The four-piece from Liverpool – Mike Halls, Evelyn Halls, Saul Godman and Ross Higginson – arrive at a time when even the most optimistic, glass-half-full sort of person has started to fear that pop as a currency, as a conduit for emotion, truth, complexity and daring, has been cheapened to the point of no return. Sure, Clean Cut Kid’s songs possess the whip-smart immediacy of classic radio pop; but there is something much deeper going on in there too. And that’s the point: why settle for a quick-fix first draft, they argue, for the speediest, least troublesome route to a self-congratulatory pat on the back when craft, hard graft, and sheer dogged, cussed bloody-mindedness and persistence can lead you to results that leap clear of the average and workaday?
Bloody-mindedness and persistence have played their parts in Clean Cut Kid’s story. The band’s trajectory in 2015 has been rollercoaster-like in its rapidity; they gained a manager in January, the second of their two shows in March was pushed back by an hour so that the queue of major-label head honchos could squeeze into the venue and they signed with Polydor in April.
Many bands in their position would be celebrating at this point. But Clean Cut Kid are still doing what they’ve always done. Shoulders to the wheel, working round the clock in their Liverpool rehearsal space, catching some sleep when they can. Firing out new songs on an almost daily basis – songs that will be jostling for space when it comes to sequencing the band’s debut album due in 2016. Routing guitars and keyboards through piggybacked effects pedals and ancient, overloaded amps to the point, laughs Mike, “where you think they’re going to explode”. Forever hunting down the right sound for a particular moment in a certain song. Evelyn even confesses that their debut single, 'Vitamin C', features “the sound of a teacup being hit by one of us”.
If the other three come across as driven by the need to make music, Mike seems possessed by it. That’s been the case, he says, for as long as he can remember;
“As a kid, music felt like my own little world, which I’d retreat into.
I used to wear out cassettes on my Walkman, the Beatles 'Blue' and
'Red' albums, Michael Jackson’s 'Dangerous'; I’d play them to death.
I can remember cycling along with stabilisers on, listening to the
Walkman, and my parents keeping an eye out so I didn’t steer the
bike off the kerb, because I couldn’t hear the traffic.”
Later, in his teens, Mike was given a battered acoustic guitar by his dad. “It only had three strings on it,” he laughs, “but I was away.”
This childhood immersion led Mike on a quest to “search out the honest stuff” in the music Clean Cut Kid make. Influenced by artists whose hooks and melodies lodge at once in your brain, yet whose textures thrum with an audacious experimentalism that, on paper, should have no place in a pop song. This influence is demonstrated in the crunch and staccato attack of the guitar on 'Vitamin C', the brutal force and crisp economy of Saul and Ross’s Prefab Sprout-like rhythm section, Mike and Evelyn’s dovetailing harmonies and the universally identifiable sentiment of the lyrics.