Getting his shot
Published 10:50 pm Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Taylor Clark was just a sophomore in college but he could already imagine himself as a poor, small-town musician in his mid-40s, playing an old, crappy guitar at tiny cafes.
And he shuddered at the thought.
Clark was sick of playing at neighborhood restaurants and hole-in-the-wall coffee joints that don’t pay well and where people were busier eating or conversing than paying attention to the music he was pouring his soul into. He was sick of the elitist culture of the underground music scene. In short, he was ready to be noticed.
“I was a little jaded from the music industry. It’s hard being a college student and playing shows for free,” he said. “It’s sick and a shame that artists don’t get paid for their services. It’s a job like anything else.”
The Niles native, who has been performing music since his childhood, was so frustrated he was ready to give up on his dream of being a professional musician.
That is until he got a phone call.
A representative from Downtown Batterie Studios in Nashville had happened upon one of Clark’s old demos and wanted to fly him down to record a few songs.
A whirlwind of two years later, Clark, now 24, is set to release a full-length album, mastered by Grammy Award-winning Ted Jensen, known for his work on albums by Jimmy Eat World, Dave Matthews Band, Green Day, Dashboard Confessional and Norah Jones.
“In My Room” will be released March 10 and has already generated interest from some major record labels.
And for Clark, this is what his whole life has been working toward.
Clark’s musical career began when he was 9 years old and his father saw him beating on his djembe drum.
“I had a better feel for it than the drummer in my dad’s band had,” he said.
So he started touring with his dad’s group, Doug Clark and the Grain, that played light-hearted country and blues-style music for churches and youth groups.
“All I remember is that it was fun,” he said. “I just remember I fell in love with music.”
As a teenager, he picked up the guitar and soon was collaborating with his sister, Rachel. The duo began performing folk rock tunes under the name Stage Fright Remedy in the Niles area.
After the band was featured on “A Prairie Home Companion,” a national radio show on NPR, they began booking shows throughout the Midwest.
The first song they wrote, and one of their most popular, was “My Casanova,” which came to be when Taylor was playing the guitar and Rachel began singing lyrics from a journal entry.
But when Rachel moved to Oregon and Taylor moved to Kalamazoo to study at Western Michigan University, that was the end of Stage Fright Remedy.
So for the first time in his young music career, Clark began promoting himself as a solo artist.
“It was weird because all throughout high school I was making my own songs, but I never played them live,” said Clark, a Niles High School grad.
But for Clark, the transition to singer-song writer was seamless.
“If music has been anything in my life, it has been liquid,” he said. “It’s never given me any trouble. It’s a very soothing thing for me. I go to it when I’m really happy, really sad or really mad.”
Don’t call him a sell-out
Since heading to Nashville to record his first professionally-produced album, Clark said he’s received a little bit of backlash from the music scene in Kalamazoo with some people labeling him a “sell-out.”
“But I’m not changing my music,” he said. “They’re still my songs, my lyrics.”
Clark said hooking up with Downtown Batterie Studios has opened up all kinds of avenues for him.
“If I wouldn’t be taking this step, I would basically be doing what a lot of people have been doing their whole lives, hoping to make it and never making it,” he said. “While some people may say it’s selling out, it’s just taking a different avenue. I’m still preserving myself as an artist.”
If anything, Clark believes the professional recording process has helped him grow as an artist and has improved his music.
“To hear my songs that I had written sound really big and professionally recorded was awesome,” he said. “It’s like the peak of their potential.”
‘As long as it’s real, I love it’
“In My Room” is a 13-song indie rock album that Clark describes as “genuine.”
He has released on his MySpace and Facebook pages a preview of the record with “Grow Up,” a slow, nostalgic song about his childhood and the “anxiety of growing up.”
Clark has trouble describing the album as a whole because it is so eclectic.
“Because I have so many influences musically, there’s always a very wide dynamic of types of songs that I write,” he said. “But they all come from the heart. My heart speaks different things sometimes.”
For Clark, music has always been about emotion.
“As long as it’s real, I love it,” he said. “The last show I played in Buchanan, I almost started crying on stage. The emotions started brushing back when I played. The ultimate goal is to hopefully strike a chord with someone in a positive way.”
After the release of his album, Clark is planning to do a few showcases in Nashville for some major music labels, including RCA, Atlantic and Hollywood.
“The plan is to basically make myself a little more established as an artist,” he said. “Then if I do get signed, I can do what I want.”
When he graduates from college this summer, Clark is unsure of exactly where he’s headed. But if he continues what’s he doing, it’s clear he won’t be playing small town restaurants and hole-in-the-wall cafes for too much longer.
For more information about Clark, visit www.myspace.com/taylorjamesonclark or his Facebook fan page. To listen to his self-produced album “Laptop Recordings,” visit taylorclark.bandcamp.com.