BJ L&L BAND OF THE WEEK: The Exquisites

Searching For Home

February 16, 2017

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Growing up, Exquisites’ frontman Jason Clackley never knew the meaning of the word home.

Clackley’s youth was characterized by tragedy—his father and grandmother died in the same year, when he was only ten years old. “Growing up, I lost a lot of my concept of home, through my father and grandma’s death,” he says. “It felt like the beginning and the end of The Godfather.” This domestic anxiety has followed Clackley into adulthood, but now largely manifests itself in the form of failed relationships. 

On The Exquisites latest record—aptly titled Home—Clackley confronts his traumas head on, instead of merely searching for the next anesthetic. In “Home No Home”, Clackley Sings, “Obstruction has a mold, an endless, tiring sea / A complicated mess, a constant need”, a sentiment that perfectly sums up his existential ennui. In “Count On Me”, Clackley bemoans the fact that love—no matter how real or sincere—is ultimately limited by worldly affections. “I can paint a picture, it’s the pretty one yes it is / I can pick a flower too / It’s something, what else I can?” he sings. These themes of dimming innocence are perfectly reflected in the album’s cover: a grainy photo of drummer Gavin Tiemeyer as an infant with his dad that looks like it’s from a totally different world. And in many ways, it is. 

Clackley and Tiemeyer have known each other for the better portion of their lives, and have played music on and off since middle school. “We’re practically brothers,” says Clackley. While the group generally features a revolving cast of friends on bass and second guitar—I’ve served stints as both a bassist and guitarist during different points of the band’s tenure—the duo’s musical chemistry is The Exquisites’ immutable foundation; every other member of the band can only hope to exist in their orbit.

Home was recorded in the summer of 2015 at the Rainier Arts Center, in Seattle Washington. Joining Clackley and Tiemeyer on the recording are long-time bassist Alex Forville and guitarist Jason Brownstein, who also plays in the Oakland-based band Joyride. While Home might tread some pretty heavy lyrical territory, it’s a little more subdued than previous Exquisites releases sonically. The Exquisites have traded the noise-rock affectations and dimed-out Marshalls of Selfish Feelings for cleaner tones and more succinct arrangements that bring to mind The Cardigans or Grand Prix-era Teenage Fanclub over any exhumed ’90s emo band of the moment. Clackley’s seventh chord-heavy compositions are punctuated with tasteful horn arrangements owing to the musician’s deep-seated love for classic soul and pop. But the highlight is the vocals: Clackley’s emotive and powerful voice is completely unparalleled in the modern punk scene, an arena with far more monotonous whiners than technically-proficient singers. His signature croon—which is reminiscent of major soul icons like Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett—has a decidedly classic quality to it, but never comes off as derivative or amenably “retro” (see: Daptone). 

Jason Clackley might still not know the meaning of the word home, exactly—but he’s well on his way.