Clay Rose is an enthralling combination of sentience and symphony. With his emphatic openness and long, cultivated life of wisdom, the Gasoline Lollipops vocalist shared with me the trials and tribulations that have led him to his current state of fatherhood, gratitude, and musical wholeness.
MM: I’m interested in getting to know you personally as a musician. Where are you from, what is the story there?
CR: I’m from various places. The easy answer is half mountains of Colorado and half the hills of Tennessee. My dad lived here and my mom lived in Tennessee, so I grew up back and forth. But my dad was a long distance truck driver, so usually, I spent summers on the road with him going coast to coast. And then, when I was 15, he bought a farm up in Nova Scotia, so I spent a lot of time up there. So, kind of all over the place.
MM: Would you say you had a pretty exciting upbringing, kind of out of the box?
CR: Yeah, I didn’t really realize it at the time. Now that I’m raising a kid of my own, I see that I did have a pretty exciting childhood. That’s a nice way of putting it.
MM: Being a dad and a musician must be quite the experience.
CR: It doesn’t come without its challenges, but it is cool. I’m happy to not really have a boss. A lot of fathers goals are to provide financial security, but mine is to show my kid that he doesn’t have to have a boss. I have had lots and lot of bosses. I’ve done just about all the jobs you can think of, all the jobs that nobody else wants. It takes a lot of a creativity and a lot of faith to not have a boss.
MM: So you’re a boss dad who has had a cool upbringing.
CR: Yeah, it was a weird upbringing. My granddad bailed on my dad, so he didn’t have a dad at all and didn’t really have a reference point as to what fatherhood should look like. He did make changes for me. Before I was born, he was a hobo and he would hop freight trains and got around the country that way. Once I was born, he figured he needed a more legit mode of transportation, and started driving trucks so that he could make some money but keep moving. He’s never liked standing still. So, I grew up in trucks. We went all over Canada and Mexico and all over the states. I think by the time I was 12 or 13 I’d been to all the continental U.S. states.
MM: That’s amazing. What is your dad like?
CR: He’s an old hippie, so he turned me on to what I consider ‘the good music.’ He was the one that really got me started on loving music and finding refuge in it. And still, all those albums that my dad had in his tape case, when I listen to those records now I’ll see certain stretches of I-80 or I-95 or I-5 that were formative parts of my childhood.
MM: You see the roads when you listen to music?
CR: For sure. Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, all those records. I see the road when I hear them.
MM: Are those some of your heavy influences for what you do now? I hear country music in your sound, but not the country that I grew up with in Texas, because it’s a little grungier.
CR: My main three influences for music were my mom, my da, and my sister. My dad gave me all that I just named along with psychedelic rock. My mom was a country song writer, also from Texas. She wrote for Willie Nelson, and her crew was the Texas outlaw country. You know, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willis Alan Ramsey and all those other guys with three names. She turned me on to country, but like, the good country. The other ‘good stuff’. She taught me the difference between outlaw country and top 40 country.
MM: I see the difference.
CR: Yeah, and there’s a big difference between Texas country and Nashville country. There’s some crossover, but I like the old classic 70’s Texas country. There’s a lot of influence there, but then my sister turned me on to punk, alternative, and metal. She turned me on to The Violent Femmes, Tool, Ministry, and Operation Ivy, stuff like that. The music I make is unconsciously and unintentionally a blend of all of that.
MM: I see that in how you perform, you very much commit to what you do on stage.
CR: Being on stage has always been therapy for me. It’s what keeps me alive. How I have felt about it is that it’s where I go to exorcise my demons. All through high school, I had a lot of demons, and I didn’t trust therapists and I didn’t trust shamans. We tried a lot of different things for me. In Tennessee I was institutionalized, and I was made to see psychiatrists and talk to therapists. I went to jail a lot. I didn’t trust any of them. My dad tried alternative methods and took me down to Mexico to see shamans, and I didn’t really trust them either. But music was very personal to me, and I really appreciate that I don’t have to meet my musical heroes face to face.
MM: Why is that?
CR: I don’t think I would trust them, either. But I trust their records and I trust their songs, and that has always been therapy for me. I make my own songs for therapy, as well. When I am on stage and able to scream into a microphone with a big, loud rock and roll band behind me, there is catharsis there that I can’t even explain. I can’t put it into words. That’s what kept me alive through my 20s. But, now that I am getting older and starting to experience a little more inner peace, I’m starting to open my eyes a little bit more onstage and make it a broader experience so that it’s not just about me and start to involve the audience more and recognize that it’s bigger than me.
