Interview by: Anna Zurek
Right before his show in London in the middle of October which we have reviewed here, we got a chance to speak to Kory Clarke himself about his new record, how he wrote his music and some bits from his past that have inspired him on his path in becoming an artist in many ways.
MGM: You’ve been promoting your album “Payback’s A Bitch” during your UK tour. The songs on your album are very diversified. What was your inspiration when writing them?
KC: The whole album is supposed to be great songs and I’d say it’s like an album of singles that when you put them together, they’re cohesive like a long play album. So the idea was basically to just have great songs on a record because, you know, a lot of people don’t have the attention span to deal with a rough ball concept record. No, I make a bunch of singles that work together.
MGM: So do the songs have anything in common, something like a red thread going through all of them?
KC: My voice. (laughs) No, it’s true and my attitude.
MGM: When you were in Warrior Soul, you’ve had songs with a kind of political message to them. Do you have any “protest type” tunes on this record?
KC: You know what? I don’t know. I mean it’s surely not a Warrior Soul record. Warrior Soul is, you know, against corporate ownership in the world as well. It’s a anti-super-rich-establishment-controlling-the-world, right? This is just songs about your life suffering within the corporate establishment (laughs). So it’s like, it’s not a protest. I could sing “Fuck the government” or you know something like that but it’s saying like “Okay my life sucks because the government fucked me over”. So, what’s a protest? What is political? I don’t know.
MGM: So what was the inspiration for the title of your record “Payback’s A Bitch”?
KC: I wanted payback all the assholes that fucked with me.
MGM: And you wanted to pay them back with…?
KC: With really great songs, yeah. (laughs)
MGM: Which song means the most to you and why?
KC: Uhm that’s a pretty basic question, ain’t it? They all mean a lot to me and I can’t give you an example. “Meet Me In Las Vegas” – it took me five years to really write it and finish it. Started in Nashville, went back to Nashville and kept writing it, finished it in London and really finished it in Portugal. So all the songs, they are all equal to me. Uhm I’m not sure. I mean “Jaegermeister Machines”, three years, just laughing and gaging about that song and I finally made it and it’s dear to me. But I like Bobby Kennedy’s song “Rock N’ Roll Genocide” and Gary Hood’s song “What Good Is Goodbye” – these are great songs. Yeah, there’s a lot of favorites.
MGM: How did you write the songs then because you already said it took you different amounts of time and you’ve been to different places while writing them, too?
KC: It just depends. I mean sometimes a song starts at a bar. You start writing and it stays with you for while. And then after a while, you know, you carry all these notes around with you and eventually it turns into something and you find some musicians that are cool enough to play with and you get it done. I just, sometimes I write songs in one day. It just depends. I think “Payback’s A Bitch” I guess was written in a day. A few of the songs… the lyrics were written fast really. “The Last Hand” that took a while, that took four days to write. But a lot of that, in the arrangement of the song, was just more of a jam. I wanted things to be a little bit more loose and that people just chill out, have some beers. You know, get the lights down, just jam it out and then cut up those jams into something nice.
MGM: So from what I’ve seen you’ve been in a lot of differents bands including Warrior Soul, a doom metal band and Space Age Cowboys. Are there any lessons you have learnt from being in those bands?
KC: Well I learnt there’s no rules. A band I’m really proud of is Mob Research which started 5 years ago. That’s more an industrial kind of thing. But I just give my approach to any genre and it’s, you know, it can work. So I’m not afraid of playing in different genres and I’ve never been. I’ve never been super narrow. I like to play lots of different stuff and I think now what I’m working on is not having to be pigeonholed into a genre type thing but look at me as an artist. More like you look at people who do different genre type of stuff. Like what kind of music is Beck, what kind of music is Jane’s Addiction, what kind of music is Tom Waits? I don’t wanna be categorized, I just wanna be a personality driven genre of myself.
MGM: So more individual?
KC: Totally individual. I can do other things if I have a flavor for this and that under my own name rather than being hidden behind a band.
MGM: Aren’t you afraid that people might get confused and don’t really know who you are?
