By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Clarks take a turn into Americana on their new album, “Madly in Love at the End of the World.”
Or maybe they just finally embraced the genre they’ve been in all along.
The Pittsburgh-based rock band – long a favorite in Youngstown – has been cranking out its own distinguished brand of power-pop rock for decades.
Songs like “Map of the Stars,” “Snowman” and “Shimmy Low” are perfect examples of the band’s style – strong melodies and strummy guitars, punched up and electrified.
Contrast them with new songs like “She’s On Fire” and “Roses,” which have an alt-country touch, or the haunting title cut, a powerful stripped-down ballad.
After three decades and 10 studio albums, why the change? Chalk it up to the band taking its time in the studio and bringing in a producer who was on board with their goal.
Greg Joseph, bassist and a vocalist for the band, discussed the new album and other topics in a phone interview.
“On our last couple of records, our approach had been we did not have a lot of time to spend in the studio because of our incredibly busy lives then, and we really needed to assemble the songs in the studio as we moved along,” he said. “With the new album, we spent a lot of time together, and it feels more cohesive.”
The band also was to hone and shape the songs before the recording process even began. “We didn’t have that advantage last time,” said Joseph.
Dave Hidek, of the Church recording studio – so named because it is actually in a former church building – in Pittsburgh, produced the album.
“It was real laid-back and a lot of fun, and Dave had good suggestions,” said Joseph of the recording sessions. “My writing style always leaned toward Americana, and he let that show through.”
The new release expands the band’s palette of instruments, even making prominent use of pedal steel guitar on a song or two.
“We also found holes for keyboard and 12-string guitar to poke through,” said Joseph.
The Clarks hit a milestone this year with the 30th anniversary of their debut album.
The occasion was marked this month with a special homecoming concert at Stage AE Outdoors. About a dozen musicians from the Pittsburgh area that the band has known over the years opened the show by performing the first album (“I’ll Tell You What, Man”) in its entirety.
It was a moving tribute for the members of The Clarks. “They did [the songs] so well that the four of us stood around with a tear in our eye,” said Joseph. “Thirty years had gone by. Those were our contemporaries and they shed light on what those 30 years had been about.”
The band has had the same four core members since that first album – Joseph, singer Scott Blasey, guitarist Rob James and drummer David Minarik. They are typically joined on stage by Gary Jacob, Skip Sanders and Noah Minarik, who add pedal steel, Hammond organ and guitar.
Despite the band’s long run, The Clarks have plenty of gas left in the tank and a long way to go.
“There is no end in sight,” said Joseph. “When we get together, there is no talk of slowing down or what we’re going to do next.”
Still, longevity inevitably brings life changes, and they find their way into the music. An example is “Dying to Live,” a beautiful song on the new album that Joseph wrote about the death of his father.
“We are at the age where our parents are passing away,” said Joseph. “The past few years have been challenging, and that’s instant inspiration for digging in and showing emotions and sharing that.”
The Clarks will return to the Mahoning Valley tonight for an outdoor show at the Ribs-N-Rock Festival in Boardman.
It will be the act’s first visit to the area in two years – the last being a concert on Central Square in Youngstown that attracted thousands.
Youngstown, in fact, has also played a key role in The Clarks’ history.
“It ended up being a second home for us, going back to the days when we played Cedars and the Varsity Club,” said Joseph. “We’ve always had a good draw there and radio play.”