Other than a couple of distorted press shots and a scant collection of surreal music videos, very little is actually known about Clarence Clarity. He’s an enigma – a conjuror of freakish and impenetrable waves of sound that are both wildly disconcerting and bizarrely poppy. So really, it makes a lot of sense that he would choose one of the most unsettling places imaginable for his first face-to-face interview. Parked up on the top floor of a deserted Peckham car park, he opens the passenger door of his super slick vintage Ford and beckons me in. “I didn’t want it to be a statement,” he says, almost a bit embarrassed. “I just don’t like crowded, public places for conversations like this.“
In actual fact, he’s nothing like what you’d expect (whatever that is). Dressed in smart, dandy-esque attire, he’s relaxed, friendly and self-deprecating. It’s strange to think that this is the same person who kept things so quiet for so long. “I never set out for this to be an anonymous, mystery thing,” he says, rolling his eyes. “It wasn’t calculated. People interpret it like that, but it was more just to put the music first. I want people to judge it on its own merits before they worry about trying to find out who I am. It shouldn’t necessarily matter.” Despite that, he is still fiercely private. Although chatty and forthcoming for most of the interview, any questions about where he comes from are greeted with a slight wince. “Is it really relevant?” He shuffles a bit. “I don’t have a problem with talking about my life and what’s going on, but it just feels a bit unnatural to me.”
“I never set out for this to be an anonymous, mystery thing.”
With an album soon to be released on Bella Union and a stint supporting Jungle lined up, the hype is only building. So why is he hiding behind an alter ego? “[Clarence Clarity] is not an alter ego,” he states. “I just like the idea of having this perfect clarity to everything I do. When I started doing this I had this mantra that I had stuck on my wall – ‘clarity’. I wanted to be concise and focused. It’s just having this focal point.” His eyes drop a bit bashfully; clearly very aware of the words he is choosing. “The music is really dense at times, but it’s organised chaos. That’s what I’m going for – chaos theory. The idea that something can be complex but ordered at the same time.”
“A couple of people have picked up on a sort of Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake kind of thing. I love it.”
Dense is certainly one way of putting it. Clarity’s songs are bubbling over – squelchy synths, Bhangra-style hooks and ghostly samples are all squeezed together and boiled to within an inch of their lives. “[I like] something that just feels a bit wrong, something that makes you want to move in an unconventional way,” he explains, mulling over each word. It’s a sound that is uncannily familiar, but any questions about his potential influences are met with another awkward shuffle. “Any name that I drop will just get duplicated. A couple of people have picked up on a sort of Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake kind of thing. I love it. I definitely embody some of that disgusting, packaged thing when I do vocal performances,” he laughs. “It’s all meant to be part of the surreal picture that I’m painting, really.”
So from the looks of things, 2015 is set to be the year that things get much more surreal – both for Clarence himself and his listening audience. Despite the fact that there is a lot to be nervous about, he shrugs it all off with an air of admirable nonchalance. “The only way I can be creative is being in my moment, and if I think about what anyone else’s expectations are of me it all falls apart. When I’m in the zone with music it transcends all that.” He stops himself and gives another slightly embarrassed wince, but it’s clear he’s being sincere. “It sounds a bit cheesy, but if I want people to get anything out of my music I guess that would be the most flattering thing to hear – that it takes them out of themselves.”
Taken from the December 14 / January 15 issue of DIY, out now. Photos: Malvin Mosaics.