Rob Clarke is a Liverpool based singer/songwriter his new album 'Portraits' is out next year. His work has an honest tone and quality which makes his finely crafted music all the more listenable. The Liverpool Echo has praised his work as being "memorable songs that... evoke the spirit of Liverpool." Rob spoke to me about his upcoming album and about how he goes about writing.
So in the beginning, what made you want to write your own songs?
I was listening to Gimme Shelter by the Stones - had it on downstairs loud enough I could hear it upstairs in the bath- I knew some other people who played guitar so I’d thought I'd leave that to them – didn’t want to follow the herd so to speak – but then it just suddenly struck me I was prepared to do whatever it took or spend any amount of time to play guitar even a bit, even just a few notes or chords...
Who influenced you as you began writing? Do these people still influence you?
From there I always wanted to write songs, everyone that I admired did that and it became the biggest part of it almost straight away – I was trying to write songs before I could play to any standard at all really and I soon found that was pretty much the best part. Have you read Shakey?(The biography of Neil Young by Jimmy McDonough) To me if I’m not sure about something I always try to think what Dylan or Neil Young would do – and if that doesn’t work I think what the Beatles or Stones might do – so they pretty much cover if for me.
Your song Long Way north, has some strong imagery, it reminds me of early Bob Dylan, would you say Dylan is one of your influences?
Yes, a friend of mine offered to get me a copy of North Country Girl when I said I’d heard it ages ago and was trying to remember it but he took a long time to give it to me – after a while I thought it must be easy to play from my memory of it – it didn’t occur to me to get it off the Internet for some reason – anyway in doing that I ended up doing my own type of version, thought that would be more productive.
So that’s how it happened – it was that and also playing in folk clubs where a lot of the songs people sing have narratives to them so I’ve also been influenced by that sometimes as well. Funny though when I play it very few people seem to pick up on how similar it is structurally...
What’s you’re instrument of choice?
Guitar is good, also piano although it sometimes seems more difficult to write on...
What would you say your muse is, what inspires you when you write?
Songs are all around but in saying that they can be easy or difficult to find depending on your state of mind. I think you can write about absolutely anything, anything that’s happened domestically or socially, people you come into contact with and especially things or events that go on in the world or where you live – I’m surprised really that more people don’t write songs about some of the big things that actually happen in the world for good or bad – maybe that’s a part of 'dumbing down'? John Lennon or Dylan weren’t afraid to write songs about real subjects... so what’s to fear? To me a song is basically just your own point of view about something - the judgement about how good or bad it is for later...
Once you get in the zone you can write about anything really – the ideas are all around but once you come out of the zone it can be difficult to see that – Recording and rehearsing can break the flow because you almost inevitably get into a different mindset...what does that tell you – stop rehearsing and recording!
Your song North to West, from you’re forth coming album, is just you and a piano do you favour a stripped back sound?
Yes very much – I like real sounding things but then again I like electric guitar as well so I want to do that ASAP as well...
How do you approach song writing, do you find it is different each time or do you have a formula?
No formulas for me anyway but wouldn’t rule anything out -instinct is probably better though...
You have a new album coming out soon called Portraits, what's the album have in store for listeners?
Ten stripped down acoustic portraits of people and in some cases animals... so if that’s your bag this one’s really for you! The publicity for it will say something like ‘Or an artist, two footballers and a hedgehog’.
How would you describe your music, genre wise? A lot of musicians struggle or are reluctant to categorise their music.
I’m trying to make it timeless I think.
Rob's new album 'Portraits' is scheduled for release on the 28th of February, you can find Rob's critically acclaimed previous album 'Long way North' available to buy on his myspace page here. Also on his myspace you can find his upcoming double A-side single, 'End of the End/Tracey Emins Blues' due to be released in early February.