Rob James, guitarist for The Clarks, takes a look back at his band's catalog
There are memories and stories associated with every song. That said, Clarks guitarist Rob James (above, second from right) recently shared some of his thoughts and tales about the tunes included on Between Now and Then. The Pittsburgh-based band's new retrospective collection, released June 21 on King Mouse/HighWire/Fontana, features 18 tracks from the quartet's roughly 18-year recorded history.
* "Bona Fide" -- "That's a Greg Joseph song -- he wrote that specifically for this release. It kind of sums up, lyrically, a lot of things that are happening for all of us."
* "Shimmy Low" -- "I wish we could have played it [last year] on [David Letterman's] show (laughs). That was our first choice, but Letterman specifically requested 'Hell on Wheels.' "
* "On Saturday" -- "Probably our single-most pop-oriented song, and probably one of the most liked by women at the live shows. That story line -- you can see all the women singing that, [thinking], 'Yeah, Iíve done this before' or 'I should have told him that.' "
* "Hey You" -- "Scott Blasey wrote that on 9/11. It's probably one of the most meaningful Clarks songs that we ever recorded because of its universal theme."
* "Let It Go" -- "I would classify it as one of our first forays into a more pop sound that [producer] Justin Niebank helped us get into. And I was absolutely thrilled that it was in that Summer Catch film."
* "Better Off Without You" -- "[That song makes me] think about a serious transition in my life. I wrote that song; it was a really rough time for me, and that was a very cathartic expression of that time period. And I love the guitar sound on that."
* "Born Too Late" -- "Here's a funny anecdotal thing -- throughout that song, Scott names [important people] from history. When he gets to the line "Jerry, all the joy and love you bring/I was born to sing," people often had asked if he was singing about Jerry Lewis, [not Jerry Garcia]."
* "Butterflies and Airplanes" -- "That song really captured, for me, what it was like being in high school. That's definitely a reflection on our youth. It's probably still universal to kids who are in high school right now."
* "Snowman" -- "That was the first song we recorded with Justin Niebank. That was our first trip to Nashville, to do some demos and see if we worked together. We were so completely excited about what we were hearing coming back from the tape. . . . One of the cool things that happened when we started working with Justin: We got to those places right before the chorus . . . and Justin said, 'This turnaround into the chorus -- something needs to happen there.' And I just kind of hit the strings right as we were talking about it, just kind of went chunka-chunka, and he said, 'Thatís it!' And I said, 'What?' And he said, 'Right there, man. What you just did -- that's the turnaround. Dave [Minarik Jr.], play something into that beat.' And that's how that turnaround came about."
* "Apartment Song" (live) -- "I'm really pleased with the way [this version] came out. We released a studio version of that on the second Strikes & Gutters. Scott's imagery in that song Ė the loaf of bread, a pound of salt, a bottle of wine -- he really hit upon one of those hidden American gems thatís a tradition that probably comes from the old country.Ē
* "Cigarette" (live) -- "I love where the crowd sort of takes over the vocals, and it always takes me back to that evening when we recorded it [at Nick's Fat City in Pittsburgh]. The crowd and the band were really connected on that particular song that evening."
* "Mercury" -- "Scott, along the way, has written some songs that really are very personal things to him. When he shared that secret part of his life that was very private, I thought, 'Wow, he's really written a really great song here that people probably can really relate to.' It was that secret thing -- how he hops on his bike and goes out to the middle of nowhere by himself and how it makes him feel."
* "Caroline" -- "Man, 'Caroline' was around for a long time, and we struggled and struggled with recording that. We wanted to put it on Love Gone Sour Suspicion and Bad Debt, but we never got it right. We had done a live acoustic version in the studio for a radio broadcast that we really loved, [and after that] we knew we had to get it right. When we started working with Tim Bomba on Someday Maybe, we knew we had a chance to really do it up right."
* "Treehouse" -- "I was pleasantly surprised when that song got a lot airplay in our home area. We had been fans of a lot of bands that were doing similar-sounding stuff at that time, and I think that really showed through. It has a real Smithereens-y feel to it. It's something of a cross between Tom Petty and The Smithereens."
* "Penny on the Floor" -- "I have a very vivid memory when Scott brought that song to us. It was before a show on a very cold night . . . we were in the dressing room, which was not heated. We were all sort of huddled around, waiting for the opening band to finish. He played that for us, and we were like, 'Wow, here's a new direction.' It sort of hit us right away that it was definitely playing to some of our twangy sensibilities. The other thing notable about that is Greg played the mandolin on that."
* "Help Me Out" -- "The version on this particular release is actually remixed, by Sean McDonald . . . this is the third mix of that song. There was the original version of that song . . . [and later on we had the idea] to have our first album remixed. But when it came time to do this particular version, we could not find any unmastered versions of the second mix that we could have mastered. But we did have the multitrack version.
"Specifically about this remix -- Sean called me at one point and said, 'Dude, your guitar solo on this is good, but I'm really having problems sonically pulling it out of the weeds. So, would you consider coming in and recutting the guitar solo?' So I went in with some trepidation because I wasn't sure that we'd be able to get the same tone, and I'm a different player now. I ended up cutting it the way I play it live, and it really worked out great. And the mix overall has way more punch."
* "No Matter What" -- "Razor & Tie had originally asked us to do a cover for the Fast Moving Cars record [but in the end we didn't include one]. And just through a series of synchronistic events that the four of us were together -- at restaurants on the road, turning on the radio in the van -- there were probably four or five times when that [Badfinger] song came on. We all looked at each other and said, 'Man, weíve got to do this.' "
* "Nothing's Wrong Nothing's Right" -- "That was a song recorded for the Fast Moving Cars session. . . . This was one of my contributions that ended up not fitting in with our vision [of that album]."
-- As told to Chris M. Junior
* Official Clarks Web site:
* The Clarks on the road (dates subject to change):
July 12, 13: Kelly's -- Nags Head, N.C.
July 14: Lincoln Theatre -- Raleigh, N.C.
July 15: Visulite Theatre -- Charlotte, N.C.
July 16: Exit/In -- Nashville, Tenn.
July 27: North Star Bar -- Philadelphia
July 28: Recher Theatre -- Towson, Md.