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DIY Punk with Chris Clavin of Plan-It-X

Chris Clavin is a point of light in the DIY punk scene. He is the founder of Plan-It-X Records and purveyor of harmonies and stories in bands such as Imperial Can, Operation: Cliff Clavin and Ghost Mice, as well as solo projects recorded under his name and the moniker Captain Chaos.

Chris is a champion of living up to youthful ideals and taking them on the road, touring extensively throughout the United States and Europe. His music deals with friendship and struggle, love and its failure, and the impact of geography on the soul. As he begins new musical projects and prepares for this summer's Plan-It-X Fest, Chris took a few minutes to talk to us about music, books, love and humanity.

Maggie Grimason (Songfacts): You're famous for responding to fan mail (and thank you so much!) why is it important to you to do this?

Chris Clavin: Because there are no fans in DIY punk, just people who make music and like going to shows and listening to music. We are all equal and it's important to remember that. No rock stars. Just nerds.

Songfacts: How do you feel about people looking up to you?

Chris: I do my best to convince them they shouldn't. It makes me feel dumb and lame. I mean, admiring someone is great, I admire a lot of my friends, but, the key word is friends.

Songfacts: Most of your songs are driven by their lyrics. Do you have any favorite lyricists?

Chris: I have many. I love the Mountain Goats, The Violent Femmes, The Streets, The Cure, The Smiths, Bad Religion, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash. Oh, and John Prine, he's really great.

Songfacts: What is your favorite Mountain Goats album?

Chris: All Hail West Texas, hands down.

Songfacts: Speaking of lyricists, your songs are often focused on stories. Are they all autobiographical? In addition, can you name some of your favorite books or authors?

Chris: All of my songs are true. I'm running out of stories, I've told too many and spend to much time touring and playing music. I need to do something more interesting to get more material for more songs. I can't just write songs about how fun a tour was. I love Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk and Janet Winterson. I read mostly comics and fantasy though. I highly recommend the following comics: Fables, Y the Last Man, The Walking Dead, Preacher, and of course the Sandman comics.

Songfacts: You have a lot of stuff going on - is there any particular focus on any of these things (or anything else for that matter) at this point in time? Any big plans?

(Ghost Mice with "The Good Life")
Chris: There is never enough focus. I'm trying to focus more on the label and my own music right now. I always have big plans, but for now, I just need to relax and get a clear head.

Songfacts: Every band or solo project you've been in has done the most remarkable covers of some great songs. What is your criteria when selecting a song to cover?

Chris: I just cover songs that I think are really meaningful. I don't think about it much, I just do whatever happens.

Songfacts: I recently wrote an article for Songplaces.com on "Bloomington, IN" by Ghost Mice; I struggled to define the town despite having lived there for five years. How would you succinctly describe Bloomington?

Chris: A small town with a big soul. It's very diverse for Indiana. If you get far enough away from campus you can meet some really great people with open minds and artistic spirits. It's nice. In one word I would say it's a hometown!

Songfacts: What albums and artists are you listening to right now?

Chris: The Taxpayers. They are the next release on Plan-It-X and I can't get enough of them right now. I've been really into The Violent Femmes too, and some Italian hardcore too.

Songfacts: This is a difficult question to ask and to answer, I think, but can you talk about the writing process and what it means to you? What environments are most conducive for writing for you?

Chris: My biggest problem is that I need to be alone and right now I live with 4 other people. I write by sitting down with a guitar and a notebook. I just play chords and sing aloud whatever comes to mind. The songs kind of write themselves really. But, it's horrible if someone is listening as I work out ideas by singing, very loudly, whatever is coming to mind. Of course a lot of it is horrible and embarrassing. I try to keep most of it. I keep whatever I write down.

Songfacts: Your songs often mention smoothies - do you have any killer recipes you can share?

Chris: Yes, 1 not-frozen banana, 1 heaping cup of frozen, mixed berries, 2 cups of soy milk (or one cup soy milk, one cup OJ). Blend! Then add a big scoop of peanut butter.

Songfacts: Many of your songs are centered on a sense of place, such as the tracks from The Roads Don't Lead Home, The Roads Lead Everywhere and Ghost Mice's Europe. What are some of your favorite places in the world?

Chris: Bloomington, Paris, Sligo (Ireland), Puerto Rico... This list would be too long, I like a lot of places.

Chris helps organize the Plan-It-X Fest, which is a festival that features a lot of Plan-It-X musicians as well as other independent artists. The festival, which frequently sells out in several days, has been in existence since 2004 as a "punk rock summer camp" promoting DIY ideals and music.

Songfacts: When will there be another Plan-It-X Fest and where will it be held?

Chris: June 24-26, 2011, Bloomington, Indiana.

Songfacts: Who is set to play?

Chris: Andrew Jackson Jihad, Defiance Ohio, Ghost Mice, Kimya Dawson, Nana Grizol, Paul Baribeau, The Mountain Goats, Best Friends Forever, Matty Pop Chart, Onsind and many, many more.

Songfacts: In your mind, what factors combine forces to synergize a musician? In other words, what compelled you to pick up a guitar?

Chris: I'm not sure. I guess a need to talk to people. I'm pretty shy and playing music is a way to communicate.

Songfacts: What is your best advice for the brokenhearted people of the world?

Chris: Dang! Mmm. I would say, get over it. It's a horrible way to spend your time, being brokenhearted. And if you do it too long, something even worse is bound to happen and then you'll feel like it's too much to handle. I guess just keep in mind that the world is an awesome and amazing place. If you don't like what's happening, change it. Go somewhere. I always feel better when I'm moving. I also always feel better when I go outside, get out in the nature of the world.

Songfacts: To you what is the most endearing thing about music?

Chris: That's hard. I guess I just love it when you get that tingle up your spine. That's how you know it's great.

Songfacts: And humanity?

Chris: I don't know about humans, they are a mess. We're all messed up. I guess I'm proud that we don't all kill each other. I like it when people really love each other. When a kiss feels like an electric shock. When people believe in magic.

We spoke with Chris on December 2, 2010. Get more at plan-it-x.org.
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Comments: 3

Chris is crazy awesomeAva
Wonderful interview!Kim from Minnesota
It is so rare to see a good article on someone like Chris on a site like this. I enjoyed reading the sometimes too precious answers to some good questions. Whatever, I'll keep reading.Micah