Gary Clark, Jr., hopes that his major label debut album -- "Blak and Blu," due Oct. 22 on Warner Bros. -- will show that he's more than just another Austin, Texas, guitar slinger with hot chops and fast fingers.
"I've been associated with the blues guitar guy thing, and that is a major part of what I do," Clark explains to Billboard. "But I was influenced by and love all sorts of music. So for my first major label album, I wanted to just put all that out there and write and record that and experiment with all kinds of sounds rather than play straight-ahead blues or whatever single genre and then bring in the weird stuff later. I think I might as well introduce myself as a weirdo first and get it out of the way and see what happens. It doesn't sound like people expect, which I think is cool."
"Blak and Blu," produced by Clark and Mike Elizondo and recorded earlier this year in California, certainly shoots wide, including the brassy psychedelic soul of "Ain't Messin' 'Round," the Prince-like R&B flavors of the title track and "You Saved Me," the rock 'n' roll boogie of "Travis County" and the rustic, front porch, lo-fi feel of "Next Door Neighbor Blues."
Clark says shooting wide is actually "easier" for him than sitting in one musical place.
"The R&B and soul stuff kinda came first," he recalls. "I was into Curtis Mayfield stuff, Otis Redding, Motown, Stax type of albums and then Prince, Ready For The World, stuff like that. Those melodies, those sounds were in everything I was listening to. I started diving into the blues when I got to be about 12. I don't really think of it as one thing being easier or harder to approach than the other; it's just all part of my musical influence, kind of a natural progression."
Clark says Elizondo was a perfect fit to collaborate on such an eclectic album. "He had really cool ideas without being overbearing, and it was a really laid-back, chill environment to make music," he recalls. And Clark plans to push the musical envelope even further on future recordings.
"I definitely do have some ideas for what I want to do," he says. "I really want to reach out to other folks a little more and get together and put our heads together. This album is pretty much all my stuff, so I'd like to collaborate with some folks in the future"
Clark has already shown he plays nicely with others. He sang on Sheryl Crow's version of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" as a bonus track on her "100 Miles From Memphis" album and joined forces with Nas to create music for ESPN's coverage of the 2012 NFL draft. Clark has also done some recording with Alicia Keys, which will presumably be featured on her new "Girl On Fire" in November. The two previously performed together at the Keep a Child Alive Black Ball benefit last year.
"I just got called to go in there and play some rhythm guitar stuff, and then she wanted me to...play some lead stuff and open it up," Clark says. "She'd play a track and say, 'Let's do you.' I've been a fan of the stuff she does for a long time, so it was really cool for her to call me up and have me be a part of that."