Dirty Revival / by E

Get caught up with lead singer Sarah Clarke of Portland's soul-funk band Dirty Revival and watch the new video for their single, "Lay Me Down", off their debut album, out now.

How did Dirty Revival meet?

Sarah Clarke: Actually, a lot of us attended high school together and we've known each other for several years through that way. Terry Drysdale, our drummer, Chris Hardin, our saxophone player, Evan Simko, our guitarist, and Karl Ludwigsen, who plays the keys most frequently, they were all in band together at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon; different years, I think there's a three year difference with some of the members in the band, but at one point we were all there together and I was in the choir there and knew most of the band players just by default, both our circles were intertwining.

I didn't really do much in the music scene after high school and everyone went their separate ways, just trying to figure their life out and everything like that and, about three years ago, Terry got in touch with me because he was living with Evan at the time and they were just messing around in their basement, playing music, and it was just a thing they wanted to do and they thought about me and called me over and we started jamming and from there we just added anyone that was really interested in playing, honestly. We had a show and Chris saw us and was like, 'hey, can I jam with you guys?' and we'd already added Karl and our friend and trumpet player Jon Clay, so it was all these winding little threads that connected us all and brought us together.

Which bands or artists have you been influenced by?

It's funny, we listen to so much. I think, probably sitting in the van and listening to what we hear when we drive is kind of a good indicative of what we're influenced by. Although, there's also a lot of individuals in this band and we all have our different tastes. I know for me, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin and some of those big soul greats are very important to me and some of the newer people too that influence RnB today, like Frederik Hauritz and Robert Glasper and other neo-soul artists like Erykah Badu. But, again, our trombone player listens to metal [laughs] and has his own influences there, which is funny because we cover a lot of rock and roll covers and when we're choosing our music we try to do something that we think everyone in the band's going to enjoy playing. Our bass player is a really great jazz bassist as well, so everyone has a different background and history when it comes to music and different things that really speak to them there. I know, for me personally, those artists that I mentioned are really high on my list, as far as influences.

How would you describe your own sound?

I think it's different. We call ourselves soul and we say things like soul RnB, hip hop, and funk because there are elements of all of that in what we do, but I don't think that it sounds like any other band. You couldn't put us side by side, necessarily, with a group like Houston's The Suffers and say that we sound exactly the same, because they're different than we are; they just have a more classic sound. Because of all the different influences in the group and the different people and the different personalities coming into play, we tend to have a different sound and I'd say that there's as much soul and funk as a lot of rock and it's really hard to compare it to something in my mind because I honestly believe that it's unique.

The video for "Lay Me Down" was just released, what was the inspiration behind that song and video?

A lot of stuff there. It's really interesting how that song came into play. Karl actually wrote the majority of the music for that and that's something we do anyways when we're writing songs, we'll have one person that comes up with the main idea and then the entire band arranges it and I'll write the lyrics; 90% of the time that's how it works out. With this one in particular, I'd asked him directly to write me a soul song; I wanted something that maybe Sharon Jones or Charles Bradley would sing to and he brought me something that was totally amazing and really beautiful, but it spoke to me in a different way than that standard soul sound. At the time I'd been really focused on what's happening in the city that we come from in Portland, Oregon; there is a huge homeless epidemic and a lot of drug use and it really hits close to home. I mean, people that you had gone to high school with and had grown up with, you might run into them on the street and not really recognize them because of the path they've had and the things they've had to deal with. I feel a lot of empathy there and I think everyone that I know feels that as well and part of the challenge is maybe looking at those people and realizing that there's a story behind every scenario and part of that is trying to see beyond the things that maybe freak us out or turn us off about drug use or homelessness; that there was a person there at one point with a family and a life and you are not always 100% in control of the things that happen to you and maybe it's important for us to try to be a little bit more human towards each other.

That was the inspiration behind writing the song and the video. The song itself, I definitely felt that there were things close to home that made me feel the need to discuss it at the time and, now, as I see that the same problems are just being exacerbated in Portland as homelessness is spiraling out of control and we don't have anything really set up for people with mental health issues and drug abuse issues and our system is really just rigged against people that need it the most. That is a problem and that is a problem all over the country, so that's something we felt we wanted to talk about.

Could you tell us more about your debut self-titled album?

We were looking for an identity as a band and, in some ways, struggling with that. There's so many people, so many ideas, and so much talent in the group that finding a direction has actually turned out to be more difficult than you could imagine, so we were just getting our feet wet at the time with this album; what do we want to sound like, who do we want to be, and what does Dirty Revival mean to us? We were musically trying to answer that question through each track and I think that the funny part about that is every player has their favorites. I definitely have my favorites and I definitely think that we were able to figure out the sound that we are the most comfortable with that defines us best through trial and error and we just took everyone with us on that ride.

You said everyone has their favorites, what's your favorite to perform live?

Definitely "Lay Me Down" is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. "She Can't Wait" is another favorite of mine and they're both really, really similar. I think that's just my personal aesthetic, that gritty, dirty, soul sound. I think what's cool about the album and definitely about our live performances is that each song has the ability to speak to different people for different reasons and any given night we'll have feedback from audience members that they felt attached to this one particular song for this particular reason or another song for a different reason, and so it's cool to know that, as we were going through this journey ourselves, that we were able to take people there with us and that they're also feeling attached to the music the same way we were when we recorded it.

Your music offers a pretty good explanation on its own, but how did you come up with your name Dirty Revival?

It's funny, because we actually came up with the name of the band before we came up with the music that we were going to be playing [laughs]. I don't know how that happened, it was a happy circumstance. We really just liked the name and we knew we wanted to do something with soul music and that was the 'revival' aspect of it and we knew we wanted to put our own spin on it, which is where the 'dirty' aspect of the name came from. Truly, the name was defined over the course of maybe just the last year, being in the studio and honing in on our live sound and on our studio sound and who we actually are. We picked a band name that we then had to live up to, which wasn't hard considering. For us, Dirty Revival is almost a genre of music now, for us, it's not so much the name of a band.

What do you want your listeners and fans to be able to take away from your music when they hear it?

I think it's super important for anyone that listens to music or involves themselves in music in any way that everyone has their own way of doing it, there's no right and wrong about what you take from it or how you feel about it, as long as you really take the time to try and take something and feel something. For us, again, we are very attached to a lot of our music and there are tears and things that go into it when you're writing about things you really care about and people you care about and I think that just listening with an open mind and an open heart and open ears is a really helpful way to enjoy the message, whether it be the message that I'm hoping you enjoy or the message you take from it, because that's just how you feel. Either way, just being very open minded is really important, I think, for listeners and for us.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

We're really having a great time. We've been on the road now for about three weeks and we'll be going home next Monday, which is really exciting because I have a four year old that I miss a lot [laughs]. For us, getting out here and just doing it has been really, tremendously helpful and the feedback and the positivity and the new friends we've made has just been a lovely and very important experience for us. For the people that did show up to our shows and the people that are considering coming next time, we can't do any of this without that support and I think that's the big driving thing behind independent musicians, is that it's truly the people and their love and support that actually helps us do what we want to do and we love to do and, for that, we couldn't be more grateful.

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