A recent interview published by Guitar Center Stage

 

TODD CLOUSER

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Musical Background

I got my first guitar at age 11 and took to it pretty quickly. For whatever reason, it offered me something I was lacking in terms of the ability to express myself. That has persisted to this day. I played throughout my teens, had a few rock and improv based bands, and got pretty serious around 16. Once I had the opportunity to go to college, after some time running around the country following bands and doing some playing, I applied to Berklee and headed to Boston. I spent three years there, took to heavier jazz, learned piano proficiently, and graduated with a bunch of songs I had been working on during my time in school. I was a recluse in college, mostly studying and composing, and found the hypertension and competitive nature of the scene there, a bit of an introduction into the music business world, kind of defeating. So when the degree came, I got out of Boston and started a band with some friends back in Minneapolis.

New CD

The new record that Ropeadope is putting out is called Todd Clouser's A Love Electric. Some taglines that get attached to it are "energy driven jazz rock", "70's era electric jazz brought modern", etc… but the descriptive words aren't something that really do much for me, seems music is best left to the ears. We like to categorize before we hear, unfortunately, and of course it makes things easier to sell. 

The aim of the disc was to take these tunes I'd composed and really allow the musicians to play and put themselves into it. The parts and sections are all deliberate, but it’s a jazz disc in the sense that we all improvised heavily. All the players are really incredible musicians, all celebrated in their own projects, so it was a gift to get everyone into the studio. On the upright bass is Gordy Johnson, who used to play with Chuck Mangione amongst a host of ridiculous projects. Steven Bernstein, who has really become a mentor to me in many ways, is on trumpet, also playing one of the few slide trumpets in the world. He's just an amazing person I talk about a whole lot, maybe too much, but we've done a couple tours together now and his musicality, sense of people, and the possibility he brings or reaching epic peaks in the tunes always defy logic. 

Bryan Nichols, who everyone in the jazz scene will hear a ton about in the next few years is on the Rhodes, played through an old Fender Twin with all kinds of dirt on it which kind of serves as the blanket throughout the record. We really wanted an aggressive sound and the voicing Bryan gravitates towards aids in achieving that. Greg Schutte is on the drums, and he co-produced the record with me. 

We recorded at Schutte's studio, in his basement, Gordy, Greg, and myself first and then brought in the other guys. It had an attitude about it immediately and everyone took to the tunes, so it was an exciting process.

As for the guitars, I didn't want to make a guitar record, it was more about the composition, though of course I still love to blow. Some guitar records can just get nonmusical to me, just an ego, look at me, kind of party where everyone else just lays down a foundation for the guitarist. Didn't want that. So I used my normal setup and tried to be tasteful in where the guitar was necessary, where it best served the song, and where I could lay out. In terms of guitar style, it’s aggressive, but not something I’m ashamed of. I like rock guitar to sound like rock guitar, and that’s what these songs called for, though there are some more jazz moments on there in terms of tone and approach. We'll see where the next project leads, but really for me it was just about being conscious of what this music needed from the guitar, not what I could impose upon it.

Favorite Guitars

I play a Gibson ES 335, and have for about 6 years now, pretty exclusively. I find it’s really versatile and the sound it emits just sings. I've become almost dangerously accustomed to it, and have trouble crossing over to other guitars, with the jazz box guitars being maybe the easiest jump to make. There are a couple Stratocaster moments on A Love Electric where we needed that grit and cut to break into the kind of swath of sound we had going. 

For effects, Im actually pretty simple, I have a couple Analog Man pedals, the Ross Compressor Clone that is on about 70 percent of the time, The "King of Tone", which is basically just two decked-out tube screamers, and the ZVEX Super Hard On, kind of a pre-amp or clean boost pedal. You can hear the traditional Crybaby wah all over the record. Those are always around and I often play live with just those three or four going.

