The Clean were one of the most influential New Zealand bands of the post-punk era. They formed in the town of Dunedin in 1978, when Hamish Kilgour (drums) and his brother David (guitar) recruited David's school friend, guitarist Peter Gutteridge. Soon afterward, they opened for New Zealand punk rockers Enemy.
The Clean were one of the first bands in the country to play original material. They carved out a distinctive noisy but melodic sound, distinguished by David's screeching, distorted guitar. When the Kilgour brothers decided to relocate the band to Auckland in 1979, Gutteridge had already left the lineup. The Clean played with a rotating bassist before David quit the band and moved back to Dunedin. Once he was back home, he was introduced to bassist Robert Scott and the two started playing together; news of his brother's new musical relationship prompted Hamish to move back to Dunedin and begin the Clean again.
In early 1980, the group began playing around town in earnest. In early 1981, a fan named Roger Shepherd began Flying Nun Records to release a single by the Clean, "Tally Ho!" With its jagged guitar, sweet melody, and persistent organ, "Tally Ho!" reached number 19 on the charts.
As they prepared to record their first album, they discovered that the small amount of New Zealand engineers didn't care for the band's material. The Clean didn't fight — they backed down, deciding to record on a four-track under the guidance of Chris Knox and Doug Hood. In November, the Boodle Boodle Boodle EP was released; it surprised every observer by climbing to number four on the New Zealand charts.
Boodle and the 1982 EP Great Sounds Great captured the quirky sides of the Clean's sound, since they did not have the technology to replicate the band's roaring live sound. Later in 1982, the group released their loudest single yet, "Getting Older." Soon after its release, David Kilgour exited the band, moving back to Dunedin. Robert Scott left after David's departure, forming a band of his own, the Bats. Hamish Kilgour moved to Christchurch — where Flying Nun Records was located — and bought his own four-track. After Hamish had begun writing and recording, David came up to Christchurch to help finish up the solo tracks, as well as to record some Clean songs. The resulting music, released under the name the Great Unwashed, was collected on the album Clean Out of Our Minds. The music was a departure from the Clean's punk-injected sound; instead, it was folkier and more acoustic.
To promote the record, the Kilgours reunited with Peter Gutteridge while still using the name the Great Unwashed. On the ensuing tour, the band concentrated on Gutteridge's backlog of material; at the beginning of 1984, they recorded an EP called Singles, which earned quite a bit of airplay and sales. Bassist Ross Humphries was added so David Kilgour and Gutteridge could both play guitar, yet the Great Unwashed wound up breaking up within a year. Hamish Kilgour formed Bailter Space with guitarist Alister Parker, Gutteridge began developing a new band called Snapper, and David stopped playing for a few years.
The Clean — the lineup featuring Robert Scott — reunited in 1988 for two concerts in London; a five-song EP culled from the shows was released a year later. The members of the band were encouraged by the results and decided to embark on a world tour. After the tour ended, the band recorded a new album, which was more straightforward and pop-oriented than their previous material. The record, Vehicle, was released in the spring of 1990 and the band supported its release with a world tour. After the tour's completion, the band split again. David Kilgour went solo, Scott returned to the Bats, and Hamish Kilgour moved to New York and formed the Mad Scene. Like lovers who could never quite say goodbye, the group reunited in 1994 to record a new album. Modern Rock was released in late 1995, followed by Unknown Country in 1996 after which the trio went their separate ways yet again.
After time spent away working on solo projects and with other bands, the trio got back together in 2000 for a festival in their Dunedin hometown, they stayed together for more shows and a new album Getaway, which was released in 2001 on Merge and featured guests Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo. Two years later, Flying Nun and Merge co-released a career spanning collection titled Anthology. Over the next few years the band kept playing shows, a few of which were documented on limited-edition live albums; 2001's Slush Fund, 2003's Syd’s Pink Wiring System, and 2008's Mashed. The trio ended the decade with a new studio album, 2009's Mister Pop, then spent the next year playing a select set of concerts around the globe. Once back home, they began sessions for a possible new album, but abandoned them after the catastrophic earthquake that hit New Zealand in early 2011. They got back together to tour the next year, playing some shows in the US. They did the same in 2014, and then in early 2015 played two concerts in Australia. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine