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Music Interview: DAVID CLIFTON – ‘Marble City Skyline’ Out Now!

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We were lucky enough to catchy up with London-based artist DAVID CLIFTON following the stunning release of ‘Marble City Skyline’. Enjoy the interview!

You are based in London, but the album was recorded in Knoxville, Tennessee, and mastered in Nashville, Tennessee. What was the recording process like?

Having previously toured the USA and Canada several times for British artists, I was offered work in Knoxville, so it was great to be based in one place. I very much enjoyed living and working there. The city has a great music history, and it’s where country and bluegrass music began before moving up to Nashville.

Knoxville has some great musicians and recording studios and a thriving music scene. I spent several years playing on the local circuit, solo or with my band and wanted to capture the feel of performances. As is often the case when working for other artists, one’s own projects tend to come along way down the list. So I decided to make a full-length album of the songs that got the best reactions when playing gigs and concerts.

All the tracking was done live at a studio owned by ex Sparklehorse member, Scott Minor, on Fifth Avenue, using a vintage MCI tape machine via Clasp Technology, straight through to ProTools. I made session versions for Logic and overdubbed guitars and mandolin and some percussion at my flat. It all helps with the budget! The vocal were recorded a friend’s studio just south city within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains – where Dolly Parton was born!

What drew you to the country genre for this album?

I think of the overall genre as more folk, or indie-folk/Americana, though I would agree with you that there is a country flavour to some of the songs. One of them was co-written with Emmylou Harris’s guitarist, so I suppose there’s a hint of genuine country, especially as some of it was written in Nashville!

I tend to write the way I feel, and each song is a little bit different. Three of the songs were written back home in England, so I feel there are some good English folk and indie roots in the mix. The bass player and drummer are both very involved in local Americana music.

You were a session musician for many years, what sparked this solo release?

After my record deal with Virgin, I played in a band called the Great Divide with Steve Booker, and just little to all sorts of wonderful opportunities with some of the best English and Irish songwriters and artists. At last, as I see making an income from music! It is a huge privileged tour the world, make recordings and earn a living from what you enjoy doing.

Inevitably once own creative work comes lower down the list because it doesn’t always pay the bills! I love working in all sorts of different genres, including folk, ambient, classical, sacred and experimental, and these niche markets. While living in America, I finally had the time and budgets to write and record the world wanted to. These things are always a labour of love; they treat them in the same way as I do; I make pottery or create a painting. I do it for the fun of creativity and working with other musicians.

Who was your favourite artist to do session work for?

That is a difficult question, simply because each artist brings something very special and unique in their songwriting and performance, and my job is to provide the creative support and contribution from guitar, mandolin whatever I happen to be playing, to bring out the best in what they do.

I suppose my favourite ever gig was playing to 45,000 people at the Pink Pop festival when I worked with Tanita Tikaram and then standing on the side of stage after we played, watching some of the worlds best bands and musicians perform just a few feet away. The Pixies, REM, Lou Reed, John Hiatt, Elvis Costello, and so many more. It’s been a true privilege to play for everyone I’ve worked for.

Who are your non-musical influences?

I’m also a potter and painter and love the work of Michael Cardew, Bernard Leach, the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada and recent ceramic artists like Grayson Perry. Painters such as Turner and Vincent van Gogh in particular, and also the impressionists. The most underrated English painter is John Donaldson, who incidentally is also a brilliant Hammond organist! Literature, of course. So much to read; so many inspirational creative folk.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?

I think there’s several important answers to that question. The best music is made from years and years of perfecting one’s craft Television programs like The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent, and all these reality TV shows are not helpful, in my humble opinion.

It is a completely false idea of the reality of making music. Granted, once in a blue moon a brilliant artist will be discovered, but generally, there is a huge list of disappointments, broken dreams, high expectations and failed careers.

It is very difficult indeed to make a living from music now, and there are no magic record companies handing out huge budgets. When I was starting out, there was a brilliant mentoring process. We had an A&R manager at Virgin who would listen to demos, make us improve our songwriting before we ever got near a studio, make suggestions, send us back into the studio to get things right.

Everything was perfected in the live music context as well. Now it is possible to come up with an idea one afternoon, record it, and post it on worldwide digital music platforms within a week.

Not only is there a vast amount of music being released, but there’s a lot of music being released that could also be improved upon. The good thing is it gives opportunities to everyone, but the bad thing is that there is just so much music that it is impossible for it all to be heard. It’s a matter of simple statistics.

When I was at college, 25 million people watched Top of the Pops on a Thursday night because there was only a handful of TV channels, no digital games, and not as much competition for disposable income. Almost the entire nation would go out and buy the music that they’d heard on that Thursday night.

I remember when Bohemian Rhapsody was first shown on TOTP. It was an industry-defining moment, not just because of the length of the song, but because of the revolution caused in the music industry. I think I’m right in saying that the biggest selling album of all time in the UK is Queen’s greatest hits. That is a staggering legacy.

What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?

I always say the same thing! Play music for fun, work hard at your craft, do something original, and don’t use Ableton Live when you play shows – that’s Karaoke! Enjoy the moment, enjoy the creativity, and if you’re able to make a little bit of income which helps pay the bills and the recording costs, you’re winning!

The best music is made by people playing together. Work hard and take the long view. The drummer in my band when I played for HTB church in London was Marcus Mumford. He’s dome pretty well (!) And he worked incredibly hard, year by year and didn’t give up.

What are your hopes for the next two years?

I’m working on a new recording project based around my electric 12 string guitar; it is a neglected instrument in my small collection – and it sounds great! A slightly different rock route than the folk/Americana/Country feel of Marble City …. though very much based around songwriting with something to say.

FVMusicBlog January 2021

Twitter: @jdavidclifton

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