A Man, a Plan, a Clan of Xymox
“To be honest, without me there is no band – it was and is my project from day one,” says Ronny Moorings of Clan of Xymox, the groundbreaking darkwave/goth/electronica band that he has led since he first formed it in The Netherlands in 1981. “The music and the records are really my musical ‘picture book’ of my life. To give up music would be to give up life for me. It is the only thing that gives me structure in my life. Inspiration I get from the people I know and meet. There is so much in all of us that it never wears out.”
Moorings has proven that his zeal is real by leading his band through extensive tours throughout the world over the decades – but he admits that these latest U.S. shows are a bit overdue. “For a period, we were too busy in Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world [so] that there seemed no time for the USA, but that is now corrected. I love touring there, the fans’ response is great.” (They’ll play at The Masquerade in Atlanta on March 18.) “The best part about touring is that you get to interact with people who come to our show, see the direct feedback on songs, and get to see places and experience something you would normally not do.”
While Clan of Xymox enjoys a staunchly loyal cult following now, and are frequently named as a vanguard act in the ’80s electronica and goth scenes, things were not always so easy for the band. As Moorings recalls, his first musical output received quite a chilly reception from the local music critics. “When I released my first EP, Subsequent Pleasures  it wasn’t appreciated in the press of the Netherlands. They described it as using ‘magic boxes’ for sound. Using synths and guitars was not really a thing they had heard often enough at that time. On top of that, the songs were not that uplifting, either.”
Besides creating a new (and admittedly dark) sound, the way in which Moorings recorded his songs was probably also a reason for the skepticism he initially encountered. “When I started, I worked with the instruments I could afford,” he says. “I invested gradually in synthesizers and a 4-track recording machine. This way, I could layer sounds with a drum machine, synths, guitar and vocals.” While such solo home recording may be commonplace now, it was unusual in a time when the “rock band playing clubs” route was still the status quo.
Undeterred by this early disappointment, Moorings assembled a group of musicians in Amsterdam to help him play his songs live. Searching for a band name, Moorings “looked into the dictionary for the last word in the alphabet and the word ‘zymotic’ came to my attention. A contagious disease. Well, I thought that would be a great name for a band, to infect people with your music.”
Soon, Clan of Xymox caught the attention of 4AD, the highly influential British record label that also provided a safe haven for many pioneering acts, including Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins. When 4AD released the band’s debut album, Clan of Xymox, in 1985, the reception was markedly different than it had been with the initial EP. Influential English DJ John Peel began championing the band, leading them to record two sessions for his popular BBC radio show. With the right support finally in place, singles like “Muscoviet Mosquito” and “A Day” were finally given their due. The band has gone on to release sixteen studio albums.
This success was gratifying for Moorings, who says he’d always been drawn to music, but never seriously believed that it would work out as a career. “When I was eleven or so, I already played in bands. We played mostly cover songs in local youth clubs,” he says. “but when I started my studies, I put things on hold until I was settled in my new university town, Nijmegen, in The Netherlands. There I furthered my aspiring plan to have a band again. I expected nothing, but I was driven to make it work.”
Even after the 4AD signing and subsequent success, Moorings still didn’t realize that he was on his way to being a professional musician. “I expected to do just one or two records and go back to my studies again. This never happened. I only had to do my thesis but never got to it. What I never dared to dream is that my career in music would still carry on up to today.”
Interestingly, Moorings says that his songwriting process has remained largely the same, whether he’s found himself in successful times or not. “Funny enough, nothing has changed apart from the devices I am using,” he says. “I still do the writing on my own, starting most of the time with a music idea, later to be followed with vocals and more instruments. There is not really a fixed way how I approach a song. Mostly something starts with just listening to sounds. This triggers the rest, and a song has started to develop. I record ideas so when something stands out, I keep on writing.”
His preferred themes have also stayed consistent over the years. “I rely solely on my memory of things stored somewhere in the back of my mind. This gets triggered by the music, where during the writing stage words come up, which trigger further a topic. My lyrics are most of the time about emotions and impressions instead of political points of view or current social topics, I like to keep things personal.”
It’s no wonder that Moorings most often turns to personal themes in his music, as he has been a family man, living in Leipzig, Germany, for many years now. Moving there was, he says, an easy decision. “We wanted to escape Amsterdam and ended up in one of the best cities you can live in, Leipzig. It is already fourteen years ago we moved, and never regretted it one split second. I have no desire to live anywhere else. Because we travel a lot, a home base is even more important to me.” This happy home life informs his work life, in that he will “split the tours in sections so I won’t be away from my family too long. I would really hate that. So this is the best solution and the most enjoyable experience for all of us.”
Still, Moorings says he’s happy to leave Leipzig in order to bring Clan of Xymox to the masses – especially this year, when the band is releasing new material. They’ve released a single, “She,” on February 14. “There are also brilliant remixes [of ‘She’] from Ash Code, She Past Away, Bragolin and Antipole. We will certainly play this song live in the USA, among some more sneak previews.” Also, the band will release their seventeenth full-length album (title TBA) in July.
And after that? Next year will mark forty years since Moorings first formed Clan of Xymox, and it seems he’s finally allowing himself to enjoy his status, even if he’s still astonished by it. “It is really amazing that this turned out to be my daily life, that I can do what I did as a kid, and still like to do all the things I do.”