Ted Simons: Arizona musician Roger Clyne has built a large and devoted following over the past couple of decades. He’s released over a dozen albums and his stage shows, with his band The Peacemakers, celebrate the energy and culture of the Southwest.
Music/The Peacemakers: There is only one way. Hey! Love is the road. Hey! Love is the highway. Hey! Love is the runway. Love is the one way. Love is the road. Hey! Love is the road.
Ted Simons: Roger Clyne is an independent musician and that much is made extra clear with the release of his new CD titled The Independent. Here now to talk his music and his career is Roger Clyne. It's good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Roger Clyne: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure. This is fantastic.
Ted Simons: Your new CD, I want to get a little bit more on that, but you've been around the block a couple of times.
Roger Clyne: A couple of times.
Ted Simons: Same excitement releasing a CD or a little different?
Roger Clyne: It's a mix now of anxiety and confidence.
Ted Simons: Right.
Roger Clyne: I seek less approval and sort of explore the artistic space more now than I had say a decade ago. Instead of writing for something I think that somebody might want, I discover myself more through the art.
Ted Simons: That’s interesting.
Roger Clyne: I look after I've created something and find that that's the mirror now.
Ted Simons: I want to ask about the songwriting process, the creative process because you mentioned who you're writing for. When you write, past, now, the future, are you writing for the audience? Because I noticed on the new CD there are some clap-along moments. I can see -- it's almost like in a play where the playwright writes an applause or maybe a laugh pause. I can almost feel that in this music. Are you writing for that audience? Are you writing for you?
Roger Clyne: I'm writing with that audience. I don't want this to sound selfish because I consider myself in something of a public service position, I'm writing for me and for effect ultimately in the world. I'm going to leave something behind and I hope it's a legacy that serves and celebrates life on earth.
Ted Simons: Again, as far as -- is this the lone listener? Is it me alone in the car or with my headphones on or can you see the audience clapping along?
Roger Clyne: No, not until after it's recorded. And sort of the clapping along and the tempos and the party moments and sparkles in your headphones come from production, but the writing is me, an acoustic guitar somewhere sometime in the writing process, it can be torturous, but it's also joyful at the same time. I didn't answer your question at all.
Ted Simons: You did. But let's move on with that. What comes first, words or music?
Roger Clyne: Everything. It's a crazy laboratory and it's never been consistent, except that it takes time and it's a lot more work than I ever thought it would be. I've given up the idea that writing will ultimately be really spontaneous. I find spontaneous moments that I build on. I'll find a line that I like. I'll be working on an idea. For example, the song that I hope to play and play correctly or play right will be “Right Where We Want 'Em,” and I was looking for an underdog anthem and a title for that and found it while driving my kids to kung fu. Trying not to run off the road, I've got the title. And then after the title, everything else filled in and then typically, I write and edit and edit and edit and part of the process for me is letting it go. I can obsess and stay in the creative self-indulgent space for way too long.
Ted Simons: When you let it go, do you let the bandmates take it a little bit? Let the bass player or the guitar player say let’s try this and you say, okay?
Roger Clyne: Yeah, for sure. And they put their hallmark on it. They put their signature on it. So much so that I'll bring these songs into the band, and I'll think they're complete. And now, I wouldn't dare try to play those songs the way I brought them to the band. They have so much influence. I just bring something that I can sing around a campfire, but everybody brings their influence, i.e. tempo, hooks, harmonies, arrangements, the arrangements I mean, sometimes, I'll start with what I think is a chorus and then go to a verse and I'll have my band say no, no, you've got to switch those two things, and then it all opens up.
Ted Simons: Has that changed over the years? Were you more one way when you were younger and a different way now?
Roger Clyne: Oh yeah, I was perfect when I was younger, you know?
Ted Simons: We all were.
Roger Clyne: I thought I knew everything. Now, the older and more experienced I got and the more privileged I am to have such good company, I can let go of that process. It gets better.
Ted Simons: When you hear old refreshment stuff, from your older bands, even Mortals, whatever you want to go far back.
Roger Clyne: You said Mortals.
Ted Simons: I've been around the block, too.
Roger Clyne: Yeah, you have. That’s cool.
Ted Simons: When you hear some of that older stuff, what do you think?
Roger Clyne: I think I'm really glad that the Internet didn't exist for a large part of that career when I was experimenting, and all the mistakes I made on stage, and I've got to stand by what I did back then and I'm still very proud of it but I listen back to my song writing, my lyrics, and I think I'm very glad I was in my teens and 20s and even 30s when I wrote that stuff. And hopefully if I get to my 50s and 60s, I'll look back and feel the same way about my 40s.
Ted Simons: You also wrote the theme song to King of the Hill, which didn’t make too much in the way of words, but it certainly worked out very well for you.
Roger Clyne: They wanted words.
Ted Simons: Did they really?
Roger Clyne: They did. I don't want to make a long story too long, but they wanted a title track that would describe the characters, but they had a pencil test of the characters, and no dialogue, no lyrics. So I got to see Hank Hill and Peggy and everybody just move around in a pencil test and I had nothing. I don't know this family at all. So on break in Chicago, on tour, I just wrote this little Bonanza on steroids hop, and we worked it up. At a sound check, I believe in Kansas city at the end of a show -- it's going to be a long story -- at the end of the show, I said thanks everybody, it’s been a great night, and now we're going to play this song that we're going to submit for a show that Mike Judge is writing, i.e. at the time was Bevis and Butthead fame, so once we’re done everybody clap like it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard. So the crowd did. We pressed eject, sent the tape to Fox, and I got a call later, I'll tell you about the call if we have time, but we forgot to cut off the leader of me coaching the crowd. So I got a call from Mike Judge and they were busting me on it.
