Head On

Backyard birds. Photo by John Gilhooley

He never chased the career as a mathematician he certainly could have had, but Solo Clique bassist Mike Oberly still admits to a little scientific discipline: "I got a weird thing," he says. "I remember too many phone numbers." And he keeps too many phone numbers filed on a card system in his brain alongside racks and cabinets containing the chord changes, off-time start-stops, flip-flop countermelodies, descending contrapuntal retardissimo choral alignments and punctuation marks for every verse that get put together like a moon-module each time Solo Clique needs to play a song. This Orange three-piece started out as an instrumental—maybe post-instrumental, since they didn't sound anything like Ennio Morricone—exercise in the early 2000s, but that wasn't using up enough brainpower, so they changed and changed and changed, dialing through about a hundred songs and tightening down into probably the poppiest head band in the county: harmony and melody at the limit of technique and attention-deficit, the kind of jittery little songs that'll warm hearts and computer chips both.

Singer/guitarist Blake Hayden says he's holding ideas in his head all day every day, waiting to get home from work: "It's gotta be well-rounded in my head," he says, which explains Solo Clique's vicious affection for channel-changing transitions between mood and momentum inside their own songs. To him, there's a natural decision a band has to make: if there isn't a message to keep them moving, there better be a lot of creativity pushing out instead. And since he shrugs off any deliberate dedication to message—his songs are just about life, he says, abstracted lines about murky aquariums and gerbil habitats, which are things you might naturally think of while stuck at work in Orange County—he makes sure there's a constantly monstrous level of creativity. Solo Clique is a band just wallowing in its own capacity to twist a song inside out—it's why drummer Jordan Siquiedo specifically started playing drums again just to join up, he says.

"They were badass!" he says, remembering walking into a studio in 2001 and hearing early Solo Clique with a borrowed drummer. "100% originality!" No cheeseball punk, no radio-rock embarrassment: just prime chow for undernourished musicians worried about feeling atrophy in their fingertips. Practice makes a process of elimination—what Hayden calls "stupid jamming" over and over until the good stuff wiggles to the top, kind of a panning-for-gold feeling, and then through a week or two they begin kissing the different pieces together: a Fugazi drum break, some queasy reverb guitar, a fuzzy series of triplets on an open e-string, a few notes from an Al Green smash to get a song called "Flounce" breathing on its own. Good thing for them that genre can't exist at such the molecular level, or they surely would have been yoked to something like surf/punk/funk/jazz/free/art/noise/pop/rock by now, since they're tweaking all these in sections by seconds for every song. It's pretty schizophrenic—right now, bassist Mike is deciding out loud if he feels like listening to Cat Stevens or "that nutcase" Lee Perry—but three long practices a week since 2001 gets them a jazz combo's sense for internal nuance. Telepathy is the method, laughs Hayden.

"To use the clich, 'we just mesh well,'" he says.

"Throw a bunch of noodles against the wall and see what sticks," says Siquiero.

Noodles and noodling have starved a lot of bands to death, of course: the classrooms at the Guitar Institute of Technological Technique are dizzy with musicians who couldn't ever play anything with any meat on it. But Solo Clique are fortunately all self-taught suburban bedroom devotees—bassist Mike actually learned his instrument from his cool older sister—with about a decade of constant individual rehearsal for each of them. That gets them musicianship, not showoffmanship—a cockeyed take on pop that pointillates cute and catchy chord progressions into super-calculated technical workouts, making a Kinks open-chord chorus into a Can-style Krautrock curlicue.

Hayden doesn't much mention the Beatles—more so Beck and Shellac, which displays a little inspiration for his deadpan lyrics and Solo Clique's formidable rhythm section—but he's got a lifesaver sensibility for sugar-coating technique, making sure there are actual songs underneath those flying fingers. "A big part of how we write is pretty much for our own selves," Siquiero says. "You can get Mike drunk at a party and he'll put on whatever the latest Solo Clique recording is and just sing the lyrics all slurred—it's really great!"


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