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Clean Cut Kid


The last few years have been a whirlwind on the road for Clean Cut Kid, but it’s from the comfort of their very own home where the group showcase their latest album masterpiece “Hiss”. 

When an artist or band returns home, something special is expected. A homecoming is one that usually delivers the most memorable of moments. It can even be historical - emotions running high always mean that something big is to be expected. Set aside the idea of a live performance-based homecoming and think more so of crafting an album from home, something becoming more common-place among independent artists and bands - which is exactly what Mike Hall, Evelyn Halls, Ross Higginson, and Gareth Bullock, a.k.a lofi folk band Clean Cut Kid, did with their fourth album “Hiss”.  

Openness, vulnerability, and deeply personal thoughts and experiences have been shared by the band in previous projects “Felt” (2017), “Painwave” (2019), and last years’ album “Mother’s Milk”. Hiss is no exception, continuing the motif of self-reflection whilst providing listeners with a deep dive into frontman Mike’s very own interpersonal relationships with loved ones. The group never fails to pay homage to previous sounds, and messages, shown through its discography.  

This theme is evident from the start, with the opening track ‘Our Wasted Hours’ setting the tone for the entire album. The track is calming, soft, and comforting both lyrically and instrumentally. Mike speaks of wanting to waste away hours with that special someone, beautiful lyrics paired with a kaleidoscope of sound. “I was making this lofi-folk record on an eight-track quarter-inch mastering tape and thought ‘Our Wasted Hours’ would be the perfect middle ground for the whole record,” Mike explains. “The track is a cross between ‘(Bob) Dylan goes electric-folk’, infused Americana, with some Sgt. Pepper-style British 60s orchestration”. 

A recurring theme seen throughout Clean Cut Kid’s discography is the band’s ability to turn emotive topics into joyful celebrations of sound, with the listener unaware of the seriousness of each topic until they analyse the darker lyrical undertones.  


‘She Takes A Pill’ is an example of this. Lyrically, the track challenges the societal stigma of taking antidepressants. Mental health is often looked upon as something so negative, with harsh connotations. The message of the song is presented through Mike's heavenly vocals, along with the upbeat and gentle instrumental arrangement of the track. “The Heavier the subject, the more upbeat and lighter the musical arrangement,” he explains. “We’ve continued to do this since our very first single, ‘Vitamin C’. My favourite band is The Beatles and they always tried to arrange the music away from the subject”. 

The track hit close to home, with his wife and band member Evelyn being the inspiration for the song. “‘She Takes A Pill’ is a development on subjects seen in our past songs, such as ‘Emily’. There is a very simple message - if someone has mental health difficulties then they are ill. Depression is similar to having a broken leg or the flu,” Mike continues. “I saw how Evelyn was feeling and how the antidepressants she took were essential to making her feel like herself.” 

Mental health is a core part of this album. ‘Little Black Space’ is an ode to depression and anxiety. “Little Black Space is about what I experienced with Evelyn and Ross when both were going through difficult times with their mental health,'' he explains. “It’s about this black space, about looking at a person and not seeing the person I knew well ‘there’. It is dressed up as a break-up song”. 

The loss of a loved one is also demonstrated throughout. “Lewis, Be Brave” is dedicated to a friend of Mike’s. “One of my best friends, Lewis, stayed with us after he lost his mum - Kay, to cancer. We wrote it as a way of saying that we see how heartbroken you are and how much you are hurting from this situation.”  

The loss of a parent is also seen in ‘Into The Tall Grass’, a collaboration with Pet Snake who takes the reins of the majority of the track, with Mike's vocals accompanying her towards the end. “We are huge admirers of Pet Snake as an artist and vocalist,'' Mike exclaims. “The song is about the separation seen in lockdown and its preparation for us losing our parents eventually. Her incredible voice was perfect to deliver that subject”. The collaboration with Pet Snake was not one born out of nowhere. Mike is a co-producer of her album. “We work together a lot. She will always be a huge part of Clean Cut Kid.” 

The band loves to switch things up. Take the track ‘Cathy’, for example. Mike's vocals are very unique in this track, quite different to previous tracks on Hiss. The true nature of the song is quite different from what it seems on the offset. “‘Cathy’ is actually about a boy who’s not called Cathy. I purposely changed the sex and the name of this song to disguise who I was singing about. It is actually about an old close friend who I drifted apart from.” 

Hiss concludes with ‘Golden Ribbon’, which features a few words from Mike at the end. Previous albums concluded with an indication of where the band were going on the next record, but the band wanted to refrain from this for the new album. “I didn’t want Hiss to be an indication of progress - just an expression of where I was at the time. I decided the best way to end the record was with a eulogy-style spoken word. The track quotes a motif from our song ‘Jean’ - about the wife of Jimmy, who the song is about. When I wrote ‘Golden Ribbon’ Jimmy was dying, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After his passing, my cousin, Mark, read some of the words from ‘Golden Ribbon’ at his eulogy.” 

Hiss was recorded and produced in their very own custom-built analogue home studio - AKA their Liverpool flat. This allowed the band to be more vulnerable than ever before. “Music is about expressing yourself and exploring different areas of artistic expression,” he says. “Making something in a home studio allows you to be the ultimate, most expressive version of yourself.” 

The band have explored their artistic expression in detail, especially since becoming independent after leaving their former label Polydor. The band realised where they were positioned in the UK market and decided a change was needed. Newfound creative freedom allowed the group to explore new sounds, as frontman Mike explains and come back to their roots. “A band like us, making the music that we should make, shouldn’t be part of a major label,” Mike reflects. “Breaking away Polydor - who were brilliant (to be a part of) allowed us the complete and utter freedom to make music 100 per cent for the purpose of making the exact music we should make. Breaking from our original label is the only reason that we’ve wound up where we are genre-wise.” 


Each member has grown artistically on Hiss. Mike has spoken about the band’s past, calling each member a “separate cog in this major label machine” with the band being a project built around himself, as a writer and producer. “(The band) were happy to do that - it was very exciting”, he says. “Artistically (since gaining independence) the band are 110 per cent live and allowed to be who they want to be as players. They (rest of the band) have complete and utter freedom to impart what they do on the live product.” 

Evelyn and Mike resonate with the themes demonstrated throughout Hiss in many ways. Love, loss, hope, joy, and struggles - many of which they have experienced together. The whole album is a portrayal of emotion that hits hard. “Sum up the album in five words?…‘one man’s cry for help,’” Mike simply puts it. “Into The Tall Grass is my favourite song on the record. It is the pivotal point for the theme of the album, with separation being a preparation for loss,” he says.  Evelyn favours track six ‘Hit and Miss’. “My favourite track on Hiss is Hit and Miss,” Evelyn explains. “It makes me cry every time”.  

Throughout the album, the listener can expect a wave of gentleness and love. Mike expresses admiration for Evelyn, his wife, through his lyrics, and is a huge fan of her in ‘Into The Tall Grass’. “Evelyn sings and usually the songs she sings are my favourite on (our) records,” Mike admits. Likewise, Evelyn is an admirer of Mike. “I really don't want Mike to ever give up writing songs,” she says. “He is just so good”.  

Presented so delicately, arrangement-wise and lyrically, 10-track Hiss is a magical masterpiece of an album. Born out of years of self-discovery and newfound independence, Hiss brings honest and powerful messages, yet to be explored by Mike and co., which they execute with a heavy heart. 

*DISCLAIMER: some quotes have been edited for clarity. The new album “Hiss” is out now on Alcopop!

Words by Jade S


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