Sama’an Ashrawi: So, this is gonna come up more as I get older, I’m sure, but I never had a big brother, or any brother at all, and I think part of my life is always gonna be spent searching for people to fill that role. Over the years, Gary Clark Jr. has kinda become one of my big brothers, and that’s cool because he’s someone who I not only look up to, but also a dude I can talk about Swishahouse with as easily as we can talk about Jimmy Reed as easily as we can talk about the good and the bad happening in the world – and those are experiences I don’t take for granted. Now, the story you’re about to hear is one that Gary had told me a few times before – once in Memphis and once in Los Angeles and I thought it was really, kind of, emblematic of who Gary is as a person, and we’ll get more into that later, but the day we sat down to record this, we’d been walking around his ranch and catching up. Gary was telling me how his ranch is kind of like his own personal Wakanda when an antelope poked its head up over a hill. It was, like, the perfect moment. One thing you need to know about me and Gary is that when we sit down to do an interview, we dig deep, and this interview is no different. So, let’s let Gary set this one up.
Gary Clark Jr.: It’s Gary Clark Jr. I play guitar and I make things. I just made a baby, and I’m in the middle of making a record, and I think they’re both beautiful. Uh, some good news? Shoot, I’m livin’, I’m here with Sama’an, that’s what’s up. That’s good news.
Sama’an: That’s pretty good.
Sama’an: And, uh, what song do you want to talk about today?
Gary: I was probably, like, seventeen? Maybe. I can’t remember it was a little bit fuzzy back then.
Sama’an: Right. Tell me about your bedroom.
Gary: My bedroom…
Sama’an:Yeah, what was going on in there?
Gary: At my parents house?
Gary: [Groans] Oh, man.
Sama’an: What’d you have on the walls?
Gary: On the walls it was, it was uh, B.B. King, Jimmy Vaughn, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Guy, MJ – Michael Jackson – some like, old pennant, San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson signed for me when I was a kid. Just guitar amps, man, like a little, like a Singalodeon karaoke little thing. Just things that I could get into. Lots of incense. You know, man.
Sama’an: Is this the same room with all the, with the lights?
Gary: Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sama’an: Tell me about the lights.
Gary: The lights, I don’t know, man. Maybe I was getting ready for stage or something. You know, in my mind I was, but I went and got all different color stage lights. The green, blue, yellow, uh, red and some black lights and I would just sit there and just, you know, just play guitar, be in my headphones or whatever, just be in my own world, man. I forgot about that!
Gary: I mean, man. Yeah I forgot about that.
Sama’an: Who are we meeting at this time, like, who, if you were to introduce us to that version of you. I never got to meet him. Who was that kid?
Gary: Who was that kid? Uh, that kid was, man, just driven, man, like just had big dreams of just being involved in music anyhow, so, like I could feel myself being like a sponge like my senses were heightened at that time, you know? For knowledge, and, to be inspired, just, you know, and I was going everywhere, you know, it was music, you know, films, you know, I was into cameras, you know, at that time and I was walking around I was filming everything I was taking pictures of everything –
Sama’an: I did not know that, wow.
Gary: Yeah, man. I mean I got like, I just have, tapes and tapes of, uh, you know, band practice in the garage and trips that I would take. You know, like, me and Eve [Monsees], we went to New Orleans and I was, you know, filming the whole thing.
Gary: I went to Ponderosa Stomp festival and saw Robert Junior Lockwood and, you know, I was doing that type of stuff but also I was hanging out with my friends and, you know, I was hanging out with, you know, Eric Zapata, he was in my band and he would come scoop me up in his Camaro.
Gary: He was blasting, like, Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s records and, uh, you know, Doyle Bramhall, you know, and I would go get in the ride with other friends of mine and we’d be listening to, you know, Houston, and Outkast, and, DMX, Tupac, Biggie like, and then, you know other friends, Modest Mouse, Green Day – I just hung out with people that loved music, so I was bouncing around I never had like a… solid crew that I was kicking it with everyday, I had my day ones, you know, that was always solid, but, I just was, I was just moving around. I would roll around, you know, with those crews, or sometimes I would just roll around solo just to be able to be a fly on the wall and soak up the information and the atmosphere rather than be a part of it, you know. To understand, like, the energy and how it flowed, how it moved, and how people worked, you know, I was very curious and driven, you know, it’s like, you know how you are, it’s like, you can just tell. You know what I mean? It’s like um… but yeah, that’s who I am, I still try and be that way. But uh, I also had a lot more free time.
Gary: You know what I mean? I was, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Sama’an:How did your parents feel about that?
Gary: Uh, they didn’t know a lot of it. They didn’t –
Sama’an: I got away with a lot, too.
Gary: You know, they, my folks called, or, my friends called me ‘Hotwire’ I used to sneak out of the house. Steal my parents car. I would put it in neutral, man, I would put that thing in neutral and push it down the street…
Gary: I don’t know how many times, I had a bedroom that was like on the second floor of my house, man [laughs] I was like, up top, right? And I would climb out the window ‘cause my dad would be on the couch watching, like, whatever late night television right about the time like Star Trek came on, or something, like, I was about, I knew I was about ready to dip he would start to slip.
