Interview by Zach Belfer

January 14, 2020

Asbury Park Vibe's own Zach Belfer recently caught up with Jake Clemons prior to the BIG RoaD WINTER BASH event at The Headliner Night Club in Neptune, NJ on January 10th. (See Zach's live show coverage here.)

Their conversation touched upon many topics including his new album (Eyes On The Horizon), working with Tom Morello and Eddie Kramer, and what he learned from Bruce and The E Street Band's work ethic! 

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Q: I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk and wish you a Happy New Year. Did you play a show to ring in the New Year?

A: I was fortunate enough to celebrate without working. I’ve worked on New Year’s for the past 20 years. I love playing music, but it is also nice to celebrate with everyone.

Q: You released your sophomore album Eyes on the Horizon in September 2019 to great reviews. What are you most proud of with the release of your second album?

A: Super grateful to have it all, the whole collection of songs recorded and released. I’m really proud of the entire project. What am I most proud of, may be the reception it has received. You never know how people will receive these things especially when you are crossing personal boundaries in the process. I am really humbled by the reception of people who understand what it’s about. That’s just an exciting thing when you're able to communicate something in a clear enough way that they can get into it. It’s a principle thing that makes it fun to make music.

Q: What about Leonard Cohen’s song "Democracy" resonated with you to make it the first single on your new album?

A: I only heard that song a few years ago for the first time and it struck such a strong chord with me. It immediately took me back to my childhood remembering growing up on military bases and the atmosphere that was there and how everyone seems so connected, and aware of each other. How that's changed and neighbors aren’t really neighboring anymore. It really puts you back in the time, it really felt like the first time I heard it a few years ago that it was really written for today. I couldn’t help but learn it immediately and then insert my own feelings into it.

Q: Why did you choose Tom Morello on “The Consumption Town” track? What was it like to work on music with him again?

A: He’s just an incredible person all around. I got to be close with him in 2014 when he was on tour with the E Street Band. I've been a fan of his since my youth and to meet him was incredible, but then to get to know him and have him become like family is even more amazing to me. He’s really like a big brother to me, so working on this record was exciting because whenever you can work with family, it's exciting. The song I felt was ok as is, but then to put his guitar on it really brought it to the next level.

Q: Eddie Kramer’s resume includes names like The Beatles, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Bowie royalty of Rock N Roll music. What was it like to make music with someone with that kind of history?

A: He is the history of Rock N Roll, so to have my name added to the roster is just insane. That being said, playing guitar next to him is rather nerve-racking. He’s a beautiful guy and really inspiring I am so grateful. Again, he’s someone that I worked with for over a year and became really close to. It was just an amazing experience to have. Being around so many amazing talents who are getting to know me (let alone me getting to know them) is a super humbling experience.

Q: A lot of the artists you work with use their platform to talk about politics and current events going on in our world. Why did you choose to include messages like that in your music?

A: It was important to me because…..first of all, the songs were songs I was just writing when I first started this project. I didn’t intend for it to be so forward speaking, if you will. As time went by those were just the songs I was writing. Those were the things that I felt like needed to be addressed. People like Tom Morello and Bruce, people who have used their voice as a platform to speak to a larger audience, have been hugely influential on me. I respected that so much my entire life watching people who were able to do that in a wise and effective manner.  In terms of today (when you say there aren’t a lot of artists doing it per say), it has always been a vehicle of communicating the times. Music has always been a vehicle to reflect on what society is. I'd rather be some clear voices doing that then it be a fad and taken lightly. I take it for what it is. This record wasn’t supposed to be political, so to speak for me I was just looking to speak to society and societal matters. I’m kind of tired of the division. I’ve been watching how these voices that have been seeking to divide us do a really effective job pushing us further and further apart. One of our greatest human characteristics ... empathy ... is being threatened by that kind of division. For you to look across the aisle and see someone and understand where they are coming from and what’s going on in their lives, you're going to relate to them even though you might not have had the same circumstances. That’s empathy; one of our greatest human characteristics. But these voices that are seeking to divide us, are putting that way of life at risk. We’re looking at a problem that is a humane problem.

Q: What other instruments did you get to play on the new album?

A: I write a lot on the guitar when it comes to doing the record. I have a band with me and I try to utilize them as much as possible. In this situation this record took a little more time. We took a little more time in the studio in general. We would lay down root tracks with the band and then whenever I needed to fill in basically I could handle in the studio; so a little bit of keyboards, synthesizer and guitar.

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Q: What is your favorite venue to play in Asbury Park? Which venues would you like to play?

A: I haven’t played all of them, I’ve done The Saint, the Wonder Bar, The Stone Pony, The Paramount. But right now, it's easy for me to say my favorite place to play is the Sea.Hear.Now [music festival].

Q: What was it like seeing an event like Sea.Hear.Now come to Asbury Park?

A: The first time I played Asbury Park I think it was 1999 and I played The Saint, and Asbury Park had not yet experienced its revival. So, to go from there and fast forward to Sea.Hear.Now; Jeez man what an exciting, amazing thing they have pulled off there. The value of music in Asbury Park is incomparable. I don’t know of another place that values music on the same level. You can’t have a restaurant or a bar without a house band playing live music in Asbury; it’s such a vital part of the scene there. So, they host an event like a festival and it sells out immediately, even before stuff is announced. It's incredible. It says a lot about the culture of that town and how they’ve fought to maintain it.

Q: What are some things you’ve learned from being around Bruce and The E Street Band's work ethic? How have you seen that come through in your music?

A: This is the first thing you have to understand. I didn’t have an inclination or an interest in music per se until I saw the E Street Band play live. I was 8 years old. When I saw them play I had no connection to the music because I had never heard Rock N Roll before that, but the feeling in the room was amazing. The feeling of everyone leading into the same moment from the highest nose bleeds in the bleachers to everyone on stage; everyone in the same moment taking the same breath ... that stuck with me forever. That was the beginning for me. That was when I decided this is what I want to do. So that was the bar (the standard) for what I wanted to seek out in life; the principle of what I was hoping to achieve. So, to go from there to eventually be on the road with my uncle, taking notes, and just watching how they operate and being able to see so many shows from the pit was such a surreal experience. It was an extremely beneficial experience for me to be around that for so long; to be a fan of the craft and then to take what I was able to learn from the audience members' perspective, then to be on stage watching Bruce and the band night after night. These guys are legends ... the master of their craft ... no one does a live show at that level. So, it’s incredible for me (someone who is 30 years younger than everyone else) and to be able to learn from these masters is very humbling and unreal. I feel like I am the luckiest guy in the world. It’s pretty crazy. All that being said, from the very beginning at 8 years old watching that show for the very first time, then to being on that stage in front of millions of people on that stage. It’s been all about applying those same concepts and direction into my own show. When I play concerts, that's the feeling I am looking for. When I'm playing a show I want everyone to be engaged and connected in the room. I want to take us on a journey. I want to recognize who we are as a community and deal with life itself and then celebrate that discovery by the end of the show. It’s a full-fledged experience.

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Asbury Park Vibes

ASBURY PARK VIBES is a media outlet dedicated to shining a light on the music scene at the Jersey Shore and throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S.! We strive to provide show reviews and photographs that capture the true essence and fan experience of each concert. Our coverage focuses keenly on the artists and venues in legendary Asbury Park, New Jersey, however you'll also catch us promoting events throughout NJ, PA and NY as well! There is nothing better than the dynamic energy and vibes you feel when you experience a concert at the Jersey Shore! We're sure we'll see you at a concert here very soon!

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