Houston Music

Clockpole Celebrates 10 Wild and Wildly Inventive Years This Week

Clockpole 2019 includes (L-R) Michael Clemmons, William Foisy and band founder Joe Ortiz
Clockpole 2019 includes (L-R) Michael Clemmons, William Foisy and band founder Joe Ortiz Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

click to enlarge Clockpole 2019 includes (L-R) Michael Clemmons, William Foisy and band founder Joe Ortiz - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
Clockpole 2019 includes (L-R) Michael Clemmons, William Foisy and band founder Joe Ortiz
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

On the patio at Little Dipper, a reliable and favored watering hole on Main Street, Joe Ortiz excitedly and rapidly runs through the details of how his band Clockpole was banned from Notsuoh, the enclave for Houston’s most unorthodox artists, which is only a few doors down.

“The show we got banned from was about a year ago,” Ortiz recalled, saying Clockpole had been asked to play one of Notsuoh’s always interesting performance art nights. “We had the luchador masks on, which was an outcropping of you getting banned from Avant Garden.”

Ortiz is speaking now not to us but to Michael Clemmons, his band mate, who sits nearby. Fellow band mate William Foisy (“noisy, with an F” we are told), sits between them in wrought iron chairs out front of the bar.

“We bought a mask for (Clemmons) to try to sneak you in for a show. Since we already had a mask for him, for the performance art show we were like, hey we’ll get masks – what can we do? Get somebody to beat us up? It’s kind of dumb to have guys beat us up, it’d be much funnier if girls beat us up,” Ortiz said.

We’ll get to the conclusion to that story in a second, but if you’ve been paying attention you already know a couple of things about Clockpole, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary as one of Houston’s most inventively unique outfits with a Halloween show at Bohemeo’s and a new split EP with Darwin’s Finches, who also play this week’s show.

For one, you know Clockpole is not welcomed to perform at Notsuoh now, though Ortiz – the sole constant to a band which has had more than 300 members in ten years – said the band has played there numerous times. Ortiz said the bar will still allow each of the members in as patrons and, oddly, has allowed them to perform their different projects in the space since the ban. For instance, Clemmons and Foisy have a group called I’m In The Funeral Business. That project recently did a deejay set dubbed “Berlin Nights” from the large stall of the women’s restroom at Notsuoh.

“We had like 20 people in the restroom at one point. You’ve got to imagine, it’s very dour, it’s performance art night, people are kind of self-indulgent,” Clemmons said of the fellow performers, as Foisy added, "Yeah, and we’re just partying in the restroom.” 

click to enlarge I'm In The Funeral Business in the ladies' room at Notsuoh - PHOTO BY WILLIAM FOISY, COURTESY OF WILLIAM FOISY
I'm In The Funeral Business in the ladies' room at Notsuoh
Photo by William Foisy, courtesy of William Foisy

So, you can glean from this all that Clockpole loves to push the envelope for arts’ sake, which brings us back to the night it was unceremoniously ejected from Notsuoh. The band had planted about ten women in the unsuspecting audience. Artificial Head head honcho Walter Carlos was in the crowd and part of the performance.

“We were just making a bunch of noise,” Ortiz said. “We all three had bass guitars, plus our trumpet player (Joseph Underwood). Walter said there was some girl in the crowd who was like, ‘This is boring, I’ve seen this before,’ and he was like ‘Nah, you should stick around and watch this.'"

What she ultimately saw was a staged altercation between a plant and Clockpole, which began when the plant “drunkenly” confronted the band onstage.

“She goes on the stage and I pushed her in the face,” Ortiz recalled. “I think I kicked her first and then I pushed her by the face. I go to toss my guitar down, I jump on her and like all the people there thought, ‘Oh, my shit, Joe’s attacking a girl.’”

The rest of the scene devolved into scripted mayhem. The planted conspirators joined the melee, now all wearing luchador masks, too. As the fracas unfolded, Walter Carlos stripped away his shirt to reveal a referee’s shirt hidden beneath it. He jumped in to officiate the madness. Clockpole’s trumpet player broke into “Gonna Fly Now,” the Rocky theme song.

“In the whole melee I think a microphone was broken. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Ortiz said.

All this might suggest Clockpole doesn't take the music too seriously, which is a misconception. Take a listen to songs from Peel Slowly and See, the new, 300-copy limited split, which features Finches’ rhythm section (bassist Morgan Moody and Cody Honey on drums) and vocalist Justin Clay backing Clockpole on three songs. Chris Gerhardt, formerly of Giant Battle Monster, plays guitar on the album. Clemmons co-wrote the track “Anarchy British Accent,” for which an impossibly cute video exists. Shot entirely on cell phones and self-produced ("Clockpole likes to crash and burn with no outside interference," Ortiz explained), the video features fellow Houston artists like Julia Claire (Experimental Action/Performance Art Night at Notsuoh) and their talented kids, most notably Lily, daughter of John Zambrano (Muhammadali), who stars in the video.

The music is catchy and gets listeners going, the obvious goal of a self-described “anarchy party band.” But the band’s forte might be straw piling. If there’s a camel’s burdened back in the area, its members will just keep adding hay atop it, like a weird game of Jenga, just to see when everything will come crashing down. They once did concert on the Metro Rail Red Line. They’ve pulled passersby into their shenanigans with downtown street corner performances. Ortiz has literally “phoned it in,” calling his musical parts in remotely from his cellphone while bandmates performed live.

The most infamous case of straw piling was when Clemmons and Foisy – performing as Sonic Rabbit Hole, a moniker they’ve since abandoned – caused a ruckus at Avant Garden with a set which featured Clemmons receiving a “muscle-milk enema.” The show prompted patrons to flee the venue, a call to the police, a hurried getaway by Clemmons and Foisy, the afore-mentioned ban from the venue and stories about it all in the Houston Press, The Huffington Post and the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

Ortiz said though they almost always do a Halloween/anniversary set, there’s no such thing as a typical Clockpole show. There’s no telling what will go down a Bohemeo’s this week, but Clockpole fans won't want to miss it.

“You never know what you’ll get,” Ortiz promised. “It literally depends on who shows up, what instruments they bring and how it works out.”

Clockpole celebrates is tenth anniversary at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 31 at Bohemeo’s, 708 Telephone. The show also features Darwin's Finches, Mockingbird Brother, The Escatones and I'm In The Funeral Business. $5.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.