ROLAND CLARK: MIXING WITH THE STARS
With his voice having been described as “wildly erotic, soulful, loving and deep”, New Jersey-raised vocalist/songsmith/prod-ucer/DJ Roland Clark will unquestionably go down in history as one of soulful house music’s earliest and most enduring male pioneers.
Indeed, through a series of aliases like Urban Soul, Digital Pimps, South Street Player, Dark Clark and (the current) Jesus Jackson, over a 17-year period Clark has become acclaimed by some as “President of the House Nation” via a series of classic dancefloor singles; in addition to being a prominent contributor to UK DJ/pro-ducer Fatboy Slim’s big-selling opus ‘Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars’ (‘What Da Fuck’ and ‘Song For Shelter’). A musical chameleon - whose styles currently range from soulful sultriness to hard house and techno - Roland is add-itionally today a successful club DJ. Whose latest on-record productions match the darkly-pounding, electro-flavoured ‘Boyfriend’ with the gospel-tinged fervour of ‘Revival’, a soulful house collaboration with former 10 City falsetto frontman Byron Stingily.
Performing at the recent 42nd Southport Weekender (as part of the 15th Anni-versary of New York dance independent King Street Sounds), a fast-talking Mr. Clark relaxes on-camp in the mid-evening Lancashire sunshine to discuss with ‘B&S’ his ongoing legendary career.
His current musical activities
“Right now I’m DJ-ing more than I’m being an artist. But the two do kinda coincide with each other. So, as an artist, I wake up, I turn on the computer, and whatever comes out comes OUT. For the most part I write and record all my songs at home by myself from scratch. Then, like everyone else, I get it remixed. And, with me having my own label Delete Records, these days I’m kinda dropping a new track independently every two or three weeks, always hoping for that next big one!”
His early background
“I first grew up in a rural area in Farmville, Virginia. But, after my family and I moved to New Jersey, during my High School years one night I snuck downtown to the club that everybody used to talk about and wish they were old enough to go to. Which turned out to be (pioneering Eighties house music venue) Club Zanzibar. The music they were playing was new to me; it was lively, something I’d never heard before because they didn’t play it on the radio... So it immediately felt like my own little secret! I became attracted to people that were in the music industry, and I basically started living at a recording studio in Manhattan. Where I met people like Merlin Bobb, Caroline Harding and Paul Simpson. And those people - though a lotta those names don’t get mentioned much these days - became like the early foundation of my house music career.”
A brief overview of his career
“As far as standout records go, I’d have to start off with a 1991 release called ‘Alright’, which I recorded under the name Urban Soul. After that came a song I recorded as South Street Player called ‘Why Can’t I Change My Mind’ that came out on Strictly Rhythm Records. Then the next big one was “Flowerz’, which I did with Armand Van Helden. After that I worked with Fatboy Slim on his album “Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars’, which kinda put me more in the progressive/ techno world. So, because I wanted to capitalise on that, I then also started doing more progressive mixes with my records and working with more progressive artists. Because I just felt that to continue pigeonholing myself into doing just soulful house music - when I love more than just that - would be kinda like professional suicide!”
How house music has changed over the years
“It’s changed in that these days - because of internet downloading and people sharing files - it’s not so much a BUSINESS but more a DELIVERY system. Which also means there’s not a lot of money-making going on now, besides third-party money. In the sense that, if you do a great record and you’re also a DJ, then you get to gig. I also feel the CULTURAL divide has gotten smaller. Whereas it mostly used to be just African-Americans that loved soulful house and the techno was left to the Europeans, today it’s not so DIVIDED anymore. The same people that love soulful house can also go home and listen to a nice progressive record. So in that way there’s been a growth - not only in people’s understanding of the MUSIC, but also in people’s understanding of each OTHER. The music itself has actually brought the cultures together.”
Long-term career plans
“Right now I’m very excited about my DJ-ing. Because - while a lotta DJs take it for granted that they can actually stand in one place, put on some music and people will look at them with admiration - I genuinely feel I do make a CONNECTION with my audience. Whereas as far as being a vocalist goes, while I do love singing, I’ve never been a great fan of singing ONSTAGE - unless I know I’m appearing at a venue where people will appreciate what I do. Which is why I’m here at the South-port Weekender, where I’m basically giving back to people who I know have admired my music for years. But while I am pretty much a studio rat - I always considered myself a producer who knew how to sing, rather than an artist per se - I’d still love to be able to come back out every now and then, when I’m say 50 or 60 years old, and see people - who are like just eight/nine today - still loving my music! Because, to know that I helped start a musical movement that lasted for decades and decades and decades for me would be the greatest reward of ALL!”
The Dj Roland Clark Feat. Christina K. single 'Boyfriend' is released August 10 through Delete Records (US). The Dj Roland Clark & Byron Stingily feat. Carla Prather & EI single 'Revival' is released August 19 through Stingily Music (US)
Words PETE LEWIS