Zal Cleminson's Sin' dogs
- Interview by Mike Ciresi exclusively for CC Badass Productions Presents
Recently I had an opportunity to interview Zal Cleminson of the SinꞌDogs and found it to be a very informative and enjoyable experience. Zal is a highly creative, open and honest individual and has released two incredible cd’s with his band The Sin'Dogs. The first title simply called “EP” and the other “Volume One” ( you may refer to the reviews of the releases) at CC Badass Prouctions Presents
First off, I would like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us here in America. I’m looking forward to getting into that mind of yours to see what makes you tick!
Q: Congratulations on the EP and the new full length album “Volume One,” as it is a mind blower. How long have you been brewing these songs and what made you move in this direction; you know “flip the switch on?”
A: With Sin'Dogs, I have returned to my early roots of heavy rock and metal. Having suffered depression for many years, I decided to pick up the guitar again as a form of therapy. Ideas and songs came to me almost immediately and I have spent the last three years getting the music into shape.
Q: When I heard “Black Hole Sun” for the first time it was an “a-ha!” moment for me, and made me want to get back into music after a brief period away. I stood gobsmacked when it came on the radio; it gave me hope for the future of music! Do you recall having a moment like that in your music career?
A: No real seminal moment, more an accumulation of music and musicians that have inspired me from day one - from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa.
Q: I have to add that when I heard the EP and “Volume One” I had that same feeling. What was the first song from the new material that came to life first?
A: Probably Evolution Road. I am a militant anti-theist, and much of what I write has a pointed reference to the slings and arrows of religious dogma and our infancy in constructing an understanding of what is recognizable to any rational human being as the nature of our Universe. There is no 'word of god', only the word of 'man'; a suitable dogma to control others.
Q: Do you write the music or the lyrics first? What is your process?
A: It can be either.
Q: When I heard your music, the first thought that came to mind and made me want to review the material is the fact that it’s very theatrical. I heard and saw the songs as mini soundtracks; the music tells me a story outside of the lyrics. Imagery is so important in music and is missing from a lot of music from today. What is your take?
A: I almost exclusively listen to film and soundtrack music as it goes way beyond the formula of rock or pop music. It is the expansive, orchestrated elements and the production that inspires me.
Q: I’m a huge fan of late 60’s to mid-70’s music, mainly in the Rock/Metal and Pop genres. Was there a certain genre that inspired you to make music? Maybe a certain artist/band? What made you stand up and say “I’m going to do this for a living?”
A: At high school, I formed a band called The Bo-Weevils. We listened to and played black soul music - Tamla, Stax, etc. Music always reflects the times. While still at high school, I turned down the opportunity to work in a bank and never saw myself doing anything other than playing guitar and performing in a band.
Q: What was the first album that you purchased, and what was the first concert that you attended?
A: First album I have no idea. I was brought up in Glasgow listening to Nat King Cole and Doris Day. It was probably the first 'Stones tour. One that I recall fondly was the Stax tour - Sam & Dave, Wilson Picket, Booker T and the MG's, when they came to Glasgow.
Q: Were your parents interested in the arts and what did they encourage you to do while you were growing up?
A: They had no interest in the arts, as such, but they loved Nat King Cole and Doris Day.
Q: What was your first guitar that you owned? If not a guitar, what instrument? Do you play more than one?
A: First electric guitar was a Hofner Verithin. I can plonk on a bass, and keep time on the drums.
Q: When you write songs, do you have everything down for recording or do you lay the basic tracks and then bring in the other musicians to top it off?
A: I demo all my ideas on ProTools and get things as far as I can before collaborating with the rest of the band. Then we kick it into shape.
Q: What tunings do you prefer to use? The guitar tones in your music are really dark and heavy, which I find very uplifting.
A: All songs are tuned down a full tone (D), and a few are down to a low C. It does add weight and gravitas to the kind of music we play.
Q: Does your stage gear differ from your studio setup? For example, some musicians prefer a certain guitar for recording and another for the stage.
A: Nope! I use one guitar - a Robert Mould, hand made in Scotland. It has one Barenuckle Juggernaut pickup, which goes through a Kemper Profiling amp.
Q: How is the tour coming along? It looks to me that people are very receptive to what you are putting out there. Did you find it easy to get back on that stage after the long absence? How much time did you spend preparing for the tour?
A: The gigs the band has played since late last year has involved a huge effort by everyone. However, nothing is more worthwhile than getting that feedback from fans old and new, especially to the new songs. I am very lucky to have a vehicle for expressing what I strongly believe in, when I have something to say lyrically and musically I enjoy putting it out there regardless of the reaction.