Sama’an: He’s fading, he was fading.
Gary: Yeah, you know what I mean?
Gary: Yeah, but I never wanted to risk going around, we had like, uh, the door was pretty loud and –
Gary: So I would just climb off the roof, you know, jump down, climb down a fence. I fell down that thing multiple times, man.
Gary: And, I would just sit there, yo, I remember I fell off this one time I was just sneaking to go see this girlfriend of mine, and, um, I – I just like, it was raining, and I was like I shouldn’t be climbing up the roof when it’s raining.
Gary: But I’m tryna go! You know what I mean? And, uh.
Sama’an: You got one thing on your mind, man.
Gary: Yeah, man! And that was it. So I slipped off that thing and hit my knee and my elbow and I just laid there, like, in the rain, like –
Sama’an: I shouldn’t be laughing at you, man.
Gary: You know what I mean? Like, trying not to – trying not to, like, scream, you know what I’m saying?
Gary: I was in pain, so I just laid there, just took it and I was like, am I, like, good enough to, like, still go with it? Or should I, you know, get back in the house, should I just, you know, just knock on the door and be like “Yo, pops, I was tryna, you know, move around, and, I need help now.”
Gary: I think it might be broken, you know.
Gary: But yeah, doing a bunch of that, going and seeing shows and going up and down 6th Street and, doing all the, you know, I would sneak out and go hang with folks and they didn’t know a lot of the times.
Sama’an: Was that like your, was 6th street, like, Downtown, that was, like, where your friends would mainly try and get into trouble, or..?
Gary: It was like, two different, two different things, like, I was young, so, I mean I’m not really gonna say where I was at, but, you know, I knew a couple of folks who would let me come play music at their venues and hang out, and, so I was hanging out with older folks, too, and, you know, like, having grown folk experiences, you know..
Gary: …at a young age and I couldn’t really relate. I couldn’t go back to school and be like, yo this was happening out here. You know what I mean?
Gary: So it was, it was, kind of a separate, two separate lives, I guess, you know?
Sama’an: Where would, like, where would the average kid at your high school be hanging out at? Like after school or on the weekend.
Gary: [Sighs] Probably, like, Barton Springs, you know, just people’s houses. People were starting to move out at that time and, you know, kind of get their own spots, so people would end up just hanging out there, you know, doing what young folks did and sharing music and vibing and drinking and smoking and, you know, just like, laughing, just, you know, doing stuff like that so people were starting to be creative and I started making music with a couple of kids, you know, um, but yeah growing up in Austin… I went to that Austin High School down there and it was just, like, it was a bunch of different folks. I mean, we would sometimes go hoop, go play at Dick Nichols park down south in Garrison and, you know, go camping sometimes, you know, it’s like, Austin, this is, it was an interesting group of folks that I was, you know, running around with. It’s weird to think of it, you know, now.
Sama’an: How did Austin feel like at that time?
Gary: Austin felt like a small little town with like all these little hidden gems. I don’t know, it was like, what, like the first time Austin City Limits Festival came around, so there was like potential of things becoming bigger or more exciting and, as far as, like, the music business went – I didn’t know or care about anything else that was happening in Austin. I was like what’s going on in the music scene?
Sama’an: Right. Did your friends, like, in high school, were the friend groups kind of made by what kind of music you listen to?
Gary: Yeah, it was… Yeah, it was cliqued up like that but, yeah, I mean like you had your, what you would call, like, your emo kids, like, your Ska kids, the punk, you know then you had –
Sama’an: I had – I went through a Ska phase. I’m not ashamed.
Gary: Yeah, but, yeah it was all there.
Gary: Were you like skankin’ and doing the whole thing, or?
Sama’an: No I feel like I was kinda like you I was, like, I had friends in like each of the cliques.
Sama’an: Is that how your high school experience was?
Gary: Yeah, right. Yeah.
Sama’an: And like, I would hang out with the kids who liked rap music, hang out with the kids who liked rock music, band kids, football kids, like, I kinda floated.
Gary: Yeah, right.
Sama’an: I didn’t – I didn’t feel like I really belonged to, like, one of them.
Gary: Right. Yeah, I mean, you were also trying to play sports, too, right?
Gary: So, like, being in that creative space and the athletics – those are two separate things.
Sama’an: I almost, like, didn’t mesh. The athletes didn’t really get me. Like, you played baseball, right?
Gary: I played basketball.
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sama’an: Could you, like, relate to your teammates at all? Or, like, did you feel like an outcast, or?
Gary: Well I felt like an outcast because I wasn’t great.
Sama’an: Right. I can relate to that.
Gary: Like, I wanted to be like super dope. Like my friend, uh, Jamel, man, like he was incredible, like, to watch him play was like, I’m seeing him do it so it’s possible, to be able to… you know, but I would get the rock and, like, it just don’t work the same for me. But, yeah, so there’s that. I was also playing – I sang in the choir, too, which didn’t win me points with the athletes.
Sama’an: Right. Right.
Gary: You know, like, “Oh, choir boy’s late to practice! Why don’t you sing us a song?” You know what I’m saying? Like, aw bro. But, um, yeah, so the music hall was next to the band hall, so you just, you’d have the long haired, kinda quiet, you know, weird kinda, alt, whatever you’d call ’em, kids like hanging in the thing, you know, like crawling out of little corners, you know what I mean?
