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Clarks, The - 2000 Interview with Rob James

INTERVIEW: Clarks, The (Nov 2000)
Andrew Ellis catches up with Rob James..

In The Spotlight - The Clarks
Inteview ith: Rob James
Written by: Andrew Ellis (Nov 2000)

This is the
'In The Spotlight' page. Pittsburgh - based The Clarks have been exciting audiences throughout the Mid West and East Coast of the USA for close on 14 years with their high energy live shows and 5 albums worth of hook-filled rock. The guys have recently released their sixth CD, 'Let It Go' on the innovative Razor and Tie label and following on the success of their first single 'Better Off Without You', this could be the one that finally gives the band the national (and international) recognition they deserve. In between transatlantic phone calls, Andrew Ellis catches up with The Clarks' guitarist Rob James and discovers a musician completely satisfied with his latest work and looking forward to what the year 2001 holds.(Nov 2000)

Firstly Rob, the album was released in the summer. Are you pleased with the fans' reactions to it so far?
I'm blown away by the reaction. There was a point in the middle of recording where I said to myself...'This is gonna be good', but I know what I like and that doesn't always translate into a positive fan reaction. Simply put though, I think this is the best recording project that the Clarks have released, so far. The songs are great and the recordings compliment that fact. It doesn't always work that way.

Some of the songs have already been road-tested for a while now, but I suppose newer tunes like 'Better Off Without You' gives the fans more to shout for apart from 'Penny Off The Floor' and 'Cigarette'!
It was nice to get into the studio and construct some new material that had never been performed in a live show. It gives you a totally different perspective on a song. You're catching the excitement of the song being new and there are no preconceived notions of what it means to the fans or even ourselves. And it's been very gratifying to be able to give people something new right along with the stuff that they had been hearing for a while.

Speaking of which, 'BOWY' is a great song. How come you don't have more writing contributions on Let It Go?
First of all I'm glad you dig the song. It's really nice to strike a chord with so many people and apparently...WE DID!!! We recorded another song of mine in the same sessions called, 'Mother's Only Son'. I started writing it a couple of years ago inspired by a close friend. Justin, the producer really liked it and he really wanted to build some things around it in the studio. Man, he and I had some fun with the layers of guitars on that one. It didn't make the disc because it just didn't fit what we were going after as far as an overall feel from the moment the first track starts to the very last note. We wanted to keep the whole experience very focussed and interesting. That song and one other from the same sessions will be available soon on a website only, limited edition CD that will be released very soon.. keep your ear to the ground.

As far as collaborations, we always collaborate as a band. You might not see it in the credits in the liner notes, but the four of us put our fingerprints on everything we do. Scott was so inspired by the working situation on the recording of the new disc that he's told me he wants to open the collaborative doors even wider. That's gonna be very a very inspiring way to work.

Left to right: Dave Minarik - drums; Rob James - guitar; Scott Blasey - vocals, guitar; Greg Joseph - bass

That song has even spawned it's own website I believe. Have you posted your own break up tale on there yet? Or were the lyrics to the tune enough for that?!
Let's just say.. NUFF SAID!!!!

I think that song set the optimism for the whole CD. It certainly attracted a lot of attention to it, but as I said in the interview, it's anything but a one song record. What are your other favourites on 'Let It Go' and how do you think the record improves on your previous efforts?
In the past we always tried to capture our the energy of our live performances in the studio. That doesn't always work and was a perspective we continued to pursue for way too long. With the help of having a great producer at the helm we didn't just record the band, we made a recording. We benefited greatly by having that outside vision that a great producer can offer. I mean we constructed the songs right there in the studio and that was new for us. I look forward to doing much more of that in the future. I think I had the most fun recording 'Better Off Without You'. Just strapped on the guitar and Justin turned on the machine. It was a very inspired couple of hours in the control room just throwing out what was hitting me. I think we came up with some amazing guitar textures that give the song a very three-dimensional quality that our past recordings usually lacked. We did that with every song on the disc. It just creates an interesting musical landscape for a song that draws in the listener.

I gather the process of making the record with Justin Niebank was a little interesting at times. He's a bit of a perfectionist isn't he? How did you think he improved you as a band and would you work with him again?
It was a fabulous experience that I will treasure, professionally and personally. I think the rest of the band will agree. We all hit it off very well with Justin on all levels. He never gave you the feeling that it was about perfection. He was all about the vibe, all about the groove. It was very easy to be at the top of our game with him. He just brought out what was already there and put it all in the proper perspective. AND...he introduced me to Sushi. I'd jump at the chance to work with him again.

Did he encourage you to add to your sound?
As a guitarist I've always heard things in my head that I'd wanted to add to our recordings, but didn't have the right person to guide me through. I found that with Justin it all came to me very naturally and he opened lots of new doors for me. As for the band...Just listen. The proof is in that pudding.

I believe the initial collaboration with Justin was one of the few positive things to come out of your contract with MCA/WayCool. How come things turned sour between the band and label after 'Someday Maybe'?

Well, things didn't go sour. There was just no more Way Cool. MCA just dissolved the label in anticipation of the big Universal merger. A lot of great bands lost their label as a result of that little industry maneuver. It was all for the best. We ended the deal with a fairly positive attitude and knew we weren't quite done with all of this just yet. We just resumed with our own label and released a live disc and Scott put out a really nice solo effort.. which I played on quite a bit. Freedom was a good thing at that point. I believe Chief remixed I'll Tell You What Man...' in that period, as well. We tried not to miss a beat.

