Everything You Want To Be; An interview with James Clifford of Personality Cult

Personality Cult is the post-punk project of James Clifford (also of Modern Howls) who’s getting ready to release his debut self-titled EP on June 1. With vocal similarities to Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, he deliberately employs rough production techniques to add a punk flavor to new wave songwriting.

In describing the inner chapters of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck said that their “basic purpose was to hit the reader below the belt.” It can be said that the tracks on the EP function similarly—they are purposely unpolished and compact, designed to impact the listener on a visceral level. The focus isn’t so much on form and harmony as it is on translating fragments of the subconscious.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Clifford to discuss the EP.

When and under what circumstances did Personality Cult become a project that you wanted to pursue?

The songs just came about very naturally and I was having fun writing them, plus I haven’t been able to release anything for my main project these past few months so I had the time to make everything come to fruition.

Is this your first foray into music?

It’s not; I write and record all the music for my main project, Modern Howls, and have played guitar for over a decade now.

What was it about this type of post-punk, new-wave sound that leant itself best to your songwriting here?

First and foremost I’ve always been a huge fan of the genre. When I was around 18 I started getting deeper and deeper into music and properly discovering and exploring new wave was huge; I went through a long phase where all I listened to was Depeche Mode, New Order, The Human League, Yaz, etc. The other thing is that my voice is naturally baritone, so I felt a bit more confident using it in a much lower register as I think it lends itself nicely for post-punk and new wave in comparison to other genres.

Were their catalysts or themes that inspired your writing during the EP?

I strived to write everything in a sort of stream of consciousness fashion, so I didn’t really set out to “achieve” any specific theme. But in retrospect I think they all confront feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and loss in an introspective and honest way; which is another reason why I think these songs work, in that post-punk is the best vehicle as a genre to express these types of emotions.

Is the EP self recorded and produced?

I did it all in my bedroom, and purposefully left many things unpolished.

Are you releasing the EP yourself?

I am, yeah.

Is it surprising to you that online media have embraced the singles the way they have?

It is a little bit. I mean, I wouldn’t go through the trouble to release them if I didn’t think they were worth listening to, but at the same time I don’t think this strain of post-punk/new wave is very “cool” at the moment. So, I am little surprised that anyone has taken a remote interest in what I have to say. I also largely released these for fun without super high expectations, so it’s great to know that at least some people seem to be enjoying them.

Will you be touring in support of the EP?

No plans, I haven’t even thought about how I’d go about executing these songs live.

What’s next for Personality Cult?

I’m putting out a full length for Modern Howls this summer, so once all of that stuff blows over hopefully I will have time to flush out the new song ideas I have floating around. I’d also love to do some covers from completely different styles, so that’s a possibility as well.

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