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Clark Colborn

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Clark Colborn from 2018

MSJ:

I know I interviewed you for Poetry of the Air, but in terms of Music Street Journal articles, it seems that it's been over five years since we last interviewed you. What's been new in the musical world of Clark Colborn?

Five years ago we must have been talking about my then-current release, Again. Since then I’ve done a bunch of stuff. In 2014 I released a five song EP called “Frank Made Me Do It,” which is four original tunes that are heavily influenced either musically or lyrically by the late, great Frank Zappa, plus a cover of his song “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama.” Prior to that, I also did a small run of cover songs that were initially released as download-only singles: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Superstition (featuring Melissa Ridgeway)” and “Baba O’Riley.”  Fans at the live shows eventually persuaded me into releasing them on CD as an EP called “Ones and Zeros,” which also included a live version of Jimi Hendrix’s "Fire."

I’ve played lots of live shows in the last five years, as well, but for 2017 I took some time to travel with my wife, and the last three or four months I’ve been working a lot on my upcoming full-length album, which will be called “Obscurotica.”  If all goes as planned, we’re looking at a mid- to late-spring release date.

I also did a couple of collaborations. Earlier in the year (2017) I released a single with Melissa Ridgeway called “Ramona’s Prayer,” that is way out of my normal wheelhouse. I wrote the music and melody line, and the majority of the lyrics were written as a prayer by my wife’s best friend while she was dying from a brain tumor. Melissa fleshed out the lyrics and sang it. I played keyboards and arranged the string section. It’s a very different song than anything I’ve ever done, and Melissa really knocked it out of park. I get chills every time I hear it; she did a great job, her performance is awesome.

I also collaborated with singer-songwriter Jerry Dale Harris on a cover of David Bowie’s “Lazarus,” which was released just over a week later. It’s also quite different from my normal stuff, in that we recorded Jerry on vocals and acoustic guitar, then I added a variety of electric guitars in different voicings. And we left it at that. It turned out really cool and unique; Jerry and I are quite happy with it.

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
Oh, that’s a really tough one. Guitar Player magazine once called my music “brilliantly schizoid,” which I liked quite a bit, and a music magazine from Germany called my guitar playing “breath-taking” in a review, but I don’t know if either of those are the best thing anyone has ever said. Music Street Journal has said some very kind and positive things over the years, as well. I guess I would say the best thing, to me, is the small handful of people who have told me that my music changed their life in some way. That seems like the most incredible thing a musician could ever hear.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
First and foremost is getting Obscurotica finished. I’m pretty excited about this album, because the music moves into some new territory for me, yet still sounds like me. Then, I need to dig deep into my soul and decide if I am going to try to assemble another live band. I love performing. When everything comes together it can be a transcendental experience for the performers and the audience alike. When the band is hitting on all cylinders, and the sound man is on his game, and your audience is really getting what your music is about, it’s as awesome as nearly anything in life.

That said, this is a very difficult time for live original music. To be able to at least break even, let alone make a living income, an original band needs to fall into one of three categories: they need to be currently on a label – either a major or an extremely motivated indie label; or be a legacy artist who once was on a major label; or be young and without families and mortgages, and able to tour by sleeping in the van and eating ramen noodles every day.  I’m in none of those groups.

Of course, this is an over-simplification, and there are certainly exceptions, but for every exception there are 500 or 1,000 artists who cannot tour because they have spouses and kids, and house payments, and cannot afford to leave the day job to go on a money losing tour. All of the expenses related to live performances come directly out of my pocket, because it’s my name on the marquee. I just don’t have the financial resources or connections to put together a profitable, high visibility tour. Without a label that can use their PR and tour promoter connections to help me and a new band get out of that rut, I’m not sure I want to give it another go. The amount of effort that it takes to put together a jaw-dropping performance is enormous, and the costs of touring properly are fairly high. My family, and the families of all the awesome musicians I’ve performed with over the years have all sacrificed so much, as have the musicians, and I don’t honestly know if it is worth putting them through that any longer. And this is not an issue that affects only me. I often see bands with far, far more name recognition than me giving up touring, or even leaving the industry all together. So, once the new album is done I need to evaluate this, and it weighs very heavily on me, to be honest, because I do love taking my music to the stage and interacting with the fans. I may explore the possibility of finding an indie label that is willing to work with me, because I really want to take some of this new music to the stage.

