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
You eventually went to Berklee College of
Music. Did you study in the guitar program?
Yes, I was a guitar major.
Even though you left after three years, how
important would you say that whole experience—the studying, the interaction, and
the stepping away from it—were to your
journey as a musician and songwriter?
I think I got a bit more knowledge of harmony—or at least I could put names to the
harmonies that I already had in my ears. But
the way in which an institution can teach
art is not necessarily the way I like to experience
art. I mean, they have to do things like
have grades and have this codified way of
experiencing things, and that’s not the whole
picture. A lot of people can get caught up
in getting the best scores on a guitar exam,
and they can be technically very good guitar
players or instrumentalists, but there’s a
difference between athleticism and artistry.
The best place is where those two things can
really meet. But the school can’t teach you
anything about how to be an artist—they can
teach you how to be an athlete. School inadvertently
made everything competitive, and
made music—which is so powerful and so
joyful—completely analytical. That’s not how
I want to experience it, and that’s not how I
want to make it, either. I can
go there, but it’s
not that fun.
So you felt like they were making you
study the soul out of the music?
Yeah. They’re not going to have a class on
the soul of music. But, actually, I would
go to school if there were some kind of
cosmological class—like, “The universe
resonates on a Bb.” That would be amazing
to me. Or, something about, like, the
first sound in the universe being very low,
but if you pitch it up many, many octaves,
it would be a root pitch with some other
note that’s in between major and minor. If
there was something like that
, that would
Despite what you’ve said about formal
music education, are you glad you went to
Berklee? And was there a final straw that
made you say, “That’s it—I’m out of here”?
.] No, I left school to be in a
rock band. I was just, like, “I’m through
studying this thing.” And no one has asked
, to see a college degree.
Like, “Let me make sure you’re qualified
to play this club … ”
. It’s like, “That guitar
sounds pretty good, but … I don’t know—there’s no diploma attached to it.”
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
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 education]
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 Ebm(b9) chord”—I could tell
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.