Photo by Dave Serrano

Photo by Dave Serrano

The core of Los Angeles-based darkwave band Clay Rendering are Mike and Tara Connelly. Originally from Michigan, they relocated to L.A. and released a new album, California Black Vows. In this interview, Mike talks about the influence of Hollywood’s “lived-in darkness” on the new album’s sound, their supportive experience on the label Hospital Productions, and what’s ahead for them on their creative path.

Interview by Liam Kelsey

Your new album California Black Vows follows your move from the Midwest to California, and your new home certainly features prominently on these tracks. The album has been billed as an exploration of “the dark heart of the west.” What made you want to explore a dark western aesthetic? Is the iconography of the west primed in any way for this sort of dark treatment?

Clay Rendering has always been heavily influenced by our immediate surroundings. When we were in Michigan we were very isolated. This was by our own design. We rarely left the house, unless to play a show. We had a big yard, we tended roses and made fires in our fire pit. We would sit inside and watch the snow come down. All of that translated directly into our music.

When we decided to move to California, we knew a sonic change would come, but we needed to live and breathe here to find that change. We aren't isolated anymore — we live in Hollywood. The lived-in darkness of this place is inspiring. One of our favorite haunts is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. You can feel the history as you walk in. Don’t get us wrong, we understand this is not ancient Egypt — this is a shallow history, but it still intrigues us and is reflected in this album. The false nature of this entire city and state fascinates us. It’s a desert, it’s not supposed to be here. Palm trees aren’t supposed to be here. This city is not supposed to be here.

It took us a bit to formulate the sounds that are on the album. In fact, we had an album’s worth of material that we completely scratched, save for one song. It didn’t feel right. Once we brought Joe Potts (drums) and Sera Timms (bass) into the fold, everything started coming together. We had a whole new palette to work with. A song like “Blood Into Wine” would not have been written anywhere but here and certainly not without Joe and Sera.

I also have to mention the invaluable service of three other people in making this record. Greh Holger for recording our drums, Brandon Pierce for making said drums sound beyond anything we could have done, and Dylan Neal for his production and mixing and mastering work. We gave him a bucket of moldy rain water and he gave us back a pool of crystal clear geyser water. This record was meant to be made here.

California Black Vows  , Hospital Productions

California Black Vows, Hospital Productions

California Black Vows is an ominous, almost occult-like album, but it’s also quite beautiful. Tara’s vocals, for example, are elegant in a way that seems to run against the dark overtones that dominate many of these tracks. How do you explain that contrast?

There is always a light in our darkness. Tara is that light on this album. We thrive on the edge of darkness. When we say “I will walk into death for you” to each other, we mean it. We aren’t play acting and we aren’t wearing masks. We take equally from dark and light, that line sums it up for us.

What would you say your musical influences are for this particular album? Would you say that this album has a different set of influences from some of your past work?

Our influences and tastes are vast and wide and can range from Manowar to Merzbow on any given day. Everything that enters our ears and our eyes runs thru our filter and ends up in our music.

But yes, from the fact that we knew we had organic drums to work with, we listened to a lot more “bands” this time around. Dead Can Dance has always been an inspiration, and especially on this album. Bad Moon Rising by Sonic Youth and The Curtain Hits the Cast by Low were also on the mind while writing and recording.

Photo by Dave Serrano

Photo by Dave Serrano

You’re a group that has often been called “experimental.” Is that a label you accept? What does it mean, in your mind, to be members of a music underground at this particular moment?

It’s a tag that probably applies more to our other bands, as well as the majority of the bands our record label, Hospital Productions. We’ll always be okay with that. And for us personally, this band has been a huge experiment. Even being a relatively unique band on the label is an experiment. What an opportunity to play on a bill with Lussuria, Alberich, Vatican Shadow, and Silent Servant, and between Linekraft and Junko. Our ideal line up is that right there, night two of the L.A. Hospital Showcase. Everyone there shared something more important than genre. They shared the spirit of the underground. The spirit of working together for a greater thing, bigger than themselves. We don’t know what it’s like in other areas of the underground, but here in the Hospital family, we all have each other’s back, and offer nothing but support to each other. Total dedication to each other’s crafts.

How has it been for you both to collaborate on the Clay Rendering project, in comparison to other collaborations you've done, such as with The Haunting? Have the ways in which you both work together changed in any surprising directions over the years?

We would have never expected that we could make a record like California Black Vows ten years ago. It wouldn’t have even been a consideration. We’ve been together for so long and know exactly the right way to push each other to reach outside our comfort zones. One result of that push is Tara singing on three songs (not to mention other backing vocals) and there will be much more where that came from.

How do you think the music of Clay Rendering has evolved overall? Where do you see Clay Rendering's musical direction going in the near future?

We are in a constant state of evolution, but there seems to be a thru line. I can see a direct correlation with “Nature’s Confusion” and “Closed Circle.” Looking ahead, I think songs like “Black Vows,” “Cities of the World,” and “Take Hold” may foreshadow future songs.

What's coming up soon for you? Any shows or tour dates that you would like people to know about?

We are working on tours and live shows now. We wanted to keep our record release show/Hospital Showcase show a special event, with nothing else planned or announced. Now, we will begin booking the rest of this year. While we toured heavily early on, we have been enjoying the single special shows, particularly Hospital events. We will tour again for sure, but expect more curated one off events with our small sado masochistic family.

California Black Vows
Hospital Productions


Purchase California Black Vows

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Liam Kelsey is a writer from Minneapolis, MN. His fiction, science fiction, and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in Silver Needle Press and other independent publications. He would like you to read Break it Down by Lydia Davis and The Weird and the Erie by Mark Fisher. He would like you to listen to the band Pile.

(Installations and Land Art) MERCEDES DORAME

(Installations and Land Art) MERCEDES DORAME