James Clarke: Accentuating Emotions

Last November, James Clarke was juggling the responsibilities of finishing up his degree at UC Irvine, doing rounds as the residential advisor in the Brisa dorm of Mesa Court and performing with his self-titled band at arbitrary venues across Orange and Los Angeles County.

After graduating this past summer, the alumnus who double-majored in international studies and business economics was well aware of the financial forecast in the real world. Currently working at a valet in Los Angeles, Clarke balances making ends meet with pursuing lyrical dreams on the stage.

On Nov. 9, he is expected to release his second album, “Self Control,” returning for a homecoming of sorts to UCI’s Anthill Pub at 8 p.m. The event will feature a live performance from his band “Clarke,” which also consists of current Anteaters: fourth-year guitarist Favian Cheong and third-years Carson Lere on bass guitar and drummer Spencer Lere.

Following up his 2008 album “Clarke,” which contained an entirely different supporting cast on the drums and guitars, the vocalist is pleased with the improvements he, Cheong and the Lere brothers have made in “Self Control.” Attributing the progress to a higher quality production as well as a quicker, upbeat pace, Clarke’s new album draws comparisons to Maroon 5.

Shifting from a bluesy feel to a combination of rock and soul, “Self Control” brings a sensual tone. An enticing female leg arches across the album’s front cover, a symbol of Clarke’s lyrics which often refer to holding back from desires and ultimately maintaining self-control.

With five songs, along with an instrumental version to “Sea Seven,” the album produces a concoction of rhythmic guitar tunes, steady drum beats, piano melodies and Clarke’s ranging voice.

As the second song on the playlist, “Sea Seven” implements a unique duet chronicling the indecisive nature of a man and a woman analyzing their love that’s “like a disease.” Clarke provides the song’s masculine character, while UCI’s YouTube sensation Jennifer Chung takes on the female role.

“Sea Seven was our only slow song on the album,” Clarke said, “and I felt that it needed a female voice to diversify it and make it stand out. Jennifer Chung has a soothing voice and it worked out really well.”

“‘The Sun And The Moon’ and ‘Don’t Ever Come On Back’ are about cheating,” Clarke said of two of his pieces. “Although I’ve never cheated on anybody or been cheated on, it was, for some reason, a viewpoint I could relate to. All of the songs are about not wanting to give into desires, but still wanting to give in. They’re real circumstances, but they’re all very accentuated.”

Piano keys break the silence at the commencement of tracks one and five, “The Sun And The Moon” and “Don’t Change.”  As Clarke’s favorite instrument, the piano may need to be sacrificed for live renditions. The aspiring musician realizes that progressively grabbing a guitar could be beneficial, improving his connection with audiences.

“I’m trying to transition to the guitar,” Clarke said, “because I hate being behind the wall of a piano. It can disconnect a singer from the audience.”

Growing up as a gospel singer in his church choir, Clarke displays impressive fluctuations in his voice. Inspired by Muse, Radiohead and Stevie Wonder, the Irvine graduate recalled two occasions in which he had opportunities to appreciate Wonder’s legendary presence.

“He’s a really nice guy,” Clarke said. “He came to my house a couple of times, because the organist at my church is married to his brother. At a surprise birthday party once, he sang ‘happy birthday’ on our piano.”

In the fall quarter of 2008 and winter of 2009, Clarke studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Unable to lug a piano overseas, he fumbled around with the guitar before eventually stumbling upon an upscale restaurant known to the residents as Barkeno Lounge Bar. An elegant establishment with a grand piano, Clarke became acquaintances with the owner and regularly sang in the lounge.

“I also used to go to this one jazz club every week and they’d have an open jam,” Clarke said of his Spain experience. “I was like the only American there and I’d hop up on stage and ask the band if they knew the song. And I’d play the piano and sing. That was really cool.”

Smitten with live shows, Clarke has recently been playing at small venues that range from coffee shops to hotels, but hopes to advance to grander stages in the future.

“A live performance is like a natural high,” Clarke said. “When you hear it click with all of the instruments together, there’s nothing like it.”

Humbled by a music industry flooded with talent, Clarke would like to further network and spread his music. While admitting that he relinquishes free downloads from his 2008 album on his website (clarkeband.com), the former Pike president and RA explains that he’s indebted to those who have shown their support.

“Being part of the Greek system and being an RA allowed me to share my music at UCI,” Clarke said. “My [former] residents are my biggest fans. All of them have my music on their iTunes and they give constructive criticism. They’ll let me know if they like or dislike a song.”

Unfazed by the notion of becoming famous, Clarke expressed his distaste for the unnaturalness of YouTube, American Idol and America’s Got Talent, favoring what he believes to be more genuine and personal —  concerts.

“If I were trying to become famous, I’d probably get discouraged,” Clarke said, “but I’m not trying to become famous. The CD turned out great. We’re a performance band though and I prefer playing live.”