A Chat with David Clifton (29.01.2021)

If you are in the mood for some music that lifts your spirits no matter what is happening, David Clifton has what you need with his new album Marble City Skyline. Bringing something different and refreshing to your ears, he carefully crafts life-affirming messages into a sweeping soundscape of beauty. While bringing a breath of fresh air to your lungs, the music is steeped in something utterly timeless. We sat down with David Clifton to talk about the album, musical influences, challenges and much more!

OSR: While you are not a newcomer to the music industry, what first drew you to making music?

Clifton: During my childhood, I was a chorister at Peterborough Cathedral and I didn’t listen to any rock, pop or folk music until my early teens. I was at boarding school and music was always being played in the common and dormitories and it was there that I first heard folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bert Jansch and James Taylor, artists such as David Bowie and heavy rock music such as Led Zeppelin. It was a whole new area of musical expression and I was determined to learn the instruments that made this glorious noise!

I bought a guitar aged fourteen and eventually joined a band made up of members from the two rival schools in the town, Deacons and Kings, called Iron Maiden, incidentally, I think they pinched our name! We used to play working men’s clubs, school halls, British Legion clubs, Community Centres, anywhere that would have us. At college, I formed a folk duo and we were signed to a division of EMI in my last year. Things progressed from there.

OSR: Your latest album Marble City Skyline has a refreshing yet timeless feeling to it, can you tell us a bit more about its theme or backstory?

Clifton: Thank you! I’m glad you are enjoying it! I have always written songs, though the main focus of my music career has been playing guitar for other artists and bands. Sometimes my own work has taken second-place. I’ve never recorded a full-length album of my songs, and as you pointed out, my intention was to create something timeless with a wide appeal, that will endure. I selected the songs that got the best reception in live concerts and gigs, which people responded to in conversation and online, and decided to take my time getting things just right. I wanted to record it with musicians playing together (all the tracking was played live) to get the best performance feel, not relying on samples and programming.

OSR: Your music covers a lot of different genres, why did you choose folk as the primary sound for this album?

Clifton: I love to record in many different styles and enjoy working in a wide range of music genres; ambient guitar, folk, classical, sacred, experimental and rock. It can all be a bit self-indulgent! My earliest influences were English and American folk music, and I also love bands such as Hem, XTC and The Milk Carton Kids, and I find that this style it is a great vehicle for poetic expression. The Swindon band XTC, though art-rock and indie, are firm favourites, and folk artists like Seth Lakeman and Kate Rusby. All the songs were written for solo performance, voice and acoustic guitar, and I also played them in concert with my band whilst living in America.

OSR: The tracks on the album are thoughtful while offering an optimistic inspiration, was this an easy task to take on?

Clifton: Songwriting is a privilege, as well as being a bit of a challenge! I feel that art, in general, is at its best when it touches hearts, resonates and inspires people. Music has such a special place in the arts and the best songs are the ones that seamlessly blend poetry and melody so that one is only conscious of the whole creation. There is so much negativity and difficulty in the world, and people have very difficult lives, so I like to be positive. Some songs were written specifically about the people I know or from a personal place and others, such as ~Grand Central Station New York’ and ‘Old Sea Road’, from combining of experiences with a co-writer.

I got lost in Grand Central Station the first time I went to New York, and in the writing session, Phil Baggaley had suggested a song around the title, which of course resonated with experience. The beauty of that song, in particular, is that we so often see things differently when in a new environment and take stock of life in a different way. ‘Old Sea Road’ was also written with Phil. I had visited the pub on that street in Galway when on tour with the Irish singer Mary Coughlan, Phil had been there on holiday. So as usual, creative minds thought about the town, its history and historical circumstances, with creative license!

OSR: What was the biggest challenge you faced while making the album?

Clifton: I think all creative people find that finishing a project the hardest thing! Time and budget, especially when making a project oneself, is always a challenge. The tracks were mostly recorded live at a studio in Fifth Avenue, Knoxville, and I added additional guitar/mandolin parts at home, and vocals in a studio near the Great Smoky Mountains, just south the city. I also sent some files back home to England because I wanted one particularly brilliant keyboard player friend, Mark Edwards, to work on the project. My keyboard playing is average! I love the contribution of others to projects.

OSR: If people could feel only one emotion while listening to the album, what would you like this to be and why?

Clifton: A great question. I feel the one thing that everyone needs to know is that they are greatly loved in this mad old universe, despite the fact that they may have been let down by family, friends, relationships and circumstances. Love is at the centre of everything. This life is a huge adventure, though my sense is that it’s a small part of the much bigger picture. There is so much we don’t understand yet. Love is what makes everything makes sense.

David Clifton

OSR: How do you feel this album compares to your previous releases?

Clifton: I feel there is a great unity and flow to the project, and I’ve had some amazing responses, which makes it all worthwhile. I was able to take much more time over the songwriting and to get things just right instead of having to work to deadlines. I also feel I’ve refined my songwriting process, though there is always room for improvement!

OSR: You have lived and worked in both the UK and USA, does your environment affect the type of music you make?

Clifton: I think that the core expression of one’s art stays the same wherever you are, though I would agree that the environment brings a new perspective. I worked with an amazing guitarist and artist called Will Carter, and when he played in the band, he brought an incredible dimension of his American influence to the music. We never recorded together, though I hope to one day. I always wonder about those artists who go to Nashville just to make a country album or Seattle to try and get that Nirvana and Pearl Jam sound, and wonder what the purpose of that is.

OSR: What advice would you give to musicians looking to follow in your footsteps?

Clifton: If it had to be one thing, it’s this; play music for fun. Enjoy the process, the creativity and the sheer joy of making great music with friends. Don’t think about trying to make a living from it, or being famous. I’ve played the guitar for famous artists, I think the lifestyle brings more problems than you think it’s going to solve!

OSR: What else can we expect from you in the coming year?

Clifton: I’m working on the project based around the twelve-string guitar. When I was signed to Virgin years ago I played my 1964 six-string Rickenbacker all the time, as well as keys and sax. A few years ago I bought a 12 string Rickenbacker, also from 1964. I love the sound. So I’m working on compositions that bring really fresh sonic experiences and something a bit unusual. So it will be more rock/pop than folk! I’m also working on some sacred songs for an EP within the folk genre. And keeping up the pottery and art, too!

Thanks to David Clifton for chatting with us! You can find more about him on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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