Friday, July 19, 2013

The Exquisites

Jason Clackley, singer and guitarist for the Exquisites, sees an essential connection between R&B and punk-rock, something that exists at the foundation of both musical styles. On the band's self-titled full-length, released by Asian Man Records in the winter of 2013, the connection couldn't be clearer.

Take "Embrace Moments of Pain", a song that begins with gentle chords that roll like waves washing to the shore, leaving Dan Alexander's bass to supply a simple melody.

When the song suddenly does erupt—in a flood of fuzz and Gavin Tiemeyer's thudding drums that thrash in the surf—it hits the listener like a monsoon. Guitarists Jason Clackley and Taylor Wingett ride on a lush, slushy chord that seems to capture every note at once. And it's against this fuzz that Clackley's voice stands, soulful and solid, resisting the songs otherwise noisy charge. 

Certainly, some of the song's strength comes from the Exquisites' instrumentation—the  rumbling, enormous chords; drums that somehow control the turbulence; Clackley's soaring, expressive voice. For Clackley, though, "Embrace Moments of Pain" is powerful because of the positive emotion he expresses during its performance. "The song's about feeling as whole as you can possible be as a person," he explains, "feeling that you can use your emotion to be everything and not hold back as a human being. It's like the motivator of life, why it's important to be good and honest people before we die. It's a theme that I'm constantly thinking about—being a better person to the communities that I've involved in and the people I love, and trying to balance all that."

It's here that this connection becomes clear: R&B and punk-rock are raw expressions of something human—emotion, sure, but also something more.

The Exquisites evolved from a solo project that Clackley started in 2006, one to which Tietmeyer was a contributor from the start and that has since matured into its own being. On previous releases, in previous appearances, the band was billed as Jason Clackley and the Exquisites, but Clackley explains that, in addition to its cumbersome length, the name no longer captured the band's collaborative spirit. "There's so much you can learn from different musicians and playing with different people," he says. "I think it's such a great thing to be able to collaborate with people and have your ideas see a different light. We are doing different things that we haven't done before."

Still, Clackley remains the Exquisites' central songwriter, which is where their soulful side is derived. "I grew up on Oldies and stuff in my house, of course," he says. "One of my big top five is Marvin Gaye—from the 70s, less from the 60s. The vibe of What's Going On and some of the later records is more interpersonal, with more isolated singing. Those kinds of things drew me in. It's just the style and sound. It's beautiful the way it is."

As Clackley became more engaged in hardcore, he was able to see the connections between R&B and more aggressive, angrier music. "One of my favorite hardcore bands of all time is Rites of Spring," he shares. "That band developed my idea of what music was just as much as like, say, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke and Etta James. Listening to Guy [Picciotto]'s vocals—his raw screaming and grunting, the things that he was doing on those records years before Fugazi—I get that same kind of feeling from. It's really just that human experience."

It's easy to hear the Exquisites' humanity on tracks like "Losing", a somber pop song that releases the frustration of romance in a slow fizz, and "Over", whose minimalism showcases Clackley's vocal control and intensity. It's easy to hear on songs like "Something Usual", where Clackley and Wingett's scorching chords seem to be overheating producer Jack Shirley's equipment, leaving Alexander's bass seems to wander through the smokey feedback during the bridge. These songs seem express something in their melodies and harmonies, in their plodding pulses, in their ideas (however direct or indirect), and in their execution that activate—even actualize—the spirits in themselves as well as in their listeners. 

Of course, Clackley is simply writing what comes naturally to him. It just happens to resonate with whatever is alive within him. "I'd like to continue to write music that feels right," he says. "If I can't feel it, I can't sing it."

Clackley recorded these songs during a hot summer evening on the piano from the teen center in Washington state where he works. In order to conduct the session, he had to wait until after the center closed so he could use the piano and landline without interruption.

"Losing" appears on the Exquisites' 2013 self-titled record. As of its performance for the Switchboard Sessions, "Untitled" was an unreleased and untitled. "Hello Stranger" is a Barbara Lewis cover; the song originally appeared on her 1963 album of the same name..

Visit the band's website for more music.

To download these tracks, click on the song titles and download them from the player at

Read more articles.