Now that we're getting our on the road more, I like to have more sonic options, so I've added some more ZVEX stuff, the Tremorama and the Fuzz Factory, along with an old Boss analog delay. The analog delay you can hear quite a bit of on A Love Electric as well, one of those I picked up as a kid and has been a survivor, has a great warmth about it. I also have a Line6 DL4, which I mainly just use as a looper or if we get dangerous and some reverse is appropriate. I do like noise, so have to temper myself a bit. I play mostly through Fender twins, love the vibrato and spring reverb on them and dial those in appropriately. On "One", the Harry Nilsson tune we did on the record, a PRoCO RAT was called in.

On the guitar, I generally play on the neck pickup with the tone knob at about 4 to 7, tweaking as sounds right to me. Some band mates, engineers take shots at me for it being too bass heavy, but it sounds right to me there. You can be gentle or scream, kind of has a tenor sax sonic range that I love.

Musical Influences

Musical influences are all over the board for me, what I’ve always sought is what I perceive to be honesty in the music I really take to. My perception is only that, but when someone really emotes, what they have, it’s a pretty wonderful experience to listen to as long as I stay open to different styles of music. I guess that could be a piece of what has led our music to be called "genre-defying", it’s a combination of all I've taken in as a listener and student, and a lack of inhibition, or fear, in getting out whatever music I’m feeling. Generally, the limits we put on ourselves, or judgments we place on others' music, their styles, etc, is just a reflection of our fears. 

So for specific influences, I started with 90's rock, Pearl Jam, was led to Jimi Hendrix, stayed there for a while. Once I discovered all the great jazz players, it opened up a new world to me in terms of what I could play on the guitar, suddenly my chord choices, melody lines, solo lines, were infinite in possibility, which is a bit overwhelming. I've tried to find my place in between all of it, but there is always a sense of "man, I could never play like that, its so good." Peter Bernstein comes to mind as one of those. His ideas are so clear and concise, accurate, but its still achingly human. Bill Frisell I love, Nels Cline. Marc Ribot is probably my favorite living guitarist, from what he does with all the T Bone Burnett projects to his work with Los Cubanos Postizos to his more avant projects, it’s all real and raw. Outside of guitarists, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, on and on.

Albums I've loved over time are Brian Eno's Discreet Music, Bill Frisell'sNashville, any number of Hendrix albums, Medeski Martin and Wood's It’s a Jungle In Here. The aforementioned Marc Ribot and Los Cubanos Postizos albums, Radiohead's Kid A, lots of the Alan Lomax field recording collections. Tons of great stuff.

Upcoming Plans

We're going to be busy, which is thrilling. February 18th we take off for a 3 week mid/mountain west tour in the US, then back down to the Baja for some residency gigs, teaching, our Arts Day OUt Festival which is this non-profit I founded down in Los Cabos to spur interaction between the ex-pat and local Mexican communities by way of the arts, aimed at the area's youth. We're at the Liga Mac jazz festival in Los Cabos in March, an incredible annual event to support the needs of some of the families lacking resources in the Los Cabos area, and then we're off for an extended California into Mexico tour. I love getting out and meeting everyone, taking in new towns, the inspiration never ends when life is lived like that, so I’m very fortunate and grateful to have these opportunities coming up.

We've already begun tracking and flushing out ideas on another A Love Electric release with some of the Mexico based players, and I have a couple other projects, one called Drive By Film, I hope to get recorded late summer with our classic trio of Benny Weinbeck, bassist Adam Linz, and Greg Schutte, more sparse and straight ahead in the jazz way of talking about things. 

There's talk of Europe with Mark Aanderud in June or July and then hopefully the East Coast U.S. Its been a lot of work developing musically and getting to a place personally where I can feel good about doing all this and stay healthy, took about all of my 20's, it’s just beginning, and its a really great time for me.

Web Site

The website is www.toddclouser.com, though you can go to www.aloveelectric.com and end up in the same spot. Any press and booking stuff goes to home@toddclouser.com. We're kind of expanding our operation a bit with the tours going on in two countries and now being on Ropeadope, but always make a conscious effort to stay in the digital media loop on Facebook. Facebook.com/toddclouser. I've got a bunch of duets and youtube specific videos that will be up in the coming months at youtube.com/toddclousermusic and our website has a blog as well that we keep pretty well updated.

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