Back from the brink of self destruction, The Clay People seems finally poised to return with a new album as vocalist Daniel Neet tells ReGen about his battle with addiction and the band’s evolution into a tight-knit alternative industrial/metal unit.
An InterView with Daniel Neet of The Clay People
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
The Clay People is an interesting entity in the coldwave scene, having undergone numerous permutations of sound and style to carve a singular niche of its own. Hailing from Albany, NY, the band began in the early ’90s as something of a darkly danceable rock group possessing the cold electronics commonly associated with industrial, but not really adopting the genre’s more abrasive textures until the full-length debut, Firetribe
, in 1994. Subsequent releases like the Iron Icon
EP and the fan favorite Stone-Ten Stitches
saw numerous lineup changes to culminate in the creative core of guitarist Brian McGarvey and vocalist/programmer Daniel Neet, as well as a deeper delving into an effective blend of alternative rock and metal guitars with seething electronics. And the scene just ate it up, with tours and collaborations with Chicago’s Cracknation collective resulting in the Iron Lung Corp., but The Clay People’s greatest success came in 1998 with the self-titled album, produced by Grammy award winner Neil Kernon. Settling into a lineup that included drummer Dan Dinsmore, second guitarist Mike Guzzardi, and bassist D. Patrick Walsh, The Clay People crafted a sound that was still heavy on electronics, but was streamlined into a polished alt. metal sound that gained the band significant attention, appearing in the soundtracks to Strangeland
and Universal Soldier: The Return
, as well as several video games.
The Headhunter Demos
followed in 2001, but it would not be until 2007 when fans would hear the next full-length album, Waking the Dead
; a disjointed effort that would be the last we’d hear of The Clay People until 2012 when the tragic death of Jamie Duffy would revitalize the band. Appearing at the first two ColdWaves events, The Clay People returned to the studio and would over the next four years work on a new album – it would not be an easy endeavor as Daniel Neet had fallen prey to the ravages of drug addiction, leading to a public breakdown and confession via social media. Now at the end of 2017, Neet took the time to speak with ReGen Magazine
to report on his rehab and recovery, as well as to deliver the news that the new album from The Clay People is indeed a reality, finished and scheduled for release in early 2018! He tells us about the songwriting and production process, once again working with Neil Kernon, and the evolution of both the band and the industrial music scene. Welcome back!
I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that I hope the recovery is going well.
Neet: I’m very happy with where I am today and I’m very fortunate and grateful that I’m still alive and able to continue to work on our music. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity, so I’m very fortunate to still have that on my plate.
Given the public nature of your addictive breakdown, what are your hopes for people to not necessarily forgive, but to allow you to return and not let that be a hindrance on their ability to enjoy your new music?
: Well, that can never go away. I can’t hide from it. I am who I am, and I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if I didn’t go through it. The problem is that we are not educated enough on addiction, that people are not educated enough on addiction. One out of four people do have an addiction issue; it could be smack or crack or it could be food or religion or whatever. It’s out there and people all have it. One out of four people are supposedly diagnosed with it because it’s now considered a disease, which was very hard for me to wrap my head around, that I have a disease. Being in this particular scene of music and art, and a person like me who was extremely introverted as a kid and very uncomfortable in my own skin throughout my entire life and dealing with issues of depression constantly, it was only a matter of time before I started trying to find something to fill the void in me. When The Clay People broke up or went into limbo in the early ’00s, I was fortunate before that, even though I have this particular disease, that I had art and music in me. I went from doing music going back to art school, and that sufficed for awhile until I ended up in my senior year in college. At that point, the roller coaster had gotten so out of hand that that’s when the floodgates opened up and the dam broke, let’s just say, and I went fully into my addiction, and I did not care. I did not care who was around me. I did not care about anything but trying to numb all the pain in me. I did come out of it a few times – or as I like to say, I popped my head up out of my ass – and the last time that I did, I was doing very well in kind of getting myself back together. How do I explain it? I was not going through proper therapy and I was trying to heal myself. I felt personally that I’m intelligent enough that I could fix it myself; I’ve always been that way – ‘Fix it yourself, Dan, you can do this.’ Years ago, when people would say, ‘You’ve got to go to L.A. or New York to get signed,’ I’d say, ‘No I don’t! I’m going to do it right here. Don’t challenge me, because I’m going to do what I want.’ So again, with my addiction issues, I always felt like it was me who would take care of it. Unfortunately, with all of the trauma that happened before that, and I’m not looking for pity because that’s not what this is about, but when one of my friends had just passed away… and I’m going to put this out there, I think we’re talking about a person who was undiagnosed with addiction and either did not know or did not have the tools to handle that addiction. But his passing… well, it got a little bit darker for me, and that threw me off. It was the icing on the cake; it wasn’t because of him passing away, but it was his passing that threw me over the edge at that point.
