Catch up with Nashville based Americana artist Sheldon Clark and look for his forthcoming EP, Word & Sound, to be released March 2016.
What got you interested in music?
Sheldon Clark: It was a lot of different things. I grew up doing choir with my mom in church and that's my first experience in music, but I started playing music and writing music in middle school and high school and, at first, it was because all the cool kids were doing it, that kind of thing, playing the guitar, but then I started to really dive into it and I think I just fell in love with it over time. It's something that became this positive addiction for me [laughs] as I grew up. I was also kind of an angsty teenager, so I think the expression of emotion in music really drew me in to starting to write it. I wrote my first song when I was in my freshman English class in high school and I had to do a book report on Romeo and Juliet and it was the first time I'd tried to write a song and I approached my teacher about it and she said she thought it was a great idea, so that was the first kind of instance. Then, I did another one about Of Mice and Men, so it was a love of literature and a love of music that merged that got me into writing and into music.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you are working on music; is there a lot of literary influence?
I feel like a lot of my music is really inspired by personal experiences more than anything else. I am a huge fan of literature and, especially, John Green is my favorite author, I would say, but there's a lot of books, like Into The Wild. There's probably a lot of plays too; I did theater in high school and we got to read and be around a lot of shows, a lot of lesser known shows, and just the theater, the drama to it, the storytelling aspect of literature, was an influence; but, most of my songs, especially my new music, is drawn from personal experiences and I think that, for me, makes the best writing because it's just the pure emotion that I'm feeling at the time that I'm having that experience. I think people can relate to it better when you've actually lived something, not that it's bad to write about something else, but I find it's my strongest writing when it's coming from my life or relationships or my own personal conflicts, that kind of thing. That comes up on the record a lot, on the new EP that's coming out.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
Oh man, I love a lot of different types of music and I have kind of shifted throughout my musical journey. I used to listen to punk and metal music in middle school and high school and, then, getting into college, I started discovering the classic songwriters, like The Beatles and Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and I think that made a huge impact on my sound, that basis of classic rock. My biggest influences right now and over the past couple years, have been Wilco, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, but I definitely feel like even those writers are influenced by all these artists I've said. I think it's a mash-up of a lot of things. I try not to be snobby with music; I like artists from Taylor Swift to electronic music like Skrillex to Tom Petty, like I said. I'm all over the place but, for my music that I put out, I think my influences are more the Americana artists, like Wilco and Ryan Adams; those are the two big influences for this record.
Could you describe your own sound?
Yeah, moving away from those artists, my sound has a mash of rock and folk in a sense that, lyrically, I think I have a unique perspective that I haven't seen in songwriting before. My musical sound is just a crashing together of all these influences and I think I'm not scared to experiment with instruments and sounds that I'm not familiar with; on the record, we have a song, "Our Last Morning", which is based all on the Wurlitzer and I don't play piano, but I work with a great band and my piano player, we worked together to make that happen. I think staying away from just doing the acoustic guitar as the basis of everything and having that mix where it's not all about me as the songwriter, but more about the songs and the arrangement of it, people have told me that they think my music's a little more complex than the normal singer-songwriter stuff that's out there and I think that's where I differentiate from the current singer-songwriters that are out there.
What was the inspiration for your single, "Our Last Morning"?
The original inspiration was - I don't know how I came across the video - I'm a big fan of the songwriter Dan Wilson and he had this songwriting challenge where he posted a little Vine video saying, 'write a song worthy of playing at a friend's wedding'. I immediately just felt that because I've had a lot of friends in the past year either get engaged or married - actually my best friend just got engaged this past weekend - so I really was inspired by this so I based the song off of Pachebel’s Canon in D major - it's the wedding song that a lot of people use for the bridal march - and, at first, it just had a verse and I was really writing the song about my then girlfriend at the time and just the beauty that she had, but I wanted to describe it without describing her physically, so I wanted to leave out what we normally describe as a beautiful person and so I did that in the verses. The chorus is sort of a vow to say, 'I'm going to love you until our last morning,' and being with someone until death do you part. There's also influences of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars which I was reading at the time and I just loved the way he showed love in the face of death almost, or in the face of such difficulty; he actually uses this phrase a lot - I'm a big fan of him just as a person - and in the book it's 'I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly and then all at once'. That's a quote I use in the chorus that really just stuck with me because that's just a feeling of how you fall in love with someone.
That's off your forthcoming EP, Word & Sound, could you tell us more about that album?
The theme is dealing with self-reflection - besides "Our Last Morning" - and the internal struggle; there's songs about anxiety, songs about questioning originality, and just different feelings that I had over the year I wrote it. The way it differentiated was, with the last record, I co-wrote a lot of the songs and I felt like I was more writing for people to like the songs, instead of writing what I really felt and, for this record, I really wrote about how I was feeling and just these raw emotions that were going on in my life at the time.
I wrote about 12 or 14 songs and only picked the ones that I felt were the best and we also had a limited budget, so I did a funding campaign and raised a good size of the money and we went into Welcome to 1979 Studios here in Nashville and we just had three days. This was me and my band - which are all incredible local musicians here in Nashville - and my wonderful engineer Jeremy, we all got together and went into the studio and we had three days to record this, so we decided to do it almost completely live and there's no editing on the record, it's straight to analog tape, so recorded in kind of a very vintage style, and we just wanted it to be really raw, like the emotions of the songs. We really tackled it in that way and we were all exhausted on the third day [laughs], but it was really a cool experience to go in and play it almost like you're playing it live; everyone knowing what they're doing - although we came up with stuff while we were sitting in there, too - it was really cool. Chris Mara, the owner of Welcome to 1979, mixed it and there's no tuning on the vocals or any editing, it's just what we did and that's really cool. It's honest and that's the biggest difference from the last record, it's just a very honest and raw record overall.
What do you hope listeners can take away from your music?
I hope my music helps people like music helped me growing up. I struggled with anxiety and depression through a lot of middle school and high school and, really, I just clung to music through all of that and I've always just wanted people to be able to connect and to feel alright through music. It's a good almost sense of release from a lot of the struggles that we have and to know that someone else has those same struggles. I think, just to take away that honesty, I hope people appreciate that the most out of everything; I want people to be like, 'oh, he's not holding anything back, he's really being vulnerable,' and I hope that people like that and understand that and can relate to it. That would be my biggest hope of a take away for people.
Is there anything you would to add?
I'm really excited about the EP. We've got a couple shows coming up, trying to do more, and those will be announced on my website, sheldonclark.com. But, yeah, we're working on a lot of cool things, trying to get this record out to everyone and I just really hope that people get that feeling from it and I just really appreciate the ability to do this interview with you.