Sama’an: Tell me that one story you told me. You we’re playing basketball one time and, like, some racist shit happened.
Gary: [Sighs] That, well that kinda happened a lo- not a lot but, you know, when I was a kid, I lived in a place that was somewhat diverse. I mean like, there was a lot of people around. I don’t know if I remember exactly, but, I mean, I just remember kids coming by and they would throw up the confederate flag to us and, you know, they was just popping off at the mouth constantly, you know what I mean? Spray painting on the, on the fence and, you know, stuff like that. So, it was just something that was just, it was just around kinda living in the outskirts of a small, big city, you know what I mean?
Gary: So yeah, it wasn’t like an isolated incident.
Gary: You know? But it was weird ‘cause I would be friends with some of those people’s friends, you know what I mean? So it kinda, it was like –
Sama’an: “Hey, what’s wrong with your people?” [Laughs].
Gary: Yeah, it was like what’s… yeah, it was weird, you know? It was weird. You know, I don’t know where those fools are at now.
Sama’an: What was your, like, uniform at the time? Like what would you wear that would make you feel, like, Gary?
Gary: My uniform at the time?
Gary: That’s a good question. Man, I had some, uh, I never had anything, like… it was like a mix up of stuff. Like, I would have like, uh, like, uh, no name type of polo thing.
Gary: Some Levi’s and, like, some Karl Kani sneakers.
Sama’an: What were the Karl Kani sneakers?
Gary: They were like, tan cloth material, some leather. Karl Kani was, like, fly like a – yeah, so it would be like one kinda fly thing and then the rest of it was from, like, somewhere else, like a mix-match of things, like I’d feel fly sometimes with my boots.
Gary: I’d have some, like Sketchers or like some Doc Marten’s that somebody would give me, you know what I mean?
Gary: I had the – my cousin would give me some of his clothes, you know, like, so it was just a mix of, like some flannels that were too big and, like, jeans that were too short.
Sama’an: You didn’t wear the loose fit jeans, or?
Gary: Uh, I did, I tried – I did. I didn’t go like, you know…. JNCO.
Sama’an: You weren’t going that extreme.
Gary: Yeah, you know what I mean? But, yeah, I would definitely look for, like, a baggy tag at the top, or whatever it was.
Gary: And then I just, you know, they just looked like my clothes were just, like, hung up on me, you know what I’m saying?
Gary: Just like boney shoulders.
Sama’an: You were the coat rack.
Gary: My pops would get all pissed off at me ‘cause I didn’t like to starch my clothes and he came from that era of being starched, so I would just be like, have some like crispy ass jeans, bro.
Gary: And, like some sleeves that didn’t move, I’d be like sitting at my desk, bro, and my shits would be, like, pointed up.
Gary: Oh, man I used to get clowned for that. My pop, he wouldn’t, you know, he wouldn’t – I didn’t want to cut my hair, you know, to this day I don’t, like, he always wanted me to go cut my hair and I never – I wanted to grow like a big fro, you know what I mean? He’d be like, “As long as you’re in my house…”, so, you know, as soon as I was, you know, talking about getting out of the house around then, too, you know what I mean?
Gary: So, you know, at an early age, so, you know, that was another one of those things where I decided to dip, but my outfit was just my uniform. That’s a good question, man. Uh, stage clothes, man, I had some terrible shirts, like there’s pictures of me somewhere in like a red silky shirt, kinda, fake lookin’ zebra thing. Like some chops, like, you know what I mean? Like, trying to be 70’s Freddie King. [Sighs] Oh man, yeah, it was, I don’t know like what were you rocking in high school?
Sama’an: The same exact stuff I wear now [laughs] just, like, a band shirt and some jeans. I look the same.
Gary: But you figured it out, though, early.
Sama’an: I did, I did – okay, I will say in Middle School almost every day I would just wear like basketball shorts and, like, a t-shirt. Like, I would – ball was life for me.
Sama’an: I was like… really have hoop dreams, so I figured, like, I needed to dress like a basketball player all the time.
Gary: True. True. Yeah.
Sama’an: You know?
Gary: But I mean I understand, that’s – that’s also confidence builders that, you know, Jimmie Vaughan said, I didn’t hear this directly from him but I’ve heard that he, you know, he said he played better – he played better shows the more fly, like, your boots are, your shoes are, or whatever you know what I mean? It gives you, like, this thing, like, you own it, or whatever, and I find that to be true.
Sama’an: Were you wearing hats, too? In high school?
Gary: I wasn’t wearing hats, I was – well, I was conflicted, like, you asked me about my uniform and, like, I’m thinking about it and it was confusing, like sometimes it’d be long shorts and I’d have my hoopin’ shoes on.
Gary: You know, I never had a Starter jacket, but, you know, I had like a Cowboy’s – like an Apex, you know, yeah, like a couple Cowboy’s hats. Yeah I would kinda just go back and forth. I didn’t – I wasn’t wearing like, you know, like grown man, you know, until my dad got me one a few years ago, like, when I was in high school, like, and I never – I always wanted to wear it, you know, I was kinda conflicted on which direction I was gonna go. ‘Cause I didn’t know if I was gonna be like an athlete or a musician, or whatever, so, I kinda kept that one, I thought it was a little too showy, a little too, like, artsy, a little too “oh, I’m gonna sit in the corner and write a poem and I can’t – I don’t have time for you guys.”