Ted Simons: I bet they were. You also wrote the diamondbacks victory song which we haven't heard too much in a while.
Roger Clyne: Stick with them. They’re our team.
Ted Simons: But how did that happen?
Roger Clyne: Similar way. Got a call from their P.R. department saying we're in the pennant race and we want something that will galvanize the fans with the team the same way “Go Cubs Go” does, and I also strangely happened to be in Chicago again and on the Internet brought up “Go Cubs Go” and listened to it and said I can kick that song's butt. So we submitted a demo and didn't hear back. I called them up and said what’s going one and they said oh, it's great. You knocked that out of the park. And when do we get to record it? We're using it.
Ted Simons: Back to the song. I think the creative process is fascinating. There's a magic to it. Do you wait for the muse? Do you find the muse?
Roger Clyne: I hunt the muse, and then sometimes I find that I'm ambushed by the muse. It's this combination. It's folly and goal-setting at the same time. So there are times when I just really want to get lucky and get a song done and get inspiration and nothing happens. Actually, more often than not and then there are times when lightning strikes and I have to stop the car or stop running and grab my phone or whatever and hum nonsense into my recorder.
Ted Simons: Once it becomes a song, once it's recorded, once it's released, you're on stage, your crowd loves you, they go nuts.
Roger Clyne: We have a very celebratory crowd.
Ted Simons: You really do. Are you surprised sometimes that certain songs get certain reactions?
Roger Clyne: Oh, for sure. There are certain songs that I would expect and I should be done expecting would have an effect, a very -- whether it be -- some effect, I find more often than not I'm wrong. I just play the music and see what happens.
Ted Simons: That is kind of neat because you're putting something out for people and you are now seeing how they react. It becomes a thing of its own.
Roger Clyne: It does. When we put an album out, it sort of -- let's see -- if we view these as hopefully as sort of gifts, let's see how people respond to them. Some people open them up and say I've already got that pair of gold shoes and others say it's the best thing I've ever heard.
Ted Simons: On stage, rowdy, party, very high energy for the most part.
Roger Clyne: Kinetic.
Ted Simons: Kinetic! I like that, kinetic. Is that you or is that another guy?
Roger Clyne: Oh, it's me for sure. Once I get on the stage, it's really difficult not to be enthusiastic. It's the most fun job in the world. I get to stand up there and sing songs that I wrote with great people for great people, and we're having a great time. It can get almost -- I almost feel guilty sometimes about how much fun it is.
Ted Simons: There's not really a persona going on because there are nights when it’s gotta be tough to climb up on stage.
Roger Clyne: I just don't have the time to try figure out what that would be, and luckily I've never been famous enough to have to worry about it.
Ted Simons: The new album, there's a line in the new album, “I took the path less taken, and now I'm trampled by the mob.” I love that kind of thought. When you have those kinds of couplets and those kinds of rhymes and those kinds of things, do you work it out with the guitar-- how do you know where to put that particular line?
Roger Clyne: Like I said it's edit, edit, edit. That probably wasn't the first line I wrote. I don't know what got replaced, but lots of times I'll get through a verse or a chorus or some combination or a song as a whole, and then I start looking at it more critically. It's a first draft. That's probably draft eight or nine. That’s how I write.
Ted Simons: Isn't that something? Never relocated to New York or L.A or Austin?
Roger Clyne: No, no. Born and raised here.
Ted Simons: Why did you stay?
Roger Clyne: I love it. Born in Tuscon. I love it. It's a cultural confluence, I love Mexican food. I've been lucky to be received really well. I think the mythology that I get to embrace in terms of our characters. Whether it be Tequila or Geronimo or Bandidos, the desert is full of characters that I get to pick and choose from and have sometimes, I get to embody them and they me in my writing and everywhere I turn it's fun and interesting and deep and I love it.
Ted Simons: You've made a great career for yourself. Can you play something for us from the new album?
Roger Clyne: I would love to and I hope I can get through it without blowing it. This is on The Independent. It's the last song before the title track and it's called “Right Where We Want 'Em.” Meant to be a little underdog anthem. First time I've played it outside the rehearsal space. Here we go. This is “Right Where We Want ‘Em.”
This whole town was built to bleed you dry. We’ll laugh to see you cry. Stay strong love our day will come. This whole town will scold you as they spill the wine you’re told to fill. Be strong love. Our day will come. Outnumbered, outranked, outmuscled, outflanked, and outgunned. Take another long trip on a shore plank at a dead run. But baby we got ‘em. Got ‘em right where we want ‘em. This whole town allows no moving parts, no room for human hearts. Be strong love. Our day will come. This whole town will hollow out the sky, forbid your wings to fly. Be strong love. Our day will come. Outnumbered, outranked, outmuscled, outflanked, and outgunned. Take another long trip on a shore plank at a dead run. But baby we got ‘em. Got ‘em right where we want ‘em.