Montreal Character Series: Commander Andrew Clark

Postering Free-Agent, Positive Musical Force

Photo Zach Goldberg

For once, I was early.

I showed up at our predetermined meeting place, La Vitrola, almost exactly on time. We had agreed to meet here at 6:30, but I was a tad early, casually eating a peach and for once not soaked in my own sweat. So I sat down on the venue’s front stairs and sparked a Viceroy to wait.
As I was waiting, that evening’s show’s promoter emerged from the venue, cigarette in hand. He asked what I was doing, and I told him I was here to interview the Commander. He knew exactly who I meant.

“That guy’s a fucking positive force.”

He really is. After a little over a year in Montreal, Andrew “Commander” Clark has become one of the most well-known, and well-liked, people in the city’s DIY (do-it-yourself) music scene. After literally appearing out of nowhere, showing up in town last summer with nothing but a suitcase and two guitars, Clark has become one of the most talked about phenomena in Montreal.

I finished my cigarette, and it was about five minutes past the half hour. I stood, and just as I did, Clark rounded the corner and was there, carrying a guitar, a tiny combo amp, and a bag of goodies to be given away. He was flushed and had clearly booked his way down here, but he smiled wide when he saw me, and immediately apologized.

“My bad, dude. Had to wrap up these Rice Krispies.”

I forgave him, and held the door as he shuffled upstairs to put his stuff down. We then came back out and sat down in a nearby alley. What follows is the transcript of our conversation. You’ll find that I really didn’t have to ask many questions, Clark is such an energetic, talkative soul; he’s constantly thinking two steps ahead, and it shows. He’s so animated, completely present in his thoughts and throughout every sentence, punctuating every moment with laughter and smiles, throwing in as many shout-outs and stellar reviews of people and bands and records as possible. I only wish I could convey completely his infectious forcefield of positivity and acceptance, his awkward, endearing mannerisms, his total charm and disarming honesty.

I’ll let the Commander speak for himself, but I will encourage all of you to catch him at any and every show, or just say hi in the streets, you won’t regret making a friend like Clark.
Also, keep in mind that most of this punctuation was added after the fact, by this tired editor. Clark doesn’t punctuate.

Comm. Andrew Timothy Clark
25 Years Old
1.4 Years in Montreal

I was talking to Chris, and he really said it best. Man, you just took over.
I’m in a band with this guy Louie from a band called Parlour, and he said once that I just showed up and decided this was mine. I went from living in a small town in Ontario, playing Toronto twice a month, having a noise-punk band and playing in the hardcore scene. Where I was from, that was it. I’m from Kitchner-Waterloo, combined population of probably 700,000. So it’s not that small, but it’s small enough, especially in regards to music. There’s no nightlife – there’s like a bar culture, and house shows. A lot of really crazy bands.

What was your first band?
I was actually watching videos of them today. We were like a rock and roll band. We kind of sounded like Rage Against the Machine – I used a lot of killswitch stuff, and wahs, and shredding. But we’d also play Deceptacon by Le Tigre, too, and we’d have fun. It was a bunch of friends from high school. I was just kind of looking at old videos today because a friend of mine from high school posted a video of us playing a Jewel song together for a high school show, and I was just like, “Shit, man, that was 2007.” Eight years ago. I went from being a person who didn’t think Arcade Fire’s members went to the bathroom, like I didn’t think they were real humans, I thought they were gods. And now, I went to a show yesterday, and the drummer of that band slapped me on the back, said what’s up. Living the fucking dream. Jeremy Gara is a friend of mine. Yeah, I mean, I haven’t been here that long. There was this guy who sort of lorded (sic) that over me the other day. We were at Passovah’s opening party (here, Clark leans into the mic to quickly say: Hashtag Passovah Fest), standing in the bathroom, and a friend of mine asked me what I thought of Spencer Krug AKA Moonface. I had an open mind, I’d never seen any member of Wolf Parade play a show, so it was awesome. Not only that, the music was great, I had an open mind, I loved it. And then this guy in the bathroom was like, “You should have seen him in 2005.” It’s like, man, I guess I should have? Like, fuck you, this isn’t the poser bathroom judgement zone. I’m just trying to go to pee. But no one really gives me shit here, because I work so fucking hard. I poster for six companies, I have two restaurant jobs. I’m busy as fuck.

