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Stephen Clair

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Strange Perfume to be released by Rock City Records on October 11th

Video short - “Strange Perfume”

Buzzcocks, Television, Replacements. There was a time when rock and roll records were demanding, confrontational, and maybe not necessarily easy the first time or two if you took the time to pay attention. But, yes, they certainly rocked. If you can remember that feeling when you first heard Patti Smith sing, Jesus Christ died for our sins but not mine, and the little minefield she lay in our path, but also how turned on you were, then maybe you will know how to begin to fall into Stephen Clair's new record, 'Strange Perfume,' released in 2019, in an era where most media has a certain easy sheen about, where rough edges, attitudes and perceptions are made to be easily digested with a first lesson, while you're probably in the middle of doing six other things. Because we are living in age where everything must come easy, look, smell and sound good in a single tweet. Strange Perfume is here to remind us, in part, what rock and roll is even for.

Stephen Clair first came to prominence when WFUV got behind the single 'Jen In Her Underwear' from his 2003 sophomore release Little Radio. Clair's continuing making records, some singer-songwritery, some punk rock, some twangier. There are a few things that hold all of those records together. The through line is Clair's wicked way with words, his penchant for a hook, and a big rock and roll heart.

As it came time to build the record that would become 'Strange Perfume', Clair went looking for a producer who would help him make the record he wanted to make. He had this great working band and the songs were ready. Clair knew the right producer could help keep things focused, and hopefully nudge Clair and company to give their best performances in the studio. And suddenly there was Malcolm Burn, hanging out just an hour's drive upriver from Clair's Beacon NY home. 'Well, here's the guy,' Clair thought. Burn's producer resume is about as hard to pin down as Clair's song catalog. It was also Burn's producer credits (Emmylou Harris, Christ Whitley, Bob Dylan, even Iggy Pop and Patti Smith), that made Clair scratch his head, turn out his pockets, and ask himself, how the hell am I gonna make this work?

But in fairytale rockandroll fashion, Burn dug the songs and they figured it out. And so they went and did it. 'I also have great people playing with me whom I'm not only grateful for, but I adore. And the band all showed up and just played their hearts out. Combine the band's skills with Malcolm's amazing old microphone collection, his basement studio setup, his funky kickass gear, and then the ideas couldn't help but bloom and rage like a house on fire. We couldn't even contain the ideas. It was as if we'd pulled the sword from the stone and the Pandora from the box.

Malcolm Burn tells us “Clair's music is deceptively simple yet carries a lot of subtext and meaning. The autobiographical stance of his lyrics make the music at once catchy and compelling, yet also transmit on a much deeper level. There is an edginess and strong pop sensibility in the classic punk sense that makes his music quite timeless. It also translates well in the live venue.”

This album is darkly joyous. Clair's songwriting has always possessed a wry humor. Rave-up rockers veer into stormy seas and back again, while dystopian concerns, brought to life by gnarly guitar hooks and a thunderous rock band, leave a vapor trail that passes through the more tender and touching songs, poking and taunting the way an emotion might. All hail! The steam and throttle of electric guitars is alive and well here. Clair is a rocker with a strong pop sensibility, but a a writer with a knack for wanting to shine a light on the uncomfortable stuffs and not afraid to set the tone with the sound of his able band.

Stephen Clair wants to talk about the thoughts and emotions that get kicked into the corner, out of our sight. We're all busy, and we love to use our busy-ness to our advantage: We can do a pretty good job of ignoring our lousy relationships, our bad or unresolved feelings. But there they are. And Stephen Clair is going to sing about them. He's gonna sing about his own imperfections, he's going to celebrate things many of us try to hush. He's gonna sing you a song about his stepfather from the perspective of his 15-yr-old self. And he hopes a 15-yr-old boy or two gets to hear it. Speaking of men and dads, Clair wonders about manhood today. It's not in its best spot right now. Maybe it's trying to sort itself out. But it won't come easily. There are moms, men and dads in these songs. Let yourself get lost in the swirl of sounds on this record. It's raw and polished at the same time.

