DAVID KILGOUR'S music seems to exist outside of time. Take almost any of the albums that he's released under his own name or as a member New Zealand pop pioneers the Clean, drop them on the radio at any point in the past 50 years, and they wouldn't feel out of place.
"I've always been wary of what the latest fashion is," Kilgour says, speaking from a hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was about to participate in the 25th anniversary celebration for his US label, Merge Records. "It came out of the whole punk thing that rebelled against that kind of stuff. The other thing is trying to leave all the mistakes in. If a take has problems, I try not to fix it. I'm completely anti-Pro Tools, anti-'let's clean it up, let's get it perfect.' I've been doing that for a while now, and it tends to work for me, I guess."
As a kid, Kilgour was enamored of the work of Dylan and Hendrix, but found himself frustrated when he attempted to replicate their work on his own. It wasn't until he heard some early punk singles that he realized technical proficiency shouldn't stand in the way of making music.
That philosophical shift is apparent from the get-go on the Clean's 1981 debut single, "Tally Ho!" The immensely charming record sounds like it was conceived on the fly, barely being held together by the steady, clattering rhythms, as played by David's brother Hamish. It was apparently just what the Kilgours' fellow Kiwis wanted to hear, as the song went into the top 20 in the band's home country, as did the group's two follow-up EPs, turning the fledgling group into native pop stars.
"We immediately had this high profile and I didn't know how to deal with it," Kilgour says. "Some people would be really nice to you because of who you are. Other people would be really fucking horrible. Others would ignore you because of who they think you are. It's why I split the band up, really."
The Clean found their way back together in 1989 and have been releasing music with some regularity ever since. Alongside it, Kilgour has maintained a healthy solo career that began in 1991 with his still-amazing Here Come the Cars.
His approach to music hasn't changed. His new album, End Times Undone—recorded with current backing band the Heavy Eights—comes across like everyone involved had just been woken up seconds before tape started rolling. Kilgour repeats phrases and guitar lines like they're just occurring to him, and nothing ever gets faster than your normal standing heart rate. The songs warp and wander psychedelically, as on the Byrds-esque "Crow" and the Pet Sounds-inspired "I Don't Want to Live Alone."
There's the feeling that Kilgour would be making this music even if no one were to hear it. Thankfully, he has a fine stateside benefactor in Merge, which continues to support him and the Clean—the label just reissued the Clean's superlative Anthology on vinyl—even if there's no real money to be made from either act.
"I just wonder when it's going to stop," Kilgour says of the attention he and the Clean have received around the world. "It blows my mind that I can go to New York and play to 700 people. It's mind-blowing, really, that I can make this stuff out of nothing and it gives you this whole new life."