The Clem Snide frontman on his love for Journey and why he’ll write a song for anyone for just $200
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The band’s last name may be Snide, but its songs have strong trace elements of sincerity—and, okay, a touch of sarcasm. Still, no one who loves this (former) New York City twisted pop band could’ve foreseen that its newest release would be an EP of covers made famous by the uber-earnest arena rockers, Journey. But damned if the mournful, cautious indie approach laid-down by Clem Snide and its brilliant leader, songwriter Eef Barzelay, doesn’t work beautifully with those Steve Perry songs. It’s wry here, soulful there, and altogether a quiet little joy.
In advance of the band’s performance at A.V. Fest this weekend, Barzelay answered some questions about arena rock, his love for Journey, and why he’ll write a song for anyone for just $200 cash.
The A.V. Club: Were you an original Journey fan, or part of the post 9/11 Journey groundswell?
Eef Barzelay: There was a post 9/11 groundswell? I didn’t know that. I did love Journey back in sixth grade, even had the “Open Arms” 7-inch, but then I traded it, along with all my Foreigner records, for Led Zep IV.
AVC: Are you worried at all that the album will be perceived as a stunt or Gen X joke?
EB: I wouldn’t really say I was worried. I do perform all my own stunts. I have always been interested in that grassy knoll that lies between sincere and insincere, so maybe there is some of that in it. Mostly though, in the last couple years, I’ve tried to surrender my own artistic will and let the universe guide me, the universe being [A.V. Club editor] Josh Modell, Kickstarter, and the A.V. Club’s undercover series this time.
AVC: You’re known as a detailed, assiduous lyricist, and Steve Perry is, well, not. How did you square these two approaches?
EB: I like putting other singer’s words in my mouth, all the more so with ones so big and broad. Journey’s lyrics can be clunky, but I appreciate the effort of finding the poetry in them. Really, I didn’t even think so much about it but just let myself be the vessel.
AVC: There are six songs on the EP. How did you go about the winnowing process?
EB: I didn’t really try to do many others except for “Open Arms,” actually, which I just couldn’t seem to keep afloat.
AVC: Do you see any connections between Journey songs and Clem Snide tunes?
EB: For sure. We both sing for the lost souls of the world. [Journey’s songs] just soar triumphantly, whereas I tend to whimper.
AVC: What’s up with the next full-length Clem Snide album?
EB: I’m getting close to having a batch ready to go, so maybe in the spring.
AVC: You were advertising this year that you would write a song for anyone as long as they had the cash. Can you tell me about this intriguing, recession-friendly plan?
EB: Yes, for $200 I will write you a song. I usually charge $100, but I’m a bit backed up. It’s been a real salvation for me financially and creatively. I have almost 90 songs at this point, and when I listen to them, it’s like someone else is singing, which I think is awesome. I will release them at some point.