Cross-genre cover experimentation is often dangerous ground and should only be attempted by a skilled few. The Cleverlys, who don bright orange scarves, ten-gallon hats and brandish Porter Wagoner drawls, are one of the skilled few. Their sincere and hilarious skewering of Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’ and dance hall star Shaggy’s early 90’s classic ‘Angel’ are just a few bluegrass covers they perform to crowds’ enjoyment. Armed with sons-of-the-soil charm and a back-story straight out of A Mighty Wind, the Cleverlys have left their ole country home (in Cane Spur, Arkansas, according to their bios) and taken not just America, but the world by storm — even the French are crazy about ’em. Mais oui, y’all!
Awaiting the Flood: Have you guys had a chance to peruse Los Angeles?
The Cleverlys: Just a little bit – yesterday we were walking around town and you get approached by all the tours and all that, they said “You can drink, you can get a 6 pack and come on.” We were like alright– lets get a 6 pack and go on this tour. It was one of the wildest rides we’d ever been on.
Awaiting the Flood: I noticed one of the proprietors next to this venue was offering fortune telling.
The Cleverlys: We thought about going in there for fun and seeing what they would say… Did you go?
Awaiting the Flood: No, I don’t believe in that – it’s a bunch of hocus-pocus.
The Cleverlys: Well, I wouldn’t believe in anything if it wasn’t for my lucky mood ring.
Awaiting the Flood: How did this band come to fruition?
The Cleverlys: I do stand-up comedy and we have a group where we play music together… and I was looking for some interesting way to combine the music and comedy. Everybody adds to the creativity of the group.
Awaiting the Flood: I heard the Frenchmen are really into The Cleverlys…
The Cleverlys: Yeah, France and the UK. It’s amazing – YouTube is such a driving force. We’ve gotten hits from 54 different countries and a lot from the UK, France, Norway, Brazil – who knew?
Awaiting the Flood: Did I see you are up to one million downloads?
The Cleverlys: Yeah, a million and a hundred thousand!
Awaiting the Flood: How have the straight-laced bluegrass enthusiasts received you?
The Cleverlys: Very well… We were nervous though.
Awaiting the Flood: Have they really?
The Cleverlys: They want to have our grandchildren (laughs)… You know most of these guys in the band grew up playing those festivals. When we went to IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] last year – we were all nervous about how they would accept us, but it was overwhelming, they loved it. They have been the driving force. They kind of kicked it off, started embracing it before anyone else did and started passing it around.
Awaiting the Flood Have they given you guys any thing for free?
The Cleverlys: Like bluegrass groupies? (laughs)
Awaiting the Flood You ‘ve never gotten anything for free as a result of being in this band?
The Cleverlys: I’ve been taken home for supper 14 times.
Awaiting the Flood: How do music festival hippies receive you?
The Cleverlys: They eat it up for sure. Like I said Jules [Jules Wortman, the manager] has thrown us in the fire a couple of times and put us in places we wouldn’t normally have played and we were nervous about that but it completely blew our minds on how well it was received! We were on the stage at Broadway and we followed Randy Houser who was up there rocking it like AC/DC and there was all these teenage to 25 year old girls screaming and hollering, we thought “How could we follow this?” – we walked in with Polyester suits and taco hats – and we got two encores.
Awaiting the Flood: Who has the sweetest neck bandanas/scarves?
The Cleverlys: I think that would be me [Paul Harris AKA Digger Cleverly]. Actually Miles/Earl has one of the nicest scarves and that’s probably more high end then the rest of us wear.
Awaiting the Flood: How do you guys come up on your snazzy leisure suits and scarves?
The Cleverlys: Various places-Wherever we go and there’s a thrift store that’s got something we like.
Awaiting the Flood: Have you contemplated doing some sort of matching attire?
The Cleverlys: We thought about those Manuel suits… Like the Porter Wagoner thing with sequins.
Awaiting the Flood: When did it click that you guys really wanted to make this (band) happen?
The Cleverlys: It started as an idea to open our show. I thought if we all come out in character and open the show as this crazy family bluegrass band and try to fool the audience into thinking it is (The Cleverlys) and that they are real… and then it just took off. We were doing a press conference a few weeks ago, afterwards we had a little meet and greet and someone came up to me and said “now, where did you say The Cleverlys were from?” and I said “Cane Spur, Arkansas” and he said “I knew it, I saw them in the early 80’s!” We have had quite a few people come to us and say they feel like they’ve seen The Cleverlys back in the day. My neighbor comes to the show once a year, he ‘s an older man and I’d stop by and spit and widdle with him every once in a while and it never fails, he always tells me “You need to keep them Cleverlys in your show, they’s good boys.”
Awaiting the Flood: What are some goals for The Cleverlys?
The Cleverlys: As far as aspirations go, I’d like to see a Cleverlys movie. All of us are inspired by Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, you know a full mockumentry about The Cleverlys. We just finished this DVD which is kind of a test for that–(the concept is) a fake public access TV show called “The Cleverlys Bluegrass Corner” and it shows us in studio and it also has clips of us outside in different situations and it is really funny. The production guys that are doing the video stuff are really good, they’re kind of like the sixth and seventh Cleverly. That’s an aspect people haven’t been able to see yet. The stage show is really good, the musicianship is really good, is awesome, but the film part of it is brilliant. So the DVD is almost done, we’re gonna try to have it out by April and by the end of the summer we’re gonna try to have an audio album available. We’ve got some more tunes for that– mostly originals. We do a lot of covers and that’s what’s getting the popularity, the covers, but we do originals too, some good originals.
Awaiting the Flood: Who is the biggest Cleverlys fan?
The Cleverlys: Well, last week we played in Little Rock, Arkansas and these guys that are in a Kiss cover band in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, they drove 7 hours to come and watch the gig! They watch the gig and then turn around and go back 7 hours because they had to go to work the next day! They posted a message saying that it took them a total of 24 hours for the entire trip. So that’s the biggest Clever heads we’ve got.
Watch The Cleverlys in action: