Clem Snide has had an almost comically fractured history. Formed in 1991, the band broke up not long after, then regrouped and finally released a debut album—the stunning You Were A Diamond—in 1998. Things got strange after that for frontman Eef Barzelay, who’s been the only constant in the group’s history: Clem Snide signed with a major label, but split after just one record. Buzz started to build in the early ’00s, with the NBC show Ed choosing “Moment In The Sun” as its theme. By 2006, though, a rotating lineup and other twists of fate conspired to end the band. Barzelay had an ambitious record, Hungry Bird, partly finished, but he decided to abandon it—and ditch the Clem Snide name once and for all. He found some happiness scoring a movie, Rocket Science, and hoped to continue doing that. A couple of solid solo albums emerged (Bitter Honey and Lose Big) before the singer-songwriter did another 180, re-igniting Clem Snide with most of its 2006 lineup and the recent release of the “lost” Hungry Bird. The constant throughout this jumbled history: Barzelay’s incredible songs. Whether he’s penning gorgeously quiet love songs or paeans to pop culture, he’s an ace. With the band slated to play the Mohawk Patio tomorrow, Barzelay spoke to Decider about hope, money, and the end of the world as we know it. (He feels fine.)
Decider: Was there a point in Clem Snide that you actually quit? Did you decide you were done with making music “professionally”?
Eef Barzelay: I can’t do anything else. If I had some law degree, I’m sure there would have come a time in the last couple of years where it would have become just impossible to not go to that other profession, because I have a fucking family to support. But foolishly, or perhaps not so foolishly, I did not prepare for failure. I can’t go on tour and come home without any money. I can’t leave my wife here with two kids and come back with a couple grand and be like “Hey, it was awesome. It was beautiful weather, and I was high. We slept at this guy’s house and it was weird. Some girls came by. Nothing happened or anything, but it was just weird.” That kind of shit does not go over well in my house at this point in time. But the good news is, Clem Snide is back. And so far, it’s been getting some really good vibes, some good energy from the world. The worldwide collective unconscious seems to be receiving Hungry Bird nicely, so that’s always good.
D: So who’s in the re-ignited Clem Snide?
EB: Me, Ben Martin, who was the last drummer in Clem Snide, and Brendan Fitzpatrick, who was the last bass player. And that’s pretty much it. Brendan still lives in Brooklyn, but he came to Nashville and we played and it felt really good—even playing those older songs just felt good. And I think I got my shit together, too. I finally got my guitar sound worked out; it took me 10 years. So my guitar playing is a little more robust, and I think will fill out the sound more. It’s going to be like Hüsker Dü or something, a power trio. It’s going to be funkier, too, groovier. Sexier. I’m always trying to make the music sexier with every album, every tour. I just try to inch my way toward just a little sexier. I know it’s tough for me. [Laughs.]
D: Have you actually accomplished that?
EB: I’m just more comfortable inside of my own body and inside of the songs. I think when Clem Snide first started, if you even tried to move your body to any one of the songs, you’d have to like, be hospitalized, you know? You had to go to the nurse afterward.
D: Well, you certainly sound less cynical than you once did. Is that a fair assessment?
EB: Yeah, I just don’t really give a fuck anymore. I’ve been through this so many times now. I’m just grateful to be able to keep doing it, honestly. I go to my kid’s school and I hang out with the other dads and I see how 40-year-old men generally live, and like 98 percent of them do not get to get into a van with some dudes and smoke some weed and put on Captain Beefheart and drive through Arizona, and then eat some weird Mexican food, then play in a club and hang out and get drunk, you know what I’m saying? I get to do that still, and I appreciate it. I really do.
D: Do you want to talk about the record? We talked when you were recording it, and you had lofty goals.
EB: I don’t know what I was going on about back then. I think the simplest way that I could explain my concept for this record—and it’s only half-true—is that it’s post-apocalyptic children’s music. This record is really the record I got to spend a lot of time on, which I did not get to do with other Clem Snide records. End Of Love was so rushed, and Soft Spot was rushed, too. I wanted to really take my time with it, and I was fortunate enough to have that luxury, because it was right when we moved to Nashville. I wanted to make a big record, like Dark Side Of The Moon or like that Neutral Milk record, something that was all kind of tied together, and the songs are long and expansive. And lyrically, I wanted to really go for it, you know?
D: So do you still feel connected to those songs now that it’s finally coming out, three years later?
EB: The live thing is separate from the record for me. It’s always going to be different than it is on a record, because every record I’ve made, there are people playing parts on there that are not going to be coming on tour with me. As much as still feeling connected to it, it’s more like rediscovering. That goes for the older Clem Snide. I’m trying to play at least two songs off of each Clem Snide record, that’s my goal for this tour. I’m not just gonna hit them with Hungry Bird start to finish.
D: So the idea now is that Clem Snide is a reignited concern? So you’ll do this tour and maybe do another record?
EB: I’m not sure, I couldn’t tell you. I could make a record for free at this point and it would be what it is and I could find someone to put it out and give me a little money for it. I don’t think I really need to stop doing it, but as far as just how much, if it becomes some sort of mid-life, glorified hobby kind of thing, I don’t know. If my wife got some high-paying job and I had to stay home with the kids? At this point, I would do that. I would have to do that.
D: Would you be happy to do that?
EB: I would. At this point, I’m really just glad to be alive. I’m just fucking glad that I’m not dead or bleeding internally or something. And I think shit is about to go down. I warned these people, too, but did they listen to earlier Clem Snide songs? Did you notice the prescience?
D: Are you saying that you predicted the financial collapse of America?
EB: Yeah, there’s a song on End Of Love called “Collapse” which I think is very poignant. Have you heard of this guy Jim Kuntsler? He has this blog called “Clusterfuck Nation.” Just go and read the last couple of posts there. That’s how I feel. Something’s happening. Something big is happening, and I just wanna be there when it does.