By Kevin Hannon, Contributing Writer
In his debut album, “The Longest Day In History,” David C. Clements soars and swoops with both voice and verse, stratospherically longing in “My Dear Mother” and “Coast” while somberly reflecting on life’s nadirs in “Oh Child” and “Cold Light of Dawn.” He is arguably at his strongest lyrically when contrasting the pushes and pulls of time, one of the central themes of the album – for example, “In December” juxtaposes the recollection of a past love with the drive, both figurative and literal, to revive that which was lost; while “Hurricane” culminates in a stunning contemplation of mortality and time in relation to the notion of history itself. Clements hails from the music haven of Bangor, Northern Ireland, home to musicians such as Foy Vance, Two Door Cinema Club and Snow Patrol. One of the brightest talents in Ireland and avidly supported by the likes of Ed Sheeran, with whom he toured in 2013, and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, who heralded him as “Norn Ireland’s Bruce Springsteen,” Clements is a must-listen.
WSN: A striking theme of the album is that of escaping one’s surroundings, exemplified by “Hollywood;” however, while most songwriters would likely portray such an escape as an act of liberation and, to a degree, a panacea for the problems from which one is trying to leave, your songs seem to be less certain of that. For instance, in “Hollywood,” you acknowledge that even in this idealized daydream, there is both “different happiness and different sorrow,” and that leaving won’t necessarily guarantee happiness. Is that belief borne from a specific experience where escape did not end up leading to what you anticipated or just from becoming more mature as you’ve grown older and realized that nothing is so simple?
David C. Clements: It’s only natural for humans to daydream about what life would be like if you lived somewhere else. For a long time, I had the tendency to come back from any trip wishing I lived there, as if a long weekend with friends in a different country could ever be a realistic view of what your life would be like if you actually lived there. “Hollywood” is partly about that. You can imagine that, if you lived somewhere else, things would make more sense and you could experience whole new feelings, as if even your sorrow would be a better kind of sorrow. I suppose it’s a more realistic take on the grass always being greener.
WSN: Many of the narratives you explore view the world through a cyclical lens, especially as it pertains to generations of a family, most notably in “Oh Child.” What inspired you to return to that theme throughout the album?
DCC: I don’t necessarily have an overall theme to write about as I’m making an album, but it’s interesting to me afterwards when I can see recurring ideas running through it all. I guess the cyclical themes come from the stage of life where I was when I wrote most of it; it’s that mid to late 20s thing where you start to reflect a bit more on your life, your friends, and your family. I think you go through a few cycles in those years, whether it’s friends coming and going or settling into work. You’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.
WSN: What do cities symbolize for you? You frequently write about them, often using imagery of light. Is this meant to be a spiritual reference, perhaps inferring that cities are so bright yet can often have little substance due to their man-made artificiality, saying in “Cold Light of Dawn” that “it’s no wonder we’ve all got our heads in the ground,” whereas the natural light of sunrise is a symbol of renewal or salvation?
DCC: I wasn’t really trying to make a big statement about cities as such. I love them! It was more just a theme that I liked and revisited a couple of times. In “Cold Light of Dawn,” it was just a way of carrying a metaphor. That line was taken from an old song of mine which had the line “we all feel nothing at all ’til the cold light of dawn,” so it’s more that the cold light of dawn is illuminating the mistakes we’ve made and the regrets we may have.
WSN: How close is the Northern Irish musical community? I noticed that you recorded this album at Attica Audio in Co. Donegal, where Foy Vance recorded Joy of Nothing.
DCC: There are definitely aspects of the NI music scene that are pretty tight knit. We’re a small country, but our music has always been incredibly important to us.
Michael Keeney, who also produced Joy of Nothing, produced my album as well. I was introduced to Michael through an old friend of mine who managed Foy at the time. I loved what he’d done with that album and I knew he’d bring something really exciting to mine.
WSN: It’s interesting that you’ve described your music as “heavenly alt-folk,” and yet the subject matter you write about is often quite less-than-heavenly. In addition, your stratospheric singing in songs like “My Dear Mother” and “Coast” provides an interesting juxtaposition to the achingly human lyrics. Is that contrast something that you purposely tried to achieve?
DCC:I try my best to write honestly, to reflect both the positive and negative in my songs. For some reason, it’s always come more naturally to me to write heavier songs, but I try to keep some elements of hope in it all. In terms of my style of performing, I feel like I’m always trying to push my voice more and more, to sing higher and to sing lower. Lyrics can take on a more powerful meaning when backed up with the right melody or sung in the right way.
WSN: In many of your songs, there’s often a sense that events happen involuntarily by force of circumstance and fate, especially with regard to the theme of mortality that runs through the album. A major exception to this is the song “Oh Child,” in which the narrator atones for all of his wrongdoings and accepts responsibility, even to the point of almost apologizing for his son’s mistakes as well, not blaming either on fate. Is this meant to symbolize emotional growth over the course of the album from the wanderlust of “Hollywood” to the eventual inner calm of the final song, “Hurricane”?
DCC: I wrote “Oh Child” as my take on the story of the prodigal son, trying to take in both sides, that of the father and the son. I like that it fits in to the overall journey of the album though. It’s one of the older songs on the album, but I think we found a way to make it sit with the rest of the tracks both in terms of its sound and lyrical content.
WSN: You’ve spent the last few years extensively playing live, shaping your songs through the necessities of stage performance rather than being cloistered in a studio. How much of an effect did this have on your songwriting? How does writing with live performance in mind affect the songwriting process compared to those songs written in the elastic aesthetic playground of the studio?
DCC: About half of the songs on the album were ones that we had already been playing as a band, so in some ways we had to relearn them when recording. There’s a different dynamic to playing in the studio even though we recorded a lot of it live. There are things that work in the noise and energy of a live gig that don’t translate to the studio and the overall sound we wanted to achieve with the album. There’s a lot more smoke and mirrors involved. On the other hand, there were songs that we built up in the studio that we then had to learn for live performances. There are multi-tracked guitars and drum patterns that you have to figure out how to play live, but where would the fun be if it was all easy?
WSN: Can you explain the meaning of the title, The Longest Day In History? Are all these events meant to take place in the course of one day, like a musical version of Bloomsday?
DCC: “The longest day in history” is the last line in “Hurricane,” the last song on the album. “Hurricane” is one of my more spiritual songs on the album about love in the context of life and death. There’s a line at the end of the song, “we imagined how our father sees our lives as short as days,” which is a bit of a biblical reference to a day being like a thousand years to God, so sometimes our lives can seem pretty short and insignificant in the context of all of history. But then there’s the line “we remembered all a day can bring,” saying there’s a lot that we can achieve in our lives. So, if our lives are like a day in the grand scheme of things then it’s like the longest day in history.
WSN: Are there any songwriters and/or performers who have particularly influenced your writing and performance style?
DCC: There’s a number of Irish artists that have helped craft my writing and performing. I think I’ve mostly been inspired by musicians that I’ve been lucky enough to play with and get to watch regularly, the likes of Iain Archer and Duke Special to name a couple. Of course there are big bands and great albums that I love and will always go back to, but there’s something about watching a performer do what they love in a completely live setting that makes me excited to do what I love and inspires me to try to do it better.
WSN: What Northern Irish musicians would you recommend American listeners check out?
DCC: Iain Archer, Duke Special, Ciaran Lavery, and Peter McCauley.
Email Kevin Hannon at email@example.com.