INTERVIEW WITH BABYLON SHAKES FRONTMAN CHRIS CLARK
Date: May 7, 2019
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography (first, second, fourth and sixth photos)
IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS, BABYLON SHAKES HAVE ADDED A NEW MEMBER (BASSIST DAVID ELMORE) AND RELEASED THEIR DEBUT FULL-LENGTH ALBUM ‘EXILE TO THE VELVETEEN LOUNGE‘ VIA HIGHVOLMUSIC. IN ITS SHORT HISTORY, THE BAND HAS ALREADY PLAYED A NUMBER OF PROMINENT EVENTS INCLUDING THE M-PRE PARTY IN 2018 AND MB4 IN 2019 (BOTH EVENTS BEING STAGED ONE DAY BEFORE THE M3 ROCK FESTIVAL) AS WELL AS THE INAUGURAL ROCKLANTA EARLIER THIS YEAR. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH BABYLON SHAKES FRONTMAN CHRIS CLARK TO FIND OUT THE LATEST ON THE BAND.
Sleaze Roxx: Congratulations on your debut album! Before we dive into that, back when I interviewed Babylon Shakes at about this time last year, you guys were teasing me with a big announcement, which ended up being signing with HighVolMusic. How did the partnership with HighVolMusic come about and how has it been during the first year?
Chris Clark: Thank you! We are extremely proud of ‘Exile’ and are overwhelmed at the positive response we have received from the press and the public. We actually met HighVolMusic CEO, Bill Chavis, at our very first show back in December 2017 and we met and talked a bit that night. He followed us on social media and kept up with what we were doing so we sent him some of the tracks that comprised the first EP and he was impressed. He came to see us play a few more times and invited us to be a part of his label roster expansion. I think we signed on in April 2018 and have never looked back. Bill is truly passionate about what he does and he understands what it takes to build a brand and become an established presence in a highly competitive market. He understands our vision for the band and we have the creative freedom to really be ourselves. I mean, we even have our own coffee now! It’s amazing. Having that kind of support means everything.
Sleaze Roxx: About two months before the release of Babylon Shakes’ debut full-length album, you announced the addition of bassist David Elmore which also saw Gary Jordan switch from bass to guitar. Why the changes and why so close to the album release?
Chris Clark: Late last year [fall 2018], we spent a lot of time jamming together in the studio and playing quite a bit of acoustic music. We had the album done, mixed, mastered and turned into the label. Gary is a phenomenal guitar player and he expressed an interest in wanting to move to guitar, if we could find the right bass player to take over his spot. It seemed like an impossible task at the time, but [drummer] Jeff [Mortimer] had Dave in mind from the beginning so we reached out and asked him to come jam with us. Dave showed up, dressed up in all cool and vintage sleaze, knew every single song we gave him and turned out to be just a wonderful person on top of everything. Instantly, our sound became fuller and bigger. I could concentrate on singing and playing leads and fills while Gary held down the rhythm. We realized the boundless possibilities of what we could do with this new line-up. We knew in early December that we wanted him in the band, but we wanted to wait to make the announcement closer to the beginning of 2019. We wanted to make sure everyone was completely onboard and the album had a firm release date.
Sleaze Roxx: Did David get a chance to play on the new album?
Chris Clark: Unfortunately, no. He didn’t get a a chance to play on the album. We had all the recording wrapped up by fall so it was pretty much a done deal.
Sleaze Roxx: You ended up including the songs from Babylon Shakes’ debut EP on the debut full-length album. You had done a similar thing with your last band Last Call Messiahs. Why did you end up doing that?
Chris Clark: So true and that has been in the back of mind since we finished ‘Exile.’ Our original plan before signing on with HighVol Music was to release two five song EPs in 2018 — a volume one and volume two companion set. Our thinking was that it was more economically feasible for us to split up releases and we would have fresh product available for the first and second half of the year. So we self-released Exile Vol 1′ back in February 2018 and then upon signing on with HighVolMusic, Bill thought it would be a better idea to pull all ten songs together for one solid debut record. He told us that with ten songs, you have a body of work that is going to give the press and the public a much stronger impression than an EP. Press reviews will be stronger. Radio and podcast markets will be able to digest the complete experience of who the band is and where we are coming from. I was a little concerned that we were in a sense re-packaging some product that we had already put out there, but all ten songs are from the same sessions and they all have the same amazing energy and direction. Also, the distribution arm of HighVol Music had a much broader reach than we could attain releasing music on our own. It turned out to be a brilliant move and now our music is available on a global scale.
Sleaze Roxx: Please tell me about the new songs on the album. Which ones are your favourite ones and why?