Did you think there was no point carrying on in trying to break the Clarks nationally after the collapse of what looked like your big chance? How disenchanting was that?
At first it was a little tough. Nobody likes to have a rug pulled out from under their feet. In retrospect, It wasn't a bad thing at all. We dealt with it. There was still a lot left to say as a band. The whole experience helped us to understand that we could measure success at a point when many other bands would have fallen to pieces. It was quite empowering, actually.

Was the reason you put out the Live CD a kind of greatest hits swansong for the band until Razor and Tie came along?
Not even remotely. If you notice, the live recording didn't include any of the songs we had slated for another studio release. Some of those songs we'd been playing live for almost two years at that point. Songs like 'I'm A Fool' and 'Snowman'. We knew even before WayCool closed it's doors that we really wanted to work with Justin at some point and release another disc. We did just that. RazorandTie came in after the 'Let It Go' sessions were completed. They saved us from releasing it on our own and thankfully, took it to a level of exposure that we would not have achieved on our own.

How then did you hook up with R and T? As a label, they do appear suited to you guys. They seem to be giving you all the support without a lot of the corporate nonesense you have encountered in the past.
I think the folks at R and T just heard about us through people in the business. They contacted our managers who are also in NYC and the relationship began. They're great guys who care immensely about our band and taking our story to another level. The huge difference between them and a large company, as far a dealing with us is that we can get the president or vice president on the phone any time we need. Try that with a major. They've grown steadily over the years and are after much bigger stakes in the game.

Are you pleased with your association with RandT so far?
Tremendous folks...we're having a blast.

14 years on, it must seem like a long way from Indiana Uni 1986. How tough was it to make the break from your studies to go into the music business full time?
It wasn't tough for me at all. I knew this is what I was meant to do long before the opportunity presented itself. When I met the other guys it just seemed like the door was open.

What has been your highest high and lowest low since the band formed?
I know this is a very interesting question, but I just don't think of life in those terms. There's so much to look forward to that I really try not to look back. We've had highs and lows and you gain experience from that, but it's all in the past. I'm into where I am right now and where the moment will lead.

After 14 years, what are your goals for the band? How has your perception of 'success' changed since you started out?
My perception of success has been just been more refined. It's not about being on a major label and selling millions of discs. It's about being able to continue to do the one thing in life that you love the most and have that perpetuate itself. Our goal is to continue in that direction.

Back to Let It Go. How were the recent tour dates you guys did? I believe you had a few dates with Red Hot Chilli's and Steely Dan. Any further tour plans in the works?
The shows with Steely Dan were great because we got out there to a new audience in a lot of cities we'd never visited before. We just did the Rolling Rock show with the Chilli Peppers and that was a great experience. Short, but sweet. Our immediate plan is to get out there and support this release doing as many shows and turning on as many people as we can.

Were you as a band involved with the concept of the artwork for the album? I think it's great.
We had an agency here in town put that together for us. We always have the final say, but it was the first time that we put it into someone else's hands. I'm glad you like it. It's my fave.

It's rare for a band to stick together for 14 years. And that unity shows through on this record. How do you think the band's songwriting has evolved as you have developed?
As writers I think we've all grown and will continue to grow. We've been fortunate to have the success that encourages the writing. We're not prolific as writers, but I know we still have a lot to say. People seem to be listening.

I know that some of you have families and that Scott is a fairly private kind of guy, but do you see much of each other outside of the band?
Not much. I think that's part of why it works well after so long. We just go and do our separate lives and come together for work. We do enjoy each other's company, but you need to have more of an outside life to inspire you. Our work is not our lives.

Any interests outside the band, or do you pretty much have a one track mind for music?
Lot's of fun stuff in this life. I really like going to the movies. I like reading about things that interest me. I'm particularly interested in Western, PA history. There has been so many historically pivotal events that have taken place here. It interests me to no end.

I want to ask you about music and the internet. The Clarks website gets 400,000 hits a month and puts up MP3's but as an artist, where do you stand on the issue of Napster?
I am definitively on the fence. I used to be way against it, but there are many good things about it. I didn't care for Napster's little battle with Metallica. It wasn't about Lars and the boys being greedy, it was all about the artist being compensated for someone downloading and owning their music. Napster tried to put a spin on it that deflected that argument. There are definitely some things that need to be ironed out, but I think they could have a real nice model for the future. I'd just like to see the artist be treated fairly. Lord knows that the labels haven't done that...EVER. It's about time that a situation comes along that an artist can control their career a little more. The Internet could be a great equalizer. The record companies are scared because instead of them dicatating to the public what the format and price will be for music consumers, now it's the other way around. They're the greedy party. Always have been amd hopefully that will change.

Finally, what does early 2001 have in store for the Clarks? Will your new year's resolution be to keep promoting Let It Go and get out and tour? Any plans to see you tour in Europe or the UK?
We're going to continue to support the new disc in any way possible. There's a nice little buzz going on right now that will hopefully continue well into next year. Wherever that takes us...we'll go. How about Spain for a couple of weeks? Hmmm...

Visit The Clarks at their website:

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