Interview with Babylon Shakes frontman Chris Clark

Date: November 4, 2021
Interviewer: Olivier
Photos: Christopher Carroll ROCK Photography


Sleaze Roxx: Thank you for doing the interview. So you have to explain what happened. First it was Babylon Shakes, then you had two groups going — Babylon Shakes and The Blouse Brothers — with the same line-up, then only The Blouse Brothers who eventually became Babylon Shakes [laughs].

Chris Clark: We thought at the time, in order to play more acoustic material, we should call ourselves something else so The Blouse Brothers was born. We were really happy with it. It really put us on the map. We had a lot of great success with it. About halfway through 2019, Gary was playing bass. We were a three-piece band. He decided that he really wanted to play guitar. It was kind of his dream so we brought in another bass player. We brought Dave [Elmore] in and we started rehearsing songs for what would have been the second record. When we all got together, we started listening to a lot of ’70s music and started realizing that we all really liked The Rolling Stones, The Faces, The Allman Brothers. It started — it started really coming out in the songs. Before we realized it, the sleaze is kind of making its way out and the blues and the soul is coming in, which we were really surprised but it was turning out really good. And we thought at the time, we wanted to play more and we wanted to play longer shows so we thought that we’ll kind of goof on The Blouse Brothers. We’d let that be kind of a side project and we could go out and explore that sound a little more and play some covers.

And we did that for a while and then when it got time to really start putting songs out for an album, we started doing basic tracks at Gary’s and before I realized it, we had all the guitar amps turned at the same levels and all of a sudden, they were a little heavier. We’re looking at each other saying, “Well, this is still Babylon but it’s bluesier.” And the name Babylon Shakes could mean just about anything. And we had a lot of people in bands tell us that they just thought that the [band] name [Babylon Shakes] was just perfect and they really loved it. Everywhere we would go, we would see people wearing the t-shirts and logos so it kind of just hit me, I think in December of 2020 that “We should probably go back [laughs].”

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Alright.

Chris Clark: [Laughs] We just decided. We just decided then. It was like we just stepped right through the door and everybody welcomed us again. But we’re really happy with the way the new songs have turned out, the whole sound…. We’re a little older now. It just sort of feels right. I’ve always wanted to be like a great singer but never thought I was. Just playing this type of music and discovering this style, it just seems to fit even better. I’m more comfortable and I have more power. I really, really dug into it and it seems to really work. it’s like I found my songwriting voice and my physical voice.

Sleaze Roxx: That’s cool. it sounds to me like the album that Babylon Shakes is going to release is really going to be the Blouse Brothers’ debut album and as you progressed, it became a heavier album than you anticipated.

Chris  Clark: Yeah. That’s a good way to put it.

Babylon Shakes‘ “Another Broken Halo” single:

Sleaze Roxx: How was the songwriting for this album compared to the last one?

Chris Clark: This one’s more — the songs are more introspective. Pretty much all these songs were written during the pandemic, the lockdown, so I had a lot of time on my hands just being here [laughs] and playing a lot of guitar. And a lot of them are more personal, how we deal with being alone or being on social media and how people go after each other like our friends. We had a really turbulent election in 2020. Globally, I think that it was pretty evident but you know, we just saw a lot of family and friends turn on each other. It had a huge effect on the songwriting style. We kind of went — the first album was total sleaze. I was sort of drawn by the ’80s past from what I used to know when I was in bands then but this album, this is what is happening in my life today, what I see going on in the world.

Sleaze Roxx: Right. So in terms of the political stuff and how it created friction with certain people and stuff, did that have an impact within the band? The reason I ask is that I interviewed Johnny O’Neil a while back and he said that one of the reasons that Dare Force split up was because of the political views within the band [laughs] were really strong. Obviously, that’s not the case for you guys but did that create any impact?

Chris Clark: No, it didn’t. The four of us have never really had deep political conversations. We kind of squirt around it sometimes. I know that two of us are on one side and two of us are on the other side. And we’ve talked about it a little bit but it’s very obvious that you know, it’s not going to change [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Chris Clark: It’s not so important so it doesn’t derail the band, the workings and us having a good time. We have so much fun together that just goes above everything else.

Sleaze Roxx: Well, good. I think that’s the most important at the end of the day. How about Dave Elmore’s time in the band? He’s no longer in the band. What happened to him?

Chris Clark: We love Dave. We had a great time with him. Covid, the whole lockdown thing, really grinded everything to a halt, and his life too was in a big transition. He was moving from Northern Virginia to Raleigh [North Carolina] and I think it was tougher for him to kind of get together with us. We got a chance to play some live shows back in March [2021] and we jumped at the chance. There wasn’t any regulations where people have to be masked or anything. It was kind of wide open. We wanted to play so bad and Dave, he felt differently. We sort of realized maybe it’s best if…. We played as a three-piece. We had a really great time with it. It felt good again but we knew we wanted somebody else — a dedicated bass player in the band — to kind of completely flesh out this sound.