Who do you poster for?
Blue Skies are my main company, who I live by, if I had to quit all my poster jobs I’d still poster for them. But I love Greenland a lot, I love Neon, it’s all clubs and weird shows, I haven’t gone to too many of those but they’re all really nice people. They’ve got some weird cool history too. I poster for POP! Montreal a lot, I poster for Michael Bardie from Heavy Trip. And then Pasovah. It’s all just word of mouth – people found out I poster for 40 cents per poster and I think that’s affordable for most companies, so they were just like, yeah, give this guy it.

You pretty much just blew through all of my first questions without me having to ask them.
Sick. It’s cuz I did interviews for so long…I just don’t like typing them up, but I love talking to people, especially bands, about specific details of their live sets. But people don’t like doing interviews if you’re gonna offend them, if you’re just trying to get a headline.

(At this point, I stumble for a few moments on my words. Clark just talks so quickly, with so much passion and intense interest, I had trouble keeping my questions coming. So, in this momentary pause, he offers me some of his tea.)

You want some yerba maté with honey? It’s pretty heavy shit, man. That shit’ll get you going. Made my rice krispie squares, too. I tried to write my bandcamp in chocolate, but the chocolate melted.

I see you’ve got some older copies of Spirit (Clark’s self-made zine series) in there too – are you still making zines?
Yeah, I’ve got some zines. I’m gonna make another spirit pretty soon, but I just haven’t had the desire lately. I’m gonna make Avant-Garden as my next major zine project. It’s about these fruits and vegetables that play music and live life. Yeah. Fruits and vegetables playing music. It’s a simple concept, but I want the themes to be about rejection and how much of a pain in the ass it is to be a part of this world. Like the unforgiving, relentless nature of show business – how one day you can se, where one day you can sell out an arena, and the next day everyone hates you and wants you to die.

Do you feel like you’re trying to get to that point?
I think about that all the time, especially nowadays. I wonder if I could even handle it, if I’d be too stressed about it. I think about the people who really made it here, like really took off in this city, and the first two names that come are Grimes and Mac Demarco. They’re both people who came here, and were here for a while, and then they left for reasons that are their own….they both came here, and became really successful. I moved here to find success, but I found something different…I came here, didn’t really know what to expect, and then I got into (all these different scenes.) If I did get a lot of success, I’d just buy free liquor for everyone…I just want to go to bars, give everyone free shit, and then throw a smoke bomb down and disappear. Honestly, Gach, that’s what I’d do. Just run in, get everyone free gin, and then disappear in a smokey cloud. I don’t know. I write pop music, my music is for people. Oh, damn, this yerba maté just hit me. I’m gonna throw my guitar around a lot tonight.

Where did Commander Clark come from?
Life in Vacuum. They took the same city bus every day with me when we were kids. But in 2010, they made a concept album called Commander Clark about this guy who goes to the future to save the world from these dogs with lightbulbs for brains…it’s a really weird concept. But after that, I took that identity. I’ve been building it for like five, six years – interviewing people and playing shows. Before, people laughed about it, but now, in Montreal, people really get it. Getting back to Grimes and Mac D, they were both just doing their thing, but they could cultivate it here. The soil for creativity is so fertile. I have this sort of theory, I call it the Arcade Fire Dream, where the city of Montreal really sells this idea to tourists, of like, come here, these famous people made it big here. And it pays into tourism. But when you live here, like you live here and I live here, you know that the roads suck, the government’s kind of fucked up, austerity measures are fucked up – I mean, shit’s kind of fucked up, and it’s a very bizarre place, but it’s still true. There are so many venues, it’s just more open to art. In Toronto, it’s expensive to live and play there, but here it costs almost nothing to do those things. So it’s bizarre, and there are so many scenes, and I love all of them. Like, sometimes I’ll go to Loose Fit and Amy Macdonald shows, and then I’ll go to Stack Your Roster/David Mitchell shows, and then I’ll go to Blue Skies shows, I saw Primus at a Greenland show…I’m just all over the place. This is such an ego boost.