Chris Clark: The ten songs on the album are a real mix of old and new. Some songs like “Die Pretty” and “Hard Times”, I’ve had in various form since 2007 but with the formation of Babylon, they were fully realized. You can really hear the influences coming through like “Making A Million”‘ and “Sunset Striptease” are very Aerosmith, while “Die Pretty” and “Hard Times” could be Hanoi Rocks songs. Everything was written to be played live and at maximum volume. Just a fun, hard rock record that you could blast with the windows down. I tell people all the time that I have a favorite new song of ours every week. I think I have spanned the length of the album but my current favorites this week [laughs] are “Hard Times”, “No Pictures Please” and “Stars In Your Eyes.” “Hard Times” is an older song but it’s autobiographical. It’s a snapshot of a much younger me trying to find my place in the rock world and rising and falling with different bands. Washing dishes in various restaurants, playing shows, saving quarters to put gas in your car and buying rounds of drinks at the bar. Being happy with the little you have. “No Pictures” has this chorus melody that I just love. It’s inspired by Dogs D’Amour and glam rock of the ’70s. It is so much fun to play live and the backing vocals just blow me away. I am very proud of that song. “Stars” is also very close to me and its about meeting my wife Margie. I always wanted to write a song about about her but not a hackneyed power ballad or syrupy overproduced love song. It has its roots in more country tinged ballads like the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” or Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well.” We finally played it live last week at MB4 and she was right there up front with a beautiful smile. I will never forget it.
Sleaze Roxx: You started a really cool series called ‘Stories Behind The Songs’ via Facebook. I wish more artists did that. How did the idea come about and can we expect this for any new song from Babylon Shakes in the future?
Chris Clark: Thank you! I started doing that series because I really enjoy hearing other artists talk about their songs and how and why they wrote them. I think it’s fascinating as a fan and as an artist to reveal that inspiration and find out more about the songs. I’m an avid reader of music biographies and I enjoy learning about the artist and what inspires them to create, what makes them who they are and how they reflect that in their craft. I love talking about songwriting and just started doing that on a whim, hoping other people would enjoy reading it. I’ve had many conversations with friends recently about how song craft is not what it used to be. A good song is a perfect snapshot in time — you should feel it, see it, know its time and place. I will definitely continue the series and I’m humbled that so many people enjoy it!
Sleaze Roxx: Babylon Shakes shot a fun video for the song “Making A Million.” What was the idea behind the video?
Chris Clark: We had an absolute blast making that video! The whole concept is kind of a tongue-in-cheek story about how unreal it seems today for an authentic rock band to get signed and become huge rock stars in 2019. The music industry today is almost non-existent to rock fans. It’s the wild west and nobody knows where to turn or where to run next. It’s a strange new frontier and it’s hard to know how to navigate it. We joke around that our definition of “making it” these days is being able to sell some merch, put some gas in the tank and get back home in time for the day job on Monday morning. We wanted primarily a performance video with some funny conceptual segments. We enlisted all our friends from the Virginia / North Carolina area, a talented videography team [Zakk Knecht and Christian Meyer] and we rented this magnificent venue called Phase 2 in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Babylon Shakes‘ “Making A Million” video:
Subscribe to be alerted when we add new videos – http://bit.ly/SubscribeHighVolMusic | From the album EXILE TO THE VELVETEEN LOUNGE. Get your copy NOW: https://highvol.rocks/hvmmerch
Sleaze Roxx: I note that Babylon Shakes had Sleaze Roxx photographer Christopher Carroll sing some background vocals on the debut full-length album. How did Chris become involved with the record and can he actually sing [laughs]?
Chris Clark: Haha! Chris is one of our nearest and dearest friends and one of the most insanely talented guys you will ever meet. He not only takes amazing pictures but he has a hell of voice too! He’s an incredible vocal coach and is skilled with finding harmonies. He was with us when we shot the “Velveteen Libertine” video and afterwards we were celebrating and singing along to disco songs in Gary’s lounge. When the Bee-Gee’s came on, Chris was right on it! There’s a really funny video of this somewhere in existence [laughs]! We had so much fun together and he helped us out a lot with the second half of the album.
Sleaze Roxx: Babylon Shakes had the daunting task of playing right after Hardcore Superstar on Day One of Rocklanta. It seems to me that turned out to be a great test for the band. What did you guys think when the schedule came out and how did it go?
