Interview: Dave Clifford of LVMRKS

dave clifford, lvmrks, interviewDave Clifford is a veteran of the music industry. Besides being the drummer of Pleasure Forever, Red Sparowes, and his new band, LVMRKS, he is, also, a publicist for many up-and-coming bands. LVMRKS pairs Clifford with former …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead vocalist, Neil Busch and Jonathan Hischke, a session bassist for Rilo Kiley, Agent Ribbons, and others. I got a chance to ask Dave a few questions about recording LVMRKS’ debut album and why he won’t play me in Scrabble.

LVMRKS are obviously three veteran musicians. How did this collaboration come about?
Neil and I first met in 1998 when my old band Slaves (later renamed Pleasure Forever) and Trail of Dead played together in New Orleans on the night before Halloween. The other guys in my band and the guys in his band immediately didn’t take a liking to one another, but Neil and I had a good conversation and got along pretty well. ToD ended up playing a REALLY long set, not finishing until 2:30am and we were supposed to go on after them. Their drummer had borrowed my kick drum pedal, which he broke (luckily, I had a spare.) After their set, he handed the broken pedal to me, saying, “hey, your pedal broke.” No apology, no thank you. That pretty much sealed the deal of inter-band disdain.

A couple years later, we were again scheduled to play together, this time in Phoenix. We “graciously” offered to play before them, returning the favor by taking our time to play and tear down. The other guys in Neil’s band freaked out when much of the crowd left, saying, “you didn’t tell us you had a following here!” Neil, however, apologized again for his band mates and even helped us with our equipment. From that point on, the two bands were rivals, but Neil and I would run into each other here and there and became friends.

In 2006, I ran into him again in L.A. where he told me he and our mutual friend, drummer Alan Rosetti were moving to town. They asked if I would play guitar/bass and I joined The Sagittarians, in which Neil played organ and sang. We wrote and recorded a lot of material for several years, playing a few shows in-between. The band was hindered by my being on tour with Red Sparowes for many of the next few years. Alan eventually left to join another band, so I switched to drums and Neil switched to guitar, changing up our sound considerably. We wrote and recorded more, trying to find the perfect collaborators, playing with a handful of other musicians. I eventually got up the nerve to ask Jonathan Hischke (with whom I’d mostly worked as a publicist) to play bass and was quite happy when he agreed. From that point on, we retooled the songs. Working around all of our busy schedules, finally were able to record a full length with Toshi in late 2012.

What is the song writing process like? Does Neil come to the table with entire songs or is it more of a group collaboration?
Neil usually brings in a part or combination of parts and we’ll play around with those for a while. Once we’ve got a skeleton of a song, he will put lyrics to them and we’ll take more time fine-tuning parts, adding bridges and little tricks here and there. Over the course of a few months, songs can go through many changes before we feel like they’re really done. Sometimes even after recording them, we’ll spontaneously start playing a song completely differently. Other times, he’ll have a complete song worked out and we’ll just tinker with the arrangement.

Many people will expect your debut album to sound like classic Trail of Dead. How do you think it is different?
We’ve known that, and it makes sense, but we make no attempts to sound like Trail of Dead. I think Neil’s voice is certainly recognizable from their classic songs that he wrote & sang. But, other than that, the music is pretty different. I think these songs are more direct and there’s more emphasis on the melodies. I can’t imagine people hearing it and being confused or consider it derivative.

What were the album recording sessions like?
Quick! We recorded 8 songs in 2 days, with some overdubs and vocals completed later. We practiced the songs quite a lot ahead of time, so we were pretty well prepared.

What was it like recording with Toshi Kasai?
Toshi is great. I have made several recordings with Toshi (two Red Sparowes albums, Marriages, LVMRKS) and he is incredibly talented and easy to work with. He has great ideas for mixing and I love his techniques for drum sounds and guitar sounds especially.

What’s next for LVMRKS? Any plans to tour?
We’re continuing to write new material, hoping to have a continuous stream of releases in the future. And, with the debut coming out, we are planning to play live. Mostly in the SoCal area, but we’d love to play elsewhere if we can get some appropriate support spots, etc.

Why did you stop playing Scrabble with me? Be honest, is it because I’m too good?
Ha ha. I didn’t just stop playing online Scrabble with you, though you are a great opponent! I had to give it up because it became too much of a distraction. I found myself fixating on games that were ongoing and I didn’t want it to interfere with work. Like any addiction, I take it day by day. But, who knows, I may be on the verge of a Scrabble relapse — so watch out!