OUT FROM UNDER THE LAMPSHADE
A CONVERSATION WITH JAMES CLARK (THE JAMES CLARK INSTITUTE)
James Clark is a very talented writer, musician, and singer. He is also an incredibly nice guy and a well-known Beatle fan. He even played The Cavern Club in Liverpool. So, when I sat down with him about his new album, Under The Lampshade, I had to ask him about the new Beatles single, “Now And Then”, which has made number one around the world.
“I really like it, it took a few listens to get my head around it. The production is amazing, they made a wonderful production out of an unfinished demo from John, but they really made something out of it. It was really amazing to hear John’s voice again, it’s been a long time.”
According to his biography, James Clark grew up listening to his parents’ record collection until he was old enough to buy his own. The sounds of classic rock ‘n’ roll, country, and whatever else he could get his hands on all went into his young brain, and although he started his rock ‘n’ roll life as a drummer, he was soon on his way to creating his own music.
“As a kid, I grew up loving music, and I had an older brother who turned me on to a lot of music. He saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. We were always playing music together. He was a singer/guitar player and I always wanted to be a singer/guitar player, but he talked me into playing drums. I continued to play drums, but I was always writing songs in my head and for years I tried to pick up the guitar, then I would put it down again. The turning moment for me was, my father passed away…and I am assuming there is a connection there…because as soon as that happened, I picked up my guitar and did not put it down again and all of my lyrics became introspective at that point.”
Clark was in a few bands before he decided to launch The James Clark Institute, a name that has a very interesting history.
“Before there was CAMH [Centre For Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto], there was the Clark Institute. You have to be of a certain vintage to actually know of the Clark Institute. That is exactly where it came from, and at the time, I felt that my lyrics were all very personal and personal experiences, and so songwriting, for me, started out as therapy and so I thought I will call the project The Clark Institute.”
With a name settled, it was time to focus on recorded music. His debut record was a seven-inch EP, released in 2004. That EP, Home Is Where The Heart Attack Is, started everything. It set the stage for future music written by Clark. He has always written from a very personal place.
“It is the only way I can write. There are a couple of songs on Under The Lampshade that are not from personal experiences, but that’s the only way I can write what I feel. The title of the new album comes from one of the songs on the album called “Phantom Girl”. There is a line in it, how “she exited the party early and left me under my lamp shade”, which pertains to a party gone wrong. So, when I was looking for a title of the album, I usually like to name my albums after lyrics in the songs, and that line kept springing out at me.”
Even though his songs come from a personal place, sometimes songs can have an interesting influence. “Whatever O’Clock In The Morning” is probably one of the less personal songs on the album. My inspiration for that song, and it did not come out sounding anything like this, but I was listening to an oldies 1960s song by Petula Clark called “Don’t Sleep In The Subway”, I just love it. I want to write a song like that, and I didn’t, but it was the initial inspiration and I think there is a Beatlish thing happening there.”
Along with strong songs, Clark has found a very strong producer with whom he works on a regular basis. Since 2016’s Yesterday’s Misadventures, Clark has been working with Moe Berg as his producer. His latest album is no exception, and the two seem to work extremely well together. Certainly, the results are terrific sounding albums.
“Moe Berg told me once, “I want to be your George Martin”. After our first album together, we had such a great time, and he said I’ll be your George Martin. I was a big fan of Moe and Pursuit Of Happiness even before they had their record deal. I would go and see them in clubs in Toronto and then 20 years ago, I was playing drums in a surf band in Toronto and the guitar player knew Moe and brought him in to produce our second album. And I thought, ‘Moe, that’s amazing.’ But that didn’t happen for some reason, and we kept in touch and every time I would run into him, I would say ‘we got to work together some day’, and he wanted to as well. We finally made that happen about ten years ago.
“Moe realises that this is my album, and his number one thing is ‘I want you to be happy’. What usually happens is I will send him demos of songs, and I let him pick the songs, more or less, I pushed for a couple on this new album. In the past, it was just guitar voice demos and we would work up the arrangements together. On the new album, the band and I did some band demos and so he was actually able to hear the songs in a more produced sound, which helped him as well. There is a lot of pre-production, we get it down to as much as we can, and we know what we are going to do in the studio once we get in there, it makes things run a lot faster. It is all on my dime, so I am all for having things nailed down.”
As Clark said, Under The Lampshade marks a departure for his recorded work. This was more of a band project. “I send the band the demo first, let them hear it and work it up together. I am open to everyone’s ideas. The new album takes it to a whole new level. It’s still me writing the song, so there is that James Clark overall feel to the songs, but this is the first time that my live band is in the studio and recorded it that way. In the past it’s always been me and Moe playing a lot of it ourselves, but this is the first time the band has come in. It is a big change for me. I am so happy where the band is and I love these guys, and they are amazing players so I thought yeah, let’s take all of these guys in the studio. And Moe was really happy with how everybody is, so it worked out.”
With Under The Lampshade safely in stores, Clark has his own hopes and aspirations as to what people get from the album. “I want people to feel what I feel whenever I experience a great album. You know, ‘Wow!’ ‘That’s amazing!’ and ‘I don’t want to stop listening to it. When I discover something new I soak myself in it and I play it over and over. I would just love it if someone could have those feelings about my music.”