MM: Are you making music that you are hoping other people can trust, or hoping that someone who has gone through similar things as you will find the same kind of solace that you found in the music?
CR: Yeah, that’s certainly the highest purpose of music, I think. Leonard Cohen saved my life. He spoke to me when I was in a place of such solitude that I didn’t feel anyone had ever experienced before, and he described my experience better than I could. And so I trusted him, and it took away the loneliness and it gave me direction. If I could give that back to someone, then I feel like I’m even. Otherwise, I feel like I owe a debt to the universe.
MM: How did you come to be with three other people you are paying your debt to the universe with in Colorado?
CR: Well, I followed a girl back here. I was living in Nashville, and there was this girl in Colorado that I had met that I couldn’t stop thinking about. In 2002, I moved back here, and I have been here ever since. I was doing the solo thing for a long time, and it just happened very organically, the formation of this band, over many years. One member after another and another would join, and then one would move or get deported – which happened to one of our bass players – or one would turn out to be an asshole, and I would have to fire him. Eventually, I’d end up with the group of guys I have now, which is a pretty perfect line-up. The best I’ve ever had, for sure.
MM: A lot of things have happened to get to this point. What makes these particular members so unique?
CR: Yeah, I don’t know how accurate it is to say that the Gasoline Lollipops have existed as a band for ten years, because really this band has only existed for 2 years. All the guys are from different musical backgrounds, they are all different ages, they are all music grads, so on some level, I feel like they are all way out of my league. Donny, our guitar player, he’s from Detroit, and he plays that chicken pickin’ country thing, and he also does psychedelic rock. He’s just a monster on the telecaster. He’s probably one of the best top-ten living guitar players, especially in his genre. And then Brad, our bass player, he grew up in love with classical. I think classical music is his first love, so he has a very different sensibility that he brings to the table. And then Kevin Matthews, our drummer, comes from a jazz background. We have all these different styles, and it is sort of like me with all my different influences all melting together. So, why not throw in classical and jazz on top of all that other shit?
MM: You have met your match! It all seems chaotic and creative.
CR: We are all equally out of our element, I think it works well. It’s sort of like a Jackson Pollock painting, throwing shit at the wall and seeing what happens.
MM: Sounds like you are around some talented people.
CR: I am, it’s extremely humbling and at times terrifying, but also really comforting when we are about to take the stage opening for one if my music heroes and were opening for a giant national act on one of those huge festival stages. If it was just me out there, I don’t think I would have the balls to get on the stage. A lot of the time, I look around at my band and think, “Yeah, okay, I got these guys. I think I’ll be alright.”
MM: Will your fans have a chance to see you all perform soon?
CR: We are going to go on a little tour down in New Mexico in a couple weeks here. We are going to be in and out of the state over the next six months or so. We’ll be playing New Years Eve at The Fox Theatre, and we are going to play the album “Wild Flowers” by Tom Petty in its entirety. We’ll also be opening for The Leftover Salmon at the Gothic Theatre November 23rd, sort of like a Black Friday type of deal. And then we’ll be doing our annual trip to Belize in January. This will be our third time down there, and last year I think we had close to two hundred people from Colorado come in for it.
MM: You have some dedicated fans!
CR: We sure do. We had fans that came all the way to Belgium and the Netherlands last year to see us play. That feels so good, I can’t explain what that feels like, when you are so far away from home and familiar faces walk into the bar where you are playing. It feels like you are back at home at the neighborhood bar. We are very, very blessed in that way. Over the last two years, we have gone from playing that neighborhood bar, to playing Red Rocks and going on tour in Europe, and it is all, 100 percent because of our fans and the people who have been buying our records and coming to our shows.
MM: To leave off, is there anything your wonderful fans should look out for in terms of new projects soon?
CR: We should be releasing a single in November, and another one in December, and another one in Janurary, so we are going to start trickling out this new album one track at a time. Once the whole album is out, we will probably have it all available on vinyl.
MM: A busy next few months is coming up it seems!
CR: Everyday is Monday, that’s my motto.