But do you feel like it changed you as
a player, even if you felt their priorities
were in the wrong place?
I got some new things under my fingers. It
wasn’t a wholly bad experience, but they’re
in a tricky position: They’re teaching a music
industry that is changing every second—and
that massively changed in the early 2000s
with the internet and the fact that it’s harder
to monetize a record. So they’re in this position where they’re, like, “Here, kids, come
on in—go into debt to go to this school
that’s going to teach you the secrets of how
to make it in the music industry.” But the
only way to make it in the industry is just to
go out there and do it—because it’s changing every second. [Secondary music educa-tion] is very much steeped in this major-label model. I signed to an indie label, and
[schools] don’t really account for that in
their Music Business 101 classes, or whatever. They don’t account for the fact that
barely any of us will go out there, sign to a
major label, and get hundreds of thousands
of dollars for our first record. That’s not
where I was, and that’s not where I wanted
to be. That’s what they’re selling, though—
how to go out there and make it on a major
label. That’s a way to do it, but the statistics
are stacked against you.
Because your music is very indie, it’s kind
of surprising that you studied in a formal
guitar program. Do you still think in
terms of theory when you play?
Not really. If I needed to communicate with
somebody—like, “No, I’m sorry, this chord
is actually an E%m( 9) chord”—I could tell
Yeah. I just played the melody of the chorus
lines, and I used a Boss Super Shifter to get
that [hums] rrrun-rrrun-rrrun—that
Clark with her three-pickup Silvertone 1488 Silhouette at a February 2010 date at the 9: 30 Club in
Washington, DC. Photo by Brandon Wu
How many guitar layers are you using there?
I double-tracked the [sings chorus riff]
duh-duh-dut duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-dut duh-duh-dut duh-duh dut dut dut parts and the
part that mimics the vocal melody, and then
I was like, “What would Frank Black do—
what would the Pixies do in this song?”
You play a lot of instruments. Do you
usually write on guitar, piano, or something else?
I wrote my last record, Actor, completely in
a box—I wrote it in GarageBand. In some
cases, I just drew in notes with my mouse.
I didn’t touch any instruments to make it—
which was a long process. With this record,
I went back to my roots and wrote on guitar. Just simple songs on guitar.
But you’re not worrying about stuff like,
“Oh, this scale can’t go with that chord …”
No, it’s all by intuition and all by ear.
Let’s talk about the new album. How did
you get those distorted sounds with a really
sharp attack on “Cruel”—they sound
almost like a guitar turned into a keyboard?
That’s my ’ 67 Harmony Bobkat with two
gold-foil pickups and a Death by Audio
Interstellar Overdriver Deluxe through a
late-’70s silverface Fender Princeton Reverb.
Just chord progressions first?
Yeah. I’m kind of impatient and I want to
hear the whole product when I start, but I
just forced myself to keep it very barebones
with the chords and everything.
The fuzzy solo in that song is somehow
otherworldly and raw and beautiful. Was
that off the cuff?
Do riffs like those come to you when you
first write a song, or do they come up later
as you’re developing a song in the studio?
Well, what I did for this album is I wrote
very simple songs, first and foremost, and
then I just kept this arsenal of riffs on hand.
I wasn’t [initially] worried about, like, “Oh,
what will the riff in this song be?” but I
knew there had to be some kind of riff. So I
basically have a scrapbook of riffs, and then
once I had a song written, I would mosey
over to the scrapbook and go, “Oh, this will
work—let’s put this on here.”
You play the Harmony Bobkat and the
similar Silvertone 1488 a lot—what drew
you to them?
What drew me to them is part practical and part aesthetic. One, they’re really
light. I’m a pretty small person and, even
though I love the sustain of a Les Paul,
three songs into a set, my back hurts
because it’s too heavy. I know that was the