Interview with Kai Clark, May 22, 2011

It’s often the case that musicians—who also happen to be the children of famous rock stars—try to avoid direct association with their parent's material (one doesn't see Jakob Dylan pulling out 'Absolutely Sweet Marie' in concert).  Presumably, this arises out of an understandable desire to be taken seriously in their own right.  But attempting to disassociate and distance themselves from their parents' accomplishments asks for a willing suspension of disbelief, wherein the listener is expected to forget who that person's father is, regardless of similarities of look, mannerism or stage presence. 
Not so with Kai Clark, one of Gene Clark's two sons. As evidenced in his band's April 29th, 2011 performance at L.A.'s Roxy to promote High Moon's re-release of his father's misunderstood 1977 album, Two Sides to Every Story, Kai openly embraces his father's music.  On that night, Kai and his band, along with some special guests, performed the album from start to finish.  Kai also dug into a selection of songs either written by, or closely associated with, his father.  And with a giant photograph of Gene Clark in his '60's prime literally watching over him, Kai performed his father's music with palpable exuberance and pride.
And it didn't stop there.  Adding to the bittersweet nature of the evening, Kai was joined onstage by the members of the Gene Clark Group [Joel Larson, Bill Rinehart, Chip Douglas], who had last played together some 44 years ago.  
As you will see, for Kai the Roxy gig became more than an album release party.  It became a celebration of his dad's life, music and legacy.  It also served to inculcate within him a deeper appreciation and understanding of his dad's extraordinary gifts.  Full circle indeed.

Q.  I just wanted to talk a bit about the reissue of Two Sides to Every Story. How did that get kick started?
A.  Well, a young man named of George Wallace, who started a label called High Moon Records -- they were doing the Love album, and I think they were looking for another one.  So they released the Love Black Beauty album, as you probably know, as well as the Two Sides to Every Story album.  So they’re releasing stuff from around similar eras.
Q.  The recent show at the Roxy, how did that go?  I’ve watched some of the clips on YouTube.  It looked like a lot of fun.
A.  It was actually a really good show.  It was wonderful.  We had a full house.  I had some special guests.  I had a guy named Tim Bluhm from the Mother Hips, a northern California band, come up and did some stuff.  And then we also had the Gene Clark Group reunion, which was the original guys from the Gene Clark Group.  That was really cool to have them come up.  That was kind of a last-minute thing.  So that was pretty interesting.  The show went really, really good.
Q.   Did you have a chance to sit around and chat with Chip, Joel and Bill that much?
A.  Yes, I – well, Chip was around quite a bit.  Joel and them were there off and on.
Q.   I’ve spoken to all of them, because I was going to write a piece on the Gene Clark Group.  Had you met them prior to this?
A.  No, I hadn’t.  And Bill was quite a unique character as well...
Q.  [Laughs].
A. They’re some cool guys.  It was fun for them.  It was kind of last minute.  They came over and we put it all together.
Q.  How many songs did you perform?
A.  We did four songs.  We did ‘Tried So Hard,’ ‘Keep on Pushin,’’ ‘Elevator Operator,’ and one more.  I’m trying to remember which one that was.
Q.  ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’?
A.  No, we did ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’ with my group, which came out really good.  The whole set was we did the album, front to back, Two Sides to Every Story, then we had the Gene Clark Group come up and do four songs.  And then our finishing set we had ‘So You Say You Lost Your Baby,’ ‘Polly Come Home,’ ‘Eight Miles High,’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,’ and a couple of other ones that we really liked.  And that was just a blast.  At the end we had everybody come up onstage for ‘Eight Miles High,’ our finale song.  It was really fun.
Q.  In terms of the Two Sides to Every Story album, what songs do you think were the hardest to pull off?
A.  We worked pretty hard on all the stuff; it all came along pretty good.  As far as the hardest to pull off, I would say it would have to be ‘Past Addresses’ -- or ‘Sister Moon’ has a real high vocal part in it [chuckles], so for me it was …  It was all pretty good.  I mean, they’re unique songs; they have a lot of parts to them.  Those were probably the tougher of them.
