Howling brass-band chapel session alums Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds are going to soundtrack our final hours of 2013 in the gym of Colorado Springs’ freshly restored Ivywild School, along with the explosive melodic Ark Life, who just wowed Denver in their two nights opening for the sold-out Head & The Heart shows.
Conor Bourgal from The Changing Colors is also gonna start us out with a retro-soul dance party DJ set from 8pm doors until 9pm showtime, and The Principal’s Office bar is mixing up some special fancy cocktails across the hall. My school was never like this.
See you there. I’ve got my dancing shoes all picked out.
If we’re going to collectively be on a vintage summery-music kick this month, then Radiation City fits in so very well to my chosen soundtrack. They totally killed it in the house show I did with them a few months ago – they’re smart and catchy and dreamy-charming all at once.
And then of course we’ve established that Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds are making some of my favorite soul music these days. Mike’s Daytrotter session came out yesterday, and Sean nailed it when he wrote: “Colorado songwriter Mike Clark writes songs that sound sweeter than sour. They give off the feeling that his love is healthy, but it’s still so damned hungry. It’s blazing and demanding. He gives off that pacing the floor, screaming at the skies neediness vibe that the greatest of the old school soul and blues singers gave off, as if there was nothing else than some soft touch to be had. It was all there was. It was everything that was and is needed. They’ll be wayward until they fill that yearning. They’ll be wayward for a while.”
TICKET GIVEAWAY!Fuel/Friends has three pairs of tickets to give away for this terrific show. Please leave a comment if you would like to be entered to win a pair and I will pick randomly on Saturday! I’m presenting the show along with Odell Brewery and Radio 1190. Radiation City plays at 6pm, and Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds at 8pm, but come spend the whole day (doors at noon). Here’s the Facebook event. I hope to see you there!
I guarantee that this will be the best way you can spend your Sunday, getting pleasantly day-drunk, eating smoked meats, and listening to these sweet sounds.
Full schedule: Sunday BBQ!
THE BLACK FEATHERS @ 2pm
CODENAME : CARTER @ 3pm
ScaTTer GaTHer @ 4pm
CONFLUENCE @ 5pm
RADIATION CITY 6pm
WE WERE COSMONAUTS @ 7pm
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS @ 8pm
WILD HIGH @ 9pm
Last week I spent some long hours in an old Volvo, driving across the flat beige heart of this country from Colorado to Chicago. The first stop and one of the main impetuses behind this adventure was Lawrence High School in Kansas, and the Room 125 Productions film studies classroom of Mr. Jeff Kuhr.
Jeff and I have been connected through a series of kismet-laced events that started the same week that The Head and The Heart played that first house show for me in November 2010, a few days after Jeff met them across the street from his house in Lawrence and decided on a whim to ask the band if they’d come play some songs in his classroom and talk about their creative process, while his students filmed and learned.
That initial classroom visit has led to 21 other bands and artists coming into his classroom – folks like The Civil Wars, Damien Jurado, Night Beds, Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives, Bryan John Appleby, Kelli Schaefer, The Local Strangers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Small Houses, Hey Marseilles, Shenandoah Davis, and The Devil Whale (you could say we have some overlap). Many of the questions these kids come up with would make any serious interviewer jealous, as they shoot past the trimmings to focus in on “the thing behind the thing,” as Drew Grow said when he visited.
This is an uncommon classroom, and a teacher unlike any I ever had in high school. In addition to assigning prep listening homework to his students before each artist session (and having them come up with questions and film the sessions and do the post-production), Jeff composes an eloquent and probing introduction to read to the class that day.
When Jeff read this one last Monday for Mike Clark, all about faith and beauty and struggle in art and in our lives, the recognition I felt in his words made those stupid hot tears well up in my eyes (they’ve been doing that more than usual lately). Even as I write this, it does the same, and makes me think that this course’s content might be some of the most important things these kids learn in high school.
“Again, it’s about recognition,” Jeff said, “and the best art does this — we recognize something, maybe familiar, maybe foreign, but it sets us seeking, questioning, not the great out there but the great in here. And when that happens, when that really happens, you’ll know. You’ve been shaken, you’ve lost your cool, things will never be the same.”