Sama’an: One of those kind of hats, okay.
Gary: Yeah exactly. But, uh, I got drunk one night, I was hanging out with some friends and I put it on and I started doing the Michael Jackson dances and put on the, um, the Thriller album, man, uh, I saw some pictures later and I was like, “Damn, I kinda look good in that thing.” And I’ve just been rocking it since.
Sama’an: And what was the car you drove?
Gary: [Sighs] I drove – we only had, like, my dad worked at a car dealership sometimes, so most times we probably only had one car for the whole thing, so it was like a Jeep Cherokee.
Gary: Like a, um, it had – it, uh, a ‘94 Jeep Cherokee or somethin’?
Gary: And it didn’t have any – it was like no tint, it had like some wheels on it that were too wide for it, some like white wall tires on it.
Gary: It was amazing. Good speaker system in there.
Sama’an: And this was the car that your chopped and screwed story happens in?
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sama’an: So if I went back to meet 16 or 17 year old Gary –
Gary: Yeah, yeah.
Sama’an: And you were gonna take me for a cruise –
Sama’an: Kinda, like, tell me where you would take me, like, describe like what your seeing as your driving around.
Gary: Okay. Oh, man. Alright. Um, we’d probably – this might vary, but, you know, we might park over by the baseball fields and drive around by the baseball fields…
Sama’an: Off Old Fredericksburg?
Gary: Yeah, if nobody was there. You know we might pull up and light somethin’ up. Sit there and turn the radio up. And, uh, chill for a minute. Probably rap terribly to the –
Gary: You know what I’m saying? You start feeling good.
Gary: You know, somebody – somebody’s brother had a fake I.D. or something, so we’d go to the liquor store. Go pick something up. And, uh, we’d just be, be doin’ that. Um, we’d roll around, maybe, pop by the Sonic and get something. Taco Cabana, or whatever, after that and just go drive around – go pop around to like, you know… whoever’s throwing a party, whoever’s parents are out of town, or something, you know what I mean? A friend of ours had some land out down south and so, you know, we’d go ride around there driving up and down, um, Southwest Parkway, you know, there wasn’t really anything down there at the time and all you were really seeing was just some highway and some trees, you know, some like limestone. Some hills. You know, just for miles and miles. Roll up and down Brody Lane, William Cannon, you know, it’s like, kinda little – it’s a lot there now, I think they got like a 24 Hour Fitness or something but back then it…
Sama’an: They were on the come up.
Gary: Yeah it was, like, yeah it was, like, and it was just like trees and you see random cows stickin’ out of the bushes or whatever. So that’s just kind of what it was, what you would see. Just like, you know, you would just pop up on people and like hang out at their house, you know, listen to some music or whatever. You know, we’d just be driving around in the Jeep, you know?
Gary: Hope that it wouldn’t break down and like my mom didn’t need it and if she did need it, we would air it out before we got it back to her.
Sama’an: Drive with the windows down for a little bit.
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Yo, guys, for real. Blow it out the window!”
Gary: “Yo, my mom’s gonna be trippin’, yo! She don’t even know I smoke!”
Gary: The chopped and screwed freak out… [Sighs] Yeah, man, I guess it was like, early 2000’s or something?
Sama’an: Sounds about right.
Gary: I was, oh, hanging at a friend’s house and we were experimenting with green herbs at the time.
Gary: Out of a six foot, maybe, smoking apparatus.
Gary: You know what I mean? Something stupid, like, you don’t have to do that.
Gary: To get to the point – but, um, we were, like, we were real big into chopped and screwed, you know, being from Austin, Houston, being so close, or whatever, so, but I, uh, I had to dip and, uh, go back to the house and I was listening to, uh, oh man I can’t remember the name of the tape now but, uh, it was a chopped and screwed, like a remix of, like a bunch of folks doing, um, Ms. Jackson.
Sama’an: The Chamillionaire one?
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sama’an: “Hater’s keep askin’…”
Gary: Yeah – “Is the ice in ya gold real? / Stupid question -” so, I’m driving, and all of the sudden I hear the [singing “Here Comes the Bride”], like the wedding song – I had never heard that before.
Gary: I happened to be driving by this church and I was like, “Damn I’m trippin, man. I’m TRIPPIN’,” like, what’s happening – I couldn’t tell if it was in the song or, like, I couldn’t tell what was happening so I had to, like, I pulled over in this church, man, and I started sweating I was freaking out. It just – I don’t know, it was just like a moment where I was in the music and, like, really, like, swimming in it, you know what I mean?
Gary: And uh, yeah, it kinda changed me, I sat there, like, you know, wipe myself down and –
Sama’an: You pulled over…
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and, uh, got myself together and went back to my mom’s house and did homework or something, you know what I mean?
Gary: But I had, like, this thing, you know, my heart was beating too fast that whole thing, I was like, “Man, what, what, is this?” you know? Uh, yeah, looking back it was a beautiful, like, uh, I guess entrance into this whole other way of listening to music, you know.
