Formed in the latter half of the 2000s, Clay Hips – which consists of Andrew Leavitt and Kenji Kitahama – was a recapitulation of an earlier project, San Francisco-based band, the Fairways.
After that band broke up, the members parted ways, with Kitahama moving Berlin, and then Munich, and losing touch with Leavitt. But as coincidence would have it, he thought of his old bandmate and emailed him sometime around 2007, asking him if he’d consider rekindling their musical relationship. Only this time, it entailed a long-distance collaboration.
The same week he sent the email, Leavitt – who lives in Dublin now – was preparing for a move to Helsinki, and the two decided to give it a try. And although it was still long-distance, being on the same continent made it so the two could get together more frequently.
That frequency averages out to getting together once a year, but thankfully, technology has allowed the two to write songs in spite of the separation, even if it’s still slower-going than with bands who live close to one another.
“It takes a really long time,” Kitahama admitted, sharing that sometimes relying on computers to send song ideas back and forth can take its toll on him. “That’s one thing that I really miss about having Andrew, like, present, when we’re actually writing songs is that, like, this sort of feedback or this communication that’s really instantaneous and that we don’t really have through email.”
But at the same time, it helps the two keeps things in perspective. Particularly when they do meet up to practice and record, they don’t take their time together for granted.
“[With] the immediacy of face-to-face interaction…you end up being a lot more focused,” Leavitt said.
The two recently had a chance to introduce the songs they’ve been working on to the public; last month, Clay Hips played at the Indie Pop Days Festival, in a show that marked the band’s live performance debut.
To prepare for the show, they enlisted the help of two friends from San Francisco: Yoshi Nakamoto and Suresh Chacko. Nakamoto currently lives in Berlin, whereas Chacko had to fly to Germany for the show, but the friends gathered in a practice space in Munich and spent a few days throwing the songs together as a four-piece, before taking the stage.
“It’s kind of hard to, like, transpose songs that we’ve written as a pair and apply it to a full band because we’ve never done that before,” Kitahama said, highlighting the biggest challenge involved in playing live.
But at the same time, being able to hear those songs take on a new shape and sound was just the next step for the duo, in that it reaffirmed what they’ve spent the past four years working on.
“It’s definitely a lot more immediately satisfying to play songs with a full band,” Leavitt said.
“It’s also help to have a live band to work out the arrangements because it takes longer to figure out how we’re actually going to implement, you know, percussive stuff and bass and keyboards and…other sounds,” Kitahama added.
Although Clay Hips has no official recordings, the two have been recording songs as they go, a process which, Kitahama shared, knows no bounds.
“I enjoy recording because there’s just like…an unlimited palatte of things…you can just layer and layer and layer,” he said. “I think that’s really advantageous.”
And in some sense, having those songs as something to turn to is reward in and of itself, even if Leavitt and Kitahama are the only ones who hear them.
“I like when I burn a backup DVD for something that’s totally finished and I throw away like all of the extra files,” Leavitt, who has worked for years a recording engineer, said. “That’s my favourite, ’cause it’s just like, ‘OK this thing is totally done. We’re not gonna go back and tweak anything. We’re done with it. We totally finished something.’ That’s when I have the most personal satisfaction.”
As for Kitahama, he said that it makes him happy just to know that people enjoy what, for him and Leavitt, has been a labour of love.
“I feel like I’ve been really lucky just meeting Andrew and being able to sort of find someone that I can actually communicate on this sort of musical level, if you will,” he said. “It’s not easy to find someone like that.”