An Interview with Liz Clark

New York City-based singer/songwriter Liz Clark has impressed audiences with her poetic and earnest folk rock songs since the tender age of 14, when she played her first club gig in her hometown of Denver, Colo. A major part of Denver’s music scene until her transcontinental move at the age of 21, she has released two albums 2000’s Love and War and more recently Hand on the Stove (2005). Her third album, Pursuit, is currently available for pre-order. A popular performer in the United Kingdom, Clark divides her time between the United States and Ireland, the nation from which her partner hails and from where she answered my questions over the internet phone service Skype.

JoSelle Vanderhooft: What brings you to Ireland this month? Do you have a gig?

Liz Clark:
My partner is Irish and we spend a lot of time here, so we have to make it work with the music thing, too. I’m getting really excited about what UK has to offer musically. Singer/songwriters just get a lot more attention over here, and it’s just a bigger deal. I’m still just tapping into it. I’m excited about the potential.

How are singer/songwriters treated differently in your experience?

LC: Mostly I play the same type of gigs over on this side [of the Atlantic] that I do back in the States, which is just small venues, coffee shops. In Ireland right now we spend a lot of our down time in this really small village that has a population of about 200 people and the pub next door has an Irish traditional jam session. We go every Monday and I’m the token yank that tries to play along, being American, with the Irish songs. But they let me sing my songs, too. I’ve never experienced something like that over n the U.S. where you can bring your guitar to any old bar and try to sing your song and the whole bar would shut up and listen to your song.

JV: So you got your first gig at age 14. How did you do that?

LC: I think I was one of those weird kids that didn’t want to do anything else. My parents would drive me to my gig. [I was underage] so they’d go in with me at the bars. I don’t know, even looking back I think that was weird. But I really wanted to play gigs. I didn’t go to prom or do any of that, I was playing gigs. I guess I took myself really seriously right off the bat. But I take myself less seriously now. Sometimes the gigs I play are the same I got at age 15 or 16 – small coffee shops and festivals. I had to realize I’m just doing it for the love of it.

JV: When and why did you leave the clubs of Denver for New York City?

LC: I moved from Denver at 21 because I had played every single gig you could possibly play in Colorado. There was a great music scene, but it’s also still in middle of nowhere. It’s sort of land locked. Even to get to Salt Lake it’s I don’t know how many hours, nine or 10? I was also having some adolescent rebellion, so I got a sleazy appt in Brooklyn and started from there.

Tell me about coming out. Did that happen in Denver, or later?

LC: I came out in New York City. It was just a really kind of easy thing because I ended up just falling in love with somebody who was a woman and I think because I had never experienced love on such a huge deep level, it was this really right partnership and situation [so it felt really easy to do that. Even in a small town in Ireland we had our wedding here and almost the whole village came to the wedding. I guess I’m pretty lucky. I’ve been always doing pride festivals even when I had a male partner I always did pride festivals and any kind of woman-related thing.

JV: What musicians would you say have influenced your work?

LC: For sure it was really Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I’m pretty heavy on that 60s rock era, I think I still draw on that. My musical philosophy kind of stems a lot from that era. What makes a song good is melody and if it’s catchy, that’s what’s been engrained on me from The Beatles. And getting near Dylan’s lyrics is something to strive for, to have that kind of meaning.

JV: So you’re coming to Utah soon! How did you get in touch with Southern Utah Pride?

LC: I don’t know how [my agent] Rich [Overton] finds these things, but he seemed to be really excited about Southern Utah … it’s small but it has a group of passionate people who are really excited about it. It’s got a lot of heart, that’s what he seemed to mention.

JV: Have you ever played in Utah before?

LC: I have in Salt Lake. It was awhile ago. I haven’t spent a lot of time here but [I’ve driven] though on my way to LA. It’s the most gorgeous drive that could possibly happen. I’ve also traveled through on a train. It’s one of the most beautiful states, especially when you’re taking the scenic trip.

JV: Is there a special appeal for you in performing live?

LC: I guess I haven’t figured out the psychology of that, but it probably has to do with sharing something emotionally with people. I’m sure it’s the buzz of [the fact] we’re all experiencing something musical together. I think music kind of connects people in an emotional way before it gets too cerebral. I love that about it, that you can hear a song and even if it’s on the radio, it really applies to you so specifically.

JV: Can you tell me a bit about your new album Pursuit?

LC: I’m really excited about it. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do. We recorded this one in a big room [in Kentucky] that was something like 10,000 square feet and all the musicians we wanted were there. It seemed like all the stars aligned perfectly. My producer was really lovely and we creatively clicked and my partner Tessa is singing on every song. We had this great two weeks. … I felt like cutting to the bone on this one and doing what was meaningful and necessary lyric wise and just doing it from the heart.

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