Gary: Dissecting it, when you hear it really, really slow…
Sama’an: You appreciate it in a different way.
“Haters Keep Askin” interlude
Sama’an: That wasn’t your first time hearing chopped and screwed, so, like, what’s your first memory of hearing chopped and screwed music – that you can think of?
Gary: My first memory of hearing chopped and screwed music, that I can think of, is getting in the ride with, uh, my boy Francis got like a used, like, Bronco II. And he got like, uh, like a, like a CD player in it and we went up to Nonstop Music. I think this was the first, more like the first – one of the first times we pulled up – we popped up, you know, they got some tapes, or CDs and I got like uh Northside 11…
Gary: Swishahouse, yeah. And it was like, I mean, who was on it? Like, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, oh, man, I mean, help me out.
Sama’an: I mean, Lil’ Mario would’ve been on there, Magno.
Gary: Yeah. I mean – I gotta find this thing, it was everybody – I still have it somewhere.
Sama’an: The actual one?
Gary: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music that I own.
Gary: You know what I mean? It was just like, it changed my life. So we pulled out, you know, of the parking lot, my boy had a couple swishers rolled up, rollin’ around in the ride, man, like listening to that up and down, like, Manchaca, just like, southside of Austin, just listening to that, and we were sitting in the back, you know, and I’m like “What is this?”, you know, hearing that, um, uh, I mean it just – hearing that out of the speakers, you know, he had like a sub in the back, too, you know, these is like young white dudes – like white kids putting these big ass speakers in their trunks, you know what I mean? And, you know, just like cranking this stuff up it was – it’s funny to think about it now, you know what I mean? But, uh, that was the first, like the first time – and we were just hooked, man, I mean, I don’t really remember what all that, what all the records were and who all was on every song, it was like, but it was like a soundtrack, it was just like a vibe, you know, like these parties and like this, and you know it was like it was such a dope atmosphere that that music created and –
Sama’an: It’s a mood, for sure.
Gary: Yeah! You know what I mean, it was like super chill, it was like kinda, I don’t know man, it just made everything – it was like gangsta’, but like sexy? You know what I’m saying? Like it was weird, you know? It was like, the girls loved it, you know, those was some of the best times of my life is like me experiencing that music along with, like, that was at the same time I was really listening to, like, other, like, psychedelic music as well, you know, which was outside of the pop, you know, soul world. So it was like, this whole other way, yeah.
Sama’an: I never heard –
Gary: I got out the car and I was like, “Man, that was -” and then they dropped me at the hou- I felt like I had gone to space and back, you know what I mean?
Sama’an: Wow. Wow, yeah I’ve never heard anyone describe chopped and screwed music as psychedelic, but it totally is.
Gary: Yeah, it totally is, man.
Gary: You know, it was like hearing, you know, the stuff go through like flangers and, you know, choppin’ it up, and, you know, the back and forth between panning left and right, type stuff. It was like – and hearin’ it slow, you could hear all the stuff is like it was magnified and it was elongated, and it was like… it was crazy. I mean I listen to that stuff – I love to listen to music I just close my eyes, man, and like I can see these like amazing visuals, like a kaleidoscope type of thing. You know what I mean? And that stuff is just amazing to me, you know, just takes me to a different world, you know I be sitting with a bunch of people and I just get lost in the music, like, literally feel like I’m just going somewhere else. The herb helped.
Sama’an: Yes it did.
Sama’an: And would you have heard the, the Chamillionaire, Outkast flow, “Ms. Jackson” flow on the radio? Would that have been a CD?
Gary: Oh, no, no, not on the radio. No that would’ve been a CD, we would’ve gone to like – okay, so yeah, we would’ve gone like to, um, they had a couple little, like, record stores, like mom and pop shops like Nonstop Music, um, I think Music Mania up on, um –
Gary: Yeah, up on like 35 next to a Fiesta, I think. So we would just mob up in there and meet up with my boy Kevin, Jake, Grant, Jamel, whoever. Like, we would just pop up and get, like, the latest tape, who would ever, you know, was dropping and, um, it would just be like in a white envelope sometimes with maybe just like some simple black print on it, you know. And um, yeah, we would just go throw in the CD’s, sometimes the CD player wouldn’t work so we would drive up there for nothing and, like, you know, that would – that was just like a typical day, always had a basketball in the car so we might pop up at the park and go shoot some hoops, just go run into some people and, you know, just go do that, you know, crazy, like, for the most part it was – it was alright, I mean, we got in a little bit of trouble from time to time, you know.
Sama’an: Pretty normal.
Gary: Yeah. Well, if I felt like – if I felt like I was losing any focus towards what my thing was, I always, like, I gotta – I want to go do this thing, you know what I mean? This, whatever they told me about, so, it was a good balance, I think, of trouble and focus at a young age.
Sama’an: Like you always kind of had a clear idea that, like, music was your thing and, like, if you felt like you were, like, straying too far from music, like, you would snap out of it? Is that what you’re saying?
