Clor: By hook or by crook

Clor may want to push back the boundaries of pop, but they're not too proud to write a catchy tune, they tell Elisa Bray
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The Independent Culture

But with their combination of appalling haircuts and a dress sense dominated by singer Barry Dobbin's tight, bright red trousers and idiosyncratic shirts, what they are certainly not is cool. Dobbin agrees wholeheartedly: "Cool? You must be joking. I think that's one thing that we're definitely not. I think we're pretty uncool."

Clor's sound is intriguingly difficult to define, a concoction of up-tempo electro-rock, pop and power-charged synthesised beats, and their songs tend to teeter between the infectiously catchy and the awkwardly irritating. It all began with a song - "Good Stuff" - that Dobbin and guitarist Luke Smith wrote for the Bad Bunny club night they ran in Soho. They took on bassist Max Taylor, keyboard player Bob Earland and drummer Harry Bennett, who had played with Roots Manuva's backing band the Manuvadelics. The band recall playing a small gig at the Windmill, a Brixton venue, and watching Max and Harry play to a sold-out Brixton Academy the following night.

Clor rocketed into the industry: they recorded their demo CD in a Kennington bedroom, and after six gigs were signed by Parlophone, home to Radiohead and Coldplay, which hadn't signed a band in 18 months. "We were completely flabbergasted. No one could believe it," said Barry, disbelief still fresh in his voice."Yeah," Earland chips in, "I've watched a lot of bands and something happens and they're suddenly on this wave or crest, and suddenly we were on this wave."

Before being signed, all band members had various jobs they "didn't particularly want to be working in". Barry was an art teacher in Peckham, while Earland had spent 10 years playing in bands across the country with no success. A phone call out of the blue led them to EMI's offices where they were told EMI wanted to put out their demo as an EP, just as it was. After watching them perform a live gig, Parlophone immediately signed Clor.

"It's completely surreal and weird," says Smith. "We spend years trying to get somewhere, and when we don't try, everything just falls into place. It was mad us getting signed to Parlophone so quickly. It's unbelievable."

But while they seem wonderstruck, the band's rise has not been without mishaps. At the Summer Sundae Weekender, in Leicester, last month, the band built up to their finale, a rendition of single "Love and Pain". No sooner had they played the first few notes, than technical problems with BBC recording cut out the PA and forced them to leave a disappointed crowd.

Barry laments the flat end to the gig: "There was nothing we could do. It's so frustrating. We'd just come up to the pinnacle, the one everyone knows best. It's not quite the finale we were hoping to provide."

"Adding to our catalogue of Spinal Tap mishaps," quips Smith.

When they played the Exit rock festival, in Serbia, in July, their airline lost all their equipment, so the band had to play three hours late, taking the slot of a death metal band. "All these death-metallers turned up to watch us and we played camp pop on bad instruments."

Then there's the trip Smith took to Delhi, for a holiday, last month, when the plane was hit by a goose. The goose went through the windscreen of the aircraft, causing the plane to lose cabin pressure.

In their almost tongue-in-cheek-sounding single "Outlines", Dobbin sings: "Each of us is special in our own unique way", a lyric he admits as being the sort of thing M People might sing. But he denies any irony: "I mean it completely. Each of us is special in our own unique way." So much so that he paid a former British bodybuilding champion to pose on a podium in Nottingham wearing black briefs with the statement embroidered in gold. "It was part of an art installation. It was in tiny letters. It was quite funny because all these people were coming in and looking at it really close to read it."

When probed about the meanings behind the music, the band are a little less revealing. A simple enquiry about the meaning of "Dangerzone" ("Watch out, we're entering the dangerzone/ We might find something that's emotional") causes Dobbin to turn the colour of his stage outfit and the whole band to chortle like naughty schoolboys. "What is it about? Er..." He looks at his band members for help. "It's about when two people... come together..." OK, so are all the songs about sex? "Pretty much, yes," they giggle in agreement.

Freedom is important to Clor. They were given free rein over the recording of their debut album, Clor; they credit this as the reason why the record retains their original sound. "We've signed to a major indie," claims Smith (Clor are signed to Regal, a boutique label of EMI), "but it's not been at all oppressive. We've been writing as we've been recording, so everything on the album is actually the writing process."

Dobbin says: "We're just sort of exploring, and we're trying to discover exactly where the boundaries between pop and experimental music start. And we're just interested in finding that moment where something remains interesting but has still got appeal. I think that's what Michael Jackson did with Thriller - form new ways of writing pop songs.

'Clor' is out now on Regal/EMI; Clor play the Bestival festival, Isle of Wight, 9-11 September