On Saturday, April 26, enthusiasm was high at student co-op Cloyne Court as house dog Rugs greeted the influx of festively-dressed ticket-bearers. Everyone had arrived for day-long party Clochella, a portmanteau of house moniker Cloyne and popular music festival Coachella. Open to both people who lived there and paying guests (also called an “out-of-house” by co-op residents), afternoon attendees were greeted by band Hot Flash Heat Wave playing the courtyard. The band was just one of many at the bittersweet festival; Clochella was to be Cloyne’s last out-of-house, and their last hurrah as a unified family.
Decked in a timeline of murals, Cloyne is a place of lavish history, and part of a campus housing group at Cal called the Berkeley Student Cooperatives. These are Houses of the Holy for alternative lifestyles, where music is often safer and more appreciated. Cloyne Court is no exception, and has hosted musicians like No Doubt, Green Day, Rancid, and Elliot Smith. Twenty years later, it’s still a hot venue for local and up-and-coming artists. But the enchantment and popularity of the co-op can come at a price. These groups are often caught in volatile bouts of community controversy, like co-op Barrington Hall, famous for a legal arbitration with its neighbors in 1984. In 2010, Cloyne itself faced a potential lawsuit when one of the residents was left brain-damaged after a drug overdose. Insurance threatened to discontinue coverage for the BSC following the accident. It was a precarious time for the grand house.
Backlash from the 2010 incident finally caught up with Cloyne last year, and the co-op is now subject to a house-wide purge. The new Cloyne, an “Academic Theme House,” will reopen at the beginning of Fall with study rooms, a strict substance-free policy, and zero trace of its current family of artists and “clones,” as Clone’s inhabitants like to call themselves. The reopening is to be a full-fledged cultural reboot.
On Saturday, however, Cloyne’s courtyard livened as people sauntered about in outrageous floral prints, pirate gear, mu mus, shirts with slogans against the powers that be, face paint, beads, and sometimes nothing at all. There were three stage setups, including a DJ lair inside the house.
Coming from one of the stages, band Perhapsy played to a wide variety of shapes and sizes, who listened from couches sprawled chaotically across the courtyard. Perhapsy’s trippy guitar-synth trance was followed by Idea the Artist‘s soothing folk arrangements, which beckoned clones and non-clones to gather together on the grass. Surrounded by exotic reptiles, the equally exotic people palavered, reminisced, and let their minds float free.
It might seem odd that such a light atmosphere permeated an obligatory goodbye party. But in the spirit of Cloyne, Clochella was not a mourning but rather a celebration of the creative minds who had made its good name. Bands like Astronauts etc., DJ Dial, Waterstrider, and many more further lauded that spirit by playing into the night to keep the festival burning strong. From the couch-chillers to the rooftop-dwellers, everybody welcomed the beloved music of Cloyne one last time.
Amid the happening vibe, we were pleased to wax nostalgic first-hand about the festival and house controversy with Cloyne alum and Waterstrider frontman Nat Salman, whose afrobeat outfit headlined the event. Salman answered our questions about songwriting, musical muses, and an upcoming album.
How has touring been?
Really great! [We] got back from a month long North American tour opening for Gardens & Villa in February and now we are just playing local shows until we finish up our album. We’re getting very close! Hopefully we will do some touring for the LP.
A lot of us here know about Waterstrider being a Cloyne legacy, but for the most part, you’re pretty underground. How would you describe your sound?
This is always a difficult question because I worry about coming across as pretentious, but I have always believed that the music we make is an amalgamation of our influences; dreamy ambient stuff a la Sigur Ros, West African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and experimental rock in the vein of Radiohead or Atoms for Peace. Lately we’ve been going in more of an electro/R&B direction. I’m always trying to make music that could exist in the landscape of a kind of sci-fi space jungle. If we or any other intelligent life form was to revert to a more basic lifestyle but maintain certain technologies for artistic purposes (drum machines, synthesizers, electric guitars, vocal effects), that’s the kind of music I would like to represent.
Your latest single, “Redwood,” is awesome. It seems a little more upbeat and has a louder presence than your previous tracks. How would you describe the evolution of your music? Has it changed?
Thanks! The sound has definitely become a bit more aggressive than the first EPs. The album that we are finishing up is darker and perhaps a bit rhythmically over the top at times, but I would definitely say it captures the beginnings of a sound that I have been seeking out for a long time. The first EPs were just stepping stones to this longer statement, and I think future recordings will get closer and closer to what I’m imagining.
Your albums are very short, only three to four tracks. Why not combine them? Do you plan to release a longer album in the future?
They weren’t really meant to be proper albums. [They’re] more like idea logs that turned into tangible little statements. They chronicled the music we were making at different times (although there’s a lot of songs we played during those times that were never recorded). At this point, those EPs no longer truly represent what we are doing musically. We only play some of that material in our live shows now. Our first full-length is almost finished, though! Hopefully we will be able to release it within the year.
What is your songwriting process like?
This is going to sound kind of weird, but the best songs I write almost write themselves. It’s a very subconscious experience for me; it feels like something is just sitting in the room with me feeding words and melodies into my head and fingers. I have a pretty good sense of the whole arrangement of a song when I write, but when I take songs to the band parts usually bend and shift. When we start recording the material it tends to grow and change quite a bit too. Recordings influence the live performance and vice versa.
Has the lineup changed at all?
Quite a bit! We kinda broke apart a while back and reformed with a couple of the old members (Walker Johnson and Brijean Murphy on drums and percussion) as well as these two amazing musical brothers: Scott Brown and Drew Brown. It’s one big happy family, and our chemistry is fantastic!
Did you all meet in Cloyne?
The old lineup of the band was all based in Cloyne originally, but that changed quite a bit. We definitely have our roots here, but only two of the current members (Brijean and myself) ever lived in Cloyne. [Waterstrider] started off as an absurdly large Afrobeat-jam band, then became a four-piece Afrobeat-punk band, then turned into the six-piece hippie-rock band, then finally ended up as the current five-piece band.
Where did the name Waterstrider come from?
Waterstrider is the spirit animal bestowed upon me by a couple of friends of mine back in Santa Barbara, where I’m from originally. It just sort of fell into place as the perfect name for the music I was starting to make.
What does Cloyne mean to you? How has it influenced you and your music?
Cloyne was my home for almost three years, and I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive place to create art within. I don’t know if it has directly influenced the music, but being in that ultra-supportive, big-family atmosphere allowed me to freely create and perform without any real judgement or expectation from our audience. It also gave the band a free rehearsal space for a while, so that was pretty awesome!
What’s next on the agenda?
Finishing up this album, releasing it, touring, and all the while dreaming up and producing new material for a second album. I’ve already got a pretty clear vision of where the next album is headed in terms of production and thematic content, so I’m excited to finish the current album and move on to that. Also, we’ve been really involved with a bunch of other Bay Area musicians through something called Non•Market. We are releasing a zine, doing compilations, and promoting shows in the search for new approaches to the modern musical landscape.
Any last words for your listeners?
My guitar teacher once told me what he called Duke Ellington’s Law: “If it sounds good and it feels good, it is good.” Also, “Life is not struggle, it’s a wiggle.” I found that quote in a fortune cookie. Words to live by!
Photos by Conner Smith