Alain Clark: Dutch Pot


Alain Clark Interview

By Marsha Gosho Oakes
Photography by Tamar Nussbacher

Picking up the guitar at the tender age of nine, Dutch R&B artist Alain Clark started writing songs “the minute I learned my first three chords. “ Obviously you don’t write about romances and heartbreaks when you’re 10 or 11… (unless you’re Stevie Wonder or a young MJ) – but 20 years later Alain Clark dropped into London for his first international gig, bringing to English ears the album which brought him so much success in Holland last year.

“The record’s only been out in Holland and that’s because I signed a deal with a different label in Holland and they only had the right to distribute the record in Holland. So yesterday was my first international gig actually. I’m looking forward to doing more of that in the coming months…” he tells SoulCulture.

At a packed industry showcase in London, Alain presented his R&B seeped in pop energy. Whether you’d struggle to place his sound between soul, R&B and pop, Clark’s criteria for good music is, “I have to believe somebody. That’s my criteria.”

Do you believe him? We feel him out with some questions…

SoulCulture: You’re not exactly a new artist, in that you’ve had two albums out in Holland, but you’re new to us. How did you get into music?

Alain Clark: I grew up around music. My dad used to be a singer – not professionally, he used to sing on the weekends, he had his own soul cover band. So he was always out playing weekends and I always used to tag along and I saw that, it was normal to me. My mother was always singing around the house and both my singers were always either rapping or singers in groups. So I guess you could say I grew up in a musical family.

alain4SoulCulture: What’s it like working with your father on your project?

Alain Clark: It’s very special, of course. Who does such a thing with his dad or with any one of his parents. It’s already cool to be onstage just with your band and then you have your father next to you. When he had his band back in the day he actually used to get me onstage to do a couple of songs with him and now it’s turned around, so it’s really funny.

The cool thing about that song is it’s not your typical hit song, it’s just pretty much a soulful pop song that happens to have a dialogue between a father and son. People in Holland pick up on that emotion so I’m really happy that we get a chance to do it internationally now.

SoulCulture: Have you always had a good relationship?

Alain Clark: I’ve had my issues with my parents and everything, as everyone does, but for this song it was a way to tell me dad, and even indirectly my mom, just the things that you wouldn’t normally say to your parents. You kinda feel that you want to say them and you just don’t, you know? So for me writing a song was a sneaky, easy way of saying it.

SoulCulture: Tell me a bit about how your music’s been received in Holland.

Alain Clark: It’s gone really quick. The record was released late 2007 and it made Gold within a month and a half, and by now we sold close to 180,000 records – and for Dutch standards that’s quite a lot of records. People know who I am when I’m on the street, doing my thing.

SoulCulture: What’s the music scene in Amsterdam like…

Alain Clark: There’s a very strange movement in the music scene in Holland. We have a category that’s always popular, and that’s Dutch Folk. But that’s Dutch Folk, and that’s not what I do. There’s a lot of very talented young artists that are very up-and-coming right now and really only since the last 6 months or so, maybe the last year or so, you see a lot of those artists including myself are given the room to do their thing and it’s appreciated. It’s very exciting to see that movement taking place so hopefully that will influence the whole live culture, because the only real happening live culture in a city like Amsterdam right now is just artists that are from abroad, sadly.

alain5There are jams sessions and everything but it’s not like here… yet. Also R&B and soul typically doesn’t do so well in Holland, which is really weird because a year ago if you’d asked me what I thought my record would do I’d never have thought it would do this good in Holland. People and radio stations and all that are playing music again…That’s good, it’s not about a nationality or anything like that, it’s about somebody who has a story to tell and a song to sing. Someone who has a certain emotion, whatever it be, happy or sad, that it’s real. The artists I listen to, that’s what they have – a true emotion.

SoulCulture: Your top five most played albums?

Alain Clark: One and two would have to be Michael Jackson, Off The Wall & Thriller. Marvin Gaye would be in there with What’s Going On… Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key of Life or Innervisions… I’ve been listening a lot to Bob Dylan too. I like his style of songwriting.

SoulCulture: What about contemporary artists?

Alain Clark: I like a lot of stuff that’s going on, a lot of different styles; The Kooks, Coldplay, Kanye West, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Duffy, Amy…

SoulCulture: Any guilty pleasures in your record collection?

Alain Clark: I listen to Britney Spears. But seriously, and I’m not even ashamed, if you check out the production on pretty much all her latest records it’s off the hook. I produce a lot of stuff too and I have in Holland for a lot of different artists there, so it’s important to check out what’s happening. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Britney Spears – I wouldn’t wear her t-shirt on stage like some artists do – but I could say I’m a fan of the music. That’s a statement isn’t it?

SoulCulture: What are your three favourite songs on your album?
“Father And Friend,” which is the first single. – Maybe not because it’s the best-written song on the record but just the fact alone that I recorded it with my Dad, it’s such a special thing.

“Blow Me Away” – which is kind of an upbeat song where I sing about my urge for something new to blow me away, whatever it is in life – whether it be music or an artist or art in general. Just someone to appear in my life and knock me off my feet again, like happened many times when I was younger. I just want to be amazed again.

“I Don’t Wanna Change The World” – the lyrics to the chorus: “I don’t wanna change the world, I just wanna make a difference, something like being good to the man next door even if he’s different, I don’t have to be a leader I just want to lead a life, that one of these days I can look back on and say I did alright.” In these times we live in, really challenging times in a lot of different ways, I don’t think there is anybody out there who doesn’t think about what he or she could do to change anything or to make a better day.

alain1For me, I came to the conclusion that the best way to bring about that change is to bring about that change within yourself and just be kind to the people around you. And I think if everyone would do that we’d be in a much better world. It sounds simple but it’s very true. It’s quite easy to be kind to the people that are at least close to you. It’s not hard to be nice to people that are nice to you but it’s quite a lot harder to be nice to people who are not. Everyone wants to be treated with love.

The album Live It Out is out now on Warner Music.