“I’m thinking of a moment like the one the poet Rilke describes in the poem ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo‘ where upon seeing that piece of art, its power engulfed him, saying to him, ‘you must change your life.’”
“To me, Mike’s music is a reminder of all this, the soundtrack, I suppose. The music, maybe, for courage, for action, for doing something about your shakiness, your oh shit moments, come what may. It’s the music for losing your cool and taking chances, of faith and love and longing — music that reminds you that there is something more, something beyond surfaces and screens.”
Here’s the way Mike answered that:
(the first of five videos total; the rest coming soon)
Spurred by Jeff’s brave capacity for rumination on Things That Matter (one of my very favorite traits, incidentally) and being back in that uncertain space of high school, and hearing Mike talk about his finding music and deciding to change his life — it was a deeply affecting day that helped remind me why I love and need songs like this, and engagement with people like this.
I am appreciative for those passing periods, the pressing past each other in the halls; the sweet uncertainty of confronting ourselves in the other and feeling, for a minute, that rush of recognition.
Jeff is doing good work with those kids. They probably know a lot of things I’ve forgotten. Whatever they pursue, whatever any of us pursue, if we chase that recognition and challenge Jeff talks about, I think we’ll be heading in the right direction, whether that’s to Paris or grad school or a cabin built in rural Alaska. As I walked out the door, I noticed a Friday Night Lights quote tacked on the classroom wall and indeed — with clear eyes and full hearts like that, we can’t lose, not one of us.
I’m real glad that someone like him is running a classroom like that, and you should spend some time in the archives of the videos these students have filmed and produced to help these artists tell their stories.
“I want this guy to go out into the world and become the next Otis Redding …I mean, if there was a job opening for the next Otis currently available,” I leaned over and whispered into my friend Ian’s ear while Mike Clark absolutely owned the stage at Shove Chapel during the recording of this session.
Yes, I’m aware that that’s a loaded statement: the broken-down soul of Otis Redding is ingrained my Georgia roots, since my Grampy went to the same Baptist church as Otis did and I like to think it’s in my veins somehow. I’ve known Mike Clark for a few years, as he’s a major player in the Colorado Springs independent music scene (The Haunted Windchimes, The Jack Trades, that “Hey Daisy” handless bike video made up the street from me), but watching his transformation on that chapel stage into an anachronistic band-leading soul singer was notable. My first thoughts were, “Where the hell did this come from? From a 34 year-old land surveyor from Calhan, Colorado?!”
Mike didn’t start playing music until he was 27, and it appears to have been a fairly intense salvific experience for him, that transformation. It reminds me some of Ray LaMontagne’s story, except instead of hearing a Stephen Stills song on the radio and deciding to follow music with everything in ya, for Mike it was a harmonica he bought on a roadtrip and then played for the rest of the 25-hour journey home. You can see that spirit in these performances.
This is a session to tenderize, to dissolve defenses. The chapel session feels a little more gaunt and starkly soulful than his new record. As my friend Adam said, “There’s a darkness here like so much of that older stuff had in it, below the R&B feel. It’s the ‘blues’ part of R&B that people forget about.” Mike’s startling voice pierced that whole church. You felt the weariness, but there’s a wide-open, unadorned quality to the candor here also. These are A.M. radio songs that wake you in the middle of the night or keep running through your head as you whistle the melody.
The songs on Round and Round, his debut record with The Sugar Sounds, make you sway and tap like old rock & roll 45s. This chapel session feels more focused on Mike’s tremendous emergent voice — it’s one you have to stop what you are doing to give it the attention it deserves. And Mike is backed here by an ace band of some of the best other musicians in town: Inaiah Lujan (Mike’s bandmate in The Haunted Windchimes), Alex Koshak (The Flumps), Grant Sabin, Ian Bourgal (The Changing Colors), and Marc Benning (34 Satellite). It is so damn fun to watch them play together.
