Interview With Clifford Ennis of Subterfuge by Kris Hex
“Having been a stalwart of the Australian/New Zealand goth and post punk scenes with his band Subterfuge alongside contemporaries such as Disjecta Membra and Children’s Hour, Clifford has stayed busy as both vocalist and guest musician in the past decades despite all the up’s and down’s in the world’s dark music scenes as a whole”
- Hello Clifford, been quite a while since we’ve spoken, I know you had released “Blind To Reason” last year, (thank you for the copy by the way!) excellent come back album, what have you been working on since then for those that may not know?
Thanks Kris, the album was certainly a long time coming. Since the release of “Blind to Reason” it will come as no surprise that I haven’t been exerting myself too much. I also play guitar with Ikon and have played some shows with them, been excruciatingly slow in finishing off an album with another band Razorfade (a project with Mark Tansley from UK band Suspiria) but more recently been helping out a couple of friends with writing tracks for their projects and now that I’ve finished them I intend on spending the next few months writing new Subterfuge material, not sure where it will take me yet but perhaps an EP next year?
- For a bit of background, I’d like to go back into the early 90’s and talk about how Subterfuge got started, I know the band has been going since about 1992/1993, was that when you officially started recording and releasing music and playing shows or was there an incubation period before i.e. the band had name changes, line up changes, deciding musical or artistic direction, etc. ? Most musicians there’s always about half a dozen bands in their teen years before they ever decide on a main project and run with it.
Yes there was indeed an incubation period. In 1987 myself and a friend from school (Brendan) started to mess around with music. My Dad had guitars and other musical equipment at home so we attempted to write songs (ranging from terrible to downright awful) but we stuck with it and slowly found our feet. Initially we had aspirations of being in a punk band so our songs had punk leanings for the first year and we called ourselves Dirt and the Mouldy Teeth. But as we fell deeper in love with goth music (and in Brendan’s case Depeche Mode) our sound began to change as did our name, we became Faux Pas Extempore and later just Faux Pas but apart from some nasty demos (which remain safely locked away) we never released anything. By 1991/92 we had a third member (Rick Mullen), had a clearer direction of what we wanted to do musically and we were now calling ourselves Rose of Fate and we started taking things more seriously with a view to release stuff and play live which all came together in 1993 by which time we yet again grew tired of the name and needed a new one as we had a demo tape about to be released and with time not on our side we hastily agreed on Subterfuge and it’s stuck ever since.
- You had your self titled album under the band name in 1993 and then “Darkland Awakening” in 1994, what distribution channels were you having to employ during that time? I know that was the day of mail order catalogues, word of mouth, and sending demos out to DJ’s, also what was it like having to find gigs for a goth act in the early 90’s in Australia, it seemed like during that time there was a changing in the tide of music, hip hop was coming into vogue, grunge was going on, there was an electronic influence seeping into the dark music scene and punk was always splintering into more and more sub-genres.
Our 1993 demo tape sold pretty quickly and they were mainly sold through mail order if I remember rightly (with some overseas mail order places also making dodgy bootleg copies of the tape). In 1994 “Darkland Awakening” CD was released on Heartland Records here in Melbourne who had their own mail order at the time plus they had various contacts strewn around the globe (mainly in Europe). Apollyon in Germany was one distributer I think and Resurrection Records in London also sold quite a few I’m led to believe.
As for finding gigs, I have to confess that I have never actively gone out looking to get a gig. All the gigs we played were always initiated by others wanting to have us play, this wasn’t through any grand design it’s just down to pure laziness on my part.
That early to mid 90s period was indeed an interesting time in music, a lot was happening but I was so entrenched in goth during that period that I overlooked much of what was around in other genres but it didn’t matter as the goth scene was very vibrant during that period.
- I see you have been getting quite a lot of attention from the international music press, particularly out of Spanish speaking countries, I’ve found most of the Spanish community are fanatical supporters of anything related to the goth and post punk scenes, have you gotten requests to play in areas such as Buenos Aires, Mexico, Spain, etc?
I don’t always get to see everything that is written in the press but what I have seen has been very positive. Most of what I have read has been from Europe and considering it was a hell of a long time between releases it’s amazing to get positive reviews and when it gets called “a flawless goth rock album” or “one of the most beautiful and interesting albums of 2017” it’s brilliant and I couldn’t ask for more. It also helps in some way to spur you on and to continue on the musical journey.
There have been a couple of requests to play but I don’t know how serious they were to be honest and besides I’m not sure whether it could be done logistically (and by that I mean I’m not sure if I could shake off the lazy gene and get my shit together)
- For a stereotypical question (I average 1-2 per interview), what influences were you pulling from and currently pull from for Subterfuge and solo work? Never ceases to amaze me just where most musicians are pulling notes from, you have any that most people would never guess you used for influencing your sound?
