don’t know what it is,” muses Dinsmore later. “Time after
time I am surprised by this band. There’s some kind of
spirit,” he says, clearly in awe of the fans’ reaction
at the show and at the realization that perhaps the band
would not have to start again from scratch as he’d imagined.
“I didn’t expect things to be the same,” he adds. “Someone
came up to me and said, ‘Don’t feel bad about the turnout.’
I thought the turnout was great! I was expecting less
for a Thursday night.”
the summer of 1999, the Clay People were at the height
of their local popularity. When they played for the second
year in a row at Edge Fest (this time on a bill with Rob
Zombie), a screaming hoard of hundreds greeted the band
with their hands in the air, devil horns raised. Finally,
after years of packing area clubs, releasing records on
underground labels and playing classic New Year’s shows
at QE2, the Clay People had acquired the fan base they
had spent years fighting for.
Edge Fest fans, however, had not yet gotten what they
had come for. Guitars squealed in a psychedelic torrent,
spiraling around the pulsing bass and the tribal pounding
of drums. Yet there was something missing. There was a
hole where lead singer Dan Neet, the only original member
of the Clay People, was supposed to be. Then, as the crowd
reached the height of its anticipation, Neet took the
stage. Raver goggles resting on his brow, he briskly walked
to each side of the stage, returning the fans’ devil-horns
salute. Even more hands sprouted up to greet him as if
he were a messiah. The crowd roared back louder, in anticipation
of the storm to come. Then, contorted in an operatic pose,
his right hand holding the microphone to his mouth, his
left bent forward, beckoning to the crowd, Neet let his
guttural howl explode through the PA: “PARI-YAAAAAAH!”
band locked into unison, and minutes later the Altamont
field echoed with the crowd’s chanting of Neet’s lyrics:
“I don’t want to die here/I don’t want to die here/I don’t
want to/No, no!”
familiar with the Clay People in their earlier years would
probably not have recognized the band on stage that day.
The Clay People’s first album, Toy Box, was released
in 1991, and apart from Neet’s very recognizable voice,
features barely anything recognizable as the Clay People
today. Featuring Cure-style guitar squeals and clangs,
Depeche Mode- and Duran Duran-styled synthesizer riffs
and robotic drumming, the album is easy to forget.
the band were quickly signed to underground industrial
label Reconstriction, and their tone soon became much
darker. Guitars and drum machines were wrapped in distortion
and Neet’s voice dropped any touch of new-wave influence
to assume a deeper, more sinister tone. Their first album
for Reconstriction, 1993’s Firetribe, featured
songs from Toy Box with grunge guitar layered over
dance beats. For their third album, The Iron Icon,
released by Reconstriction, the band received production
help from national acts Sister Machine Gun and Fear Factory.
The band’s final album on the label, Stone Ten Stitches,
found the group still involved in distorted electronics,
but crafting more whole, perhaps poppier songs.
album gave birth to the band’s anthems: “Pariah,” “Mechanized
Mind” and the radio-friendly single “Strange Day.” It
was during this time that Dinsmore and then-member guitarist
Mike Guzzardi helped establish the band as an intense,
unmissable live act. Then, in 1997, the Clay People were
signed to SlipDisc Records (an industrial-metal offshoot
of Mercury) by David Chackler, the man who brought Queen
to the United States.
Clay People went into the studio and produced an album
full of influences from bands like Tool and Queensryche,
though they preserved their electronic flourishes and
Neet’s unmistakable howl. The self-titled effort featured
skittering death-metalesque dirges, slow metal-industrial
grooves, ballads and straight-ahead rock radio tunes.
other, larger area bands were slowly dying off, it seemed
the Clay People had made it. The sound they had helped
pioneer was now on Top 40 charts. With their live shows
packed to the brim, it seemed to a lot of people, including
Dinsmore and Idols Never Die lead singer Rocco DiDonna,
that they were going to finally “make it.” “I was in high
school at the time,” says DiDonna. “I remember thinking,
man, these guys are gonna break! They are gonna be huge.”
was during this time that the band’s shows became legendary.
But as the music industry began its implosion and Mercury
was merged into Universal, the Clay People found themselves
without promotion, and basically without a record label.
The band continued on, producing an EP named The Headhunter
Demos. Band squabbles led to the departure of McGarvey,
and finally the Clay People collapsed.
the 2005 reunion show began with familiar cries of “I
don’t want to die here,” in some sense it seems the band
are becoming a little more comfortable with their home
Thursday night, it was clear that a good portion of the
crowd were fans of the opening acts, local hardcore heroes
Brick by Brick and Last Call. Seeing fans out for these
bands is heartening for the Clay People. This time around,
the Clay People have decided to create a reason for bands
to be proud to be from Albany. Dinsmore’s own promotion
company, OverIt, has become a functioning record label
with the help of David Chackler, the man who signed the
Clay People to Mercury. The label features a roster of
local bands including Last Call and Idols Never Die, a
band Dinsmore founded with ex-Clay People guitarist Guzzardi
in the wake of the Clay People’s breakup.
side project, Iron Lung Corporation, is signed to Cracknation,
a label with national distribution founded by Jason Novak,
lead singer of Chicago industrial act Acumen Nation. Neet
insists that OverIt is by no means hoping to re-create
what Cracknation has achieved. In fact, Neet is thinking
much bigger. “Jason Novak is involved in all the acts
on that label. They are all his projects,” Neet explains.
