The Exquisites, relaxed at home. Not pictured—their cat Romeo. Photo by Dusty Henry

At ‘Home’ With the Exquisites

Punk partners for 20 years, Jason Clackley and Gavin Tiemeyer’s new record looks back on hard times.

Walking into Jason Clackley’s Georgetown apartment is like stepping through an abridged history of his band, the Exquisites. Posters from past shows are scattered on the walls, along with a framed copy of their first record To the Few and Far Between. Clackley’s cat Romeo, who was on the cover of their sophomore self-titled record, lies belly-up beneath the coffee table. Clackley warmly welcomes me in as he settles in on the couch with drummer Gavin Tiemeyer to discuss their upcoming third LP, Home, out Oct. 14 through Asian Man Records.

Clackley and Tiemeyer have been the two consistent members of the power-pop-meets-punk outfit throughout its tenure, but their personal and musical histories go much further back. The two both primarily grew up in the Bremerton area, starting to play music together when they were 10. Their roles from then to now haven’t changed—Clackley on vocals and Tiemeyer on drums.

“I remember the first time that we played, the cops came,” Tiemeyer recalls, noting that Clackley’s mom wasn’t too pleased about the noise either and designated days for them to practice in the garage when she wouldn’t be home. Those halcyon days were exactly what you’d expect from a couple of kids jamming in the garage—lots of Led Zeppelin and Offspring covers. It wasn’t long before they tried their hand at original music. One of the first songs Clackley can remember writing is from what he refers to as a bleak period—when he lost his father and grandfather in the same year. “I had this song called ‘I Don’t Wanna Die’ and we played it in front of our fifth-grade class, and it was like, ‘I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die,’ ” Clackley sings, detailing how Tiemeyer backed him up by drumming on his guitar case. “Just imagine all these kids—this is not on their minds. I’m like a hella goth kid at this point.”

Clackley and Tiemeyer would eventually form a group called Valley of the Dinosaur and become a major force in the Bremerton punk and hardcore scene. Clackley in particular became active in trying to push City Hall to fund a community center and provide a space for young artists to express themselves—many of the venues in Kitsap County at the time were churches. “Looking back on our time in Bremerton, I feel like it was a pretty fertile scene,” Tiemeyer says. “It just seemed like there was lots of cool things going on, so I feel pretty fortunate to have been a part of that. Naturally, that kind of spilled over to us transitioning to Seattle.”

The connections they made in the Kitsap scene helped them move to Seattle and make frequent tours to southern California, where they’d make friends with bands like Joyce Manor (with whom they would tour in 2014). As Valley of the Dinosaur fizzled out, Clackley began to work on what he thought would be solo material. He asked Tiemeyer and another friend if they would be interested in helping him figure out a couple of songs that would eventually turn into the debut record of the band (then known as Jason Clackley & the Exquisites): To the Few and Far Between.

Clackley and Tiemeyer are now 30 and 31 respectively, meaning they’ve collaborated for roughly 20 years. Through multiple tours and bands, they’ve developed a brotherly relationship—and as in any family, being so close can cause tension: “Sharing art in a personal way is really vulnerable,” Clackley says. “There can be a lot of reasons to fight sometimes, and I feel like on my part I can get super-defensive. … It just means a lot to us. It’s what we’ve done pretty much all of our lives, for the majority of our lives, played music. We take it pretty seriously.”

Home, the band’s new album, is in many ways a culmination of the duo’s shared histories and experiences. Sonically, the band has maintained its walloping drums and furious guitars with Clackley’s booming vocals shaking and wavering overtop. Those punk roots they cultivated in Bremerton have stayed intact, now bolstered by horn arrangements. Clackley and Tiemeyer describe trying to emulate the warm, American-heritage sounds of The Band and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. But for Clackley, Home is mostly about looking back at tragedies from early in his life and pushing through that trauma to get to where he is now. “It’s kind of like the beginning of The Godfather, if that makes sense,” Clackley explains. “The beginning’s like this really nice wedding, the daughter’s getting married and stuff. You don’t really build into everything until the end of the movie, where everything just falls apart. So it’s kind of like that. Everything’s good when you start your life, then it starts falling apart.”

The idea of “home” comes up again and again throughout the record, sometimes directly with songs such as “Home, No Home” and “Send a Word Home.” Tiemeyer interpreted the idea in his own way with the album cover. “It’s a young picture of my dad when he’s just [become] a father,” Tiemeyer says. “It’s weird to think that in that photo he’s a lot younger than I am now. That’s a time when my parents are still together and they’re starting to become a family. There’s something weirdly haunting and kind of romantic about that. It’s a very fleeting picture.”

The Exquisites have always excelled at a brash, wall-of-sound attack. But given the nature of Home, it’s the stripped-down songs that really hit the core of what Clackley and Tiemeyer are talking about. “Climbing Down at the End of the Day,” in particular, shows Clackley and Tiemeyer at their most vulnerable. Spurred by a last-second studio jam, Tiemeyer holds back and forgoes any backbeat on the drums, while Clackley howls over the sparse guitar chimes and rumbling bass lines. “I don’t want to be a part of it all,” he sings before a slight pause, letting the horns ease in beneath him. Tiemeyer remembers the tension he felt while recording the song, grumpy after a full day of tracking drums. But now when he listens to the track, he says none of that comes across and he can appreciate the wonderful thing they created. There’s hardly a better metaphor for their music and relationship: a quiet tension that looms in the background but helps build something beautiful that they can be thankful for in hindsight.

Sitting in Clackley’s home with Tiemeyer and Romeo the cat, reminiscing about their teenage days coping with trauma and music-scene drama, a clearer picture of their journey comes into view. There’s the cheesy phrase that’s adorned kitchens for ages, “Home is where the heart is.” For Clackley and Tiemeyer, however, their hearts have always been in the Exquisites.

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