Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Stephen Clair!
Stephen Clair first came to prominence when WFUV got behind the single ‘Jen In Her Underwear’ from his 2003 sophomore release Little Radio. Clair’s continuing making records, some singer-songwritery, some punk rock, some twangier. There are a few things that hold all of those records together. The through line is Clair’s wicked way with words, his penchant for a hook, and a big rock and roll heart.
As it came time to build the record that would become ‘Strange Perfume’, Clair went looking for a producer who would help him make the record he wanted to make. He had this great working band and the songs were ready. Clair knew the right producer could help keep things focused, and hopefully nudge Clair and company to give their best performances in the studio. And suddenly there was Malcolm Burn, hanging out just an hour’s drive upriver from Clair’s Beacon NY home. ‘Well, here’s the guy,’ Clair thought. Burn’s producer resume is about as hard to pin down as Clair’s song catalog. It was also Burn’s producer credits (Emmylou Harris, Christ Whitley, Bob Dylan, even Iggy Pop and Patti Smith), that made Clair scratch his head, turn out his pockets, and ask himself, how the hell am I gonna make this work?
But in fairytale rockandroll fashion, Burn dug the songs and they figured it out. And so they went and did it. ‘I also have great people playing with me whom I’m not only grateful for, but I adore. And the band all showed up and just played their hearts out. Combine the band’s skills with Malcolm’s amazing old microphone collection, his basement studio setup, his funky kickass gear, and then the ideas couldn’t help but bloom and rage like a house on fire. We couldn’t even contain the ideas. It was as if we’d pulled the sword from the stone and the Pandora from the box.
Malcolm Burn tells us “Clair’s music is deceptively simple yet carries a lot of subtext and meaning. The autobiographical stance of his lyrics make the music at once catchy and compelling, yet also transmit on a much deeper level. There is an edginess and strong pop sensibility in the classic punk sense that makes his music quite timeless. It also translates well in the live venue.”
This album is darkly joyous. Clair’s songwriting has always possessed a wry humor. Rave-up rockers veer into stormy seas and back again, while dystopian concerns, brought to life by gnarly guitar hooks and a thunderous rock band, leave a vapor trail that passes through the more tender and touching songs, poking and taunting the way an emotion might. All hail! The steam and throttle of electric guitars is alive and well here. Clair is a rocker with a strong pop sensibility, but a a writer with a knack for wanting to shine a light on the uncomfortable stuffs and not afraid to set the tone with the sound of his able band.
Stephen Clair wants to talk about the thoughts and emotions that get kicked into the corner, out of our sight. We’re all busy, and we love to use our busy-ness to our advantage: We can do a pretty good job of ignoring our lousy relationships, our bad or unresolved feelings. But there they are. And Stephen Clair is going to sing about them. He’s gonna sing about his own imperfections, he’s going to celebrate things many of us try to hush. He’s gonna sing you a song about his stepfather from the perspective of his 15-yr-old self. And he hopes a 15-yr-old boy or two gets to hear it. Speaking of men and dads, Clair wonders about manhood today. It’s not in its best spot right now. Maybe it’s trying to sort itself out. But it won’t come easily. There are moms, men and dads in these songs. Let yourself get lost in the swirl of sounds on this record. It’s raw and polished at the same time.