Q: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
A: Drink tea, keep warm in the winter, and make sure the guitar is in tune.
Q: I love the way your songs are written and arranged. Nowadays in the Rock/Heavy Metal genre you don’t get songs with multiple parts. You get an intro, verse, and chorus, and you’re done. A lot of your songs have up to six or seven different pieces which is so refreshing; was that a conscious decision?
A: Again, it is something to do with my love of orchestral arrangement. I am easily bored playing formula music. I much prefer Stravinsky or Radiohead to more mainstream tastes. Although, I do recognize the need to play what is often expected - just enough...
Q: You have a great sense of dynamics when it comes to your vocals. Your voice works on so many levels; one minute it’s hard as thunder and then the next quiet and sad, serious then sarcastic. The way you use your voice creates the visual just as much as the vocal and instrumentation.
A: I am no singer, in the real sense of the word, but I can interpret a lyric, which is where a song must start. I don't do 'ooh baby, baby, get down on your knees', bollocks. I have a different agenda.
Q: I understand that you have written a book. Congratulations, that is no small feat! Can you expand on that just a little bit without giving too much away? I’m not surprised after hearing your lyrics that you would do that. If the book is anything like your lyrics you’ve got a winner on your hands!
A: It's a novel titled 'ROOL'. It's about the evolutionary take-over of the planet by Insects and the resulting civilization, which the remaining humans must learn to adopt whilst caught up in a religious and political power struggle.
Q: Your songs (to me) evoke so much imagery that I could see you doing movie scores. What are your thoughts on that?
A: My thoughts exactly ...
Q:. I will be doing a review on “Volume One” to coincide with this interview; I’d like to know what you liked best about making the album and what were your favorite moments about the experience?
A: I loved everything about recording the album. Bringing the songs together, working with Sandy Jones our engineer in the studio and having the chance to experience the thrill of completing a project, which I never thought remotely possible a few years ago.
Q: I love how you incorporate the piano, strings and other effects into these heavy songs it really works. I also like the “Moroccan: flavor of “Euphoria” and the psychedelic feel of “Govan Boy” which shows even more diversity. Once again all of your music is very cinematic. I have played your new music for many people, all of which have different musical backgrounds, that is the common response!
A: Then I am happy ...
Q: Can you tell us how you put the band together and the story of how it came to be?
A: Most of the musicians in Sin Dogs play regularly as The Sensational Alex Harvey Experience, a tribute band to all things SAHB. I knew David Cowan the keyboard player and asked him to collaborate on the writing and recording of the material. He has a great musical brain, understands what chord you should be playing and is finding his way as a composer. Willie McGonagle is an accomplished guitar player, who has a very similar approach and style as I do. We play together with a kind of telepathic empathy. Nelson McFarlane is an all round bass player, who has mastered every technique; his sound is integral to the power of the band. Scott Cowie is a stand out drummer in Scotland and has incorporated his own unique style of drumming. Sadly, due to personal commitments, he is leaving the band at the end of next month.
Q: When you are not in “creative” mode what how do you like to spend your time? What activities do you enjoy?
A: Long walks by folding hills and cool lochs, contemplating the anthropology and unpredictable future of our species. I have a discerning choice of TV programs and enjoy most sports.
Q: Do you collect musical instruments? I see that you are currently using “Ibanez” guitars; do you still have your SG’s? I am a Gibson Les Paul freak, myself. What are some of your other favorites?
A: I am not really a guitar aficionado. If it stays in tune I'm happy. It's more a tool for me than aesthetic icon. But I love the look of every guitar; it's the most powerful musical instrument on the planet.
Q: The Beatles loved recording from dinner time into the wee hours of the night. When do you prefer to do your musical activities? I’ve always preferred the solitude of the wee hours; I’m a night owl.
A: I work all times of the day and night when I'm inspired.
Q: Who do you listen to these days? Any new bands or solo artists that you think will make a good impact on the music?
A: I don't really listen to bands at all, except one - Radiohead.
Q: Do you have a backlog of songs? Are you planning to do another album?
A: Yes, I have songs lined up for the next album. In fact, we added two new songs to the set we played recently.
Q: In recent times there has been a resurgence in vinyl sales. Do you plan on putting out the EP and “Volume One” in vinyl format?
A: We wanted to but the cost at the moment is prohibitive.
Q: Do you have a large music collection? What format do you prefer when it comes to listening to music?
A: No, I don't really have a vast collection and as I say, I only hear snippets of contemporary stuff and enjoy mainly soundtracks and classical works.
Q:. How would you liked to be remembered when all is said and done?
A: As a decent human being ...
Thank you for taking the time out of your tight schedule to speak to your fans Zal.
My pleasure, folks…
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