I can certainly relate, because I’ve been the same way – taking things on myself and allowing addictions and habits to take over.
: That is a problem; someone like you might be able to go out with your friends for a night, and you’re fine. But if you take someone like myself, I can’t do that. I can’t do a one-off or just party for a night. Once I start self-medicating, or not using my tools properly, and I know this sounds cliché but they do hold importance for me now because they have meaning, more meaning than they ever did… it’s all about education and people knowing. We’re at a point now where people have to realize that we don’t just have an epidemic, but a pandemic going on. We have millions of people out there that are addicted and undiagnosed among the people who are diagnosed who can’t seem to stay out of their own way. You wouldn’t turn your back on someone with diabetes or a heart disease or cancer. If you look at it as something like that, it’s huge and tons of people are dying everyday. The ones of us who have survived it, do we live in guilt now because we’re the ones who survived? I’ve buried 12 acquaintances within the last year. 12
: And these were brilliant people – musicians, artists, bankers… there’s no prejudice with this. I don’t want to keep on preaching, but I see it now and I understand it, because I was isolated for so long and never had a community, and when I found the wrong community, it would be even worse because misery loves company. And by the way, ‘Misery’ is one of my favorite early Clay People releases. (Laughter) But now, at least I can look at it and think, ‘I’m here for a reason. I’m still around. What’s my purpose?’ I believe my purpose is to stay healthy and continue to do music and art, and there is someone out there, and I pray that they do read this InterView and realize that if I can do it and find help, then they can find help too. I hope they do, and I’m here if someone needs me. That, of course, brings us to my therapy, and my main therapy has always been art and music. The new record coming out does have a lot to do with me trying to kill myself, and I know I’ve sung about it for years. This album was going to be my funeral march, pretty much. Now, I can look at it as my cry for help. There’s a lot of anger on this record, and there’s a lot of pity and a lot of victimizing, but I realize that that had to be exorcised and I had to get it out. Fortunately for me, enough people have realized that I’m one of these people who live with a lot of pain and I have to learn how to deal with it. The new record definitely shows my bridge to try to find recovery or death, and luckily for me, I found recovery.
Excellent! It’s a subject you’ve talked about before and addiction is something that lasts and is something that one must stay constantly vigilant against in one’s own life. What would that have to do, if anything, with the re-recording of ‘Strange Day?’ Will this and the new version of ‘Palegod’ be included on the new album?
Neet: Now, Ilker… do you want me to give away all my secrets before the album comes out?
(Laughter) Well, that is an answer.
