Four Far Out Facts About Clipping.'s Sci-Fi Concept Album 'Splendor & Misery'

Four Far Out Facts About Clipping.'s Sci-Fi Concept Album 'Splendor & Misery'
Photo: Brian Tamborello
Following the release of their first full-length for Sub Pop in 2014, all three members of experimental rap outfit Clipping. turned their attention to different musical side projects. Producer William Hutson completed a Ph.D. in Theater and Performance Studies with a dissertation on experimental music, while Jonathan Snipes composed scores for a number of feature films. Most prominently, MC Daveed Diggs originated the roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the wildly popular Broadway musical Hamilton.
 
With this perfect storm of influences in mind, there perhaps wasn't a better time for the band to release their dystopian sci-fi concept record Splendor & Misery. Producers Hutson and Snipes gave Exclaim! insight to the genesis of their ambitious new project.
 
1. Splendor & Misery was recorded two years prior to its release.
 
Though it's finally seeing the light of day now, the majority of Splendor & Misery was recorded before the band went on tour in fall, 2014.
 
"This record was done since before Daveed started Hamilton, and we certainly didn't know he would be going to Broadway at that point," Hutson recalls. "This has mostly just been sitting around. When we focused on our other things, we didn't put Clipping. aside, this album was the thing we put aside."
 
However, the idea for a sci-fi concept release had been in the minds of all three members for much longer.
 
"I've always imagined that we would make something like this," Snipes says. "I was always excited about the idea of doing some sort of quasi-narrative piece with movements that were tacked together with rapping."
 
"Even while we were making the first Clipping release (2013's Midcity) we were already talking like 'okay, down the line we'd like to do a science-fiction release,'" Hutson adds. "We had been talking about this since 2011 without anything concrete."
 
2. The science community nearly had a hand in providing samples for the record.
 
In creating the beats for Splendor & Misery, Snipes and Hutson first looked to the authorities on outer space for some sonic direction.
 
"We ended up reaching out to a scientist who had spent his time sonifying data collected from space, the vibrations and radiation put out by movements of stars and planets," Snipes explains. "We got a bunch of that stuff from him and none of it ended up being like what we think our outer space would sound like in this ship, so we didn't end up using any of it."
 
What does outer space sound like on field recordings?
 
"They had a lot of that watery MP3 distortion," Hutson recalls. "Even though we used a lot of distorted sounds on this record, for some reason, to our ears, it just sounded cheap."
 
3. The record's beats ended up coming from our own universe.
 
Snipes and Hutson have been known to source Clipping.'s jarring sonics from field recordings. "Work Work" (from 2014's CLPPNG) samples someone tapping on a thermos, while "Shooter" (from this year's Wriggle EP) saw the group sample recordings of 15 different guns being fired. Having opted not to use the low-quality outer space field recordings, Snipes and Hutson turned to capturing sounds that are a little less out of this world.
 
"Obviously we didn't build a spaceship, so a lot of things on this record that we used for spaceship sounds are terribly mundane," Hutson says. "For one track, Jonathan used a recording of an espresso machine for air compressing noises, and for another I recorded myself slamming Jonathan's oven door shut. So they are these really ordinary things we used because we could imagine the sounds they made being on a ship."
 
4. Splendor & Misery references some of science fiction's greatest authors.
 
While references to Kendrick Lamar and Carly Simon can be picked out from Diggs' rapid-fire delivery, the MC also made sure to include a number of references to science-fiction literature within the lyrics. With all three members considering themselves fans of the genre, a number of authors proved significant in creating the concept of Splendor & Misery.
 
"There are references to novels from Samuel Delaney, Ursula Le Guin, M. John Harrison and Octavia Butler of course," Hutson reveals. "There are a bunch that people haven't found yet, but those are the ones that people on Twitter at least have recognized. Who knows if anyone will pick up on them all? But that's a short list of things that were influential."
 
"Also the film Event Horizon," Snipes adds with a laugh. "It gets better every time I see it."
 
"That sounds like a joke," Hutson continues. "But we really love that movie."
 
Watch Clipping's gravity-defying video for Splendor & Misery cut "Air 'Em Out" below.