Written By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Rob Shanahan Music Photography.
It all started with Born in the USA. This could be the tale of anyone who was literally born in this country but for Clayton Joseph Scott it’s where his musical life began. Raised in western Los Angeles, Venice to be specific, Scott’s musical father exposed him to a vinyl copy of the album. Perhaps the ironic sense of patriotism was lost on Clayton but the sheer power of the record was not.
“I remember being two or three years old and kind of setting up trash cans and banging on ‘em. I more wanted to be Max Weinberg but I just thought the whole sound was Bruce Springsteen,” says Scott. “At that age, I didn’t even have a concept that it was music yet, it was just something that I really dug. I think at that age there’s just something primal about the idea of doing music.”
While the “labored” caterwaul of the Boss isn’t so apparent in Clayton’s current musical project, the Clayton Joseph Scott Band, the resonance of one’s first musical experience can never truly be understated. It’s one thing everyone has a vivid memory of: where they were, who they heard, and who showed it to them.
The irony of course is that the rest of the CJS Band has a pure disdain for Springsteen. He says that bassist Austin Nicholsen always gives him a face on stage when he feels Clayton is being a little too “Boss.” Clayton does give a few “tips of the hat” to Bruce in some of his songs, in what he calls a “very masculine rock ballad kind of thing.”
Another prominent influence in Clayton’s current musical undertakings is Paul Simon, particularly from the record Graceland, the megahit Rosetta Stone of 80s pop that borrowed heavily from South African influences. There are also other Simon allusions in Clayton’s work – a certain “only living boy in New York” is not so subtly referenced in “On My Way” which reads “Suitcase is packed/guitar is packed/Paul Simon on the radio.” The track reads like the packing list for a road trip stripping CJS down to his bare essentials: the open road, his music… and Paul Simon.
The way he understands Graceland is that regardless of the world politics involved at the time of its release, the record embodied a very particular sort of musical joy. Clayton says writing his latest record, More Love, he was in a really good place in his life – always a dangerous territory for artists, creatively speaking – and wanted to draw upon records that also shared this shimmering sheen.
“Highlife music from West Africa, just the sounds and the tones even without words they just feel so good. You wanna dance to ‘em,” says Clayton. “Again, that was the goal, like, ‘How can I get people that maybe have never heard our music before just into it right away?’”
This decision to make music that elevates people is a shift in mentality for Clayton, and unsurprisingly, spurred from his involvement with a woman he was dating at the time. He even penciled her into the track “Andrea” from More Love. Though Clayton says they’re no longer seeing each other, the good feelings have surprisingly lasted past the time he had with her and stayed with him – a positive result that defies the cliches of ‘breakup music’ and one Clayton wanted set out to quantify in his music
“Here’s the thing: when we make these records it’s like, for whatever degree they’re gonna go out and be in the world, after I die they’re still going to be here and I want people who discover them to say, ‘Hey, okay, here’s something joyful that I can put on and feel uplifted by.’ I think that was kind of the thesis statement of the record, just to inspire hope to some degree.”
With any luck, Clayton hopes for More Love to be a time capsule of some sort. Though he feels that the record comes from a place of warm and fuzzy optimism, he admits to be a part of a “lost generation” as the line reads in “On My Way”: “In search of meaning/I’m from a lost generation.”
When asked about this exclamation of doubt, he said that he attributes this to the fact that he was born in between Generation X and Generation Y. He said that there was never as much of an implication of when he was born, but this allowed people his age to be in the pursuit of slacking self interest more and not get right into the “career vibe.” This is where he and Springsteen diverged, as he was not about to get to work in his “daddy’s garage” so soon.
One product of Generation Y that Clayton has reserved a bit of ambivalence is the spread of social media and entire online personalities spawned. This is made clear in his song “Digital.” He speaks from a bit of a enlightened narrative when he sings, “Living in the age of reality TV/When you’ve got 10,000 friends, still you feel lonely.” This line almost sounds condescending but he follows each with “Hold on,” sending out a bit of reassuring but still cautionary advice.
“The ‘hold on’ is both literal in the sense of holding onto someone, like viscerally and kinesthetically grabbing them and connecting, but also maybe hold on as we transition into this very technological society that it’s gonna settle,” CSJ remarks on the song. “I think balance is going to return more where we utilize technology more beautifully to enhance our lives but don’t trump going outside and experiencing each other.”
The paradox of all of this is that you will probably listen to this song on his Bandcamp page or right off the streaming service on his website. Clayton, like many artists who tackle the subject of modern communication, recognizes this tradeoff that he’s making with making his music available in a digital format, but that’s the way it’s got to be unless he wants to be a Venice Beach street performer forever. After all, he’s not about to go all Kaczynski and live out of a cabin in Montana.
“I just think it’s important for my music to say something about the world that’s happening because music has a wonderful power to bring people together and it’s important that we really dig into the common aspects we’re experiencing and then offer a little grain of hope there and I think that’s what this record did well.”
For a record full of such ‘little grains of hope,’ you can purchase More Love right here.
Check out more from Clayton Joseph Scott on this week’s edition of Discovery Corner.