When you are young and just starting out it’s very easy to pin-point your influences (for us back in the early 90’s it was the usual suspects like The Sisters of Mercy, Rosetta Stone and a plethora of German goth bands but as you get older I think you tend to do what comes naturally and you don’t draw on outside influences as much. I still listen to new music so I suppose I must take on some influences but I think it happens sub-consciously these days.
One band that I have been listening to for quite a few years and keep going back to is I Like Trains (or more specifically their first 2 releases “Progress Reform” and “Elegies to Lessons Learnt”) I am not aware of them directly influencing anything I’ve done but it could possibly explain a couple of the slower songs I’ve written but then again I’ve always had a soft spot for Lycia too so maybe inspiration for some of the slower songs originated from there, who knows?
- I imagine you must interact with people on social media from time to time just like any other independent musician, it seems like these days sites such as Facebook, Instagram and the like host everything from people wanting to genuinely discuss music to people who seem like they might be better off in an insane asylum, what are you observations about the current crop of music fans you deal with on a weekly basis, especially given you can now instantly speak with people from your own generation to the crop of kids making or listening to music now?
Ah, the dreaded social media. It is a great tool and I’m well aware that I should interact more on Facebook or Twitter but I can’t quite bring myself to play the game of self-promotion. Sure, I do it but reluctantly and sparingly. I put it down to age, as a 40 something person I think I’m more inclined to be private and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
Having said that though, social media is fantastic for bands and fans to interact, it gives them direct contact. You do get the occasional oddball but that’s all good, those types of people are what make the world go round and tend to keep life interesting. If social media was around when I was a teenager I might well have been one of those oddballs asking all sorts silly questions to my musical idols of the day.
I tend to reply to all private messages as best I can but I avoid most public discussions unless I’ve had a few drinks of course but that could be a recipe for disaster, people can misconstrue what you say so easily. I do keep telling myself that I should open up more and utilize the tool that is social media but I am yet to take the plunge.
- I saw that “Blind To Reason” was released on Heartland Records out of Melbourne as was “Darkland Awakening”, do you have a working friendship with them that has just lasted over the years or was it a situation where it was difficult to find shops to carry or release alternative music and you happened to find out they were willing to work with you and the relationship just stuck?
A working friendship is a very good description. Heartland Records released “Darkland Awakening” and they also put on a few gigs then I ended up working for Heartland on the retail side of things from 1995-2005. When in 2016 I said I was going to finally release a Subterfuge album on CD and Vinyl Paul at Heartland was only too willing to be involved with the release and I was more than willing to accept the financial help offered
- What are your thoughts on the different titles and descriptions used for the goth scene now? In the U.S. the term “post punk” is typically used, in Europe I see that goth or even darkwave is not a dirty word, in the UK, feelings are mixed it seems, sorry if it seems like a frivolous question but when marketing your music to markets outside your own country, you have to consider this so it goes out to a crowd with a friendly reception that will buy the music, go to the shows etc.
I think it’s people trying to encapsulate all the styles under one banner. On a personal level I find myself listening more to post punk these days. I very much like the modern day post-punk bands that I’ve heard such as Whispering Sons, Bootblacks, Second Still, Drab Majesty and Soft Kill to name just a few, those bands certainly have elements of goth but for me they are firmly on the post-punk side of things which undoubtedly has less of a stigma attached to it than “goth”. While bands like Merciful Nuns, Pretentious Moi?, Sweet Ermengarde and Angels of Liberty are clearly more on the goth side. I think She Past Away is possibly the best example of a band that straddles both genres. Darkwave might actually be the best way to describe everything under the one banner? I’m sure the debate will rumble on.
As for Subterfuge I see us as fitting more comfortably into the goth genre but I don’t have a problem with being labelled as post-punk or darkwave if one wishes to describe our music that way and besides it is the listener who will ultimately decide what style you are to their ears.
- To wrap things up, any new releases coming down the pipe line you would like to let people know about or if this anything else you would like to discuss or parting words, then go right ahead.
I don’t have a good track record at predicting future Subterfuge releases. I’ve seen interviews I did in 1995 promising an album “next year” (I was only a mere 21 years out). I am however beginning the process of writing new material. I can’t promise where that will go or when a new album will be out but I’d like to release an EP some time in 2019.
Our album “Reflect<<Rewind” which is a collection of our 1990’s material can also be obtained from there. Hours of melancholic music for your listening pleasure.
Thanks for the interview Kris.