: Here’s what it really comes down to. When ‘Strange Day’ was written, I didn’t really know what I was writing at the time because I used to just let things come out. Even though they had meaning to me, I wasn’t quite sure what the meaning was because I am so scattered and so stuck in my own head. I remember that when it came out, there were a lot of fans that loved that song! We played it out once
– once ever in our whole career, which was in Chicago only by the request of Jason Novak. He said, ‘Will you please play this song?’ He thought it was our best tune, and I was like, ‘What? We’re heavy, and we’re mean as hell.’ (Laughter) Obviously, we had a song at the time that we didn’t want to channel. But this goes back to when Jamie Duffy died, and I fell into that particular song to me having a lot of weight. It kind of kept my head afloat… for a minute. The Stone
record, and I’ll talk about this briefly, was never recorded the way it was supposed to me. To me, it was a glorified demo record, and the production was the best at the time with the budget that we had, and I never felt like any of the songs on that record got their just due; hence, why we seem to keep re-recording songs from that particular record, which we are extremely guilty of. I just feel like they never were what they should be, and I finally feel at this particular moment, at this time, right now, it has finally become the gem that it should be. I hold it very close to my heart, and it’s been part of my healing process… and yes, to answer your question, it will be on the new album.
It’s interesting that you bring up Stone and how the sound of that album was a result of necessity because that was the cutoff point when The Clay People became what it seems to be now. Stone, Iron Icon, and Firetribe all have a very rough and primitive ‘industrial’ sound, which gets very polished with the self-titled album and a little bit with Waking the Dead, and we’ll come to that later.
But having taken part in Coldwaves and seeing/hearing the new developments in what industrial is and how people perceive industrial, what are your thoughts on the way The Clay People has developed and how it stands up to the crowd that you’re associated with?
: My first love was music, and that was years spent trying to find the sounds of my own generation – that was something I completely related with. I loved it! I was the one guy in that one little town that had the MINISTRY records, had the Meat Beat Manifesto records… whatever it was at the time. Front 242 was probably the first one that I heard with ‘Headhunter,’ but I didn’t know that there was a revolution going on in electronic music. I liked new wave for what it was and I liked Depeche Mode and The Cure and The Clash… I liked all that, and that was cool, but then it all culminated in this new ‘rock’ sound – it was dirty and abrasive and it was metal, but there were no guitars in it, and that excited me. I always thought that when it came to The Clay People, we wanted to be an industrial band, but you can only write what comes naturally to you. I understand that. You have the culmination of these particular guys and the people you work with, and no matter how much you’re trying to do one thing, every energy kind of changes a little bit. The industrial music scene is my first love, but eventually, we became a heavier band and more of a metal band. You can only do what you do best, and that’s what we do best. If the people in the scene of industrial music like and appreciate what we do, then that’s fantastic. But I
like what we do, and if I like it, then maybe there will be other people out there that like it too. I’ve always felt that The Clay People was the band that all the misfits and the rejected and the introverts could find a home in, because that’s me. If we are or we aren’t accepted, I still
love that sound and there’s always something new and exciting coming out in that music scene. It’s never gotten its just due, it’s never gotten its day, and it’s poked its head up a few times and gotten a little recognition, but not to the point that it’s as solid as the scene is today. Some scenes come and go really quick, but this scene has longevity. It’s the kind of music that you can go back to the ’80s and listen to ‘Assimilate’ and say, ‘This is a great song!’ When I walked down my street to recovery just a couple of months ago, I heard Skinny Puppy coming out of a car. I turned my head to see a little blonde girl driving around in a Beemer! (Laughter) I was like, ‘what is going on here?!’ But I’m excited for that because it touched me when I was a kid, but it’s got a bigger audience now finally, and I hope it keeps growing.
Regarding the lineup of the band now, Dan Dinsmore has been there since the self-titled album, and Brian McGarvey’s been in the band for longer than that. What can you tell us about the current lineup?
