Clark will be returning to Houston on Friday, November 12 for a night of honky tonkin’ in the backyard of the Continental Club with his band The Least Of His Problems. “We will do the whole night and hopefully we get the dancing crowd out there and have us a good time,” says Clark.
Clark hit the road at the tender age of 18 with only his mandolin in hand and a head full of songs ranging from punk rock to country classics. “I left home and started riding freight trains and hitchhiking across the country,” says Clark of his travels.
“It was not so bad and then it went bad and I went back to Washington. For me it was just being frustrated about the situation growing up and knowing enough to know that I didn't know a damn thing. It was some of the best times I had but it's also some of the worst times I had. I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again now.”
There’s a genetic component to his wandering spirit and musical inclination as his family carries a long line of entertainers and music enthusiasts, possibly explaining his natural ability to draw a crowd into his rich stories whether singing an original song or a well selected cover.
“There’s definitely music in the family. Country radio on when I was out there holding the light for dad working on cars and trucks.”
Throughout his travels Clark learned additional instruments expanding from mandolin and guitar to the accordion, an instrument he admits he has fallen in and out of love with throughout the years but now serves as a perfect addition to his classic country sound and a real crowd pleaser.
“People on the West Coast used to be kinda funny about accordion in a country band but you come to Texas and people are like, ‘Yeah, accordion in a country band. Of course!”
Clark first began touring in Texas seven years ago with one of his previous bands and though he was initially afraid of “stepping on some toes” he was quickly comforted when people would approach him to tell him that he played Texas music better than some actual Texans.
“I think I belong here,” says Clark. “I like the people, I like the weather, there's more of a living down here and country music, especially traditional country, it's not a novelty to people, it’s a genuine thing that's part of the culture.”
It wasn’t just a long road Clark traveled physically, but also sonically as he shifted from punk rock back to the country roots that his family had planted and he had somewhat fought in his rebellious youth.
"Country music, especially traditional country, it's not a novelty to people, it’s a genuine thing that's part of the culture.”
“There’s so much crossover with kids that were punk rock kids and came back to country. I think it has a lot to do with some of the same principles, you don't have to be technically really good, you just have to be really honest with yourself. The old three chords and the truth cliche. I know for myself I got tired of being mad and I just got sad about the world.”
Country as could be, there is still an element of punk to Clark as he gives off the vibe that he is not only sincere, but he’s not pandering to an audience to fit any kind of mold and is simply being himself and telling his story.
His song “Thoughts & Prayers” was inspired by a 2012 shooting that took place at Cafe Racer in Seattle and a tragedy which left six people dead. Clark frequented the cafe and the victims that day were friends of his. If it wasn’t for his band practice, he would have been there that day himself.
“It definitely changed my perspective on things and I watched a lot of people in the community be really reactionary,” says Clark. “It all felt kind of good intentioned but useless. It didn't really do a damn bit of good for anybody and I think we all have that feeling.”
“The song is just meant to make you think. I wasn't really trying to take a side on anything, I just wanted to make people think about what really does a damn bit of good.”
Clark is just as effective when covering songs from classic country greats of the past like “Sick, Sober and Sorry” a song done by giants of the genre, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard and George Jones in a wonderful nod to the pioneers of country music who often sang each other's songs.
“I wish we'd see a little more of that in our contemporaries,” says Clark of the old school tradition of covering each other's songs. “You don't have to wait for your friend to be dead to play their song.”
“You gotta do the song justice but you still gotta make it your own. You gotta have enough faith in yourself and your own sort of bigness of your personality that you know no matter how you try it, it's still going to sound like you.”
Clark has released a steady stream of music and this year dropped his EP Plastic Pistols. “For me it’s always been about the live performance, the records and things are always the catalyst to make the live performance happen but everything has switched,” he says of the quickly changing live music business.
“How I view songwriting and performing is it's my job to take these complex human emotions and experiences and try to boil them down into three minutes so we can all relate to each other in something palatable. I think that really as much as we all interact with music very individually and personally, there's something that happens when you're in that room with other people and it’s resonating with them that you can listen to the person next to you and you guys already know you've got something in common.”
Gus Clark & The Least Of His Problems will perform on Friday, November 12 at The Continental Club, 3700 Main, Music starts at 7 p.m., $10.