KC: Well, I mean obviously they could feel that way. Confused. But I don’t think there’s any future in me pretending to be in a genre that I don’t believe in. Am I gonna be a heavy metal guy? Or am I gonna be a disco guy? I’m just me and you know I think people are attracted to that. I mean they liked Beck and he wasn’t like heavy metal, was he? You know, what is White Stripes? Is that heavy metal or what is it? You know what I mean? It’s individualistic. If you do copy, get yourself into a mainstream genre, try to play that kind of music and if you play the game right and you kiss a lot of ass you probably might make a lot of money but I’m not concerned with huge money. I’m concerned with making a living and being an artist rather. I just work out my shit. Being afraid of not making money is not going to make you a very good artist.
MGM: I’ve also seen that you do a lot of poetry and art regarding e.g. freedom. Do you think that reflects in your songs as well?
KC: Absolutely! My songs started from poetry. I was a spoken word artist before I got into Warrior Soul. My spoken word title is Kory Clarke Warrior Soul. That was what I was and then I got challenged to create a band, I did, I got signed and I made it work.
MGM: So being a musician wasn’t your first priority career-wise when you were thinking about it in your teens?
KC: It was to be a drummer, yeah. I mean I was a major drummer.
MGM: When was that?
KC: I was a major drummer in the late 70s until mid 80s.
MGM: How did you get into it? What inspired you to pick up drums?
KC: I ended up picking up chicks and thought it was good. (laughs) This is just what I did and I did it good.
MGM: So when you started out with drums, did you know back then that you wanted to make a career out of it?
KC: Yeah, well I wanted to be a hockey player until I was about 16. I realized I’m too small, I got my ass kicked and I just realized that I was a better drummer than a skater, so.
MGM: So how did it switch to being a singer?
KC: I was singing and drumming at the same time in two bands and I finally got to a point where I was told “Man, you should be a lead singer”. I said okay, tried it in Detroit and people wouldn’t accept me because I was too much of a drummer. So I moved to New York and was a lead singer there.
MGM: So if you could go back to the time when you started out playing drums or being a singer, what advice would you give yourself?
KC: Learn piano and make some money. (laughs) If you’re a piano player, you make money and that’s just the end of it. If you’re a good piano player, you make a lot of money.
MGM: So you would change that?
KC: Oh yeah. If I was not playing piano, then guitar and last of all drums.
MGM: You’ve been in the music business for several years. Did your view of the music business change over the years compared to when you started out?
KC: Well yeah, there is no music business. Like it was records, recording etc. and then it was live and then it was writing. Those are the three aspects of the business. Oh and promotion. But that’s the record company side of it. I don’t know. It’s changed in a way that the players for promotion that paid for promotion that were the promoters and the controllers of the outlet have changed. I’m sure the same people that run the radio stations are still around, they’re the same guys. But if you’re gonna get onto radio, you’re gotta pay some money and a lot of it. If you want to be in America, they think you cost about a quarter million dollars. That’s the difference.
MGM: So what advice would you give to new bands starting out now?
KC: Fucking get a DJ rig. (laughs) Get a DJ rig and put your hands up in the air.
MGM: So you’d agree with a statement that was recently mentioned in media by someone in rock music that rock is dead nowadays?
KC: Yeah it’s dead in a lot of ways. You better believe it.
KC: It’s been dead forever. But just different aspects of it. If you go to a heavy metal con, festival or something, it’s not dead. But I think what this says is that the spirit of rock is dead and in essence it’s right. It’s been dead for years. But that doesn’t mean I have to be dead, you know? For some it’s easy to say, but for the rest of us rock lives. (laughs) I think that’s the best way to quote it.
MGM: So what can we expect from you in the future?
KC: My paintings have been doing pretty good, so I think I need a showing in a few places and I’m gonna do more records and see what happens. I’m gonna be continuing under my own name and, you know, just try to stay alive.
MGM: Final message to the fans?
KC: Keep on buying my crap! I love you guys! (laughs)
Kory Clarke has finished his UK tour in October. For more information on future tours, make sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@koryclarkemusic) or check out his website. Also don’t forget to listen to his new record “Payback’s A Bitch” which we reviewed here. You can find it on Amazon, iTunes or stream it on Spotify.