The rock trio keeps it lean, but without sacrificing variety or a bit of playful self-awareness.
Madison trio Clean Room, who open for punk legends Dead Boys this Wednesday at The Frequency, seem to take pride in stripping rock music down to its grimiest nuts and bolts. The songs on this year’s Bad Bad Dream full-length and the new Madcity Meltdown EP are cutting, swaggering, and direct; it all sounds like a lot of familiar territory (tinged with the influences of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, T. Rex, and Stooges), but the band’s approach has a sharpening effect.
Guitarist/vocalist Jeffrey Halleran started Clean Room in 1999, and the band has gone through various lineup changes and dormant phases, including several years when Halleran lived in San Diego. The current lineup, with drummer/vocalist Elyse Clouthier (who also plays in a Madison bands Gender Confetti and Lurk Hards) and bassist/vocalist Matt “Donut” Behm, only came together last year in time for these most recent two releases. As lean as songs like Madcity Meltdown closing track “Jackhammer In A Fur Coat” may be, Halleran says the band’s current work also takes a bit of inspiration from the heavy psych-rock he soaked up while living in San Diego—Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell played on a couple tracks on an earlier Clean Room release.
Halleran, Clouthier, and Behm first began working with songs Halleran already had saved up from the band’s previous incarnations, but soon began writing more collaboratively. Madcity Meltdown opens with “Sweet Muthatruckin,” built on a riff that Behm wrote. “His partner Mouse said it sounded like a truck commercial, so I came up with the lyrics as a reference to that,” Halleran says, hinting at the self-awareness that makes Clean Room’s most burly moments balance out. Clouthier wrote the lyrics for and sings lead on “Heartwork,” a thrash-punk-informed track with backing vocals from Lurk Hards.
“I like that, when a band is really a solid living growing thing—that’s where this EP is pushing Clean Room as a group,” Halleran says. “I’ve always got songs to bring to the table, written part-for part-but making stuff up with Donut and Elyse in the practice spot has a nice ‘we’re all in this together’ feel to it. The songs we make up together have a chunkier feel to them.”
Clean Room can also slow things down just a bit without sacrificing a sharp, resourceful feel, as they do on “Way Long Gone,” a bright but weary track about things going wrong, accentuated with a shuffling slacker-rock rhythm and the occasional burst of playful handclaps. There’s no fat on this EP, just a good feel for both the variety and brevity of rock.
Clean Room will be heading out soon on a West Coast tour, and are working on a split EP with Lurk Hards, on which the bands will trade backing-vocal duties on each others’ songs; they’re looking for a label to put it out. Clean Room has been playing around Madison pretty frequently these days, so if you miss this week’s show you’ll likely have more chances to see them when they’re back from tour.