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was the only thing that brought me back, like, you know, I was a kid, you’re trying to figure it out. I mean, how was it for you? Like, did you feel like, you know, like, you know they say, like, pressure kids and all that to go this way or go that way, I mean I guess if you never really, like, click up you don’t necessarily feel like you gotta move in that way.
Sama’an: Yeah, I think, um, my parents, like, always, like, their advice to me was – they always wanted me to have fun, for sure. They were never against having fun – trouble is another story, but they always told me, like, if you just focus on the things you’re passionate about, or maybe the one thing if it’s just one thing, and pursue that, then you’ll end up around the right people. Naturally. And so, I think, like, I didn’t really find, like I was passionate about basketball, but I didn’t start to find a real passion until college, which is when we met, and once my parents saw that like I was really doing stuff I was passionate about, that’s when they, like, pushed me and they were like, “You have something that you love, and that’s rare, just keep that in your crosshairs.” And that’s been the best advice I ever got.
Gary: No pushback on that? You should do something else, or?
Sama’an: Like, the only pushback I got was my dad, he’s always been kind of wanting me to go to grad school, and I respect that and like, if life takes a turn at some point, maybe that’s the way I’m gonna go, but I think it was only recently that they, the really got it, like, 100%. Like I think when they saw kinda, like, the reception of some of my ideas and how, like, I was kind of, I’ve kind of started to, like, take control of my timeline, like my life in that way, that’s when they started to get it. And ever since then, they were just like, “Good,” like, “Go. Go do what you love.” Did it take your parents awhile to, like, get to that point?
Gary: Uh, hm. I would say yes and no. My parents were supportive, I was in school playing shows and trying to pursue that thing with my friend Eve, you know, and uh, so they were supportive in that they knew it was fun for us and they knew that it was something to keep us out of – getting into other things, you know what I mean? So, I think they supported it in that way, once school took a backseat to that they were like, “Oh, uh uh,” like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, nah this ain’t – you don’t get to just, this just be everything without,” you know, it’s like, “We work too hard to,” you know my mom, you know, God bless her, she’s like, “I work too hard out here to educate myself to be raising some young ignorant nigga out in these streets, that ain’t good for nothin’,” so she like you’re gonna get that education and do something that’s forreal, because that wasn’t, you know, the stories – and you see the stories, and the this and the – so there’s a fear of, you know, you see that and you think of that lifestyle and everything. So of course she wants me to go somewhere safe, you know what I mean? If she –
Sama’an: School is safe.
Gary: She didn’t, but she didn’t understand how passionate I really was about and it, like, it wasn’t just like a thing I was gonna give up just like basketball or karate or baseball, and you know –
Sama’an: When did she really get it?
Gary: Probably when I brought that Grammy home.
Sama’an: It took her that long?
Gary: Yeah, man.
Sama’an: Okay, that’ll drive it home.
Gary: Yeah, but… I think for even me too, you know, just to have something like that solidify, like, you know, all those years I put in tryna figure it out, fingers bleeding and late nights and going to school tired after being in a smokey club, hanging out playing ‘til two in the morning or whatever. [Sighs] You know, buy some gear to – buy a – you know, like a little 10 watt amp to buy up, you know, to get more professional – buy a Fender, you know, this, with some tubes in it and, you know, a comfortable guitar strap and, you know, just building all of those things to be able to have a moment like that. It was like, “Okay, I think I can maybe breathe a little bit.” Like, give myself a little bit of a break, you know what I mean? ‘Cause, I’m like a speeding bullet train, man. If you’re in the way, you’re gonna get run over. ‘Cause I’m goin’, you know?
Sama’an: It’s gonna happen one way or another.
Gary: Right. Right, right, right. But nah, in all seriousness, I think that once I started getting a lot of love in the city, you know, I thought I was gonna be okay, I did some film stuff and….
Sama’an: I don’t think our parents had the exact same experience growing up, but, I think it was maybe similar in that, like, tell me if I’m wrong, but for – at least my dad, he worked, like, to get a degree, he had to go through way more than, like, the average white person in the States. So the struggle that he had to go through to get that, I think probably, at first, he was a little concerned when I was like going real far into the creative side of things. I think that might’ve freaked him out a bit, ‘cause there’s so much security in just, like, getting an engineering degree, and getting a nine to five and, like, a house and, like, everything like that. You think it was kind of a similar thing for your parents, like, did they go through a lot to get where they’re at?
Gary: Oh yeah, I mean, you know, like, my grandmother – my mom’s parents, you know, really hard working, educated. My Grandad was in the military, so my mom told me this story that, uh, you know, he didn’t like that every time he saw, like, black people on TV they were singing and dancing. You know what I mean? Which, I could – I could understand, there’s other opportunities and other avenues and other ways to go, so I could understand that at that time, so, to be so educated and to be, like, you know, disciplined and structured and have all that, you know to see his Grandson to be like growing locks and showing up red-eyed and staying up late and smelling like, you know, [laughter] you know, it was like, and “He’s gonna go to do that for a living?” It’s like, oh, hold on a second, like, we been through too much to let you just – think you can just go out here and just, you know, break, you know, shut that down, but they didn’t understand that I had an idea of what I wanted to do and where I want to go and that’s still not over… Llike into the field and whatever – there’s other things that you can do along with that. And, I know what I’m doing I finally, you know, I saw my Grandfather before he passed away he was upset ‘cause I didn’t go to University, you know, he wanted me to go to college and all that, and he came to one of my shows in Portland, Oregan at the Aladdin Theater with his buddy and he was, like, really proud of me, you know what I mean? So that made me feel better, but I was stressed for awhile, like, “This shit better work…” you know what I mean? ‘Cause I love comin’ to Thanksgiving!
