Akron indie rockers Clemens have been working the same grassroots indie aesthetic for more than ten years, regardless of the changes that have passed through the scene. Their sound is nestled somewhere between Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World, filtering some odd sounds through more conventional rock structures.
With singer Bo Bishop at Columbia University earning a master's in film, bassist Dave Oeschger attending law school, guitarist Shane Buie fighting in Iraq, and drummer Joe Wallman working to pay bills, the making of Clemens' debut album, Parting Waves, wasn't easy, to say the least.
Partly based on an unpublished novel by Bishop, the band's main songwriter, the album dissects the tale of two writers: one is a hackneyed novelist desperate for a bestseller; the other is a teenager with a promising manuscript. The record has been a work in progress for more than five years. The result is a painstaking passion project from four immensely different individuals with a shared desire to put their hearts into their music.
"I left for basic training for seven months in 2004, and when I got back, Bo said we were going to do a full length," recalls Buie. "We recorded guitar at my house, while Bo tackled vocals in his basement. It was OK, but we weren't satisfied with it."
Things finally started to move forward in 2007, when Clemens relocated to the just-opened Studio B, a recording facility run by friend Sean Larson. It was a perfect fit, says Oeschger: "Larson was trying to get the name out about the studio, and we were looking to record the album again."
The band was forced to do the majority of the writing and tracking separately, but Parting Waves' production cycle concluded an exhausting but ultimately rewarding experience. "The distance forced us to analyze our songs extensively and put them through a microscope," says Buie. "It made the process slower, but it helped flesh out the songs. It is crazy, because parts of the album were actually record four years earlier. It was kind of an epic undertaking for us."
Oeschger was going to law school in the morning and hitting the studio at night. "I would sit there for hours going over every detail," he recalls. "There were nights when we spent four or five hours just working on the tone of a kick and snare drum."
Their first shot at releasing an album came and went nearly a decade ago, when Clemens played a show with Further Seems Forever. A rep from Fearless Records liked their sound and asked them to send their demo to him. "But we took forever to release our first EP," says Oeschger. "By the time we finished it, the guy didn't work at the label any longer."
With prospects of being signed getting more grim over the years, Clemens have all but abandoned hope of making it big. But they haven't given up on it. "There was always the farfetched dream that we were going to record this album and some label would pick it up," says Buie. "We finished the album right when our economy collapsed. For us to step out and make the band a full-time gig, the payoff would have to be enticing to make that sacrifice."
More than anything, Buie is glad the four bandmates have managed to stay friends and are still able to play music together after all these years. "We have spent well more than we have ever made with this band," he says. "We complement each other, and it helps with our productivity. I don't think a lot of bands can say that."
Clemens recently won a national songwriting contest developed by the music website OurStage. They beat out more than 3,000 bands and took home the grand prize: a new laptop and $3,000 worth of recording gear. "That really solidified that the music we were making was more than just some songs that we like and that our friends enjoy," says Oeschger.
The band is making some new music that, with any luck, won't take another five years for the rest of the world to hear. "We have a couple new songs, which is pretty fantastic because we have been so preoccupied with the album for so long," says Buie. "After the album was released, it was almost like we went through postpartum depression. We were like an elephant giving birth to this thing, and now it feels like, Where do we go from here?"
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