The man behind the scrappy twee punk project Tim the Mute, is Tim Clapp, and he can only be described as someone operating on another plane of existence from your average human. Between playing shows and releasing five seven-inches as Tim the Mute since 2011, Clapp also runs the extremely prolific local label Kingfisher Bluez, releasing a never-ending stream of records from up and coming indie/punk bands.
Clapp is usually bouncing around in a ramen and energy drink fuelled fury, frenetically assembling records, mailing records, picking records up, going to shows, playing shows, and selling merch for other bands at shows. He collects things, especially vinyl, and his record collection currently numbers around 6000 LPs and singles, including obscure recordings of train sounds, bird sounds, weird religious albums from the ‘80s, and even an album of complete silence. He also collects white teapots shaped like animals and is obsessed with trains. I know this because Tim Clapp is also my roommate.
I talk to Clapp about his alter ego, Tim the Mute, and his upcoming full-length album Why Live? in our kitchen while he assembles his latest Kingfisher Bluez release. Stacks of records are everywhere and he’s simultaneously attempting to eat a hastily microwaved dinner of rice, some strange vegan fish substitute, and mushy peas: Clapp’s favourite food and the name of his latest seven-inch, just released this May.
When I ask where Tim the Mute began, he tells me the name first came into existence as his stage name at age 14. At this time Clapp was playing in his previous band, the Shiny Diamonds, in his home town of Roberts Creek, BC. When the Shiny Diamonds broke up in 2010, he started putting out music as a solo artist. His debut album Why Live?, set to be released at the end of June, consists of 10 songs written over the course of Clapp’s entire musical career. As he puts it: “This being my first album, I’ve had my whole life to write it. It’s basically like, everything I had inside me that I wanted to get out.”
Why Live? is a perfect analogue of the label Kingfisher Bluez itself, with Clapp the captain at the helm and his favourite musicians the wind in his sails. Clapp plays guitar on the album, but all the other instruments are recorded by friends from other bands, including contributions from members of Canadian bands Greys and Dead Soft, and from American big-timers, Xiu Xiu. “I like to bring in people who I think would really do well on a song,” says Clapp.
The songs behind Why Live? are full of lyrics as bleak as the title suggests, written from all the lowest points in Clapp’s life. In his own words: “All of the sad-sack stuff that I make comes from a real place, but it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s so melodramatic.”
Indeed at times the lyrics stretch beyond the normal scope of self pity to something that seems closer to ridicule. Generally following a theme of depression, angst, and inner dialogue, as Clapp puts it, when people listen to his record he wants them to think, “Oh, I’m feeling pretty bad, but at least I’m not this guy.”
The musical contributions from Clapp’s star cast of friends and the quality recording done both in his friend’s home studio in Glasgow and Little Red Sounds here in Vancouver, tighten up the sounds on Why Live?, bringing a level of sophistication absent from the sloppy home recordings of some of Clapp’s previous releases.
Opening with the title track “Why Live,” a sunshiney anthem to desperation, the album immediately leaps boundaries and defies expectations. Pretty, downtempo synth ballads like “Hard” and “Rock and Roll Suicide” float by, while songs like “Is It Right” and “Don’t Kill Yourself” are examples of nostalgic indie rock that would sound current if released any time in the last decade.
It’s hard to pin down a single genre or way of describing Tim the Mute’s sounds, but Clapp admits this is exactly what he wants. As he puts it: “I imagine people listening to my record and going like, this is a guy who’s never heard music before.”
Despite the dark notes, there are still moments of lightness found in songs like, “When You Got Your Face Tattoo,” written in the style of previous Tim the Mute antics like “Mushy Peas” and “Doctor Who Cosplay.” Clapp’s songs are a quirky insight into his own unique mind. The way he rambles in his warbling chant-singing is a refreshing alternative to the manufactured emotions and clichés of so much modern music. As someone who knows Clapp personally I can promise you, his words are truth. When he sings about how much he loves mushy peas or Doctor Who, he’s really not joking.
When I ask Clapp about what drives his music he brings up his relationship with his song-writing and his unconventional approach to singing. “For me it’s very important to have my own voice, and when I hear myself on a record that I don’t think, oh it could be someone else — it couldn’t be anyone else. That’s important to me.”
Clapp describes watching a documentary on the Talking Heads and seeing David Byrne say something along the lines of, “the better someone’s voice is, the less believable they are,” and thinking, “That’s great! I’m a fucking terrible singer so people are bound to believe me. When I put out a record I want people to stop me in the street and say: ‘Are you ok?’”
If only for the great and honest songwriting and intricate arrangements, Why Live? is an album worth listening to. If you can see past Clapp’s lack of attention to what note he’s singing, perhaps you’ll find something that merits coming back to in times of feeling as lost as a broken-hearted teenager, taking comfort in the fact that someone else is just as lost as you are.