Gary Clark Jr. Talks 'Justice League' & Remembers Tom Petty

Gary Clark Jr., 2017
Joey Martinez

Gary Clark Jr.

The music supervisors of the new "Justice League" film may not have known they were getting a superhero superfan when they tapped Gary Clark Jr. to record a new version of The Beatles' "Come Together" for the film.

"Oh, yeah, I'm into all that," the Texas guitarist tells Billboard. "I think that's why my knees are so bad; I used to cut up my dad's old silk robe and tried to turn it into a Batman cape and jump off the roof of my house thinking I was Batman, and that didn't work really well. But I've been a fan of all this for a long time, so it's really cool to be part of it. And my kid is super into Batman, so I've been showing him photos of the posters and stuff. It's pretty exciting."

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Clark gives "Come Together" -- which is out now at radio and will be released the week of Justice League's Nov. 17 opening -- a granite-hard rendition, produced by Junkie XL, a new collaborator who became a tight creative friend during the session.

"I guess he had me in mind," Clark says. "They had 'Come Together' already as an idea, and I guess he really cut it for me to be part of. He just thought we'd fit really well, so I showed up in the studio in L.A., and we sat down and got the vibe, and he played me the track and I was blown away by it -- just the sounds this guy came up with. And he said, 'Y'know that buzzy guitar thing that you? Just do that and sing the hell out of it.' So that's what I did, and it really flowed. We just kind of spoke the same language without really saying anything."

"Come Together" is Clark's second film collaboration this year, following his team-up with ZZ Ward for "Ride" from Cars 3 -- both interim projects in the wake of his 2015 album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.

"I love doing it," Clark says. "Sometimes I can get caught up in my own world and what I'm doing, so it's cool to be able to connect and do something different. It's fun to be part of telling someone else's story and putting your best foot forward. So I'm into it. I really enjoyed both of those processes, and it kinda lit a spark of wanting to do more."

Clark, meanwhile, is back to telling his own story. He's in the early stages of his fourth studio album, "working on it on and off," and isn't ready to yet to talk about where it's headed. "I've got time so I'm not putting any rules or regulations or restrictiions on this," he says. "I'm just riding the creative wave, and so far it's been good. It's just flowing." But Clark does have a sense of where the project might go lyrically.

"The climate is different now in the world than it was on my last record, with Donald Truimp being in office and everything that's going on, so that's definitely part of where my head is," Clark explains. "There's real stuff happening right now. It's not all rainbows and unicorns at the moment, so that's what the record's gonna be about. I think you've got to get out of your comfort zone, y'know? I don't think it's time to play safe anymore."

Like so many other musicians, Clark is mourning last week's death of Tom Petty. The guitarist credits Petty with giving him a great career lesson, when Clark opened for the Heartbreakers in his home town of Austin, and Petty asked Clark to make a guest appearance with him. "He's like, 'Yeah, you're gonna come up here. You're gonna sing with me too,' and I'm like, 'No, I'm gonna hold back. It's your thing, man. People want to hear you sing it," Clark recalls. During the show itself, however, Petty had other ideas.

"He calls me up and he starts into the lyric, and then the second verse he backs up from the microphone and looks at me and kind of puts me on the spot," Clark says. "It's like, 'It's not the time to hold back or be shy. You got an opportunity, you gotta go and make the most of it and get your shine on and get your light on.' That's what I felt he was telling me without saying anything. So I took that as a lesson that, 'Man, when it's your turn to go, you give 135 percent and don't hold back, don't be apologetic.' That really meant a lot to me."

Clark says that he felt his friendship with Petty "was just getting kind of rolling. We'd have conversations and I felt like he's something I really wanted to get to know and build a relationship with. I'm forever grateful to him and his crew for having us and sharing their world with us. That type of stuff is really major. It means a lot, so God bless him, rest in peace."


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