: Well, just to put this out there first, I have nothing but good things to say about the people I’ve played with in the past. They’ve all brought a certain element to the band that was fun and exciting and it definitely changed the music for the better. Karla Williams, Mike Guzzardi, Kevin Bakerian, and of course Alex Eller, and even the few drummers we’ve had come in and out, and I can’t name everybody because we know it’s a huge list of people… but I still talk to all of these people. As far as the new album goes, the core of the group for a long time has been Dan Dinsmore, Brian McGarvey, and me – mostly Brian and me, and for a long time it was Brian, Mike, and me while Dinsmore would just lay down the rhythm. But on this particular album is where Brian and Dinsmore stepped up and really took control of… I don’t want to say my
vision, but what I’ve always wanted the band to be. I don’t know if they did it because they saw how sick I was or how much pain I was in, but they made a point to bring back those elements in the band that I thought we were missing. I just stopped fighting for them for awhile. We had people like Rob Zilla and Wade Alin and Walter Flakus come in to all help us on the electronic end; that was fantastic. Even though Mike came in for a minute, he just wasn’t feeling it this time around, and why would he? I was like a walking corpse at this time, no pun intended, and who could put their eggs in that basket? I certainly couldn’t do it either. We did bring in Karl Von Heilman, and even though Chris Wyse did put some of the bass down, a few other people including Brian McGarvey did play bass on the record. As of now, we are working out the rhythm section with another bass player. Maybe that’s just what The Clay People is with having a rogue bass player, but the right elements will present themselves at the right time. Everything’s going to be fine. Eliot is family and I love my family! He always has a home with us and he knows that. And that goes for a few others, if they want to play with us and perform with us live, then by all means they are welcome.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the demos of the new album as it was being developed, and in the case of a song like ‘Colossus,’ for a long time I felt that the song was getting worse as it progressed. (Laughter) And then finally, you sent me a new mix that Neil Kernon did, and all of a sudden, the song was transformed into a killer!
: ‘Colossus’ was written a long time ago and was kind of pulled out of the vaults. When we started doing this record, I don’t know if it was because of my anger or what have you, but I wanted power tunes on this album; I wanted heavy songs. That song was kind of a precursor to getting the ball rolling for myself. I definitely have to put out there that Brian McGarvey is the one that started this album. He is the one who gave it a face long before it had one, and of course, we were fortunate enough to work with Neil Kernon again – this is the fourth album we’ve worked on with him. He’s worked on every release we’ve done since the self-titled. Not to get too far ahead of myself, one thing that The Clay People do in the studio is that we say, ‘Don’t pre-think it. Just put everything down and we’ll sort it out later.’ That’s because we don’t know, and I don’t want someone not tracking an idea because they think someone won’t like it or it may not be right. It’s just how it happens. You sit back and listen to it and you realize what’s going to fit and what’s not going to fit. However, in the end, it takes one or two people to sit down with the mixes and the tracking and clean up or pull out or showcase or put a light on certain parts so that it doesn’t sound garbled or figure out what’s working and what’s not working. With a song like ‘Colossus,’ which we demoed probably twice and recorded for an album once, so that’s three attempts on that particular song, but it just meant that it wasn’t what it was meant to be until now. It was strong enough to be kept in the vaults until it was finally ready to leave its infancy and grow up.
That’s what I was getting at as far as the question about the songwriting process and how the songs are developed. Was it always like that in The Clay People?
Neet: Oh, no! This goes back to my addiction. The Clay People did not sit in the studio and record all of this together – not once did we sit down and actually jam out a song for an album. We went in there and worked on our parts, and at different times, different members will go in and they would keep working on parts and working on parts and working on parts. I very rarely saw anybody but our engineer Scoops throughout the entire three year process of recording this album. That goes back to my addiction, mostly because I couldn’t look myself in the face, let alone look in the faces of my band members because then they would know the secret that I was harboring… which of course, we know now, was no secret. (Laughter) It was a secret to me, but not to everybody else; they all knew that I was trying to put the nail in the coffin. I could even say that I was bringing in a friend to take over my spot in The Clay People so it could continue after me, and I’d have him record the album with me just as a backup, but enough that if I wasn’t around that he could continue the band. That’s how sure I was that I would not be around today talking to you. If you asked me last year, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be here talking to you.
I’m certainly glad that you are.
