Interview: Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr was the name on every music-lover’s lips last year. With famous fans ranging from Eric Clapton to Jay-Z, the 28-year-old Texan brought his unique brand of blues-infused rock to the masses in 2012.
With a new album ‘Blak and Blu’ released to critical acclaim and a string of high profile festival appearances under his belt, we caught up with Gary when he was Down Under last year to talk working with Alicia Keys, find out who’s on his musical bucket list and get the goss on what to expect from his upcoming set at the Big Day Out!
MTV: Hi Gary! Tell us, what can people expect from the new album, ‘Blak and Blu’
Gary Clark Jr: I would just say they can expect a mix of Blues, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll and glimpses into the past, present and future.
MTV: Do you have a favourite track on the album?
Gary Clark Jr: I think my favourite track for now is ‘Blak and Blu.’ It’s a bit different, it’s not focused on the guitar, there’s not really a guitar solo, and the lyrical content isn’t about me and my poor love life! [laughs] It’s cool you know, it was one of the tracks that I sat around and I produced the beat and I played every instrument on it, so it’s just really close to me.
MTV: You recently played Jay-Z’s ‘Made in America’ festival, what was that experience like?
Gary Clark Jr: The ‘Made in America’ festival, for me, it made sense. The crowd was the most diverse crowd I’d seen, and it was a really diverse artist line up … Just walking around and meeting people from all walks of life, from everywhere, all over the country - it was great to see all sort of faces in the audience and they all came together and had a good time just celebrating music. It was great.
I got to meet Jay-Z for a minute, and it was a cool little moment. I said, ‘Man I got a lot of respect for you’ and he was like, ‘Yeah I got respect for you, what you’re doing is different,’ it was cool. He’s like what they say, the American dream, making something from nothing really, so it was cool to just kind of interact and hang. I got to meet Beyonce, a fellow Texan, so that was cool. You know, they were dancing on the side of the stage which was a good feeling!
MTV: Alicia Keys is a huge fan of yours, can you tell us a bit about how you got to know her and what projects you’ve worked on together?
Gary Clark Jr: She was putting together an event for the ‘Keep a Child Alive’ foundation, someone she’s been working with trying to give kids the essentials, give kids what they need in Africa. She was also doing a tribute to George Harrison and my name came up as a guitar player who could maybe play ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ So I was called in to do that and went in for rehearsal and we clicked, we vibed. She was really digging me, and it was great for me to be there, I’ve been a fan of hers for a long, long time. So we just kept in touch and she called me in to play on her latest album, so I spent some time in the studio with her, she’s really sweet and fun to work with, it was great.
MTV: You’ve been gigging since you were a teenager but it’s only been in the last couple of years that your music has really exploded into the mainstream consciousness. Why do you think that is?
Gary Clark Jr: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. For the first few years I was kinda sticking true to the traditional blues form and playing a lot of covers, and then in the last few years I started opening up and doing more of my music and branching out. You know I really felt connected, and I was really communicating – I had something to say. So that kind of resonated, I started to feel a bit more of a buzz.
So there was that, and then I got to hang with Doyle Bramhall II and play in his band for a little while. And between him and Jimmie Vaughan, they introduced me to Eric Clapton, and he invited me to his ‘Crossroads’ special in 2010. I think all that together, you know me having the song ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Don't Owe You a Thang,’ and playing there at that festival, it was a new and exciting time for me. Having the opportunity to do that really opened things up for me.
MTV: You’ve played alongside some of the greats of blues and rock, including Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and B.B King. Is that nerve wracking, performing alongside your idols?
Gary Clark Jr: I’m not gonna lie, it made me a little bit nervous, but that was the dream you know. Being a young kid and playing guitar and watching these people it’s like, ‘Wow, I wanna do that.’ And so to be up there and do that, it’s like, well you didn’t work all this time to get up here and choke and be nervous so suck it up and just rock dude – that’s what I’m telling myself while my knees are shaking!
MTV: So who’s on your musical bucket list then? If you could play with anyone who would it be?
Gary Clark Jr: Anybody? I would like to jam with Stevie Wonder – and that’s shooting way high! I’d like to sit in a room with Cody Chesnutt, D’Angelo – I got to meet him [at the Made in America festival] he was a cool cat. I wouldn’t mind that!
You’re playing Big Day Out down here in 2013, what are you looking forward to most about the festival?
Gary Clark Jr: Yes! I’m looking forward to just kind of travelling around Australia, getting a glimpse of all the different cities. No-one’s really told me much about Big Day Out except that it’s crazy, that’s the only thing people tell me, ‘Man it’s crazy and it’s so much fun.’ So I’m just interested to hear what all the buzz is about, and see it for myself, coz I’m tired of people telling me how awesome it is!
You’ll also be playing some side shows - what kind of adjustments do you make to your set when playing a club show vs a festival?
Gary Clark Jr: The adjustments I make for the clubs shows is we’re not too set on time. Like festivals you have a short slot, 45 minutes maybe an hour at most, and in the club shows you get maybe about two hours. So longer guitar solos, and more songs. I get a chance to do my stuff, and also I like to pay tribute to the guys that kind of laid the groundwork for me to be able to walk down. Like I’ll play maybe some Curtis Mayfield, some BB King, to kind of tip my hat and show some respect to those guys, because I would be here if it weren’t for them.
Written by Lauren Alpe