About the Songs

Strange Perfume
The end of the world doesn't smell quite right. If civilization is truly so doomed, perhaps we'd best just sleep together. May as well make the best of a thing, eh? And, let's rock!

If We Last Long Enough
My wife and I have been married a bunch of years, but around the time of our last anniversary we looked at each other and had this moment. We agreed, you know, that we kinda sucked at this marriage thing in the beginning, for a few years or more. Locked horns. Didn't know how to be and not be. But here we are, look at us, we said. We're good. Better even.

Cadillac Jack
I followed a girl to Austin, TX when I was 22, only to discover it was the Austin scene that I would fall for. The girl and I didn't last a minute, but I started playing in clubs with various bands I met through the classifieds right away. Only thing was, I thought myself above getting a job. I thought I should be able to simply play my guitar. And I discovered pawn shops. I was driving around town in my Honda civic, and every few days or a week I would pawn something or other so I could afford tacos, beer, gas, and cigarettes. Like the song says I traded my high school ring for a pair of vintage (aka dead-guy's) cowboy boots at Cadillac Jacks only to find out how uncool it is to wear cowboy boots in Austin when you're hanging with the punk rockers. Eventually I had nothing left to pawn so I moved back to NY. O continue to frequent Austin and have even gone through periods in my career where I was mythologizing my TX origins for PR purposes. Alas.

You tell me. Should I be honest and say I wrote this song for Al Franken, in a way, kinda sorta. To clarify, it's not on comment on innocence or not. Criminal or not. This is a song about the phenomenon of being a person doing great work that is widely recognized, a life in the public eye, and then suddenly falling, and how it feels to have fallen. It's about being irrevocably mad at yourself. That forlorn. That stupid, perhaps. Now, I have no idea if Al Franken or anybody else ever experienced the feeling that this song describes, but this a fiction. It's how I imagined a person could feel. And goddam, that sucks. You're just done. Cooked. Over. “It's so easy to make your mama sad,” as the song says. I mean, nothing could be worse than that man. On a lighter note, now let's talk about the structure. I like to set up parameters or rules when I write songs. In this case, I set out to write a 2-chord song. It's a 2-chord chord progression throughout, identical in both the verse and chorus.

I've Got No Trouble (Getting Into Trouble).
It comes easy. This song is an unabashed celebration of the sometimes-off-the-hook desire to tempt fate, push the envelope, the lure of the spree, and the secret abiding hope that the party will never end, or as the song says, the wish that 'the sun will never rise,' that the night should go on forever.

My Mother Asked Me
Okay, there's the mythologized, 'mother is always right.' But more poignant, to me anyway, is how mom always knows that exact right question to ask that you definitely do not want to be asked. Go mom! Nailed it.

Oh No
A song about love and loss found it's way onto this record. Earth shattering, I know.

Digging My Ditch
We're all doing it. It's hard, yeah. But what else are you going to do? Living fully means taking bigger bites all the time. Get in the trench, dig. It's the only way you'll find the thing. “It's hard to stop smoking with a butt in your hand.” “It's hard to call your ma,” sometimes. But, what, are you gonna not call her? Let's be proactive here, people.

What Got In Your Head
Someone who was once in your life goes away and you're glad of it. So much time goes by that you completely forget they ever existed to the point where you cannot even imagine having had any kind of relationship with that person. And then they show up out of the blue. It's a good story and a drag when it happens to you. In this particular case, it's about my biological dad. Here, structurally, I tried to use as few words as possible. The word 'again' comprises an enter line in the last verse, for example. This was inspired by Iggy Pop in the documentary Jim Jarmusch did on him. He talked about his own lyrical brevity and how he'd had a teacher in school who used to have the students write poems using a specific limited number of words, and how he'd kind of made that his model.

Crown of Man
Told from the perspective of my 15-yr-old self. Man, back then, I always knew I was going to be okay, but this stepfather needed to get out of my way. He didn't get me and therefore wanted to just squash the thing that made me me. Sound familiar? We continue to live in a world where men in power don't tolerate or trust that which is not like them. They want to smash it into nonexistence. But they can't. So, get off my cloud old man. I've got things to do.

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