Sunday, February 17, 2008


the clarks
The Clarks from The Phillyist

Guitarist Rob James, bassist Greg Joseph, drummer Dave Minarik and singer Scott Blasey formed the Clarks in 1986 while students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The school had the good sense to recently honor them as distinguished alumni.

The band was started when the foursome entered a rock competition. The name of the band was picked on a whim. Joseph was at work and spent the day catering to one particular business, the Clark Company. That night he went to rehearsal with the workday still on his mind and said "how about The Clarks" as a name? A week later they entered the battle of the bands as the Clarks and did pretty well, so they kept the name.

At first, the Clarks stuck to playing parties at IUP until they started writing their own material. Then they moved to Pittsburgh, playing on the local club and college circuit. Eventually, they expanded to touring along the East Coast and Midwest. Now they gig nationally.

They’ve shared stages with John Mayer, Marc Broussard, OAR, Steely Dan and Three Doors Down. The Clarks appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and ESPN's Cold Pizza. Their songs can be heard in the films "Boys," "Summer Catch,"and "Just Write" along with the closing credits of TV's Anna Nichol Show.

Their first release, 1988's "I'll Tell You What Man" was a huge Pittsburgh hit. "Help Me Out" and "Cigarette" from the 1994 "Love Gone Sour" album still get local airplay to this day. They caught their break after releasing a track from their 1991 album "The Clarks," called "Penny On The Floor". It was picked up by WDVE and soon became a Western PA staple.

After that the Clarks signed a national recording contract with MCA and they were on the way to the big time. They released their 4th album, "Someday Maybe," in 1996 and thought that national success was finally beckoning. Wrong. MCA was going through a money crunch at the time and the album received virtually no promotion. The Clarks, along with many other bands, were cut from the cash strapped label in 1997.

Still, the album sold well in Pittsburgh with the tracks "Mercury," "Stop," and "Caroline" becoming especially popular. After taking some time to regroup, the Clarks reached their greatest success with "Let It Go" in 2000. It outsold many national releases in the Pittsburgh region and generated three local radio hits: "Born Too Late," "Better Off Without You" and "Snowman".

The intelligentsia claim that The Clarks' songs are just about girls and beer. And they're partially right. What else would any self respecting college indy band write and sing about? But the lyrics are erudite enough for the university crowd with enough hooks to draw the garage band gang, alt rockers and pop fans. Punk and metal rockers need not apply.

The Clarks, having learned their lesson the hard way, started their own independent record label and distribution center, King Mouse Records. The name comes from a line of their song, "Cigarette" ("On a weather beaten transom in the house, walks a friend of mine that I call the old king mouse.") Blasey says, "There is no significance to it whatsoever apart from the fact that it rhymes with house." Still, their fans throw toy mice on stage whenever the band plays that song. Go figure.

The label's catalogue includes the early albums "I'll Tell You What Man," "The Clarks," "Love Gone Sour, Suspicion and Bad Debt," and "The Clarks Live" plus a smattering of other artists. They've sold more than 93,000 units of music over the past 14 years via King Mouse, adding a nice little splash of gravy atop their meat and potatoes, touring gigs. They came out with their eighth album, "Restless Days," in 2009.

The Clarks have gone country crossover in their old age. They've added keyboardist/accordion player Skip Sanders and pedal steel player Gary Jacob to the band, and they released a digital six-song EP in 2010. Called "Songs in G,' it contains a handful of catalog hits like "Shimmy Low," "Boys Lie" (with Maddie Georgi on lead), "Penny On the Floor" and a cover of Whiskeytown's "16 Days."

They perform an average of 150 live shows every year. The Clarks roam from sea to shining sea and have big followings in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Baltimore, DC, Buffalo, Central PA, New York, and campuses all over the country. (Since 1995 Blasey has been recording and touring solo in addition to his work with the Clarks.)

But the band is still considered a Pittsburgh act. Why not? The members all still live here. And while national fame has so far eluded them, the Clarks and Pittsburgh belong together.

They were one of the first acts to grace Stage AE in the Northshore, performing their 2,000th show just before Christmas. Pittsburgh City Council even proclaimed the show date, December 22nd, 2010, as "Clarks' Day". They'll also play in front of a national TV audience on New Year's Day as part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' "Winter Classic" at Heinz Field.

It's hard to beat being a hometown hero.

The Clarks - "Shimmy Low"

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