Sama’an: I’m not tryna get my invite rescinded.
Gary: Yeah, exactly. “Look at him! He lookin’…” Yeah, nah but, um, yeah the family shows love.
Sama’an: Do you think you’ll ever run out of ideas?
Gary: Probably! Probably. I think I – yeah, I mean, temporarily. But uh, no, well, I guess I – I guess you never run out of ideas if you come back to ‘em. But, I mean, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve just been like “I got nothin’,” you know, for a couple months and it’s like, just surrender to it and go do something else, you know what I mean? Like, play a game of basketball and chill out. Watch Breaking Bad or The Get Down or something like that, you know what I mean? Just like – but, uh, yeah like we were talking about, like, Stevie Wonder and, like, great artists and, like, I wonder if they are exhausted of ideas or if they’re just tired of hearing ‘em. Like, yeah, it’s just like “I’ve done enough for you people. I can’t give it all to you.” You know what I mean?
Sama’an: “What more do you want?!”
Gary: Yeah, “What more do you want from me?!” So, I don’t know, what do you think? You think you’ll ever run out?
Sama’an: Right now, I feel like, no. Right now I feel like I’ll always have ideas and those are kind of like my currency.
Gary: Yeah, well, yeah. Maybe I’m just tired ‘cause I got like two kids running around.
Sama’an: Yeah, you got like responsibilities and shit, like what’s up?
Gary: Yeah, like, maybe I’m just tired. I need a nap!
Sama’an: A nap is a great idea.
Gary: That is a great idea. Well, see, there you go. So yeah, nah, I feel you. I hope not! I hope that, like, my brain stays sharp and creative and, cause I like, I love the creative process, I love to come up with ideas and figure out, like, puzzles in my mind of – you know what I mean? That’s how – I wake up for that shit.
Sama’an: Even the bad ideas, it feels good to get them out.
Gary: Does it?
Sama’an: ‘Cause you gotta get through the bad ones to get to the good ones.
Gary: Do you know when they’re bad?
Sama’an: Sometimes – most of the time, yes. Sometimes I need my friends to be like, “This is bad.”
Gary: Yeah, see I don’t let anyone into my creative space I just need to let it go and then I just, like get the reception, and I be like “Alright, yeah. I won’t do that again.”
Gary: You know what I mean? But it’s very real. It’s like I own up to it and I think that’s for me, like, testing what my strengths and weaknesses are, like, very honestly, like, this is just what – this is me, I gotta get over that, though. Start to, like, open up and collaborate and I’ve been doing that a lot lately and learned a lot, which has made me better and I think I waited too long.
Sama’an: Or maybe it’s right on time.
Gary: Well, yeah but I mean, thinking back –
Sama’an: Oh, you wish you had done it sooner.
Gary: Like, oh man, what was I – what was I doing? You know what I mean? But, you gotta figure it out, I guess. You know
Gary: Well, what do you mean- what do I – I mean didn’t you, like, you’ve done some cool stuff can we not talk about it?
Sama’an: We can talk about it, yeah. That’s fine.
Gary: Can we?
Gary: I mean you got me on a record with Bun B.
Sama’an: Yeah, that was cool.
Gary: I mean that’s –
Sama’an: You wouldn’t have done that like five years ago?
Gary: Um, nah I wouldn’t have known what I was gonna do. You know what I mean? I don’t think I understood what my – what my voice was, what my approach was, I was still tryna figure everything out, too, you know, like what I was – where I was gonna go, you know, musically, coming from like a Blues world I just didn’t – I couldn’t – in my mind, yeah I would love to do it but I just didn’t know what I would bring to the table. Like I understand what I do now and being around so many great people I’ve educated myself very quickly to be able to know how to move in a room when it comes down to being creative and to know what my space is. But yeah there’s pictures like maybe five or six years ago when I’m hanging with some folks, like, I’d only just seen on TV and you can tell that I’m just like, “What the hell!” Like, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m here right now! I made it!” You know what I mean? But just, like, scared to say anything, you know what I mean? It was like unbelievable. It’s a weird thing to be like… it was a long transition period for me because I’m such a, like, keep-to-myself type of a dude so to be in that world and it’s so social and moving around everybody’s making connections really fast being in New York and LA, and I’m just a kid from Austin, Texas been walking around barefoot, you know what I mean? Playing an acoustic guitar at Barton Springs it’s like –
Sama’an: You’re moving at a different speed.
Gary: Yeah, definitely. It took me awhile to catch up I was like, “Oh wait, I’m late! Hold on, hold on, okay, okay, okay.” Yeah it’s been an incredible – I’m still processing, I mean, like, do you – does it take you awhile to go, alright, this is what this is and move onto the next thing or can you just be like, “I’m in this moment,” process one to the next thing and just keep it moving?
