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Clandestine Interview


Clandestine is an energetic Progressive Rock/Metal band from Los Angeles that is making its debut on the music scene with a double-whammy: their first full-length album, The Invalid, and a music video for their first single, “Disappear in You.” (You can watch the video here) On Super Bowl Sunday, Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker huddled up with the entire band -- June Park (vocals, programming), Dan Durakovich (guitars, programming), Sammy J Watson (drums) and Mark Valencia (bass) -- for a sneak peek at Clandestine’s upcoming album.

Robin:  Metal greetings, Clandestine, on this Super Bowl Sunday! What are you guys up to today?

Dan:  Hanging out, and watching the Super Bowl here in a little bit.

June:  I just came back from the barn where my horse lives, and I’m feeling a little grimy after working with her. I get covered in horse hair and dust from the arena sand and stall shavings. All I have in my mind is a good shower.

Robin:  Congratulations on your first full-length album, The Invalid, being released on Nightmare Records February 15, 2011! How has the feedback on the album been so far?

Dan:  It’s been great! A lot of people have been saying that they are digging what we have been doing and it’s always good to hear stuff like that. You pour your heart and soul into something, and to have people actually respond positively to it feels nice!

June:  Because it took us quite a long time to write, practice and record this album, there is nothing new about the songs for us. But when I hear from people about how refreshing and interesting the album is, then I realize, “Oh yeah, it’s still new to them”.


Robin:  So far, it seems like the music reviewers, who have received an advanced copy of the album, have had really good things to say about it.

Dan:  Yeah, so far. (laughs) Let’s hope that continues.

Robin:  Clandestine calls itself as a Progressive Metal band, with elements of electronic music and pop melodies. For folks who are not music geeks, what does being a Progressive Metal band actually mean?

Dan:  Well, to me, it means always striving to keep besting yourself … to keep one-upping yourself … time after time and to keep evolving as musicians, rather than recording the same album over and over again just in a different layout.

June:  To me, it’s about creating music that is powerful, intricate yet melodically memorable and pushes boundaries between different musical textures. It’s not necessarily about following a musical trend. It’s more about HOW you write and think as a musician … to care about the rhythm, the structure of the songs and how it is being played. It’s not all about the hooky melody or formulas that always works. There are all kinds of different aspects that play into making Progressive music. I think, regardless of the type of music, it can be called progressive when the musicians continue to seek challenges. That’s what makes the avid music fans and musicians appreciate this kind of music. There is usually a higher level of musicianship involved in Progressive music, so that is also what makes it challenging -- but also very fun -- to perform this genre.

Robin:  I understand that Clandestine being a Progressive Metal band made it especially difficult to find a drummer who fit in with the type of music that you envisioned. Is that correct, and if so, how did you find Sammy?

Dan:  It is definitely very demanding on the drummer; you are right, absolutely. We have had a few drummers through the years since Clandestine started back in 2006. Our old drummer knew Sammy and was actually Sammy’s student for a bit. We hit him up, and we did it right before we were going to record The Invalid. He learned all the songs, put his own stink on it, and went in and recorded it all like he’d been playing them for months. Sammy’s band, The Apex Theory, had just disbanded the day before we called him. I gave him our rough demos and he called me back in less than an hour wanting to meet up and start working on them.

Robin:  Dan, you were actually a fan of The Apex Theory, right?

Dan:  Oh yeah, definitely. I remember hearing them back before I even moved to L.A. To be able to meet and record with a guy that I was jamming out to years ago, it was awesome, man.

Robin:  June, Dan and Mark, you were all at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood at more or less the same time. Did you know each other when you were there?

Mark:  No, actually we didn’t. June and Dan graduated right before I did. I think I was a level or two behind them, but I definitely remember seeing June at live performance workshops, especially the metal ones. I remember seeing this little hot Korean girl go up on stage and just KILL it. You wouldn’t expect a voice like that to come out of her. It was pretty impressive.


Robin:  Dan, please tell us about how you and June came together and decided to collaborate musically.

Dan:  I remember she came up to me because she was putting a project together, and she saw me play and liked my style. Like Mark said, I saw her play around and I was like, “This is insane! This chick can sing, and is the whole package deal.” She had some songs in her back pocket that she worked on herself. She showed them to me, we collaborated on them a little bit, and that was what became our little four-track EP in 2006. We just kept it going from there. We started really kind of getting a feel for each other and some ideas of what we wanted the next album to become. So then we spent the next two years making sure that happened.

Robin:  June, your original thought was to front a Symphonic Gothic Metal band. How did you go from Symphonic Gothic to Progressive?