What made you feel welcome about this scene?
At first, not a lot. At first, it was really cold. I thought people moved here to specifically stand in one place with their arms crossed. Everyone was supporting music and were into it, but not a lot of people would dance. If you’re at a smaller rock show, people are really conscious of their coolness factor. Coolness here, besides commitment issues, is in my eyes a prerequisite on your life resume when you live here. Like, you’re a cool person, and you notice it at shows. There are people who lose it, like Vince Ford, who’ll just throw down. David Mitchell, throws down. Will Eau, throws down. But by and far, a lot of people don’t really give it and aren’t super enthusiastic about music to the point where I’m at. That’s how I got to know everybody, that’s how I got friends. I’d just go to a show every night, and at first it was awkward. People were like, who’s this guy? People don’t trust you because of the Arcade Fire Dream. People are wary of people that come here because they want something, like whether it’s fame or money or recognition, which is all well and good. But in Montreal, if you want something, people won’t talk to you. But if you’re giving, if you just give and give, and I try not to ask for anything, people are more trusting. It took a while, but I just dance. I love music. Sometimes I forget, get caught up in the business of it. But I can’t forget, because everyone loves music. If you dance and you’re happy, people can’t help but remember…that’s what I’m here for, I guess.

Do you think people are really attracted to that positive energy?
Boom. Besides the fact that I poster for everyone and that I’m a big loud mouth and that I have this persona and this identity and I play music or whatever, that’s the one reason people know me, it’s just because I dance. I have fun, and I’m smiling, and I’m at the front of the stage watching people. I’m not afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of time the most, but everything else…I don’t really care. Like tonight, at this show, I’m gonna go beserk, I’m gonna rip my pants, I don’t care. I’ll bleed or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me, it’s all for the show. As long as you’re positive. If you start acting negative, people close their eyes, they walk away. But if you’re positive, people are receptive to you.

What’s your favourite band in this city?
Currently, Braids, for sure. I’ve been obsessed with that band since Native Speaker. It’s a modern classic. Flourish/Perish, I love it, but it’s hard to get into. But Deep in the Iris and Native Speaker are like, what the fuck, what were they thinking? Their new record, there’s just so much at play. They’re the best.

Gulfer, Golden Python, my band. Smokes, Saxsyndrum. Nancy Pants are probably my favourite rock and roll band. There are just so many good bands here, it’s ludicrous. Even punk bands. There’s Ursula and Gashrat and Ought. I mean the list goes on. The list of bands here is just…holy shit.

When do you feel accomplished?
Right before I don’t feel feel accomplished. Actually, at the end of the day. I haven’t had a day off in almost a month. I work at a restaurant, I poster all day, and then at night I go to a show or am usually busy. So at the end of the night, when I get home and everything’s settled, and I’m about to go to sleep. I’m just chilling with my cat, Bambi, yo, shout out, and we just chill and watch videogame speed runs. I think that’s fascinating. It’s really funny to watch people who are so good at these games, and the dialogue’s really funny and awkward. At that point, I feel the most accomplished. And then I wake up the next day and I’m like fuck, I’m a loser, gotta get back to the grind.

How important is it to you to be prolific?
If you’re not prolific, you’re irrelevant, that’s just the nature of it…if you’re not constantly making work, and constantly doing things. That’s why I left Kitchner-Waterloo, cuz I felt irrelevant. I was like 24 and I was like, what the fuck, my whole life’s ahead of me. Here, people tell me I’m a baby, but back there, when I told people I was in a band, they’d be like, aren’t you gonna get a job soon? But here, people play in bands as a job.