We had Steve Ehret come up for ‘Sister Moon’ and ‘Give My Love to Marie.’  ‘Give My Love to Marie’ is a real slow ballad.  I think he started singing it in a different key, so… [laughs]  But you know, some of them were prepared more than others and that’s just normal when you’re having some people come up like that and join you onstage.  We had a great time.
I was onstage for three hours, so I didn’t get to get out and mingle as much as I would have liked to, but that’s part of being up there in front and playing a show.
Q.  Do you know the exact release date of the Two Sides reissue?
A.  You know, there was a small holdup somewhere in Holland, so I think they just have one little piece of paper that’s floating around somewhere that they’re waiting to – it’s just somebody’s got to put a stamp on it and send it back.
I know they’re trying to do it sometime in June.  It could go as late as July.  They’re just – it’s had a little holdup with that, with some sort of release – because it’s a worldwide release, so I know there was a little bit of a holdup with something in Holland and I’m not quite sure what.  But I think that’s getting taken care of, and then it should be out, I figure, by the end of July at the very latest.
Q.  Have the bonus tracks been finalized yet?
A.  You know, they haven’t.  George is working on that and he’s got a lot of great ideas.  He has some interview stuff that he might be interested in putting on there, so I’m really not sure of what he’s got as far as the bonus tracks ready to go.
Q.  I gave George my wish list...
A.  You know, he found some really cool stuff, so I’m sure it’ll be a good little collector’s thing for people out there when they get a hold of it.
Q.  I’m going to apologize for this question ahead of time because I know it’s a stupid one, but it’s one of those questions you have to ask.  Are you a fan of your dad’s work?
A.  Yeah, you know, I wasn’t as much as I have as I got older.  I think as a kid, I grew up in a whole different era, and I wasn’t even born until he had already done so much.  So, for me, I become more of a fan every day, and especially after doing this album and having to go through every song and learn it just the way it was on the album, it really opened my eyes into how unique his music is.  You know, as an adult and as a musician because I write a lot myself.  So I had so much of my own material, I had never delved that far into my dad’s material.  But now that I’m older, and I’ve gone through this album and stuff, I really have this great respect for my dad’s writing ability and his singing -- and the whole package together was quite unique.  I think when people listen to more of his stuff, it’s hard not to be a fan.  It grows on you, and you really become enveloped in his emotions in the song.  It’s quite unique, I think.
As a kid it was kind of hard to understand it.  I think most kids listen to catchy pop and this kind of thing, especially in this day and age.  I mean, I’ve always been a fan, but I think now that I’m an adult and I’ve been through more with his music, I’m really a big fan of my dad’s stuff now.
Q.  What other musicians do you respect and admire?
A. Boy, there’s a long list of them.  You know, growing up, of course Jimi Hendrix -- being a pioneer.  Definitely I love country music, so Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, on those sides.  A great blues musician, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, these kind of people as well, definitely have a place in my listening – Bonnie Raitt, all these great musicians that I grew up listening to as well.  I mean, the list goes on and on.  I really like bluegrass and stuff like that.  I could go on and on.
Q.  What are your goals musically, for your own career?
A.  I have a son now and a wife, and we’re getting our own place up here in northern California, so my goals musically are just to be happy.  I don’t need to make a million dollars, I don’t want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.  It would be nice but I don’t have these too high of expectations.  I definitely would love to tour and play and make a living at playing music would be comfortable for me.  Something where I could tour part of the year and make a living and be at home part of the year with my family and raising my son.  I think that’s important.  I missed a lot of that growing up with my father because he was always – always gone, you know?
But I love playing live.  That’s one of my favourite things, travelling and doing shows.
Q.  It just occurred to me that in two days it will be the 20th anniversary of your dad’s passing ---
A.  Yes – yeah.
Q.  I can say without hesitation that that had a huge impact on my life.  I can’t even begin to imagine how it would have affected you.  How did you process something like that; how did you deal with that kind of grief? 
