Calling Jake Clemons the Little Big Man may hit a bit close to home, but the nephew of the late Clarence Clemons has certainly established a featured spot in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — playing his uncle’s horns, no less — and is now giving the world an early taste of his own music.
The 33-year-old Clemons has just released “Embracing Light,” an eclectic five-song EP recorded around his Virginia Beach/Norfolk home. “I write in just about every style that exists, or every style I’m familiar with,” Clemons tells Billboard. But, he adds, he’s just as concerned about the message in his songs as the musical diversity he’s pursuing.
“That’s something that really has become important to me over the last couple years,” says Clemons, whose father was a marching band director in Virginia. “This record is pretty directly about hope. It’s about hope right now. It’s about embracing this moment. It’s about being alive today. I have a philosophy of life that I try to live by, and that when you open your eyes in the morning you’re born for the first time and you have to try and live the best life you can, and when you close your eyes at night that’s the end, and if you’re lucky you get to do it again tomorrow. So, y’know, why have hope for tomorrow? It’s important, but why displace that without having hope for today.”
And he doesn’t deny that philosophy may be in step with a certain New Jersey rocker who Clemons has been playing with since early 2012.
“Bruce has been very, very kind and generous about sharing his music, for one, and his very consistent themes, with everyone. But even more so, the sit-down conversations we’ve been able to have and him just talking me through his experience has just been monumental. So having a theme for a record, you really want people to get it. Even if you’re saying the same thing over and over again, the most important thing at the end of the day is your voice, what you’re saying. I think that’s how your mark gets left in time, ’cause otherwise it’s just a hit for that day.”
Clemons was “enormously close” to his uncle and acknowledges some initially mixed feelings about joining Springsteen and company for the Wrecking Ball World Tour last year; he even performed as Jake Christian at one time to avoid appearances of cashing in on the family name. But anyone seeing the shows evolve during the tour knows it didn’t take long for him to become a front-and-center presence that’s become more comfortable as time goes on.
“From day one it’s always been about the healing process,” Clemons explains. “It’s very, very raw when it begins, and as it continues it gets less raw to the point where you can bear the scar of that loss and celebrate the memory. At this point it’s something that we can have a really beautiful time with; Clarence is rocking’ up there with me every night, and despite the weight of it and the heaviness it’s gotten to be more fun and evolved into something more magical. I still get to have that connection and be with this phenomenal band, and we all kind of share the glory of the memory.”
Clemons plans to take his own band on the road in North America during March, but he’s gearing up for Springsteen’s dates in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand starting in late January. He’ll also be heard on the new “High Hopes” album, although he claims that he doesn’t have much more insight about it than most fans.
“We were in Australia and my phone rang and they said, ‘Hey, we need you to go (into the studio) now and we went and did that. It was just a matter of popping up and doing what I was asked to do and enjoying each moment. I have no clue what the expectations are for any of that music; if there’s horns on it, then I imagine that I’m on there. I don’t know anything, and that’s the reality of it. I know what I need to know, and what I need to know right now is we’re [going] to South Africa in January and then Australia in February and New Zealand in March. I don’t know anything about the songs that are selected. I don’t know anything about the instrumentation that’s going to be on there. And that keeps it kind of fun in that sense, too.”