The Madison band’s current lineup plays its final show on November 16 at Mickey’s Tavern. (Photo: Clean Room’s current members are, from left to right, Jeffrey Halleran, Elyse Clouthier, and Matt “Donut” Behm.)
Madison native Jeffrey Halleran has been playing in his project Clean Room on and off since 1999, starting it with friends from his Monona Grove High School days and later reconstituting it in 2014 with a few different different lineups while living in San Diego. But Clean Room kicked into an especially well-defined and productive period when Halleran moved back to Madison in 2016 and pulled together its current lineup: Halleran on guitar and vocals, Elyse Clouthier on drums, and Matt “Donut” Behm on bass.
This lineup has released one full-length album (2017’s Bad Bad Dream) and three EPs that combine gritty hard rock with an unmistakably bright and playful side. The trio made disparate shreds of metal, punk, and power-pop fit together over rhythms that balanced heavy menace with exuberant boogie. Few things capture the spirit of Clean Room’s work from 2016 to present like last year’s video for “Run From The Reaper” (from the Down To The Axle EP): It shows the band members alternately battling with paper-cutout monsters and fleeing from them with exaggerated Scooby-Doo runs. Songs like the thrashing “Heartwork,” on which Clouthier belts out earnest lyrics about struggling for sanity and identity, fit naturally alongside ones like the giddy “Tokay,” which apparently takes its title and a good chunk of its lyrics from the addictively weird name of a street on the west side.
This period of Clean Room comes to a close on November 16 at Mickey’s Tavern, where Clouthier and Behm will play their last set as members. The band will also be celebrating the release of a self-titled compilation that pulls together highlights from across the last three years, along with some bonus tracks that showcase other iterations of the band and some guest musicians. Halleran will be carrying on in a new lineup that debuts on January 3 at the High Noon Saloon, with drummer Taylor Low—who also started the project with him back in 1999—and bassist Adam Flottmeyer, who plays in several Madison bands including Like A Manatee and Norris Court.
Halleran has always seen Clean Room as a flexible project that can shift through any number of lineups, but admits the most recent version of it has been special to him.
“We’ve created a healthy challenge for future lineups of Clean Room to carry on in the shadow of this currently classic lineup,” Halleran says. “Clean Room lineups past were more of a wing-it, show-by-show effort, whereas this has been a true hard-working band that has gained a certain amount of traction and momentum.”
When the three started playing together, Halleran wanted Clean Room to have “a more driving musical vibe with more definitive structure to the songs.” Both Behm and Clouthier have played an integral role in not just helping Halleran execute his ideas, but also shaping the project’s sound.
“I’m kind of influenced by more of the hard-core side of music, so in terms of what I’m bringing to the table for Clean Room, it’s short, fast, and loud—pretty much just trying to push the tempo, make people go ballistic, and have the song over before they know it, so it keeps them coming back for more,” Behm says. “I also try to bring a little bit of surf element to the flowing side of skateboard rock ‘n’ roll—something you can really listen to and skate well to.” (All three current members are avid skateboarders.)
“I wanted to bring a solid beat and fun energy,” Clouthier says. “I am leaving Clean Room so that I have more time to focus on myself, my art, and my other collective projects.”
The three seem to be parting on friendly terms, with Clouthier’s other projects including the queer-punk duo Gender Confetti and Halleran also playing drums in another trio, Darker ‘N’ Darker. Halleran is also collaborating on an instructional guitar DVD with Isaiah Mitchell of San Diego heavy-psych outfit Earthless. And he’s already on plans for a new EP from Clean Room’s forthcoming lineup.