June:  Yeah, my early influence was gothic and black metal, but I kind of grew out of it eventually. You know, everyone’s taste can change over time, and I don’t have any objection to that. Dan introduced me to a lot of cool Progressive music, and I really liked them because it was quite different than what I was used to. Also, I was trying to grow out of my own mannerisms because I was afraid that I would be doing the same thing over and over, and I was looking for another way to better myself in songwriting. By working with Dan, it was really great to have different aspects in songwriting. So, I am really happy that it turns out to be this way. I still incorporate my early influences with my newer interest and style though.

Robin:  Did you ever think that you would be doing the screams on an album?

June:  I was expecting, I guess, to do some of it, but I never considered myself to be a full-time screamer. I don’t really see that happening 100% in any of the songs that we will be writing. I use them as a special effect here and there, if the emotion feels right. Well, but who knows? Maybe I will be that angry in the future that screaming for the entire song would feel right.

Robin:  I was interested to read that Sylvia Massy, who is best known for her work with System of a Down and Tool, mixed The Invalid. How did that come about?

Dan:  Sammy worked with her in The Apex Theory, as well. We needed a good mix because we had everything recorded already and just kind of needed somebody to take it to the next level ... you know, to do some justice to the music and to make it nice and fat sounding. Sammy, you hit her up, right?

Sammy:  Yeah, I kept up a relationship with Sylvia over the years. Like Dan said, we’d put so much time in to the production the mix needed to do justice to the music. So we reached out … I think I shot her an email or something … and put Dan in touch. From there, they worked it out and made some time. She definitely has the magic fingers.


Robin:  For each of your instruments -- vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums -- which track do you think best displays it?

June:  I would say “The Invalid” because it has a very quiet intro, melodic chorus, and then it goes to the full-on scream in the bridge section. It’s fun to sing because it has different emotions involved throughout the song. We don’t have a keyboard player, actually; we program the parts on the computer. We have a hard disk sequencer named “Blue” that plays what we programmed. It’s actually working pretty well. More people in the band can be challenging, and sometimes it’s better to deal with a machine than an actual person. (Dan laughs) But eventually we would like to have a keyboard player who can join us. That would be really great.

Robin:  Dan and Mark, which are your favorite tracks on The Invalid for guitar and bass?

Dan:  I’m thinking probably “Fearless.” It’s got cool, little quick difficult-to-play rhythm parts, and then it’s also got more just bolting-it-down kind of groove parts towards the end. So, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s certainly fun to play. That was one song for me that was a bit of a struggle when I was writing it. It was one of the first ones that I started right at the very beginning of writing this album. I hadn’t written anything prior to “Fearless” for a while so when it finally came to be what it was, it felt like a little achievement. Like, “ah, here we go!”

Robin:  Not to bite off of Dan’s answer and all, but I’m going to say “Fearless” as well. Mainly because it’s exactly what Dan said; it’s fun to play, the verse is really cool, and the bass line is REALLY funky. Funk is pretty much what I grew up playing, thanks to my pops!

Robin:  And Sammy, who makes some of the FIERCEST faces in the music video, how about your favorite track for drums?

Sammy:  Yeah, that’s me trying to hang on for dear life. I think they all sit in a different place for me. But challenge-wise, I definitely think that “Dead to the World” was one of the toughest ones by far for me just because a lot of the stuff that I play on there was dreamt up and initially programmed by Dan. So, when I basically had two weeks to learn the record, that song took me to the edge of insanity … that and definitely “Fearless.” They honestly all were challenging, and still are. To this day, “Dead to the World” is the most rewarding because it’s the most challenging.

Robin:  After being teased with a promo, we got to see finally the full-length video for “Disappear in You” this week. How did you pick that song for your first single off The Invalid?

Sammy:  Out of a hat. (laughs)

Robin:  Ah, the deep mysteries of making music …

Dan:  I think we all kind of felt that “Disappear in You” had a little bit of everything in there for everyone. It has a little bit more traditional structure, it’s dynamic, it’s got a very memorable chorus that people can get into, and a lot of rhythmic stuff in there as well. So, it has got all that we strive for, which is excellent melody, excellent rhythm, good harmony… kind of the whole basket of fun.


Robin:  Did you have a hand in making the music video, as far as the story arc?

Dan:  Not really. It was basically Thomas [Meyer], our director. He imagined it from scratch, saw it through filming, brought it all together, and can really call it his own. When he pitched it to us, we were on board with it right away because we felt that it really fit with the lyrics, and it turned out to be something really beautiful. I’m thrilled with how it ended up. What you see there is pretty much exactly how it was imagined by Thomas.

