I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians. A lot of male musicians. The majority, I find, speak with the same sort of theatricality that they radiate when they perform on stage—most likely because they can’t turn the performance off. No matter how many years some go through the press cycle or how many sessions of interview training they have with their publicists, they tend to spew before they think. They tend to thread together rehearsed words—with statements that feel so contrived, so desperate to deliver what they believe a journalist (and their audience) wants to hear, that they don’t make much sense.
Clark first picked up a guitar at age 12 and began performing throughout his native Austin, Texas during his teenage years. Now 35 years old, he is a specific kind of cool—the kind you can’t teach. The kind, no matter how much you spend and no matter who you enlist, you cannot emulate—even if he gave you the actual shirt off his back. Sure, plenty of men can wear wide brim hats, square-toed boots, skinny jeans and a tattered vintage T-shirt (a look he playfully describes as “Salvation Armani”) but not many can pull it off without making it look like a costume that GQ instructed.
At the end of the day, I don’t know if what we’re chasing is worth it, to see people’s lives be shattered, and families broken apart.
And still, his new album, This Land (out now), showcases the room he has left for evolution; a key ingredient to a long-lasting career in the spotlight. The album sounds like his previous work in that the guitar is the star and the lyrics are a close second. Like his in-person demeanor, a calm self-assuredness threads each verse together. What’s different, however, is his use of technological innovations that have made electronic dance music climb to the top of the charts. “I always said that I was going to do whatever I want, but I have to admit I didn’t want to alienate the audience. But when I was at home, I was making all kinds of noise with synths. I just decided to do it. This time, I did what I felt instead of what I thought was balancing the line.”
Whereas his previous album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim instigates a head bob, This Land forces me to thrash every so often. On his last studio release, he also had yet to be a father “I had a lot of conversations with my producer slash engineer Jacob Sciba,” he reveals. “Before the little ones, it was just about us and our selfish wants and needs. When you look at these little people who are looking to you for survival, it caused me to think different, like, what are we doing?” On the song, “Feed the Babies” he muses on this very question. His answer? No matter what mistakes we make—no matter who we elect into office or how divided we become—it should be about the children. No longer commanded by any perception of what modern blues should be, Clark lets loose on the guitar with the chorus, “Come on mothers and fathers/ Stand up for your cause/ Teach the babies to love.”
More Like This
Clark already told this story in his lyrics, and while I’m sure he's gone over this incident again and again in the weeks leading up to the album’s release, I have to mention how affecting it sounded when I first heard the song—and then heard it again on Saturday Night Live national stage last month. We begin talking about the complimentary, albeit controversial, music video directed by Savannah Leaf. The six minutes of visual storytelling sees black children stepping on confederate flags and running through the Texas fields as he strums from his home’s porch above, then peaks with the burning of the American flag. “Somebody wrote me a note and was, like, ‘I’m done with you and this message is hateful and you’re feeding into the hate’ and I didn’t mean to offend.” Instead, he was inspired by his childhood, when his neighbors waved the confederate flag in his face. Fast forward 30 years, and he's witnessing the same hatred—both across the world and in his own backyard. “Everyone is fighting for the right to be who they are. I feel like we all kind of want the same thing, and we’re trying to like push each other aside to get to the finish line first, whatever that is,” he explains. “At the end of the day, I don’t know if what we’re chasing is worth it, to see people’s lives be shattered, and families broken apart."
His eyes fill with held back tears. His voice cracks. “We’ve got to just teach people to love each other, and I’m—for my kid to, like, look at me, like, all confused and scared like ‘What’s happening?’ That’s my son.” He begins gesticulating for the first time, hand to chest, “My son.”