I suppose it’s possible that they’re correct, but I don’t believe they are. I don’t believe a god created our universe, therefore I don’t believe there’s an entity that’s going to destroy it. Actually, sadly, I do believe that there’s an entity that is going to destroy it, but it’s the human race (or a portion of it), not anybody you’ve read about in a book. And, unfortunately, this fringe has their own propaganda network (Fox “News”) and have learned the art of brainwashing by condensing their point down to some tiny sound bite which they then repeat ad nauseam throughout the day. I’ve tried to have discussions and debates with loyal Fox watchers and it’s impossible because they only know the talking points and are lacking the ability to delve deeper than that. Also, Fox has drilled in this sense of victimization, so their viewers are generally pretty self-righteous and super defensive and, like I said, it’s impossible to get any real discussion going with them. It doesn’t matter how many different ways you can prove that what they’ve been lead to believe is false, they will not waver from their point. In some ways, I would like to give kudos to Fox for perfecting the art of brainwashing, but I can’t because what they’re doing is really dangerous. And also, because of them, we no longer have truly “fair and balanced” journalism in this country. When I was in high school, I used to watch the news with my father every morning before I went to school and he went to work. They would simply report the stories and wouldn’t put any spin on it, which left us up to make up our own minds how we felt about any particular story. And it left us with the opportunity to discuss and debate it if we so chose. But you don’t get that now. EVERY news network presents their stories with a spin and with at least an insinuation of how you’re supposed to feel about and react to it. And that began with Fox. I’m all for free speech and editorializing, but I don’t believe you should be able to do that and call it news. So battling this crazy sector of the population that is trying to let banks and oil companies and rich people run completely amok unchecked while infringing on individuals’ rights has been an unfortunate passion of mine lately. And I’m not trying to tell people what they should think; I’m just mainly trying to get them to think period and not believe whatever they’re told outright, especially if they’re getting their information from Fox. The truth is out there, even though it oftentimes requires some digging. I may be naive, but I do truly believe that the majority of the human race is kind, caring and compassionate and I believe the human race overall would do the right thing if they had the correct information with which to base their opinions and decisions on.
Thanks so much, Kliph. You make me proud to be a Lawrencian.