Hamish Kilgour: co-founder of New Zealand band the Clean dies aged 65

The Guardian
The Guardian
‘You can hear his heart in every beat, strum and syllable’ … Hamish Kilgour.

Hamish Kilgour, co-founder of New Zealand band the Clean, has died aged 65. The musician had been missing since 27 November. No cause of death has been revealed.

The Clean’s US label, Merge Records, shared a statement about his passing:

As a founding member of the Clean, with his brother, David, and Robert Scott, Hamish produced one of the most important and timeless bodies of work in rock music. As a drummer, Hamish had a propulsive, instantly recognisable style and an understated power; he was a joy to watch play. Hamish was one of the most colourful and creative musicians we have been lucky to work with, both as a singer, guitarist and songwriter with the group he started with Lisa Siegel, the Mad Scene, and, of course, with the Clean. Hamish was also an accomplished visual artist, and his fantastical drawings adorn many record sleeves.

Ben Goldberg of Ba Da Bing Records, which released Kilgour’s solo music, described Kilgour as “inscrutable in his kindness, his love of music, and his politics. Even at his lowest moments, he never lost sight of his ideals. You can hear his heart in every beat, strum and syllable he made.”

The Clean formed in Dunedin in 1978. Their 1981 debut single, Tally Ho!, was the first release on Flying Nun Records. Peaking at No 19 on the New Zealand singles chart, it provided the first hit for a label whose indie-pop sound – known as the Dunedin sound – would become influential around the globe.

The sporadically engaged band released just two EPs and one follow-up single, Getting Older, before disbanding for much of the 80s and releasing their debut album, Vehicle, in 1990. Written to provide material for the band’s 1988 reunion tour, it was recorded in London thanks to an offer from Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis, who released the album in partnership with Flying Nun.

The band would split and reunite over the next decade: they signed to Merge Records and released the 2001 album Getaway, which featured Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo.

Their most recent album was Mister Pop in 2009. Bassist Peter Gutteridge died in 2014. The band was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

Kilgour also played in a variety of acts and released solo material, including his 2014 debut solo album All of It and Nothing.

He lived in New York City for nearly 30 years, apparently returning to New Zealand in his later years.

“Music is a living thing, it really is,” he told Stuff magazine in 2019. “You can twist and turn the structure of it while you’re making it and, when you’re with a group of people experiencing that together, there’s a special magic in that. You reach down deep into yourself and pull something up. It’s like nothing else in the world.”

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