Written by: Shawn Brown
If you are really lucky, a handful of times in your life an artist or band sweeps through you and shines some real light on your humanity.
Music can do that.
It can shred you right down to your quietest place, where the atoms are interfacing. Call it coincidence or fate or even faith; the right music, at the exact right time in your life when nothing else could have found its way that deep inside you are the songs stick with you forever. They’re the ones that really matter. Not the music you bring up at a party to look cool or knowledgeable or hip. I’m talking about the music that you turn to for help and when you drop the needle, help arrives, riding melody and harmonious perfection all the way inside.
That’s pure sonic grace.
For me, and thankfully many others, Jump, Little Children made such music. It’s not enough to call their records brilliant or their songs tragic or poetic. Numbers like “Say Goodnight,” “Close Your Eyes,” “Come Around,” “Mexico” and “Angeldust” can shake you apart. Their best-known track “Cathedrals” is commonly name-checked as being on par with the great soul crushing ballads of our time, including Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah.” Jay Clifford and his voice and words have left an indelible mark on musicians and fans alike. There have been very few voices in the last 25 years that can do what his can, simultaneously combining melancholy with great joy. We should all probably thank the heavens that Jump, Little Children never became Hootie and the Blowfish. On the other hand, it’s troubling that a band this astonishing remained largely underground for the entirety of its 15 years together. Simply, their records will break your heart and nourish your marrow.
Stereo Embers was beyond delighted that Jay Clifford agreed to sit down with us to give us a update on his solo work, his Charleston, SC studio, and some reflection on JLC’s achievements.
Stereo Embers: Your album Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher is breathtaking. Can you tell us a bit about writing and recording that record?
Jay Clifford: I wrote the songs for Silver Tomb in the spring of 2011 over a period of about 3 months. I tend to work best in phases. I have to disconnect from the normal, everyday routines to get in the writing mode which then lasts for a few days at a time. If I can keep the machine greased and get in the rhythm of being in a creative and reflective mindset then it’s possible to make progress.Silver Tomb was recorded with my friend Josh Kaler, a talented multi-instrumentalist and producer, who is also the cofounder of Hello Telescope, my studio in Charleston. It was the first record of mine that I tracked at my own studio. Time is usually the nemesis of record making so having your own place is extremely liberating.
SE: Crowdsourcing has become a relied upon method of dealing with several major challenges faced by artists in today’s version of the music business. Can you tell us a little about your experience with crowdsourcing in making your 2011 record “Silver Tomb for the Kingfisher”?
JC: Silver Tomb was crowdsourced through PledgeMusic which is similar to Kickstarter or Indiegogo except it’s predominantly for music projects. Overall it was a pretty amazing experience. To have a record paid for before it’s released is no small detail. But even more significant to me was the feeling that a group of people have your back while undertaking a very challenging creative adventure.
SE: When you look back at your years fronting JLC what immediately comes to mind?
JC: What comes to mind are the two extremes of JLC–the early days of busking on the street, which was just pure, unpolished enthusiasm, and the annual Dock Street Theater shows which by the 10th one had become a highly developed art project.
SE: For many, its ridiculous that JLC did not achieve the status it rightly deserved. What are your thoughts on the legacy of the band?
JC: I’m proud of what was accomplished during the 15 years Jump existed but it’s hard for me to tell what the legacy, if there is one, actually is. I know we created unique experiences and memories for people at important times in their lives because I’ve heard those stories, but as far as a legacy is concerned, that’s out of my hands.
SE: How did you get hooked up with Howie Day?
JC: He first opened for Jump in 2001 for our Vertigo release party, at which he received one of the more rousing standing ovations I’ve ever seen for a solo act. We went on to do more touring together and got to know each other pretty well. Then he signed with Epic Records and asked me to help write some songs for his first major label release.
SE: Recently Dave Barnes posted that “Cathedrals” by Jump, Little Children is a perfect song. He said, “This generations’ “Hallelujah” ALWAYS moves me.” Is it at all reassuring that many artists list JLC as a major influence?
JC: The range of influence that JLC may or may not have is difficult for me to judge, so I can’t really comment. What I can say is that when I hear people talk about their experience with a particular song or show and what it means to them, that’s enough for me to know that I’m moving in the right direction.
SE: How do you like running your studio? What do you find satisfying about working with other artists as a producer/arranger?
JC: The studio is an inviting and creative space and I feel lucky to come here to work every day. I’ve spent a lot of time in studios that are intimidating and sterile so I wanted a space that was more concerned with being a relaxed and inspiring environment than sonic perfection. My time is split between producing, orchestrating and writing. If I spent all my time working on my own material I would go a little crazy so participating in someone else’s musical endeavor and helping it manifest is good for my sanity.
SE: What is the current state of JLC? Are there any rumblings of reforming – especially in light of all the recent interest and adulation?
JC: I can neither confirm, nor deny, a Jump, Little Children reunion tour in 2015.
SE: Do you have any new music in the works (say yes!)?
JC: Yes. I have a handful of songs ready but I have a ways to go before I can start tracking the next record.
SE: I was once told by a major music manager that “Jay Clifford ‘s songs are just too damn beautiful for the radio.” Do you agree?
JC: I’ll sidestep the generous phrasing of the question and amend it to simply ask- is radio relevant? The music biz has been essentially the wild west for the past decade or so but is slowly settling on the Spotify, Rdio model which turns the music listening experience from a passive one into an interactive one. This trend is happening to media in general, i.e. TV to Netflix. So it follows that radio will continue to become less and less relevant. How to navigate this new landscape, though, is still an open question.