Clean Cut Kid: "There were hard times. We didn’t have any money, nobody had jobs..."
Clean Cut kid’s origin story is like something from a movie - from friend set-ups to almost-missed connections, to literally becoming family… it’s been one hell of a ride.
Published: 9:49 am, April 28, 2017
We all love a big weekend. Y’know, the ones that are crammed full of memories waiting to happen at every turn and the sense that anything’s possible. For Evelyn Halls, as she sits in her childhood bedroom preparing for a right ‘ol “knees up”, that weekend might be extending far beyond the one that lies in the coming days - in fact, the sense of a big weekend perfectly wraps everything essential about Clean Cut Kid into a universal nugget. Whether it’s the group singalongs, the delicate late-night realisations or the infectious swagger in every pore of their being, Clean Cut Kid are setting course for something special - a welcome crack of joy to dive right on into. It’s a journey that lives and breathes through the streets of Liverpool, built upon friendship, heartbreak and above all else, a bloody great time. As can be imagined, the vodka jellies are coming in thick and fast.
“Most people I’ve spoken to have said it feels like it’s announcing a baby,” notes Evelyn. That baby is Clean Cut Kid’s debut album ‘Felt’, a fuzz-coated trip into a world of skittle-flavoured hooks laid over crushing tales of broken hearts and head over heels love. Shimmering at every moment, it’s the sort of record that transcends a certain moment in time and delivers with each sweeping harmony, a trip into Tom Petty sunsets with a lightning bolt rawness. “Until a couple of years ago we all still would have thought that this all was just a crazy pipe-dream, which would be amazing to do but the chance of it ever happening was small - we just feel so, so lucky that we’ve done it.”
Built around the core harmonies of Evelyn and frontman/husband Mike Halls, Clean Cut Kid are a band that simply couldn’t come from any other city, any other time or from any other minds. Cracking smiles and triggering feverish reactions wherever they go, they’re the sort of band that you’d want to organise your birthday party, guaranteed to bring the bells and whistles to make it an unforgettable night - and that’s something they’ve been delivering for years now. In 2016, the band played 91 shows, 31 different festivals across five countries - a feat that could only be dreamed of in Evelyn’s mind as she grew up with music encompassing all around.
“I wanted to be in bands from whenever I can remember. I dunno I just always wanted to do it,” Evelyn muses, gazing around the room at the origins of where she stands today. “I remember being in school and just grabbing people in my class and saying ‘You’re in my band now’, and just formed them in the school playground and stuff. It’s funny looking back at how seriously I took it, I remember getting some boys in my school, this is in like Year 5 by the way, and I was like, right you can be the manager, and you can be the agent. I didn’t even know what an agent was; I think I’d picked it up from watching Spiceworld!
“And Mike always tells the story that his parents say - when he was around three or four, whenever a theme tune for a TV show came on the telly, he’d like, scoot across the room and put his ear to the speaker, he was only interested in hearing that. They’d put headphones on him, and he’d wear out the Beatles tapes he had on his Walkman.
“We’ve all honestly never toyed with the idea of doing anything else.”
Burgeoning out from the playground into studio time, shows and practice rooms around the city and the country as a whole, both Evelyn and Mike spent their formative years pursuing that dream, creating sounds and bands in various incarnations. Those first steps into making music and all that it comes with took them across Liverpool - laying a path to one fateful day at Hyde Park where Clean Cut Kid and ultimately, Evelyn and Mike’s future became one in a connection that goes above and beyond simply just music.
“We’d both been doing all this bouncing around between different projects, and for me, one of them involved a guy we both knew who’d asked me to come down and play with him at those Olympic-themed shows that were going on at Hyde Park,” elaborates Evelyn. “As a thank you, we managed to get tickets to the final night where Blur played - and in that space of time between playing and the Blur gig, the guy had planted the seed to set Mike and me up. Mike had been writing and playing guitar with him, so it all came about that way - and it was funny because we’d both been at uni together a couple of years earlier and didn’t know each other then.”
“After the first date at Blur, we’d spend quite a time apart, as I was living in London at that time and Mike up in Liverpool - but in-between that time from our first date and our second, Mike had written a song for me. The first thing he did when he came down was play me that song - and I was just balling my eyes out, it was so cool.”
Connecting over a shared love and passion for music, Evelyn and Mike quickly started playing together, forming the foundations of what would become Clean Cut Kid. Growing out of their flat and shared sessions together, it became clear that the music they were creating was destined to be heard by far more than simply just them, and at that very moment, Clean Cut Kid were destined to hit the biggest stages.
“Mike had always had this idea of starting Clean Cut Kid and had been writing songs and playing,” notes Evelyn. “Gradually, over about a couple of months of playing them together, we just thought ‘Hey, let's give this a go, let's go for it. Let's get a band together!'
