The Clean broke up before their music gained even a trace of long-lasting reverence on distant shores. The Clean -- formed in Dunedin, New Zealand, by brothers Hamish and David Kilgour in 1978 -- signed with Flying Nun Records. Even though their first single, "Tally Ho" hit the Top 20 in their home country in 1981, the band prematurely called it quits later that year.
"Hamish and I have been slogging away for awhile," notes guitarist David Kilgour. "When we hit that stride where we were releasing records, it was really intense. After those two years, we had to walk away from it, really. We were so busy."
During their hiatus, the Kilgours eventually learned that their influence was crossing continents -- even if their records weren't readily available overseas. Flying Nun quickly became the most important indie label in New Zealand music history, and The Clean was referenced as an influence for standout U.S. indie rock acts like Yo La Tengo and Pavement.
"When The Clean first broke up in 1981, we had very little feedback from the rest of the world,"?says Kilgour. "It seemed to be a word-of-mouth thing. ... So I didn't really click on to the interest of The Clean and my solo work until probably the late '80s."
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Re-forming around that time, they performed a series of "reunion" shows in London, which were so successful that Kilgour took it as a sign.
"I was astounded at the amount of press we got and the crowds we got," he says. "We thought we should just get back together. ... We found that the old magic was still there and we still loved playing, but we never treated it from that point on as a serious career option. It's just something we wanted to do, and it's been that way ever since."
Eager to Merge their recordings
The Clean's notoriety seems to come in waves, with each generation of in-the-knows gaining knowledge over time. Back in the day, labels like Homestead, Rough Trade and Matador made portions of Clean records available. Most recently, it's Merge that has given The Clean a label in the U.S, giving a home to their two most recent studio albums and a 46-song anthology. Kilgour says there may even be a new release: "It's hard for us because we like to write together. ... We don't much like to write secretly ... It's kind of difficult [because] Hamish is living in America, and I'm living in New Zealand. ... We'll try to write stuff together on this tour."