A.  Well, when he passed away I was 17, it was my graduating year of high school.  My mom was going through rough times with drugs and addictions and stuff, so I had to be pretty independent at a young age.  [My dad’s death] was a pretty big kicker, on top of everything else I was going through at the time.
So, dealing with the grief, it was tough. I think I was angry for a while when I was young.  Now that I’m older you know, it really doesn’t affect me that much.  I mean, I get emotional, especially with the release [of Two Sides to Every Story], and being on stage and playing my dad’s songs and stuff.  It’s hard to say how it affects me.  Sometimes it’s tough.  He pops into my head all the time.  I thought of him as dad, where millions of people thought of him as Gene Clark of the Byrds or whatnot.
Q.  Has the anger passed?
A.  Yeah, that was just when I was young, you know, I was kind of angry.  It was just part of being young and not understanding it all.  It’s hard to take when you’re a kid – and, you know, so much else was going on too.  I got over the anger and then it just turned into love and admiration of my father, regardless of what things I went through.  Because I can’t imagine what him and my mom must have gone through. you know, with the fame and the money and the people and who do you trust and where do you go.  I think that was why they raised us away from all that up in Mendocino.
Q.  Do you have a favourite song by your dad?
A.  The one I really like, which we did at the show, it’s one of my all-time favourites, is ‘So You Say You Lost Your Baby.’  ‘Polly Come Home’ is a great song too.
Q.  That must have made you very proud when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss covered those two songs [‘Polly’ and ‘Through the Morning, Through the Night’] on Raising Sand?
A.  Yes, and I got to meet Robert and Alison in 2007 and that was a great experience.  They were really great people.
Q.  That would have exposed your dad’s music to a whole new generation of people.
A.  Yes, it did.  T-Bone Burnett, what a great guy -- and that’s someone I would really like to work with in the future.  I may have the opportunity to work with him pretty soon.  We got some stuff in the works.  Just trying to finish up some recordings. 
T-Bone did a great, great job of producing that album.  He actually found those songs in a play on Broadway.  An Irish fellow, I can’t remember his name, had those in his production and T-Bone saw them and said “These would be great” – because I think he was in the works of doing that album with Robert and Alison.  So, pretty cool story how it came about, behind those two songs.  And what a great job they did.
Q.  Are there any plans for future archival releases?
A.  You know, it’s hard to say.  We always try and do things with respect.  There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not in respect to my father’s name.  There’s a bit of stuff out there that is not of the quality we would like to portray of my dad.  Of course there’s bootlegs and this and that.  We actually just recently found some bootlegs being out there.  You can’t catch them all.  Me and my brother [Kelly], we incorporated father’s name, and we try and do very respectful stuff of dad’s.  I would love to do an archival release at some point.  There’s been a couple that have touched on it, but I think there’s so much more ---
Q.  Oh yeah.
A.  … and I think that it’s gaining more attention.  I would like to see more current artists doing dad’s music and kind of touch the younger generation.  There’s so much out there that’s a possibility.  Dad had so much music.  The older I get the more I discover and find, “Wow, this is great!”
Actually, because of this release there’s been a lot of stuff coming out.  People are seeing this release and they’re bringing out the stuff they have, which is great because we’re finding some unique gems.


Also from the Two Sides to Every Story release party at the Roxy:


Thank you for bringing such an insightful interview witk Kai.
Regards Caroline.
The Clarkophile said…
Thank you so much, Caroline. Kai's a true gentleman.
Sha said…
It's interesting he says that his father's music grew on him. I had a similar experience with Gene's music. It took me a while to get into it but then it opened up a whole new world of music to me!
Janis Rebecca said…
I enjoyed this insightful interview with Kai Clark. His father's music has been lurking in my own being for so long and it is nice that Kai is forthright about talking of how his Dad's music has made an impact on his adult life and his own music.
lost_jewels said…
Hi Tom, Great stuff. Thank you for beeing such a good questionair to bring out Kay's true feelings. Loved it. Thank you very much.