“Mike remembered Saul [Godman] as this mad, crazy guy who was making a Pot Noodle once in a studio, who was just the most amazing person and so excited about music. He just had this feeling that Saul was the right person for the band - he didn’t even know if he could play bass but knew that he was an amazing guitarist. So we went off to find him, and just had no luck - he didn’t have Facebook, he didn’t have a phone, nobody knew where he was... One night, when we went out for food, and as we were walking down the street at about 1am in the morning, we saw him busking outside the bombed-out church in Liverpool and Mike was like, ‘That’s the guy!’
“Mike went over to him and just asked if he wanted to join the band, explaining that it wasn’t a band yet but that it will be and if he could play bass too. Saul was like ‘Yeah, I clock off at about 3 - do you wanna jam at 4?’
“The next day we went to his little rehearsal room, and a month later we were in the studio recording ‘Vitamin C’ and ‘Runaway’. We’d gone into that recording session not knowing what it was that we had - just me, Saul and Mike. I’d created a drum kit out of Tupperware boxes and some tablets to make snare drums, experimenting with different tea towels to make drum sounds. We just had no money and had to make our own stuff. I was playing drums and keys at the same time, Mike was playing guitar and Saul on bass.
“We didn’t really know what it was.”
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With drummer Ross Higginson joining a few months later, it was the coming together of a band who believe in every flourish the sheer power of dazzling and uplifting pop in its prime. Beneath the big stages, the soaring anthems and the moments where Clean Cut Kid’s surging numbers grab you in the gut and make you feel every sweat of emotion that swoons from them, there’s one thing that remains key. Fun. To remember above all else that music is there to lift you from the gutter and make you feel ten times taller, and it’s about having a great time with the ones closest to you.
“When we think back to before we signed our record deal, they were almost like the peak of the fun times. Even though they were hard times where we didn’t have any money, and nobody had jobs - that was the moment where we cemented our proper friendships and became who we are as Clean Cut Kid,” notes Evelyn. “We take it really seriously; like, we take touring seriously, we take going into the studio seriously, we take every aspect of it really seriously, but at the same time, we’re all best mates in the band - when we’re not gigging we’re all hanging out together. We honestly have so much fun, Saul and Ross are so boss, funny and crazy and Mike’s not only my husband but my best mate.
“We love that we get to do this as a band, there are highs and lows, but we always aim to be having fun.”
The highs and lows of love are laid out for all to see on ‘Felt’, a record that timelines the breakdown of a relationship on one side and the unparalleled feeling of a new one beginning on the other - capturing every essence of something that can’t be contained or boxed away. It’s the human form at its most vulnerable and at its most stunning, and ‘Felt’ manages to provide a snapshot of it all, with a wink and a smile at every moment.
Recorded in studios around the country (see Ray Davies’ Konk Studios or Liverpool’s acclaimed Parr Street), and balancing out an intense run of touring and playing live - it’s a record that captures the journey of Clean Cut Kid in style. “We recorded it over about 18 months from start to finish, with loads of gaps in-between. We’d finish a festival at like 9pm, drive four hours to get to the next studio and then be up the next morning and do four days - get up on Friday and drive to the next place and do festivals over that weekend.
“I remember the day we recorded the last thing, walking back from the studio and being so confused as to how to feel. I was thinking, am I going to have to Ask Jeeves about how to feel at this moment? I felt like crying, I felt like I was going to be sick, I felt happy and confused - but it’s slowly sunk in, and now we’re just itching to get it out.”
From the off-kilter scratches of ‘Vitamin C’ through to the hip-shaking buzz of ‘Leaving You Behind’, ‘Stay’, ‘Pick Me Up’ and ‘Make Believe’ - it’s a record confident in every move it makes, radiating warmth at every note. Whether it’s with sky-high choruses designed to be screamed at the top of your lungs or with the delicate pulls of classic grooves in the album’s title track, ‘Brother’ or ‘Time To Let You Go’ - ‘Felt’ is a record of life-affirming importance.
“We’re all really proud of it, and we’re confident that people are really going to like it,” comments Evelyn. “I’m trying to make a rule with myself, that I’ll read just one review a week because you’re opening yourself up for people to have those opinions. If we’re happy with what we’ve done then... well, unless it’s completely catastrophic, we’ll be cool!”
Life is a pretty serious topic, it’s something that is drilled into everyone each and every day - but more important than any flash-news on the telly screen, the world needs to have a right ‘ol good time. Clean Cut Kid aren’t just a band made for now, but one desperately needed for it. Across love, loss and friendship, Clean Cut Kid are here to remind us that even in the darkest moments there’s something incredibly jubilant about life, and throwing your hair back to savour it is just as vital as confronting it. Crack out the vodka jellies; Clean Cut Kid are about to hit the town.
Clean Cut Kid’s album ‘Felt’ is out now.