Q & A With Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide

Eef Barzelay, Clem Snide’s frontman, is currently touring America in support of his solo album, Bitter Honey. After doing a long set at Lexington’s CD Central, Eef had time to sit down with me at my favorite local restaurant: Tolly Ho. I was already in a good mood because Eef had just covered everyone from Black Sabbath to Daniel Johnson, but this interview made it even better.

YANP: So what kind of music have you been listening to lately?

EB: I’ve only recently developed an appreciated for rhythm and groove. I just got a cd called Cold Heat that’s rare funk from the 70s…And Art Blakey, the jazz drummer.

I’m not really familiar with him.

I’d say pick up A Night in Tunisia if you can…My relationship to music has gotten strange. I don’t like any of the new indie rock. Something happened to indie rock, and I don’t know when or why. I get it…but I don’t get it.

Yeah, the independent music scene is a weird situation right now. Of course, I’m pretty new to it. It’s got to be weird for someone who’s been a part of it as long as you have

Well, the price you pay when you make music for a living is that you don’t get to enjoy the music that other people are making. But the problem with indie rock today is that it’s too fussy.


I mean, there are too many people. Every band has to have 18 people on stage. Marcel Duchamp said that a work of art lives as long as a person. After 70 or 80 years, it should just die. I thought about it the other day–indie rock started in the 80’s with Sonic Youth and a bunch of others, and it was really emotional and young.

And now it’s going through its confusing twenty-somethings?

Right. Everything’s all weird…There’s a friction that’s created when you rub two things together like irony and earnestness. I think that’s in life as well.

Would you say most of the ironic contrast in your writing is intentional?

It’s more the relationship that you have with the listener. It’s like the Larry Sanders Show.

The Larry Sanders Show? I must be a bit too young for that one.

Probably. It was on during the early 90s. Garry Shandling was on it. But it’s like how he broke the “4th wall” and addressed the camera. It’s like you’re on stage, addressing the fact that you’re performing.

Editor’s note–after digressing onto something none of you would be interested in hearing, we got back on point with Eef’s stance on publicity

It’s a strange process. It’s like trying to seduce an invisible force. And you’re like…maybe I should have taken her to a different restaurant or said something different–where “she” is the press.

It’s got to be weird to have to please people you’ll never meet

Well, if you want to eat, you’ve got to at least try…I would gladly sell any of my songs to a commercial. Right now, Rhode Island’s using “Forever Now and Then” for their tourism thing. They only paid us a little bit, but I guess it’s all the entire state of Rhode Island had. *laughs*

I read an interesting article the other day about how all these indie bands were refusing to let Hummer use their songs in commercials. Is there anyone you wouldn’t do business with?

Uh…tobacco…NAMBLA *laughs* But it’s so weird because in the early 90s, everyone would have been outraged at the idea of using an indie song in a commercial. I remember when Nirvana came out and all these majors started signing indie bands. Everyone in college radio and the indie circles was up in arms over it. But now, the corporations sort of won. And they’ll always win because they have all the money.

Wow, that’s sort of a downer

That’s not even the worst part. The worst is that young people don’t even care; and the music reflects that.

Well, let’s talk about music that we both enjoy: Eef Barzelay. My question for you is ‘why a solo album, why now?’

It’s hard to keep a band going–logistically. Also, two of the guys [in Clem Snide] live in Brooklyn…But I had a bad year in ’05, financially. I had to pay off a lot of people that I fired. But the reason for the solo album was mostly artistic. I wouldn’t have done it if I felt like I didn’t have something good to say.

How long was the album in the making?

I whipped that sucker together so fast that it’s embarrassing *laughs*

Oh, wow. See, I would have thought the exact opposite. It seemed like it was stuff that you might have been keeping for years

It was building up for a long time. Some of the songs were ones that didn’t make it onto our second record.

Was there any fear about the solo album? I mean, going from a band that draws a lot of its strength from a full, multi-member sound to just one man, one guitar–that’s got to be rough

Of course. It’s a lot to ask of an audience to listen to one guy singing. I think the breakthrough was when I figured out a way to play guitar by myself and make it sound interesting. Then the next step was actually writing the songs.

Let’s talk about those songs for just a second. Is most of your writing personal or fictional?

I don’t distinguish between fact and fiction. I’m not James Frey–I don’t need to get the facts straight. I take things that did happen, would have happened and should have happened, and put them together.

But as far as personal songs…The one record that we did, Soft Spot, was right after I’d gotten married and had a baby, so it was naturally more gentle. But people seemed to take special pride in tearing that one apart. I was like…why us? Tear into Coldplay or someone who can afford it.

*laughs* Actually, my roommate is at a Coldplay concert right now.

*laughs* Oh nice!

So I’ve noticed that a lot of your songs seem to be written from the perspective of someone who is lost or confused about the world. Is this closely aligned with your own world view?

That’s just my perception of the world. It’s just how it looks to me. I envy people who don’t see it that way. But I can’t imagine someone lives that way. Maybe they just ignore those feelings. I don’t know. I can’t live that way. Anyone who does this [writes music] is conflicted or confused. If you’re in a band because you like the idea of it or think it’s cool…those are the people who come and go quickly. But for most of us, it’s an itch that we have to scratch.

I often fantasize about not doing this, but I can’t. I’m always portrayed as an artsy grad student, but I never even went to college.

It must be the glasses

*laughs* That’s it. And the sweaters. I wear sweaters sometimes. Articles always say that I’m this nerdy guy, but I’m really not. Put that in your article.

*laughs* Will do

Continue reading this post

MP3: Eef Barzelay – Ballad of Bitter Honey
MP3: Eef Barzelay – Thanksgiving Waves

10 thoughts on “Q & A With Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide”

  1. Great interview Matt! You know, it’s kind of funny, a lot of younger indie fans I know just LOVE these ensemble bands with tons of folks on the stage, and I’m with Eef on that one. I think it is too muddy that way.

Leave a Reply