Music

The Clean’s Hamish Kilgour Dies at 65

The Clean’s Hamish Kilgour Dies at 65

The celebrated New Zealand musician had gone missing at the end of November

Hamish Kilgour

Hamish Kilgour, November 2013 (Andrew Toth/Getty Images)

Hamish Kilgour, the drummer, singer, and songwriter who co-founded the Clean with his brother, the guitarist David Kilgour, has died, representatives for the band confirmed. The musician had been missing since November 27. A cause of death has not been revealed. Hamish Kilgour was 65 years old.

In a statement shared with Pitchfork, the Clean’s U.S. label, Merge Records, said:

With very heavy hearts, we can confirm that Hamish Kilgour has passed away in his home country of New Zealand.

As a founding member of the Clean, with his brother, David, and Robert Scott, Hamish produced one of the most important and timeless bodies of work in rock music. As a drummer, Hamish had a propulsive, instantly recognizable style and an understated power; he was a joy to watch play. Hamish was one of the most colorful and creative musicians we have been lucky to work with, both as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter with the group he started with Lisa Siegel, the Mad Scene, and, of course, with the Clean. Hamish was also an accomplished visual artist, and his fantastical drawings adorn many record sleeves.

We feel lucky to have known him. Our thoughts are with his family and his fellow members of the New Zealand music community. Safe travels, Hamish.

In an additional statement, Ben Goldberg, co-founder of Ba Da Bing! Records, which released Kilgour’s solo music, said: “Hamish was inscrutable in his kindness, his love of music, and his politics. Even at his lowest moments, he never lost sight of his ideals. You can hear his heart in every beat, strum, and syllable he made.”

Formed in Dunedin in 1978, the Clean were key figures in the early days of indie rock and indie pop. Their first incarnation lasted only 18 months, establishing an on-again, off-again routine that would persist throughout the band’s unorthodox career. In 1981, the Clean’s debut single, “Tally Ho!,” helped establish Flying Nun, a then-fledgling New Zealand label formed by a fan, and climbed the national charts. At this point, the trio consisted of the Kilgour brothers and bassist Robert Scott, later of the Bats; all shared songwriting duties. The group followed with a pair of EPs—Boodle Boodle Boodle and Great Sounds Great—and a single, “Getting Older,” before a longer-lasting split in 1982.

In 1988, the Clean reunited to perform in London, resulting in the In-A-Live EP, which presents five of their classic songs in 16-track sound; the same year, the Clean’s music officially hit the United States as a collection titled Compilation, released via future Matador label founder Gerard Cosloy’s Homestead Records. Bookended by two world tours, the second phase of the Clean also spawned their first proper album, 1990’s Vehicle (issued via Flying Nun in partnership with UK indie stalwart Rough Trade), before things fizzled out once again. Later in the decade, the Clean got back together for a fresh pair of albums—1995’s Modern Rock and 1996’s Unknown Country—before yet another hiatus.

By the time the trio next reconvened, in 2000, the Clean’s influence on a new, largely American generation of bands—including Pavement, Galaxie 500, and Guided by Voices—was clear. Their album the following year, Getaway, came out on Merge, the U.S. independent label founded by Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance; Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan guested on the songs “Alpine Madness” and “Circle Canyon,” too. Flying Nun and Merge jointly released the career-spanning Anthology in 2003, and the Clean followed with the new studio album Mister Pop in 2009. New Zealand’s devastating 2011 earthquake scuppered plans for another potential full-length, but the Clean kept on gigging in subsequent years, as sporadic as ever.

Outside of the Clean, Hamish Kilgour played in an array of projects. During the Clean’s early break, he and David teamed up as the Great Unwashed for 1983’s Flying Nun–issued Clean Out of Our Minds; several years later, during another fallow period for the Clean, Hamish Kilgour co-founded the space-rock band Bailter Space. In 1991, he moved to New York and formed the long-running project the Mad Scene with his later-ex-wife, Lisa Siegel, releasing their own low-key run of albums (1993’s A Trip Thru Monsterland; 1995’s Sealight; 1996’s Chinese Honey; and 2012’s Sonic Boom–produced Blip) and assorted EPs. Kilgour finally made his solo debut in 2014 with All of It and Nothing. Four years later, he released Finklestein, based around a children’s story that he made up for his son.

In 1992, Kilgour won an Aotearoa Music Award in New Zealand for album cover of the year for the Flying Nun compilation Pink Flying Saucers Over the Southern Alps. In 2017, the Clean were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. Peter Gutteridge, another founding member of the Clean, died in 2014.

Kilgour discussed life as a New Zealander in New York, and the economic realities of being a semi-pro musician, in a 2019 interview with Wellington publication Stuff. “Music is a living thing, it really is,” he observed. “You can twist and turn the structure of it while you’re making it and, when you’re with a group of people experiencing that together, there’s a special magic in that. You reach down deep into yourself and pull something up. It’s like nothing else in the world.”

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