Chris Clark: Yes, when the final line-up was sent out, I thought there was some kind of mistake and that we would be going on much earlier in the evening. When we found out that it was indeed real, we thought “Well, if there was ever a test for this band to endure…this is it!”. Honestly, we were just happy to be on that festival line-up. Brad Lee always puts on monolithic rock shows and Rocklanta was no exception. It’s funny because I have gone through many emotions in that time right before you take the stage, but that night, me and the rest of the band were absolutely frightened. I watched Hardcore Superstar on the monitor downstairs and I was shaking. I had seen them a few years ago co-headlining with Michael Monroe and I was in awe of their energy and power onstage. They are one of the best live bands on the planet and they had that Atlanta crowd in the palms of their hands. You have to see them to believe it. They were destroying it! When the curtain rose on us, we just closed our eyes and did our thing. I think all in all, it was great exposure for the band and we met lots of new people who had only heard of us prior to the show.
Babylon Shakes performing “Making A Million” live at Rocklanta in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 29, 2019:
Rocklanta – Center Stage – Atlanta, GA – March 29, 2019
Sleaze Roxx: You recently got to play the MB4 Festival, which was held the day before the M3 Rock Festival in Columbia, Maryland [USA]. How was that experience?
Chris Clark: MB4 was my favorite live show that we have played so far! We had a huge crowd and so many friends on hand to enjoy the night. I love playing the Baltimore area and then you factor in the M3 weekend — its the best! Everyone is happy and excited for the start of the festival. I remember at one point during “Velveteen Libertine”, I looked out into the sea of faces and I saw and heard so many people singing right along with us. A friend of ours got great footage of this and the crowd are almost drowning out the band. You dream about moments like that when you form a band and when it happens, it just takes your breath away.
Sleaze Roxx: The Babylon Shakes band members formed a new group called The Blouse Brothers, which I understand plays acoustic gigs. Why two bands? Why not just have Babylon Shakes play acoustic gigs once in a while?
Chris Clark: Initially, we were just going to do acoustic Babylon shows, playing our songs and some covers as well. Maybe a few select gigs closer to home and allow us to become even tighter as a band. We started playing acoustically just for fun and to get Gary and Dave up to speed in the new line-up. So at the same time we are doing all of this, we also really begin to dive deeper into our influences — Rolling Stones, Faces, Allman Brothers, Gram Parsons, etc. Bringing Dave into the band and his wealth of musical knowledge fed into this more ’70s rock vibe. We started hanging out in downtown Staunton, Virginia — an older college town — and this whole new burst of inspiration began to happen. We started writing songs like crazy and they are absolutely amazing! More acoustic blues, country, soul driven songs. I’m singing in a different, more soulful kind of voice that I didn’t even know I had. There are more vocal harmonies and extended jams. The only caveat is that they are so different from the vintage sleaze sound of Babylon that we felt like we should call it something else. So the Blouse Brothers has sort become our alter ego. Same guys — just a different sound. We will be recording later this month so hopefully there will be some audio available soon.
Sleaze Roxx: What are Babylon Shakes’ plans for the rest of the year?
Chris Clark: We plan to play out as much as possible and support ‘Exile’ for the remainder of 2019. We are working on a few shows now that we can announce soon enough. Hopefully, you will be able to see us in Atlanta, Nashville and more of the northeast this summer and fall. There are a lot of killer, like-minded bands we are hoping to work with like Wildstreet, Mad Margritt, American Jetset, Lady Diesel, Rat Rod and Asphalt Valentine. Lots of good rock n’ roll out there these days. We will most likely begin writing again in the winter and start planning for album #2.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s one thing that people would not know of each Babylon Shakes band member?
Chris Clark: Dave Elmore is a crane operator by day. Yes, tiny little guy in a giant machine. He also has exquisite taste in fashion, paisley shirts and leopard boots. Jeff Mortimer is an IT professional by day and can quote complete passages of movie dialogs like ‘Fletch’, ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. He does a wicked David Lee Roth impression and is an avid fan of the old ‘Hollywood Squares’ game show. Gary Jordan is a property manager and can fix and build literally anything. We always stop at Wawa when we travel and he’s all about those pickles in a pouch. I am a visual designer by day when I’m not combing thrift shops for blouses. I also do a pretty good Johnny Carson imitation and I enjoy a good chicken parm sandwich.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t covered?
Chris Clark: We just want to extend a huge thanks to our fans and encourage you to keep your eyes on our social media accounts for upcoming events, updates and announcements. If there is an area of the country you want to see us in, please let us know and we will do whatever we can to make it happen.
Babylon Shakes‘ “Velveteen Liberty” video:
First official video release from Virginia’s own vintage sleaze upstarts, Babylon Shakes.This trio is comprised of Chris Clark- guitar and lead vocals, Gary Jordan- bass and vocals and Jeff Mortimer- drums, percussion and vocals. Directed by Robert Huotari and starring Amanda Miller. For more information please check us out at babylonshakes.com.