Steven A. Clark on His Late Uncle’s Influence and Miami
Miami’s Steven A. Clark caps off his time as the Rising Artist of the Week by speaking to TIDAL about a range of subjects including the events in his life that led to his latest album; what his late uncle, multi-instrumentalist Victor Clark, taught him about finding happiness; and his take on the sound of modern pop and R&B. Check out “Maria, Under the Moon” from Steven. A Clark and more on the TIDAL Rising: R&B playlist below.
How do you reflect on your new album, Where Neon Goes to Die, now that it is done?
Ah, I’m excited, man! It’s been a long time coming from the last album. It’s been a long journey. I had some rough moments, but things are looking good.
I think there is a noticeable personal evolution that can be heard between the two albums. Describe that journey.
I think I learned a little about how to take a backseat to life sometimes, instead of forcing or manipulating things. I was gaining more faith it letting things happen. I knew, in a way, what I wanted out of my career, but instead of marking the progress by these detailed, finite things, I think I just wanted things to come a little more naturally.
I had some personal events occur, as well. I lost my uncle this year, he wrote two songs on the album and he was supposed to be a part of it. I think I was writing from a negative place. The two songs he wrote for the album reinvigorated me and made me stray from reinforcing the negative aspects of my world.
How did the music with your uncle (“Maria, Under the Moon”) come to be on the album?
Well, it took me a while to realize my uncle’s influence on my creative pursuits. He always pushed me to stray from the government job and the benefits. He wasn’t rich, but he had a rich social life and he did that through constant traveling and playing shows. I’d hear him sing “Maria…” so many times and always thought it was a gorgeous song. He always promoting productive creative habits and to push forward with the work. A lot of artists strive to have someone around like that, but I had that the entire time in my uncle. He was a self-taught guitar player and such an example I wanted to follow, but I don’t the impact of that hit me until he was gone. Unfortunately, that is sometimes how it works out. It felt like the right time and way to pay respect to him. He was my number one supporter and I am happy he was around to let me play that song.
How did you translate to acoustic, folky tone of that song into this slow burning R&B crooner?
I think it was a matter of knowing the song and my uncle so well. I know his spirit and we spoke the same sort of language. I’m not classically trained or anything, but I can produce my own records and when you know, you know. I told him I wanted to re-work one of his songs and he trusted me. I knew the chords, so I just brought it to [producer] Boyz Noize. It was the first song we worked on together and it came together really naturally from there.
What was ultimately the “thing” that the production by Boyz Noize brought to the album?
When I went to write the album, the underlying character of the songs was already there, but he really expedited the process. He knew what sounds I was going for in each song and it helped me get there. He knows a lot of musical references and cues, so we could just work off each other because he was aware of my instincts. One of the first groups we talked about was Roxy Music. I had never listened to them before, but after he sent it over to me and I just thought, “Yep, that’s kinda what I was thinking. You get it.”
As someone who has worked to define and create a style, how do you perceive the new sound of R&B and pop that’s developed over the previous 4-5 years, and how the two genres are able to play off of each other?
I’m a really big fan of these heavy hitters, who have pushed music forward to be a little more layered and influenced from other genres. People like Kanye and Pharrell and this guy Ariel Rechtshaid, who produced for HAIM and a lot of other pop releases, are very inspiring to me. I think it’s a great movement that has occurred. I feel a lot of what has happened is that people establish who are the references, like the Earth, Wind & Fire’s of the world, are expand on what made them so great.
Nothing comes from nowhere, everything has some sort of source. I think how far-reaching that heydey of ‘80s pop had and how natural it sounded, made it something people can easily refer to for what makes a good song. I think we’re hitting a new era of explorative moments in pop music since trap has dominated for a while.
Is the name of the album indicative of the lyrical themes you wanted to explore?
The comedian Lenny Bruce supplied the direct quote referring to Miami as the place “where neon goes to die.” That blew me away. It really crystallized the music I was already working on.
Yeah, living in Miami gives credence to the idea of managing fantasy against reality. The world represented on social media versus the person you are when you’re alone and not trying to let others in was something I confronted throughout the writing and recording of the album. That juxtaposition is what’s life is now. I came here starry-eyed, in love with the beauty around and once you sit still, real life sets in. You can only hide from it for so long.
Is that something you are still reconciling and dealing with after the record has been done?
Yeah, it’s definitely a constant process. We all grow old, we all have to deal with it. It’s just about what motivates you to deal with. You can’t pursue the same feeling out of life forever. Eventually, there will have to be something you move on to and I’ve felt a pressure to explore as much of myself now while I have the energy and drive to do so. Life changes us and makes us evolve, so it’s motivating to try and do something with my life.
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