How do you feel about getting older?
I write a lot of songs about it. I grapple with time a lot, it’s the only thing that you cannot buy or sell or control whatsoever. Everything else in this world, you can buy it, you can earn money, you can lose it, like limbs and shit like that, you can lose them, but time…you can’t. I have no control over it and it terrifies me. But as I grow older, I’ve gotten a lot smarter, a lot less violent, a lot less aggressive. I’ve learned to be more at peace, I’ve learned a lot about life. Especially in Montreal, which really smacked me in the head. This first year, I was crying a lot…I’ve never cried so much in my life, just learning. But then you get used to it, the grind. I mean, just last week, I had a nervous breakdown. A beer can exploded in my bag while I was out postering, and I just couldn’t take it. I just got on my knees and I was crying, I was just hyperventilating. The posters were okay, but it was just that snap of ‘I can’t handle it.’ Cuz no one slows down, no one helps you here, everyone has their shit to do. Living in a metropolis, I’m still not used to it. When I saw my parents after living here for a while, I had to cut myself down and try to remember. But I mean, who the fuck knows what I’ll be doing in my thirties? I’ll talk to you then.

Talking about being your age is still pretty terrifying to me.
Oh, man, trees don’t produce acorns until they’re fifty. Charles Darwin didn’t write Origin of Species until he was fifty.

That’s sort of my concern – that I have this reel of people who weren’t successful until they were older, and that I’ll use that to be lazy.
That’s the balance. At the end of the day, you gotta get up and do what you gotta do. Recently I read that Morgan Freeman wasn’t in a movie until he was 34. Cindy Lauper didn’t make “She’s So Unusual” until she was 30. She’d been through two bankruptcies, shitty bands fucking her over, managers, agents fucking her over, and then she finally made this record. In the realm of pop music, I mean, Taylor Swift is younger than me, Mac Demarco is younger than me. It’s all relative. I didn’t move to Montreal until I was 24 and now I feel like I get what the life of being an artist is. Before, I was playing all the time, but now I have a direction. Now, I can see touring Europe, touring more of Canada, touring the states.

(We are interrupted by a passing friend of mine. I pause my recorder, we chat, and then she leaves.)
She has no idea how hard I’m about to rock out.
There are like these different schools [of rocking], like the Godspeed! school, where you’re super serious, and you don’t acknowledge the audience, and you play because you’re playing. And I like that, but it’s not all me. I can scream and get intense, but then I can joke around. I have a spectrum. I heard Billy Connoly once say that jokes are like springs. You have to set them down, wind the audience up, and then boom, knock them out. So I scream, but then I go right back into singing, so they can remember that I’m not just some crazy person, I have a range, I have control over the ferocity.

A series of quick questions:
Favourite restaurant?
(Series of disgruntled sputtering sounds) That’s a hard one. Probably Donair Cite because I love Halifax Donairs, but if not that….(series of frustrated explitives)…yeah, there are a lot of really good restaurants there.

Where do you drink?
At a friend’s house. If I go to bars, it’s Nouveau Palais because I work there so I get beer half price. Casa has great beer, really inexpensive. Any venue, really, or at a house party, getting fucking knickered.

What are your plans for this city? Where are you going?
I’m gonna do my thing until I’ve exhausted all my options. I want to move to New Zealand eventually and live with my family, but if I’m living in Canada, it’s always going to be in Montreal because it’s the best city to be a young person, or to be anyone at all, because it’s the best city in Canada. I honestly believe that, regardless of all the shit that happens here. It’s the only true bilingual city. The music is best. But I just want to keep making music, make more albums. I want a member of Arcade Fire to produce one of my records. I want to play a show where Austin from Braids is drumming for me. I want to make the Avant Garden graphic novel huge, and do a release at Drawn and Quarterly. That’s my dream. If you’d told me that three years ago, I would have told you to get back in your time machine and get the fuck out of my face.