It’s hardly an exaggeration to describe Clang Quartet show as a religious experience. At Ende Tymes 2014, amidst the piercing shriek of electronic noise, Scotty Irving, Clang Quartet’s sole member, lunged forward and back — sometimes wearing a hockey mask decorated with plastic toy food, sometimes convulsing madly while hoisting a cross with a sign that reading “KING OF THE JEWS.” He bashed piles of cymbals, and held aloft a banner (decorated with crime-scene tape and advertisements) announcing “LOVE,” “HOPE,” “FAITH,” and “SALVATION.” His discography, which spans 17 years, is diverse, containing grinding, sample-driven compositions as well as noisy versions of pop-rock standards like The Who‘s “Magic Bus” and Alice Cooper‘s “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.”
Live, Clang Quartet’s sound exists in a state of almost constant evolution. One minute, it’s a blitzkrieg of sharp, spear-like feedback; the next, it’s an enervating squeal that suggests the rubbing of wet balloons, the next, the chattering static of a walkie-talkie. The noisemaking devices Irving deploys, and the order in which he deploys them, vary from set to set. Accordingly, no two sets are exactly alike. Irving’s showmanship is the only through-line.
In conversation, Irving, 47, is nothing like his confrontational live persona — he’s gracious, gregarious and quick to crack a corny joke or five. He and his wife live in Stokesdale, North Carolina, where he works “in the financial division of a car dealership,” a day job that he says keeps him grounded. In an early October telephone interview, Irving talked about how Christianity informs his work in Clang Quartet, the profound influence of Einstürzende Neubauten and what it was like to be profiled in Modern Drummer.
How did you first encounter noise or experimental music?
While watching Night Flight [a 1980s late-night television program which, in its first incarnation, aired on the USA Network, showcasing work by artists operating in a variety of mediums]. They were showing videos MTV would not show. [Host] Lisa Robbins happened to have on a group named Einstürzende Neubauten. Part of me was, “What is this?” and part of me was, “What is this?!? ” It was a slap in the face to me; my idea of “outside of the mainstream” was Motörhead, and this made Motörhead seem tame. A documentary [on videotape] called Kingdom of Noise was my introduction to the Japanese noise scene. Like hearing Einstürzende Neubauten, it changed me. Being able to say that I’ve performed with quite a few people on that videotape is quite a thrill.
What was the first Clang Quartet show like?
It was on a week night. I was so nervous about that show that I sent invitations rather than just let people show up. I’ve never been more nervous about anything, except my wedding. That was 17 years ago this past January; I didn’t think I’d last 17 minutes. [Clang Quartet] has made me more confident as a Christian, as a person in general and as a performer, though I still get a little nervous as I go on stage. I never want to lose that excitement; it’s almost childlike.
Concurrently, I was the drummer for a band called Geezer Lake, which was a constructive time period for me. I learned a lot about music; that was the first band I was ever in where we wrote our own music. It opened a lot of doors for me.
In your performance, a lot of elements come into play: religious signifiers, emotional signifiers, even, in a sense, horror culture. It seems like you’re confronting something, and perhaps vanquishing it.
I like that observation. I think you pretty much nailed it. The words [on the cross and shoulder harness] represent my sins. A lot of people think it’s supposed to be the Seven Deadly Sins, but I’m pointing at things in my personal life. I feel that without Jesus Christ in my life, life is beating me up; with Jesus Christ I get confidence I wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s something out there I believe in that’s bigger than me that inspires me as a person. There’s some cathartic stuff going on.
I am a Christian, 100 percent. That means I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. I became a Christian in 1984. Clang Quartet combines my beliefs as a Christian, my art background, and my interests in science-fiction and horror. My wife is an artist, and she’s very helpful. She sees all this stuff before anyone does.
At Ende Tymes 2014, I couldn’t figure out how you were triggering sounds on stage. When I watched some sets online I realized that your accessories double as instruments.
Every single thing I use on stage as a prop also functions as a sound-making device. I’m a fan of a lot of theatrical bands: KISS, Alice Cooper, Slipknot. I want theatrics to have something to do besides just look a certain way. A lot of what I use is not as detailed as people think it is, though.
Drums and cymbals also play a key role in your live sets. Did you ever play drums in a traditional rock band?
I have a hard-rock, heavy metal background that some people don’t pick up on with Clang Quartet; I’ve been a drummer since 1979, in all kinds of bands, cover bands. I was on a few basic hip-hop tracks for someone who wound up not using them. I know what I’m doing will never be full time, but it’s something I believe in. Fortunately, I enjoy my day job.
Sound wise, anything I do is somewhere along the line is rooted in drumming and percussion. I’ve been in Modern Drummer a few times. The first time I got a mention in that magazine, I can tell you, I burst into tears. I was stunned. I called my parents. I’ve been blessed, no doubt about it.
There’s a lot of emotion and physicality in your sets. How do you prepare, and what do you feel as you play?
I’m striving for authenticity. There are times I’ve been brought to tears. For preparation, I do something that’s equal parts prayer and stretching.
Certain aspects of what I do are left open for improvisation; I try to make it a bit different each time. I like to think that a higher power is controlling what happens. When I try to control what happens, it gets boring. None of it is random. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s something I believe in. I usually invite Mom and Dad when playing locally in sedate settings. They’ve been very supportive.
When the performance is over, what are you feeling?
To a certain extent, a feeling of euphoria, a feeling of relief, exhaustion. But I feel like I’ve done something I should be doing, something significant. If I had a lackluster performance or I’m not really tired, it’s like I didn’t put what I should’ve put into it.
Musically, what do you hope to achieve?
I’m not going to get on some pedestal and tell people what to believe. I hope what I’m doing inspires people in a spiritual direction, but I like when I inspire people from an artistic direction. I hope I’ve inspired people the way people have inspired me. I’m not out to annihilate anybody.