Mike Clark, the ever energetic and prolific singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist currently behind some of the most diverse and exciting music happening in Southern Colorado, is as of this writing sitting on a friends’ porch somewhere in Petaluma, California.
His newest project, the River Arkansas (taking name from the river Mike resides by) are midway through their inaugural tour, a month long run of shows in various cities around the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
Comprised of members of Spirits of the Red City, Clouds + Mountains and Princess Music (not to mention Mr. Clark himself, currently also of the Haunted Windchimes, Sugar Sounds and others), the band draws from a diverse well of influences. On any given track, the band can shift between soul, roots Americana, gypsy folk underpinnings and good old fashioned rock n’ roll with ease and grace. Without feeling at all forced or coerced. What they’ve created, at least in my eyes (or ears, I suppose), is a refreshing combination of musicality that is at once sonically adventurous and still down home; New to the ear, yet somehow known and warming to the heart. But what has always struck me most about Mike is an indelible work ethic, continually reinventing his musical style and doing so without sacrificing what makes his earlier and vastly varied material so unique.
I spoke with Mike via cellular telephone communication on March 17.
PULP// How is tour going so far?
Mike Clark// It’s been really amazing.We’ve had a lot of good luck It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been really fortunate so far. Tempe Arizona was great, San Francisco too.
So, where do you hail from?
Calhan. Calhan Colorado. Northeast of Colorado Springs. Nice small town. Really easy livin’.
You’re keep busy in a bunch of different bands. Does that come out of where you grew up?
Definitely. I grew up with a single mom who worked several jobs. Worked all day and night, every day of the week. So when I was old enough to make my own money, I shoveled sidewalks and mowed lawns. It’s what I had to do. If definitely shaped my work ethic. You just gotta carry your own share, you know? Not just sit around and play video games all day.
The River Arkansas is your latest musical addition. How did it come about?
Well, I went into the studio as a solo idea, just to record some ideas I had. Just to get them out there. And While I was there, it just kind of sparked an idea to make more out of those few songs. So I started calling some of my musician friends to come in on their spare time and help out with the project, and it kind of just took shape.
How do you feel the record came out?
Great! All in all, it was the easiest record I’ve ever made. I didn’t go in with any specific ideas. This time we went in with a “let’s just go in on a Saturday, and if anything comes out good, then good.” And I feel like I made a better record that way. I usually go into the studio with something like $300 and am worrying about getting something done. This time I had a few more dollars, so I took it easy. We were even arranging some of it while in the studio.
Have you done any recording on your own?
I have tried, and they’re all failures. I’m not tech savvy at all. I can’t even turn my computer on sometimes (laughs). I took a couple stabs at it, but something always went wrong. It’s nice to have someone there to press record that isn’t in the band. You have to be really smart and a special kind of person to pull it off on your own.
Is there anywhere you haven’t been on tour that you’d like to go?
I have never been to the South on tour. Furthest has been Nashville. But I would like to go do Texas, and Louisiana. Maybe not Florida (laughs).
Wow. I would’ve assumed that with the genres you play it would’ve already happened?
Yeah, I always thought that too, but for whatever reason it just has not happened yet. Maybe later on this year sometime or maybe early next year. Hopefully.
Speaking of which, any big tour plans for the River Arkansas after this one is over?
Well, I get home in a few weeks. I’ll be there for five days, then the Haunted Windchimes take off on a big long tour. Then I’ll get home, be there for a week, then the ‘Chimes take off on another long tour. So, any plans I have will have to be for the fall. If anything a mountain run over a weekend or so will be all I’ll be able to do. Maybe a few big Springs and Denver shows here and there.
How does it feel to always be so busy and in so many bands at the same time?
(Laughs) It’s awesome! Really stressful and really easy all at the same time. This is all I’m doing for a living now is music. And you gotta do a lot these days to pay the bills. You can’t just sit around. Plus, I constantly am making music to stay mentally satisfied.
This River Arkansas record is described as an amalgamation of so many different influences. Is that something you consciously tried for, or is that just how the process works for you?
Well, I write a lot. I used to write country western songs, and blues songs. Then I was on a Sugar Sounds soul songs kick. But now, I’m trying to write uplifting folk now. Songs like “I know I’m screwed up, and you’re screwed up. But at least we can be screwed up together,” you know? The album is a collection of songs that work together. I don’t care if they all don’t sound the same. I’d much rather be in a band that ripping soul song, then a blues song and then something else rather than pump out the same 12 sounding songs on a record over and over again. I can’t do that. I can just write what comes to me.