If that doesn’t work out and live shows aren’t in the cards, then the schedule for recording a lot of new stuff will be accelerated, and perhaps we will release some of it if there is adequate interest. I’ll also be doing some engineering and producing of a couple other artists in my studio, in addition to finally cleaning up all the ancient recordings from my old band Cheater and releasing them in some form. I truly hope to find a way to keep performing, though.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The last CD I bought was Concrete Gardens by Tony MacAlpine. I think his latest one, Death of Roses, is out now, but I haven’t grabbed that one yet. Oddly, the CD that has been in the player in my car the most lately is the soundtrack from the movie The Village. It is essentially orchestral style music – lots of violins, cellos, tympani, etcetera and some less traditional orchestra instruments. It’s just brilliant in the way it influences your emotions. When I saw the movie I noticed the music right away. I almost had trouble focusing on the story because I was so captivated by the violins. Besides that, a lot of older King Crimson has been getting some play, as well as music from OSI, Porcupine Tree, and a bit of Handel.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I’m deep into a true story called “The Lost City of Z” about a British explorer named Fawcett that went missing in 1925 in search of a lost city in the Amazon - fascinating stuff.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
That would have been Steve Vai’s 25th Anniversary Tour for Passion and Warfare. My youngest son and I went. It was incredible. Steve’s shows are so entertaining, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Maybe (laughter)! I saw a few local and regional bands before I saw anyone with national or international name recognition, and I don’t really remember the names of those area groups. My first “big name” band was probably the original Fleetwood Mac, on their first or second tour: Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan all playing guitar, Mick Fleetwood on drums, and John McVie on bass. That was at The Rumpus Room in Belvidere, which held maybe 350 people, on Dec 23, 1969.  Around that same time I also saw the MC5, and a band called "Crow," who later had a hit called “Evil Woman” on the radio, but I’m pretty sure they were later.
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
Oh yeah! Two things, and they both are kind of in the same family - the first is a software synthesizer called “M-Tron Pro.” Being software, it resides on your computer, and you use an external keyboard to play it, but I’ll still count it as “gear.” It perfectly replicates the sounds of all the classic Mellotrons, which I absolutely love! The first King Crimson album was awash with the then-new sounds of the Mellotron, and I have been in love with the instrument ever since. It used tape loops, with recordings of actual string sections, choirs, etcetera, that were individually played back when you pressed one of the keys. The quality of the tape degraded with use, and this actually adds a very pronounced charm and distinct sound to the instrument. The M-Tron Pro sounds are digital recordings of some of the best known Mellotrons in the world, and it is all over my new album. That’s one bit of gear.

The other is an effects pedal for guitar from Electro-Harmonix , called the "MEL9." It essentially makes your guitar sound like a Mellotron, which is awesome! It is relatively limited in the range of sounds, but it still gives you nine voices to choose from, and a bit of control over those voices. If I do end up playing concerts again, this pedal will allow me to replicate a couple Mellotron parts from Obscurotica without the need to haul a keyboard, computer, extra amp, etc.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
First, congratulations to you and everyone at Music Street Journal for 20 years of great articles, reviews, and photos! That’s a seriously cool accomplishment, and I hope we can do this again in another 20 years. Also, thank you for your coverage of me and my music, and your coverage of other similar artists. It means a lot to all of us.

 

There are so many things I’d like to get out to the world in terms of thoughts, but I’ll try to show some uncharacteristic restraint and limit it to just three short things (laughter). On the top of the list is reminding people to make room in their hearts for people who have differing opinions from their own. Right now we have become a society of polarized groups, with only hate for those not in our group. We seem to have lost the awareness that life is many, many shades of gray, not just black and white. Both sides need to stop the name calling, whether it’s politics or sports or music, whatever- and see if we can all find middle ground.

 

The next thought is about the music business. I ask music fans to support local and lesser known original acts by buying the artists’ music, rather than streaming it on Spotify or YouTube, and by going to see these same acts live whenever you can. I often hear people complain that there is no good music being made these days, which is absolutely not true. There is some awesome stuff out there; you just need to spend a little time and effort to find it because the vast majority of it is not on a major label or the radio.

 

The last thing I’d like to say is thank you to everyone who has ever purchased any of my music or come to one of my shows. I wish I could shake the hand of each and every person who has shown any sort of support for me, my bands, and my music over the years. I hope my music has brought you joy, catharsis, and entertainment. Thank you all for helping to make it possible for the recordings and shows to happen.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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