Sleaze Roxx: Right. So how did Chris Herninko get in the picture?

Chris Clark: He’s been a good friend of ours for a while. He was previously in a band called Spencer & The Elegant Blackouts. We had played with them. When we were The Blouse Brothers, we had played with them a couple of times and they’re kind of like minded. They are more Stone-sy, Faces type of straight ahead rock band. We became fast friends and let’s see, we played a show — like I said a three-piece show in 2020 — and Chris came to see us and I was joking with him at the bar, ‘Come and join our band!’ He was complaining that the Spencer guys were kind of locked down and not doing anything. He wanted to play. I said, ‘Learn our songs and come and play man [laughs]!’ Three weeks later, he texted me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve learned these two songs. Send me more and I’ll learn [them].’ And he did! So we brought him down for a rehearsal and it really worked. It worked beautifully.

Babylon Shakes‘ Vintage Soul RocknRoll album teaser video:

Sleaze Roxx: That’s great! That’s fantastic. Did he have any part in the songwriting for the album or anything like that? It was kind of late in the game, I know.

Chris Clark: Yeah, he was a little too late for that. He did have some really good suggestions about editing and composition. He did all of his own bass parts. His stamp is definitely on there.

Sleaze Roxx: One big difference between this album and your debut full-length album is that you had HighVolMusic behind your first one, and unfortunately both Bill and Lori [Chavis] passed away due to Covid complications. That’s very, very sad. So what was your mindset for this album and going the independent route?

Chris Clark: We knew we did all of this ourselves. We recorded, mixed and mastered everything at Gary’s house. I do the artwork and design. We kind of figured — we had no idea of a timeline. We didn’t want to be kind of on a label’s timeline either. We really weren’t sure when we were going to get this thing finished, when we could have everything ready to release. So we just felt, ‘You know what? For this one, let’s just keep it in-house and we’ll see how it goes.’

Sleaze Roxx: What are your thoughts about Bill and Lori [Chavis]?

Chris Clark: I was really, really shocked. That was absolutely heartbreaking ’cause we’re friends on Facebook and I was kind of following the updates. As it got closer and closer to — I guess it was September — my wife and I were just talking, ‘This is so sad. Both of them are not going to make it.’ When it did happen, we were just devastated. That was just [pause] really, really horrible.

Sleaze Roxx: When Bill and Lori came in for the first [Babylon Shakes full-length] album, what were their roles and what were their contributions to Babylon Shakes?

Chris Clark: They were both — Bill was just fantastic. He was at our very first live show and we met that night. He expressed an interest in us right there and then. We would have a lot of conversations. He would call in the middle of the day and we would talk about markets that we wanted to hit, where we wanted to go and who he wanted to partner us with on tour. He would set up interviews and podcasts, all sorts of things like that. He was really instrumental in putting that album out and getting it in front of people globally. He had a lot of connections that we still have today for magazines in Europe, some websites that review the CDs. Just a huge influence.

Babylon Shakes performing “Is It Any Wonder?” live at BendyQ in Upperco, Maryland, USA on September 25, 2021:

Sleaze Roxx: How long did you guys have to stop playing once the Covid pandemic hit and how great was it getting back to playing live shows?

Chris Clark: Oh my gosh! It was unreal. I think — let’s see, our first show back was March 13th of this year. Yeah, yeah. I’m so confused. This whole lockdown [laughs]…

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Yeah, right!

Chris Clark: [Laughs] It is 2021. Yeah, it was back in March. March 13th  was our first show. It was unreal! We hadn’t played… Prior to that, our last show was like early February 2020.

Sleaze Roxx: So, more than a year.

Chris Clark: Yeah, more than a year. It was but wow! Stepping up on stage for the first time, it was a private show and there were a lot of friends and family there who knew us. It was just unreal. It takes your breath away. It’s like stepping into a dream.

Sleaze Roxx: So, I’ve always thought that the music industry these days is tough and it got even tougher with Covid. I find that a lot of really great albums are getting released but they’re just not getting the publicity that they deserve due to the Covid pandemic and bands not being able to tour. So how do you see the release of your album and what can you do differently from other bands that have released an album but it just doesn’t get the due that it deserves?

Chris Clark: Yeah, it’s so tough these days because you feel like you have to constantly be in front of people and be doing something. Social media — it’s almost like an ocean. You can throw something out there and a few minutes later, it seems to disappear, it goes away. I think for us, what we really want to do, is just get the album out on December 10th and hit areas in the Northeast really hard like in March when the weather starts to warm up a little bit, play in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas. We always do really well. We just want to focus our efforts on the indie clubs in that area. I am also going to start doing some more social media video content too where I’m playing acoustically. Just kind of keep people engaged that way. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It’s so hard. I had this conversation the other day with Chris Herninko. We were talking about how we were in bands in the ’80 and ’90s, and if you could imagine someone coming to you and saying, ‘Hey, there’s this thing called social media where you can instantly reach all of these people that have come to see you.’ First off, we wouldn’t believe it.

