[image-1]There’s a certain visual quality to the music of Charleston’s clint4 quartet. Rather than seeming limited because they don’t have a singer, the all-instrumental band creates songs that move through different sections and moods, playing heavy guitar rock one moment and atmospheric, almost ambient passages the next. Guitarists Clint Fore and Harper Marchman-Jones don’t so much weave around one another as they take on complimentary roles; one of them handling the twists and turns of a song’s structure while the other follows the melodic ideas down one winding path after another.
Their new self-titled album resembles a storm front passing through a wide-open sky, tranquil, violent and unpredictable from one moment to the next.
The band has been together for over a decade, but they didn’t reach this level of sophistication until last year, when bassist Dave Marvel joined the group. Rather than fusing with drummer Chuck McCormick, Marvel’s dexterous bass lines settle in between the guitarists, freeing them up to expand their respective approaches more fully.
“Up until that point, since we had just been a guitar and drums band, there was essentially an overriding bass part that Clint would have to carry out with his guitar melodies,” McCormick says. “That worked for a while, but as we kind of developed and got a little louder, we decided that freeing him up to explore different guitar space was going to be key for our growth. So we decided to start looking for a bass player, and luckily Dave, a great bass player whom I’d known for many years, was available. There was a bit of serendipity there.”
Marvel being able to find that middle-ground comes in handy because, as McCormick explains, every member brings a different musical influence to the group. “Clint comes in with a very indie alt-country vibe in his guitar parts,” he says. “And I’ve always been a rock drummer. I do OK dealing in different genres, but that’s my comfort level. So of course putting those two things together, the sound expands. Then when we brought Harper in, he was really good at adding the right color to the music. Clint’s not playing in any standard Western tonal system; he’s all over the place, and Harper’s really good at figuring out where he’s going and parts that fit for that. Dave’s sense of writing is very guitar-player oriented, and he’s able to listen to what those guys are doing and trying to find a middle ground that works with both parts and still reinforces the bottom.”
McCormick is a bit modest in that description of his role in the band, because he’s also the primary arranger for their music. He links the disparate sections of the songs together from skeletal ideas that Fore brings in or full-band practice sessions.
“My job is to identify how these parts should fit together and then make the changes to the structure so that the songs flow in the best way,” he says. “Sometimes it’s about trying to change the energy in a song and adding a part that breaks up the evenness. And sometimes it’s just a matter of punctuation.”
[image-4] So as you might expect, McCormick was very involved in sequencing clint4’s album, trying to find a combination that put all of the band’s strengths on display. “I was very involved in that,” he says. “I came up with the track sequence for the record by listening to what we recorded and trying to figure out the order that would introduce the different musical elements within the band and make it fresh from track-to-track.”
McCormick says the reasons he works so hard on arrangement and sequencing is that he knows that a band without a vocalist requires a little more focus from an audience, and he wants to try to meet them halfway. “We understand that as an instrumental band, there’s not much going on onstage to hold people’s interest beyond the music,” he says. “It requires a special kind of audience.”
Somewhat unbelievably, the songs on the band’s self-titled album were recorded in one afternoon at The Jam Room studio in Columbia.
“We made sure they were as tight as possible so that when we went into the studio we could bang them out,” McCormick says. “Our goal at the outset was to capture how we sound live rather than build a produced product. We wanted it to be true to who we are. And I think we captured that pretty well.”
And yes, clint4 is another one of the seemingly endless stream of bands that sings the praises of Jam Room producer/engineer Jay Matheson.
“Great guy, knowledgeable and easy to work with,” McCormick says. “For us, we picked him over the other engineers because he had the most experience recording to tape, which is what we did. It was a conscious choice to warm the thing up and add more saturation to the music. Our goal was to produce it as a vinyl album. And he really did a stellar job capturing our performances. He had a great ear and dialed our sound in really quickly. That’s really valuable if you go into it with the notion that you want as little interference as possible. He deferred to us on the decisions and he was very accommodating; he didn’t rush us.”