Robin:  Each of you has been a musician for quite a while. What are your earliest musical memories? Or, if you prefer, the thing that really sparked your love of music?

Sammy:  Well, I remember my pops … my dad … used to BLAST Back in Black by AC/DC, and my mom used to listen to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel. I remember that there were like three or four eight-track tapes I found that really got me in love with music … one of them was Led Zeppelin IV, and there was Simon & Garfunkel, and the other was Peter, Paul and Mary. They were pretty damn sweet.

Dan:  My friends showed me some Metallica albums around the same time I started playing guitar, and that was the end of it for me. I think that one of the first songs I learned was “Fade to Black,” if I remember correctly.

Mark:  Typical. This guy....

Dan:  What do you want from me?

Robin:  Okay, well that means you have to come up with something original now, Mark.

Mark:  I was always around music ever since I was born. My dad, like I said before, he’s a bass player. When I was growing up, he was in an instrumental three-piece band and also doing the Top 40 stuff in other projects. Pretty much I would always go with him to practices and to gigs to help him set up gear. So ever since I was a kid, I was always surrounded by it. Those are definitely my earliest memories. My first band, I think I was about 13. I’m trying to remember the name … yeah, it’s not coming to me, but it was pretty bad...haha

Robin:  And for you, June?

June:  I used to listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Dream Theater, Theatre of Tragedy and some Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. I used to show around my kind of music to friends, and they all freaked out and didn’t appreciate it. The Korean music industry is largely mainstream, and it’s rare to meet someone who is into heavy music, especially a girl. Eventually, I left Korea so that I could pursue the kind of music I believed in.

Robin:  Clandestine, I think, self-released The Invalid originally. How did you get hooked up with Nightmare Records?

Dan:  When that came out, it was kind of like a little exclusive fan release. We just gave it to some good friends and fans and a little bit of press, just to try to get some buzz going. That’s how Nightmare reached out to us. There was a little community of music fans on this website, and they were giving us some good buzz. Lance heard about it -- Lance King being the owner of Nightmare -- and reached out to us, “Hey, what I’ve heard is fantastic.” I could tell right away that Lance is definitely a smart guy, and he definitely shares our visions and goals for the album (and for music in general). Nightmare has been around since 1990. That says a lot by itself because as an independently owned label, these days labels either last the long haul like Nightmare, or they die off really quickly after starting out because it is such a rough industry. There’s not really a middle ground. I think it is a perfect match, and so far it has been great.


June:  The greatest thing about Lance is that he understands where musicians come from because he is a musician himself. His business philosophy is not about exploiting the band. It’s really about helping bands to make good music and promoting the bands that deserve attention.

Robin:  Are Clandestine in the process of writing new songs? If so, will the whole band take part in the songwriting process, or will it mostly be June and Dan?

June:  We are trying to get everyone involved. Everyone is trying to write in their spare time. Right now, I’m still in school as full-time student so, it’s a little bit tough right now. But I’m always gathering up ideas when they come to my mind. We’ve written some new material, but not to the point where we can put out an album anytime soon. With the next album, we are trying to involve everyone so that we can have more diverse style in our writing.

Dan:  We haven’t quite hit it that hard yet, but it will get there. Let’s worry about The Invalid first.

Robin:  What are Clandestine’s plans for 2011?

Mark:  TOUR!!!!!!

Dan:  We are working on hopefully something for this summer, getting out there on the road. We haven’t really gotten out of the Southwest U.S.; we’ve kind of been sticking around here. There are a lot of fans out there that we’d love to meet and just hang out with. All the people who have been supporting us all these years.

Robin:  Who would you really love to gig with?

Mark:  If there was one band currently out there I was given the choice to go tour with, definitely Animals As Leaders!!! Epic...

Dan:  Anyone in a similar genre of music so the fans could get a great experience out of it.

Sammy:  Porcupine Tree.

Dan:  Yeah, that sounds good.

Robin:  Do you have any final words for your new fans at Sonic Cathedral webzine?

Dan:  Welcome! We can’t wait to meet you all!

Robin:  Thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral on this Super Bowl Sunday! We wish all good things for your release of The Invalid, and look forward to hearing more from Clandestine. A big metal “thank you” to Lance King (Nightmare Records), Jon Freeman (Freeman Promotions) and Claus Jensen (Intromental Management) for making this interview possible.

Photo Credit for all live show photos: Shootie HG

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