Sleaze Roxx: Right.

Chris Clark: You’d think at that time, ‘That’s the greatest thing ever for independent music [laughs]! That would be a game changer [laughs]!’

Sleaze Roxx: Right, right.

Chris Clark: It’s so funny because we’re back to the same thing. It’s hard to get people to come out. It’s hard to get people to buy merch or buy your music.

Sleaze Roxx: So, social media has helped in some ways….

Chris Clark: Hmmm.

Sleaze Roxx: … but in some ways, you’re still at the same level.

Chris Clark: Yeah. It’s one of those things that you have to deal with it. You’ve got to be present on it and you have to engage on it in some way.

Sleaze Roxx: So, it looks like you guys have come up with a new term — ‘Vintage soul rock n’ roll.’ How did that come about?

Chris Clark: We had these t-shirts when the first album came out for the first shows that we started playing. We started calling it ‘Vintage sleaze if you please.’ We had t-shirts with that on it. It just hit me one day. We changed our sound. Its’s vintage soul rock n’ roll. The guys in the band were like, ‘Yeah! That’s it [laughs]!’ It became the new tagalong.

Sleaze Roxx: Did you guys entertain other album titles or were you set on that one right from the start?

Chris Clark:  No. Gosh, we went through so many different things. It was going to be ‘Augusta County Gypsy Blues’ for a while, for a long time. It was going to be ‘Seven Moons’ for about three months [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Right [laughs].

Chris Clark: One day, I was working on the design for the album cover and I had just copied and pasted ‘Vintage soul rock n’ roll’ into an e-mail that I had accidentally pasted into Photoshop, into the art file. I stepped back and saw it, and I’m like, ‘That’s it. That would be a great album title.’ Because it sums up everything.

Sleaze Roxx: How do you move from one title to the next? You had ‘Seven Moons’ for three months. How do you go about saying, ‘Hey guys, we’ve settled on this album title now. What about this one now?’

Chris Clark: [Laughs] Yeah. It would come with all different artwork. We released four singles so every time that we would release a single, we would have a new piece of art. With the ‘Seven Moons’ thing, we did the “Seven Sisters Seven Moons” song. The artwork was there and everybody in the band was like, ‘Yeah! ‘Seven Moons’, that’s it. That’s cool. It’s mystical. It’s still rock n’ roll.’ And then, I think that I was working on business cards and I didn’t want to use that. I wanted something that wasn’t so branded to one song. And that’s where we started talking about maybe we need a broader title for all of it because the songs are different. They kind of run a course of different emotions. Some are heavier than others. Some are quieter. Some are more funky, more upbeat. ‘Vintage Soul Rock N’ Roll’ seemed to be the perfect umbrella for all of that.

Babylon Shakes‘ “Seven Sisters Seven Moons” single:

Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Will there be any videos in the future?

Chris Clark: Yeah! We are talking about doing a video possibly for the very last song on the album, which is called “Until We Dream Again.” It almost sounds like, like a [Led] Zeppelin acoustic song. Something they would have done on ‘Led Zeppelin 3.’ It’s really mystical, almost gospel in a way. We’re talking about doing a video for that.

Sleaze Roxx: Are Babylon Shakes still on the [BLE] Masquerade festival?

Chris Clark: We are! Yeah, we are.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s been postponed so many times [laughs]. Sometimes, the line-up changes [laughs].

Chris Clark: Yeah.

Sleaze Roxx: What has Brad Lee’s role been with Babylon Shakes because I know that he has had some influence and he’s been helpful?

Chris Clark: Yeah. Brad has always been, just a great friend, a great inspiration. He saw us from day one too. He gave us that first show back in 2017. He’s always been a believer in the band and we talk a lot. He’s kind of been on my right shoulder a bit. We’ve gone through this transition and the new sound. He’s always willing to help and he wants to help us get better shows, get to different markets. We’re talking about maybe Nashville [Tennessee, USA] or Memphis [Tennessee, USA], Atlanta [Georgia]… See if he can get us out there.

Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention?

Chris Clark: We are all going to be… The band [members] are going to be guests — there’s a podcast called ‘All Things Blues and Southern Rock.’ We’re going to be guests on that on December 10th on release day. I think that it’s about an hour long podcast. We’ll talk to those guys about the whole process, kind of get more in depth about that. We don’t have any shows lined up at the moment but there are a lot of things that are just hanging right now. So hopefully, by the time that the album comes out, there will be some 2022 dates on the books and we’ll post those out.

Sleaze Roxx: If people want to buy your album or pre-order it, where do they go?

Chris Clark: The best place to go is just the Babylon Shakes’ Facebook page. We also have the Bandcamp page where we’re still selling all of our merch. Pre-orders are going to be set up there within the next week or so. We will have all of that ready to go. We want people to pre-order the CD and the album when it comes out.

Sleaze Roxx: Alright, that sounds very exciting. Looking forward to release day!

Babylon Shakes‘ “Drink My Wine” video: