By Matthew D'Abate
"Oh man,there are so many ways to kill a soul," answered Somer Bingham, the creator of the all-girl rock 'n' roll band, Clinical Trials, when asked how she makes a living outside music.
Of course, soul-effacing work is not what drives Ms. Bingham. It's the music.
Meeting Bingham in person, one cannot avoid her slightness. The strong jaw, her raven hair and piercing brown eyes stare across the table at Fabianne's Café on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg. She's all intensity with a wry smile.
I expected nothing less after hearing the fierceness of her music on the EP In The Wake of the Digital Afterlife. The PJ Harvey like growls and sultry lyrical baritone calls of Patti Smith are all across the record. You can even hear an echo of Kurt Cobain as she blends pure rage and catchy melodies into infectious songs that haunts the mind long after they're played.
I want to know what creates a musician of this caliber. But probing is difficult with Bingham. She answers in half-jokes and witty asides. However, there is sincerity to her when she speaks. As if the truth about would have to be earned, not just given away.
I started simple. When did music enter her life?
"Guitar came first, then the voice. I actually didn't have the guts to sing until much later."
The legend, Bingham explains, was that from the day of her birth, right in the cradle, her father put on a Beatles record for her to sleep to.
"I just hope it wasn't the White Album. That would have been a little cruel for a kid. That's a chaotic record," Bingham said.
I asked her why she started playing guitar. Bluntly, she answered: "to pick up chicks, just like everybody else."
To my surprise, the Joan Jett styled woman sitting in front of me was an athlete in high school.
"Volleyball, basketball, softball. I played them all," Bingham explains, "When I put my mind to something, I go all the way. Obsessive, I guess."
But I wanted more - where did this emotive power in her music come from? Was it a response to the suburban wasteland of Orlando, Florida where she was raised?
"Orlando is a place people go to. Nothing ever feels permanent. And very fake. Disneyworld. That says it all. Zero culture." Bingham said.
And Bingham, like any inspired individual, sought the streets of New York City for a greater sense of realism and grit.
Talking with her across a café table, you can feel her force. She's sarcastic, a touch jaded, but a dreamer none the less. A musical provocateur. Someone who would willingly jump into her own drum kit after a show.
"I suppose art is a place to fuel all the angst and anger we have in life. It's the release. It has to come out somewhere," Bingham said.
I asked her the significance of the title In the Wake of the Digital Afterlife.
"Someone was talking about when something goes up online, it creates a ripple, like a subtle wave across a digital world. This thought haunted me. These invisible ripples of the Internet, shooting out into the unknown," she said.
Bingham lives within these echoes of styles and philosophies of other times. When Grunge was in its heyday in the early nineties, Bingham was obsessed with the Oldies.
"I'm always off by a couple of decades. That's what I seek to combine. The ripples of grunge and the ripples of electronic."
An example of this is the track "Discoheadphones." The slow reverb of the electric guitar is interrupted violently by the pounding of war drums. Her scratchy vocals ease over the relentless beats with precision, lulling the listener into her chaotic world.
But it's not all force and unyielding passion. "Awake In My Arms", shows a far more vulnerable, even romantic, side to Clinical Trials. The song is a poetic account of passion in the early morning and impertinence of love, which "changes without warning/ the same old love story/ just a different name," complementing the rest of the tracks on the EP.
The subject of art, and why anyone even tries to create it in the first place, comes up. We discuss our mutual love of literature, her recommending me the poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Notebooks, me recommending Louis-Ferdinand Celine's nihilistic Journey to the End of Night.
"It's amazing anyone even starts making art. When you start at something, of course it's going to be terrible. No one is perfect out the gate. You have to push through," she said.
"There's something Rilke wrote I really believe in. He says, don't be a poet, unless you have to be one. Meaning, don't bother with it until literally it is the only thing you can do."
Though it started as a solo act, Clinical Trials' current line-up is two women, Bingham and her new drummer, Caryn Havlik. Why did she take on a drummer?
"Necessity. When I first started out, I just played with robots," Bingham said. "Setting up the drum machine, the key boards. Caryn comes from a metal background. It fits perfectly."
I asked, foolishly, if there was some kind of emptiness in the songs without a full lineup. She smirked, leaning forward, and said:
"When you see us, you tell me if there's an 'emptiness'."
In an endless wave of useless digital ephemera and poppy over produced cliché bands, Somer Bingham and her Clinical Trials stand out for what they are:
Powerful, hungry, dangerous, and above all else, true.
Clinical Trial plays Public Assembly Wednesday, July 13th at 9pm and Union Pool for their new EP release, Bleed Me, Wednesday, August 3rd at 9pm.