Barbara Manning holds forth on Kiwi rock's jangle power
MUSIC For over 30 years now, the Clean have been at the forefront of the New Zealand rock scene. Despite some early lineup changes and temporary breakups, the core of the band — Robert Scott and brothers Hamish and David Kilgour — continue to tour together, work on solo or side projects, and occasionally release a new album. For special insight into Kiwi rock and all things Clean, I decided to get in touch with San Francisco expat Barbara Manning, who will be opening for the group at the Independent with her new band, the Rocket 69.
Welcoming me into her house in Chico, Manning pointed to a stack of vinyl and a couple dozen CDs she'd pulled out in a living room stocked full of records. She fancies herself as having one of the most thorough personal collections of New Zealand music around, and after just a quick glance it was easy to see why.
"We probably don't have time for New Zealand Rock Music 101," Manning said. "So I'll just put some Clean stuff on."
In Manning's opinion, despite a well-developed and underrated rock music scene that has thrived since the late '70s, New Zealand rock and roll can really be narrowed down to three essential contributors — the Bats, the Chills, and the Clean. While all three groups have enjoyed various degrees of success, the Clean's appeal has extended far beyond the borders of their native home to impact everything from '80s power pop to '90s indie rock to contemporary garage sounds.
"People incorrectly think that the Clean started rock music in New Zealand," Manning said. "But they were the first ones to make America notice."
From the bouncy keyboard melody and chugging bass line of the 1981 hit "Tally Ho" to the more exploratory and expansive feel of some of their later work, the Clean have always excelled at combining a good pop song with a rough-around-the-edges "hypnotic groove," as Manning put it. Pavement and Yo La Tengo have gone on record singing the group's praises, and more recently, artists such as Kurt Vile and the late Jay Reatard have made Clean-like recordings.
"The Clean have an edge to them that was especially fresh in the '80s, when there was a ton of crap out there," said Manning. "It was great hearing good, urgent, jangly pop songs that cut away the fat."
Despite loving their music for decades and recording songs for one of David Kilgour's solo albums, Manning — who lived in San Francisco from 1986 to 1998 — has never seen the Clean perform live. When bassist Robert Scott called to make sure she was coming to the group's Bay Area show, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
"I said, 'I'll be there,'<0x2009>" Manning remembered, "<0x2009>'and how 'bout I open for you?'<0x2009>"
Manning's new project includes Maurice Spencer on guitar, Jonathan Stoyanoff on bass, and Marcel Deguerre on drums. She said that those in attendance can expect a "power pop-heavy" set made up of material from her songbook and a handful of covers. Both her band and the Clean inject a sinister irreverence into the sometimes cookie-cutter world of guitar-driven pop. As Manning put it, "It's always nice to hear jangly pop music that's not all paisley and flowery."
With the Rocket 69
Mon/4, 8 p.m., $18–$20
628 Divisadero, SF