Neet: There are a lot of amends to be made, but what I am very fortunate about is that as I went into recovery, these guys said, ‘Can Dan keep his shit together long enough for us to finish this record and get back out there?’ As of today, I can say that yes, I am very excited to get this release out. I personally feel that it’s the album that should’ve followed up the self-titled and The Headhunter Demos; it has that vibe. It’s exciting, and the sounds are brilliant and bright and they punch through, and it’s everything I’ve always wanted. Years ago, I would say if I could find the happy medium between Lords of Acid and Pantera, then we’ve finally found it. Of course, there are new influences now, but that was the vision and that’s an innovation that I think we finally made with this band.
You mentioned The Headhunter Demos, and not to give away too many secrets, but will anything more come of that? Are there any plans to take those demos and develop them further?
: I’m glad that we’re talking about this because The Headhunter Demos
is going to stay as is. We’ve always been very happy with those particular songs. That was our attempt to get a new label after Slipdisc unfortunately had the door shut on us, and I don’t even want to open up that door, but that album was just not the right time for the band. As much as we loved those songs, the industry at the time did not care for the material. It is what it is, it’s there, and we still play those songs. I know at one ColdWaves we played ‘Broken Kisses,’ and at the other ColdWaves we played ‘Loves.Thrills.Breaks.Kills.’ Every song on that EP I love, even the ones that we redid – those two that redid with Neil Kernon, ‘Pariah’ and ‘Stone,’ were originally intended to go on the self-titled. Those are still staples today, so when it comes to The Headhunter Demos
, don’t think we aren’t playing that stuff anymore because we’re still playing them. Waking the Dead
, of course, was the last time that the band actually played as a band to hash out songs. That’s probably why it has more of a rock feel. I do remember talking to Burton Bell before the record came out, and he asked what we were doing, and I had said, ‘Well, The Clay People is doing a rock record.’ He gave me a smirk – you know, that little side-smile that he does – and said, ‘I can’t wait to hear what The Clay People think is a rock record.’ (Laughter) That’s what that album is, and it is what it is; those songs were kind of Frankensteined together. They were demos that I had done on my own, that Brian had done on his own, and the only song that we really
, really hashed out was ‘Supersonic Overdrive.’ I still love that song to this day, and I think it’s a fun tune.
Maybe it’s not what people wanted to hear from us, but it’s what we wanted to do at the time, and unfortunately, it’s a whole album that was also fueled by my addiction. It doesn’t quite have the clarity that I had when we were doing Stone
, which was an epiphany for me, and the self-titled, which was a breakout for us. It’s not quite there, but for the hardcore fans of The Clay People, there’s some excellent material on that record and I still stand by it… even though I was only half there for it. The one thing I’ve always said about it is that maybe I didn’t like the whole record, and as you go and perform the songs, you can’t trick your fans. I understand that now, and we did put out an album that was not quite all there. It did not have all the heart that we put into Stone
or even the Firetribe
record; even going back to the Toy Box
EP, which was when we were very, very young and inexperienced at writing music and writing songs. But for me, it’s a part of my life that I’m glad is there because I can revisit it and I can see and understand why I did it at the time. There were songs that didn’t make it on that record that were like funeral marches for me – instead of killing myself, I just sung about trying to kill myself. Fortunately, I’m pretty bad at killing myself. (Laughter)
Thankfully! Also, while we’re on the subject, there were plans to rerelease Stone; will that still happen?
Neet: I did want to touch on that, and I’d thought about saying that before we talk about Headhunter, we should talk about that. Now that I have my head out of my ass, those people that have contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and once we get back in touch with them, as far as I’m concerned, and of course this has to go through the band and the label, but I would like to see them get the new record and then we’ll work on getting them the Stone record as soon as we can work out the financing to put out the back catalog.
The Clay People played the first and second ColdWaves, and you’ve been working on this record for quite some time now. What are your thoughts or your perception on music as a whole – not just the industrial scene, and maybe even in the metal scene – as you’ve been able to observe it?