Put this session on and lay flat somewhere and just listen. Every song they performed for this session feels to me like an immediate classic, something you’ve known for a long time. Out of five songs here, only one is on Mike’s current record. He’s writing songs without stopping, and I am so glad that we get to journey with him.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #23:
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS
January 25, 2013 / Shove Chapel
Losing My Cool
Just….go on get out of town. Again: A 34-YEAR-OLD LAND SURVEYOR FROM CALHAN, COLORADO. Something tells me in my belly that with this kind of fire in him, and this band behind him, he won’t stay our local secret for long. Holy cow — some of the most fun I’ve had in church, this one.
Take A Chance
The best descriptor I can come up with for this song is that it is hopefully devastating, wearily wooing. It’s a gun-shy swoon — and I get that. There may be nothing scarier than asking someone to take a chance on you. I like the purpose with which Mike does it here.
Oh man when the full band and the horns kick in on this song, it is a golden flash of ebullience. Also, this is one to dance to — but it’s all in the hips. Watch the video here.
What Lovers Do
At the end of the session, five of us stood around the piano as almost an afterthought, and sang along sweet little harmonies and “ooooh”s to this new creation of Mike’s. I don’t know if I’ll ever post a chapel session song that boasts more simple joy than this one. Watch it here.
You know that scene in That Thing You Do, when The Wonders (Oneders) hear their song on the radio for the first time and everyone stops and turns up their radio and starts to dance and whoop? When I first heard the uber-catchy opening track “Burn You Up” off Mike Clark & The Sugar Sounds‘ new album Round and Round on KRCC radio, I did the same thing. Except I was at work, so minus the whooping. For your Friday joy:
I grew up listening to oldies all the time (KFRC: San Franciscooo); I have an encyclopedic ability to sing, hum, and snap along with a huge variety of songs from the classic foundations of rock and roll. This record hits every single one of those sweet spots for me, in a current way. I hear Otis Redding, I hear Roy Orbison — yet as Josh at the Denver Post so perfectly wrote, “There is no revival, no costume play, no irony. These are brand-new, honest songs that resonate as classics.”
Mike is my same age, and I get the feeling he loves all those old songs as much as I do. This record is an unabashed celebration of music from the 1950s and ’60s, but done with clean urgency. Mike also plays in one of the best-known Americana bands from Colorado, The Haunted Windchimes (who you may have heard on A Prairie Home Companion), but this is a total departure; these songs kept coming into his songwriting brain but not fitting with what the Windchimes were recording. These are songs that evoke a whole other landscape of glowing yellow radio dials, and a time when rock and roll was the rebellious domain of young people, and not the safe “oldies” you now hear in the dentist’s chair. Mike does it with so much joy.
Spurred by the tremendous chapel session we recorded with Mike last week, I have been listening to this album pretty much non-stop for the last two weeks on my big kitchen stereo. Sometimes, at home, I dance. The record is another fine Blank Tape Records release, the same folks who donate their magic skills to producing each and every one of the Chapel Sessions. Hear one more song off the record, the irresistible “Summer Girls.” There is a 100% chance this will make the Fuel/Friends Summer 2013 mix, the way “Smooth Sailin’,” also on this record, made (and titled) my Summer 2012 mix.
TOUR: Mike is playing his Denver album release show tonight at the intimate, awesome Deer Pile (above City O’ City), with R.L. Cole and Joe Sampson. Then he sets off on a West Coast tour for the next month; if you go, I bet you’ll like it.
You might even dance.
MIKE CLARK & THE SUGAR SOUNDS TOUR
Feb 4 – Cavalcade – Fruita, CO
Feb 5 – Soul Poles – Park City, UT
Feb 7 – Jones Radiator – Spokane, WA
Feb 8 – Caffe Mela – Wenatchee, WA
Feb 10 – Huck Notari Springville House – Portland, OR
Feb 13 – The Horned Hand – Bend, OR
Feb 14 – Axe and Fiddle – Cottage Grove, OR
Feb 23 – Crepe Place – Santa Cruz, CA
Feb 24 – Mercury Lounge – Santa Barbara, CA
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel." —Hunter S. Thompson
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