8 May 2008
Interview: Dave Cloud
When he walks in the room, everybody bows
Words Phil Hebblethwaite
Photography Don Perry
Fans of Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet will know that Nashville is a city split into two halves: the cowboy-hat-sporting, Clint Black-loving, yee-haw!, corporate country half and the other half, where bands exactly like Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet thrive in perfect opposition. Somehow, though, there’s a third half where Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet go when they’re bored of being the alternative and pine for something that makes them look like the mainstream. It’s dark over there in that third half but it has a radiant king. His name is Dave Cloud, garage rock lounge lizard extraordinaire, a legend in his own lunchbreak from reading books to the blind, and now the unexpected new face of Budweiser. All women love him – they “luxuriate” in his masculinity – and all men fear him.
It goes on, because Dave Cloud is the kind of man who inspires people into brave turns of phrase. ‘Shamanistic’ and ‘maverick’ often pop up, but it gets better. “Like Mick Jagger trapped inside a dog,” wrote one reviewer. Another: “Chuck E. Weiss duetting with a stoned Alan Partridge doing karaoke in the shower crossed with Lou Reed in the Velvets mixing cocktails and Neil Diamond on the bed cutting his toenails on acid.” And, of course, there’s always someone who just don’t get it: “He sounds like a dial-a-pub piss-head repeating a token wordplay line over and over again to some awful rinky-dink piano.”
A joke first. “What does Snoop Doggy Dogg get his clothes clean with?”
Don’t know, Dave.
The voice is 80 per cent deep and rich Southern drawl and 20 per cent wise-guy New York comic from the fifties. For some reason, the first thing he says – about Carnaby Street in London, 40 years late – is: “They say you can actually afffffourrrred clothing there.”
If Dave is the king of Nashville’s third half, then he has a castle. It’s called Springwater Supper Club and Lounge and Dave first played there exactly 30 years ago. “My friends tell me to stay away because it is what they call a s-word-hole,” he says. “Sure it’s got dirty bathrooms, and a lot of people in there have got bad teeth, and sure the education level is barely high school, but I like it. I’ve played there a lot. I’ve almost been grafted to Sringwater’s. You know ‘artist in residence’? I really was. I would spend all afternoon there and play all night.”
So, why the sudden interest in this ageing Nashville marvel? It’s got a lot to do with the London-based Fire Records finding out about him and releasing a double CD of new material and covers in 2006, Napoleon of Temperance. Super raw, funny and bursting with pervy personality, it took people by surprise and resulted in Dave’s first ever tour outside the States. A man well-read in English literature, he adored coming to London and was so loved in Norway (the only other country he played), he was offered a residency in Bergen, where he also introduced the locals to “phantom kung-fu”. The bar was even temporarily named after him. And he’s back again in Europe this May, gigging in the same two countries.
“Beautiful girls, and they’re all blonde,” he remembers about Norway. “There was a room packed full of them and I saw one brunette. I had been doing some phantom kung fu and there was some national champion boxer in the audience who knocked me down. After I’d got my shirt and pants back on and was sitting on the edge of the stage, I made eye contact and said, [adopts defeated voice] ‘The least you can do is touch me, I’m fighting for your honour!’ So I got a nice kiss. Turned out she was married. I had a drink with her and her husband. They were nice – they paid for the cab.”
Soon out is a new Dave Cloud album, Pleasure Before Business. A tiny bit more organised, but with equal crunch, it’s starts with an alarming message: ‘You Don’t Need Sex’.
“I thought it could be a self-help song about a subject as ridiculous as abstention from sex – nun-and-priest-type of complete abstention from sex,” he explains. “I thought that could be kind of funny, and I think it is: the whole world can die, sex is of no avail, it’s a puny thing… I’m being facetious.”
And, er, the song ‘Orgy’?
“I’m trying to narrate a kind of mood in some images about a sun-down ride up a winding driveway to a mansion where there’s an orgy, and outside there are brass-pole islands and everybody’s in lingerie. Honestly, I’ve never been to an orgy, but if I could go to one, I probably would. Why not? I’m a free guy.”
But, alas, it seems Dave lives more in fantasy than you’d guess from his deeply descriptive and dirty songs. “I’m running a real chance of batting a thousand if I even see cleavage,” he sighs, “I’m getting no action. But that’s changing when I’m come back to Norway and England. I do have some girls who kiss me on the cheek, hug me, lead me on and everything, but there’s no betrayal involved in how hard I’m willing to fall for a London girl.”
Perhaps his new-found fame as a character in a Budweiser TV commercial in the States will help. Quite brilliantly, he was approached to audition and was filmed wearing a white Italian suit, a bow tie and a white Stetson. “I’m dancing to that song… you know that song, ‘Push it, push it good’?” he adds. “I really hope they use that.”
So the ad’s in the can?
“Nothing left to do but collect the big dough.”
And if it seems like this man fell from a parallel universe and lives like you’d dream all rock’n’rollers would, know that he earns a wage reading to blind (“Exclusively newspapers for about 10 years – I love newspaper… golly!”) and holds dear a fairly familiar influence. “Johnny Rotten had a big impact on me,” he says. “Even though I was a guitarist, I never thought of the Sex Pistols as Steve Jones, always Johnny Rotten. The audacity. You’ve got to have audacity. Sheer audacity makes up for a lot of things, perhaps even limited ability. That’s how I felt about punk when it happened. It gave me the confidence to be audacious.”
We end by making a date. “You know me now,” says Dave. “Let’s go to Camden when I get back to London. That was an interesting place – a sardine can of people on the streets – all kinds of people. I wanna go back to Camden and I wanna go back to Whitechapel and continue tracking Jack The Ripper. I also want to go to Clapham South and see some of the benders in the off-licence store, because they taught me about money and they were real good to me.”