: I feel that the whole entire music scene today, and this is not a plug, I go to Jim Semonik, because he’s somehow been able to gather together the best of the best over the last four or five years. He’s basically shown the heart of this scene, and that’s that we’re individuals that are not only creative but also give a fucking shit. That’s kind of how I perceive the scene today. There are bands like 3TEETH for example; I can go listen to that, and it takes me back to my first days of listening to Nitzer Ebb. I can’t list all the bands, but that’s the one that stands out to me most and might be the flagship at the moment of the up-and-coming scene; at least, as far as I can go online, because that band’s only been around for a couple of years and has really made waves. I know that years ago, bands like us, 16volt, and Acumen, we really had to fight to find our place in the music scene. We were kind of like a third wave of that style, and we were there for each other even though it was still kind of small. Now, the scene is much bigger due to the explosion of the internet and the acceptability of different sounds and it seems like there’s more communication between the bands now as opposed to cold calling Jason Novak in 1995 and saying, ‘Hey, come out on the road and play with us,’ or our tours being put together by booking agents and pitting us with bands we didn’t even know. There’s more of a bonding that happens now that I don’t believe was really there a few years ago. I do believe it’s there now. The other thing now is that there isn’t one real style of music anymore. The one thing I thought years ago was that everybody was just rehashing what they liked about the scene, and now, you can listen to bands out there that may not even consider themselves industrial, but still have those bleeps and bloops or a kind of intelligence behind their music that can fit within anything, whether it’s heavy rock or electronica or metal.
That’s always how I perceived 3TEETH, and while I’m not the biggest fan of that band, but the live show is excellent!
Neet: Oh, I am a fan.
Yes, and I support the band, but I think your point is definitely proven by the fact that 3TEETH was handpicked by TOOL to go on tour, and that they are, as you said, the flagship of the scene as far as the mainstream’s understanding of industrial.
Neet: It’s no different though than when Nine Inch Nails came out, and there were all of us core industrial guys saying, ‘What is this poppy industrial shit?’ And then all the girls showed up at the Nails shows, and we said, ‘Oh, well… there are girls now.’ (Laughter) So, there’s nothing wrong with it, and at least they are seeing through their vision, and I respect that. There are tons of bands that I’ve always respected in the past and there are those that blow me away, and I’m like, ‘Wow, how did they come up with this vision?’ It’s impressive. When you look at the scene where some of the original people are now grandparents, you’ve now got three or maybe four generations of people creating this style of music. Art is supposed to be about evoking emotion, and this music scene has definitely found its fire again, and it definitely evokes emotion in me again, and I’m very proud to be part of it… well, if The Clay People is still accepted in it. We’re never going to stop using electronics, but on the other hand, we’re not going to stop using metal guitars either.
Is there anything more that you can tell us about the new album? Is there a title?
: There are 11 songs that are finished for the new record; there are another seven songs that are still there, and they’re all great tunes, but we had to pick and choose what we put on this record. We wanted to make sure that what we put on this record had the best quality put on it. As for the title, that may change. Utopian Lies
was the working title for the record; that may stay, it may not. It seems that there are other names coming up that may hold a little more weight. We weren’t sure if we were going to divide it up into two EPs or release it as a full-length. As of right now, the title is still tentative, but Utopian Lies
is… of course, based on our current political situation, and fitting in great with the collapse of Hollywood and mass media, we might stick with that title. But then, we’ve never really been a political band for good reason. My grandmother always said, ‘Don’t talk about sex, politics, or religion at the dinner table.’ But at this juncture of the band, it might be time for us to put a little attention and show a few more of our views that we didn’t do in the past; take a stand on a few issues and stop being so neutral because neutrality is not
working at all. It’s not working in the mass scheme of anything that’s going on today. We have to stick behind something and we have to have views to stand behind and form a solid foundation of who we are as individuals.
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