Sama’an: Yeah, I think one of the best pieces of advice Bun ever gave me was, in any situation you find yourself in, you gotta act like you’ve been there before. I didn’t get that at first. But once I got it, it helped, like, tremendously.
Gary: Yo, for real. Yeah. I’m still tryna be that way ‘cause I can’t hide it on my face.
Gary: You know what I mean? Like, uh, I can’t, you know, like if I’m standing in a room with Bun B I’ma act like I’m standing in the room with Bun B.
Gary: Or I’m gonna leave so I don’t look like I’m –
Gary: Um, it’s… Wow. Love is like, uh, it’s like a plant. That you see at first, and it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful. And then, it starts to maybe whither a little bit, and you have to water it and keep it beautiful.
Sama’an: But like, not too much.
Gary: Not too much, you don’t want to drown it.
Gary: But you don’t want to let it dry out.
Gary: But you wanna, like, step back and look at it and then, get up close to it, and then kinda just let it be and then maybe let other people admire your love. You don’t get too selfish with it…. And, uh, then you have sex and take a nap!
Sama’an: Very poetic.
Sama’an: Oh man, um.
Sama’an: Thank you.
Gary: Yeah, thank you. I’ve never had the opportunity to break it down like that before.
Sama’an: It was quite astute, on your part.
Gary: Yeah, nah it’s amazing man, like, you know, I look at my wife and I’m like, damn, to see where we’re at and where we’re at with this family and, you know, she keeps getting, like, better and more amazing. It’s – damn. You know what I mean? Don’t get it twisted it’s like – like I said, it’s not – everything’s – you know you got your ups and your downs and you gotta fight through some things to get through the – you know, to work through it, it’s like the – finding the diamonds, you know what I mean? It takes a little work but it’s amazin on the, you know, just the communication and all of that, it’s amazing, man. Like, I got me a good one. And it’s – you know you learn stuff about yourself, it’s like a mirror, you know what I mean? If you really are open and, like, care and are honest about it it’s like, it’ll let you know who you really are and what you really – what you, what waves and energy you’re really moving around in this world. And not just, like, your own perception of yourself, which is – can be amazing, you know, humble yourself and appreciate things and, you know, just be in it. It’s good. Yeah. I didn’t know you were gonna drop that one.
Sama’an: I’m just – I’m just doing research right now, man.
Gary: Oh yeah?
Sama’an: And one day ima be in the middle of it and ima be like, “Yeah, it is like a plant.”
Sama’an: Gary was right.
Gary: Yeah. I think I’m just saying that ‘cause we’re out in the country.
Gary: Lots of greenery here around me. But yeah, that’s what I think of it as, you know, really, it’s not as romantic as it could but it’s – just being real, all the cute shit and, you know, all that stuff is like, it’s fine, but what’s – let’s dig deep, you know what I mean? Just get into it, baby.
Sama’an: One day that’s gonna be me.
Sama’an: Alright, hey, thanks so much, man for telling that story…
Gary: Well, thanks for coming by and bringing all this stuff so we could record it.
Sama’an: It’s cool to be out here at the ranch.
Gary: Yeah, man. You’re welcome, come by anytime.
Sama’an: You about to do your mob voice?
Gary: [In mob voice] Yeah, come back anytime, whateva, my house is your house, you know what I mean?
Sama’an: On this day of my daughter’s wedding…
Gary: Ay, forget about it. I got you, forget about it. No problem.
Sama’an: Alright, thanks man.
Sama’an: So, the reason people might think that story’s so emblematic of who Gary is and is so important to know, is because his influences are so wide-ranging and it’s why he’s such a versatile musician. He can do almost any style he wants and he’ll do it in a way that sounds very unique. Now I think, to this day, he’s the only musician who’s ever been nominated for Grammys in the rock and R&B categories in the same year. You know, and this story is – it falls right in line with that, you know, here’s this kid who, you know, his guitar hero was Stevie Ray Vaughan, but he was also riding around Austin listening to chopped and screwed tapes and his idols were Slim Thug and Paul Wall and people like that and that all makes its way into his music. You can totally hear it. So, I’m hoping you’ve deduced by now that Gary is a guy who has no interest in fitting into a box, or moving it any tempo other than his own, and those are attitudes that I really identify with. But, at the same time, Gary’s also had some pretty relatable teenage experiences. Um, but the only difference is that, at a very young age, he had found something that he’s incredibly passionate about. And uh, that guitar has really taken him some incredible places. As Gary likes to tell it, when we first met at Austin City Limits festival in 2011, I was interviewing him, and he was looking at me thinking, “Who is this kid asking me about hip-hop?” He doesn’t get those kind of questions, usually, in his interviews. People will kind of paint him as very, um, one-dimensional, like, all he cares about is the guitar. And that’s just not true. That wouldn’t be true for anyone, you know? But ever since that interview in 2011, he’s been there every step of the way in my career and for that, I appreciate him to no end. So, much love, G, thank you for doing this. Catch you next time. Thanks for checking out another episode of “The Nostalgia Mixtape.” I’m your host Sama’an Ashrawi and this podcast is produced, as always, by the magnificent Jason Crow. Catch ya next time.
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