He envisions OverIt as growing into more of a powerhouse
along the lines of Victory or Roadrunner.
points to OverIt’s success in garnering international
distribution and radio airplay for Idols Never Die as
the foundation of what it hopes to achieve with its other
acts. The return of the Clay People promises to spark
local interest in OverIt’s roster as well as the heavy-music
scene in general. Idols Never Die have not been able to
capture the level of local interest that the Clay People
did. There are few bands currently in the area’s heavy-music
scene who have that kind of crossover potential and the
ability to fill clubs. Dinsmore says that while the Clay
People are now hoping to both reinvigorate the local scene
and draw more attention to OverIt and bands on that label,
“It always comes to that one song that the kids can sing
along to. It always comes back down to the music.”
what has been missing in Albany’s heavy-music scene since
the departure of the giants—the Clay People, Section 8,
Straight Jacket and Stigmata—was on display at the Clay
People’s return show Oct. 27. Although Brick by Brick
got the crowd moving, all of the opening acts struggled
to connect with the crowd.
distinction between die-hard hardcore kids who had come
for Brick by Brick and Last Call and the people who came
for the Clay People was clear. Backward baseball caps,
tank tops and sports jerseys stood out in contrast to
the stark black dress of most of the Clay People fans.
respectable circle pits were formed for both Brick by
Brick and Last Call, many members of the crowd remained
in the recesses of the club. Last Call singer Ralph Vrenna
spent more time demanding the crowd move up or step forward
than barking his lyrics. He asked the crowd more than
once, “Are we boring you?”
of Heads, another band on the OverIt roster, featured
heavy use of electronics and may at one time have been
a logical accompaniment to the Clay People, but they were
unable to raise the interest or even the ire of the crowd
despite the abuse the lead singer hurled at them. “Oh
I get it,” he whined between his band’s Linkin Park imitations.
“You can’t play football to our music!”
the Clay People have had some success at bringing people
out to shows they otherwise might have stayed away from.
A reason they work in this role (besides Neet’s ability
to capture a crowd) may be that each band member has distinct
tastes. Though the Clay People have found themselves lumped
into the industrial genre, not every member of the band
has even heard the bands they are most compared to. “I
don’t think I’ve ever listened to Ministry,” says Dinsmore.
“The Clay People have songs that range to beyond hardcore
to songs that aren’t even close to it,” he adds.
the members cite varied influences, they can all agree
on local acts they think deserve more attention. “Super
400 are awesome! They should be out on tour with the Black
Crowes or something,” says Neet. “If there’s one band
you could say the Clay People love, it’s Super 400.” “Oh,
and the Kamikaze Hearts,” adds McGarvey. “I saw that dude
in Proctor’s lying on the floor doing a solo with an electric
mandolin! It was this screaming solo!” he exclaims.
likely will draw most fans back is what drew them in the
first time around. DiDonna says that the Clay People’s
live show is what drew him to the band. “I never really
was into the album,” says DiDonna, “but I saw them live
and that was it.”
night, it’s 11 PM by the time the Clay People take the
stage. Although the same torrent of psychedelic dissonance
that opened up the band’s 1999 Edge Fest performance pours
over the crowd at their reunion show, Neet does not take
the stage as a conquering hero. Instead, he approaches
the crowd as a reluctant stranger.
however, his awkwardness slips away and he soon has the
crowd in the palm of his hand. When he demands of the
crowd, “We want to thank Brick by Brick, Pile of Heads
and Last Call,” they respond with moderate applause. “I
said we want to thank our friends in Brick by Brick, Pile
of Heads and Last Call!” he repeats. As if suddenly remembering
who they’re dealing with, the fans respond twice as loud,
twice as angry.
band tear through Clay People classics while a small circle
pit takes off. A line of chubby girls who’d been sitting
on the stage giggling at the boys dancing in the circle
pit, oblivious to all the previous acts, is quickly replaced
by throngs of teens staring upward at Neet, returning
his every word. “We are all animals!” they shout with
grins of recognition.
the end of their set, with screams of “Wake up/Time to
die!” still hanging in the air, the band members hop off
the stage and the house music takes over. The crowd, which
has bunched up in the front of the club, does not budge.
They fight off the house music with cries of “Clay People,
Clay People!” and “One more song!” The floor quakes with
stomping and the air stings with clapping and shrill whistles.
Then the swell breaks and a hush falls over the crowd
as the Clay People reappear.
more?” asks Neet, sheepishly. “OK, but that’s one less
song we play at the next show,” he jokes as both guitarists
launch the buzz-saw intro to “Raygun Girls.” As they collapse
the song with exaggerated, wailing blows that cascade
into a throbbing explosion of bombastic pomp, fans look
back and forth at each other with a glare of recognition.
On the way out the door, fans’ chatter echoes the sentiments
of the final song’s chorus: “The time has come.”
one disappointment the show brought for fans was that
there was no new album to purchase, no new Clay People
songs to take home and memorize. According to Dinsmore,
the reason their new album, titled Waking the Dead,
isn’t out yet, is because they want to make sure “every
song on the album is a single.” Dinsmore says the band
has a history of recording quickly on low budgets and
then rushing out to tour. This time around Dinsmore wants
to ensure they can stand behind their album for some time
the Dead swirls with influence from the Clay People’s
past and present. The track “Secret” opens with the dark
rhythm of acoustic guitars accompanied by Neet’s sullen,
almost confessional croon. After the guitars set a deliberate,
seductive pace they are met with the accompanying rhythm
of what could be marimbas or distorted handclapping and
quickly two worlds of the band meet up to form a danceable
dirge that could easily be mistaken for Stone Ten Stitches-era
Clay People or more recent Radiohead.
acoustic guitars eventually give way to an Armageddon
of swarming guitars and blistered screams. “Failure” stands
above all the new Clay tracks, however, because of Neet’s
blatant introspection: “Is this what I really wanted,
is this what I really care about/There are so many more
things that we must do/Am I a failure?” and also because
of its epic goth-pop climax that has Neet wrapped in a
shroud of raging guitar, promising, “This time I will
not fail you.”