Philip Clark is a strange guy. On the surface he’s soft-spoken and friendly. As a performer, however, he transforms into a mad scientist behind a bank of sound boxes and keyboards, dancing to his self-generated beats like an extra on the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live skit “Sprockets,” imploring others to join him.
The bespectacled, shaven-headed 35-year-old multi-instrumentalist produces music unlike anything heard on the east coast in his solo act A/V. That he toils away on his sound collages in a farmhouse in rural New Brunswick, five miles from Chipman (pop. 1500), makes him even more interesting.
“I go out alone in the country and brood for hours on end,” Clark jokes after breakfast at One World Cafe, his gear ready for a show that evening. “Then I plug in my machines, talking to myself, talking to my cat, asking ‘What does it all mean?’ And somehow in there, somehow it winds up on plastic.”
A/V started as a project between Clark and Selwyn Sharples, both members of the now defunct local hardcore band Equation of State, in the summer of 2000. Clark stuck with A/V after Sharples left later that year, releasing two records under the A/V moniker, the last, Control Change, coming in 2001. His newest disc, Hot Action, will be released Saturday night at The Attic.
A 15-year veteran of the Halifax scene, Clark worked as a sound engineer at local rock venues and played in several bands, including Rebecca West, his current rock band Colour TV and, for a time, in the Lunenburg-based Air Traffic Control. Clark moved to New Brunswick in 2005 after growing weary of the late-night lifestyle.
Clark calls himself a loner, and it does take a while for him to open up about his music and personal life. It’s a huge contrast to his on-stage personality, where Clark is extroverted, with brash and sometimes confrontational live shows. Audiences often become part of the performance; Clark, tired of the conventional rock concert, usually places his gear in the middle of the dance floor, removing the barriers between performer and spectator. Shows include impromptu, forced sing-alongs and robotic dancing en masse, as seen at a recent gig in Prince Edward Island.
“Sometimes when I’m set up in the middle, this thing will happen where people will gather in a circle,” Clark says. “So I was like, everyone take a step that way, and they stepped that way.” He points to left. “Then I was like, everyone, take two steps the other way. Then it was like the revolving circle around me.
“There is no typical response,” he smiles. “It really depends on the crowd. The more people there are, the easier it is to tell them what to do, which has scary implications for society as a whole.”
The release of Hot Action sheds light on Clark’s many personas. Songs veer from beat-driven, new wave platitudes that sound like old Ministry and Kraftwerk to electro-punk rock stormers such as the Shotmaker cover “Selector.” The lyrics are sometimes quirky; “The Clumsy Surgeon” details a victim’s experience with a less-than-capable doctor. Others draw on experiences posted on Clark’s infamous sex-blog, also called “Hot Action” (“Miss A/V,” “Do You Two Know Each Other”). Still others are introspective, dealing with the recent deaths of Clark’s grandmother and his close friend, local artist Robin Mathieson (“Benefit for The Memorial Fund” and “A Track For Robin”).
“It’s almost kind of personal,” Clark says about those tracks. “I feel like it’s on there so I don’t have to talk about it. It’s been a crazy couple of years.”
One thing is for certain: There’s no way to predict what will happen when A/V turns on his vintage synthesizers and drum machines, which have a knack for breaking down.
“I had to learn how to be spontaneous,” Clark says. “Sometimes I have to get on the mike and just start blabbing if all the sound stops or if someone kicks out a cable. One of these days I’m going to have a horrible train wreck where something dies forever, but so far there hasn’t been a situation that I haven’t been able to cope with.”
A/V releases Hot Action, with The Trick and Gary Flanagan, May 20 at the Attic, 1741 Grafton, 423-0909.