Daniel Clarke on His Solo 7-Inch: ‘To Have Ryan Adams Be Supportive, It’s Like, Yeah, I Can Do This’
Clarke -- who has been sitting behind the keys with Adams' band, the Shining, for the past year -- recorded the three tracks in his home in Richmond, Va., and played every instrument himself. "Diamonds" (backed with "Guided (By What We Have)" and "Rollin' Out") is a pristine document of Clarke's soul and R&B influences, making for an unforgettable listening experience.
While he was in Nashville getting ready for a two-night stint at the Ryman Auditorium with Adams -- along with his own in-store performance at Grimey's -- Clarke took a few minutes to catch up with us about "Diamonds," the music scene in Richmond and how Adams "lit the fire" for his solo 7". Check out our exclusive conversation below:
You didn't actually record these songs at Pax-Am, did you?
Nope, I recorded it at my house in Virginia.
Did you have a band with you?
I played every instrument. I tour around a lot and have played with k.d. lang and have been on tour with her a lot. So during my time off, I just play stuff at my house, and Ryan, he’s a punk kid at heart, and he just really digs that homegrown aspect. I think that was one of the things that appealed to him when he heard this music.
I dig the tracks. I really like “Diamonds,” but I think “Rollin’ Out” is a perfect way to end it.
Yeah, man, that’s really sweet of you to say. When I finally got my studio set up, I wasn’t really sure what kind of music I was going to make. I mean, I like all kinds of music. At heart, I’m a jazz piano player, I came up playing jazz music, so I didn’t really know what I’d play. It ended up being this sort of messed up soul music, you know what I mean? [Laughs] But I grew up loving soul music and my dad was a big saxophone player.
Oh yeah, it definitely seeps out in these songs. Since you recorded this yourself, how involved was Ryan with this disc?
Well, he wasn’t involved in the making of it. But he lit the fire under my ass and said, “Hey, come on, man. This is good. You can do this.” I had actually come up with a fake backstory, like a fake story that weaves with actual history, like Forrest Gump. He called me one day and was like, “Man, can this just be you?” I don’t know, I didn’t want to put my face to that music, but he convinced me otherwise. [Laughs]
Now that it’s out, how do you feel about it? Are you still a little apprehensive to have your name and face tied to music?
It’s not really me being apprehensive about the music, but what I do for a living is supporting other artists. I feel good about that and I love doing that. So, this is the first time that I had to consider, “What am I going to do?” I want to do all kinds of stuff, I enjoy it all, but to have Ryan be supportive about it, it’s like, “Yeah, I can do this! It’s going to be great!” I love it, man, I’m so easy to please. Music is fun.
Has this inspired you to do more Daniel Clarke solo stuff?
Yeah. Oh yeah, and I have a lot of music that I’ve recorded over the years. All this time I’ve been recording music and I’ve never had time to deal with it, so now I’m doing that. I’m seeing what it could become. There’s a good pool of musicians in Richmond, too. The Richmond scene is becoming a really nice thing. It’s a nice place to live and make music because it’s so cheap to live. A fool can afford to be a fool there and actually make things work. There’s a nice collective going on.
I’ve talked to a few longtime New Yorkers recently, and to hear them talk about making music in the ‘80s .. it’s a lot different than living in New York today trying to make music, if for no other reason than the ungodly rents.
Oh yeah. It’s like a different world, it’s like making music on Mars I would imagine.
So it makes sense that these scenes pop up elsewhere.
I think there’s something to that in a lot of small cities and I think it pretty much boils down to being able to afford to live, you know? It’s just a matter of if that city is ready for new music. I’ve found a lot of musicians in a lot of cool places.
How did you and Ryan first get involved?
I met Ryan years ago, I was actually playing in Mandy Moore’s band when they first met. He and I just really hit it off. He’s from North Carolina, so we’re both kind of Southern boys and we always had that in common. I was running around on the road so it took a bunch of years for us to eventually hook up and start making music. I met him, probably, six or seven years ago, and we’ve been touring since last year which has just been great ... along with Mike Viola, who is a great guitar player. Mike had worked with Mandy, too, so I knew him separate from Ryan, so it’s like worlds have collided.
You’re used to supporting other artists. With this new 7” -- and all of your music that you’ve recorded on your own over the years -- do you have any plans to hit the road as Daniel Clarke?
No. I would say no, not necessarily. We’re dipping our toes in now and I’m certainly not opposed to it. It’s just, that would be a complete career change for me right this second. I’m happy to jump in, but right now, we’re focused on wrapping up this tour first and then we’ll see what the plans will be.
I caught the two Hammerstein Ballroom shows in New York last year -- they were so great.
Those were some fun shows. Benmont [Tench] from the Heartbreakers, he was at one of those shows. I met him and he was so sweet, but I was so happy to not know he was there during the show! What am I even doing here? [Laughs]
Do you ever write with other artists while you're on the road?
Not so much. For me, I’m like a practice kind of a guy. I love practicing, and on the road, I don’t get to do that kind of thing. When I’m on the road, I try to see as many people as I can and see everything I can. It’s definitely one of the perks of this job. My writing on the road is sporadic, but it fuels what I do when I get home. At home, that’s where I am and that’s where I hole up and put on the “Look away, I’m hideous” face, you know? [Laughs] Lyrics really aren’t my thing, too, so that’s why I love soul music. It’s so simple -- those songs say something, but they allow so much space to let the listener think about it. It’s very engaging in that way. The sentiments are simple, you know? Even with my song -- “All the diamonds in the world / Can’t fulfill what you deserve” -- that’s not rocket science, but it’s lovely.
One of the cool things about Ryan is his love and devotion to vinyl.
For you personally, is vinyl something that’s important?
Oh man, I’m a huge collector. It started with me just stealing my dad’s records. Every time I came home from college, more records would go missing from his collection. [Laughs] It’s so great that vinyl is coming back, too, because that’s just the way to experience it. Back in the day, vinyl was the end result, you know? That process of putting it on and listening to it, it just makes sense to me. Going to a computer is very practical and it’s good, but just taking it in, to me, it’s the process that makes sense. Holding it in your hand, reading about it -- even if there isn’t a lot of information there, you can create your own story, there’s so much mystery. I just love it. As opposed to the internet where you can say, “Oh, I wonder about this guy,” and then you type in his name and you get everything you need .. at the record player, you don’t even think about it; you just let your imagination go.