by Colin Smith (@colinsaburo)
Back in November 2016, Chicago’s world got turned upside twice in a week. With the first Cubs World Series victory since 1908 followed by the presidential election, Chicagoans all along were hungover twice in one week — first physically, then emotionally.
For Mike Bellis, 2016 also ended with a breakup with a long-term girlfriend. To cope with these massive changes, Bellis decided to do what he does best: he wrote songs.
Much of the material on Clearance’s recently released record, At Your Leisure, stems from the fallout of both the breakup and the election, which followed Bellis’ month-long visit to New Zealand. Basking in the heritage of ‘80s and ’90s New Zealand indie bands, like The Clean, also made its way into onto the record, making this second full-length album breezier, janglier, and even poppier than their previous releases.
Chicago staples Clearance have been creating music since 2013. They released Dixie Motel Two-Step (a nod to Wilco) not too long after Bellis moved back to Chicago for his post-college plans. During this process, he admitted they were "figuring out how to make a DIY band” and that making a seven inch was more like “a glorified arts and crafts project.”
In the past few years, Clearance has been compared The Fall countless times, opened for Slowdive in Brazil, and got signed to Topshelf Records. Michael Shannon checked them out at their album release show, which the band sold out.
Bellis took some time to look for a full-time job after college but shifted his focus on music when the jobs didn’t bite. He realized he needed to do music for a while, “otherwise, I’d be miserable.”
Although it’s been years since their bedroom recording days, the DIY ethic still lives with them. Getting in the van and touring can be a grind, Bellis said, “but as long as we still approach it in that arts and crafts way, we’re grounded.”
Those first few years were formative for the band, teaching them “just how hard you have to work to make it happen,” from touring to putting a setlist together. Bellis also learned to manage himself and balance his time, as opposed to being focused on music solely; he said, “you have to devote as much time to your art but remember to take care of yourself.”
“We played around 65 shows last year. It made us treat our music more professionally,” Bellis said. Then he mused, “and being in a band is professional partying: You learn to regulate yourself.”
As the title might suggest, At Your Leisure features more relaxed rhythms, direct lyrics, and softer tones in contrast to their previous record, their debut album.“Rapid Rewards was sarcastic, featured corporate slogans, and was more focused on young adulthood,” he said. It centered on the early-to-mid twenties attitude of “expecting shit to happen” from which At Your Leisure deviates.
Still, both records critique and reflect on superficiality in modern life and the expectations that capitalism casts upon us. At Your Leisure examines some of our more absurd rituals and norms, like the bougie affair documented in “Destination Wedding.”
Clearance has learned you’re not guaranteed anything when doing music other than the material you create. Now that it’s been a few years since their early twenties, their outlook has matured, finding the leisure and humor in being in a band — and in the music industry — after years of grinding.
But the optimism isn’t gone. They just take it in with a bit more patience and caution. After all, they’re used to being wary of rapid rewards.