August 30, 2004


The Clarks.jpg

Car talk with Clarks guitarist Rob James

Autos have been a common theme in rock 'n' roll pretty much since Chuck Berry sang about being behind the wheel of a Ford chasing after Maybellene, who was doing around 95 mph in a Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

In a themed tribute of sorts to rock's longtime connection with motorized vehicles, Rob James, guitarist for the Pittsburgh-based band The Clarks -- who have recently left tire marks of their own with Fast Moving Cars (Razor & Tie) -- recently fielded a series of personal and professional questions related to automobiles. What was the first car you remember your parents owning?
Rob James: I think my dad had a '69 [Chevrolet] Impala. It was one of those pale-yellow-type cream cars, and it was a convertible. It's one of my earliest memories -- my dad would always be changing the oil on it or working on it or something, and I would be out there as a tiny little kid. I was probably 3 or 4 years old or something like that.

What songs did you hope to hear on the car radio as a child?
James: I remember a couple of songs. Remember that [Paul McCartney and Wings] tune "My Love"? That one was always a fave. Another one was Emerson, Lake and Palmers "Lucky Man." You know, just hearing that synthesizer for the first time. I think even my dad's reaction to that was, "Wow! I've never heard anything like that before." And I remember really looking forward [to hearing] that McCartney song "Let 'Em In."

What was your first car?
James: The first car I had was an '82 Honda Civic four-door wagon, and I got it used. It was perfect to haul all of my gear in, so that was the big reason I got it. It was like this burgundy color. I'm trying to think of how that car ended up -- I think it ended up abandoned in front of my apartment, and finally, one day somebody broke into it, drained the battery and I said, "That's it." I had a tow truck come and tow it away.

What kind of stereo did it have?
James: Something [that was] pretty much luxury back then -- the cassette player and radio.

Talk about the first time you ever heard a Clarks song on a car radio whose car it was, which song and which radio station.
James: Actually, I think the first time I heard a Clarks song on the radio was in that first car [of mine]. It was probably 1989 or something (laughs).

It was on a new alternative station [WXXP] in Pittsburgh. I was by myself; it was the song "Help Me Out" [which is on the band's I'll Tell You What Man . . . album, released in 1988]. They used to do this thing on this radio station called the Screamer of the Week, where people would call in and vote for their favorite song. Then it got down to two songs that would go head to head. I turned it up to the point of the speakers distorting [when our song came on]. It was a really cool feeling.

What kind of vehicle did the band initially use for transportation?
James: The Silver Bullet -- it was either a silver Dodge or Ford van. It had the sliding door on the side. It had no heat in the back. We'd lay down all of the equipment -- the speaker cabinets, the amplifiers and stuff -- and throw mattresses on top of them. Two guys would be up front, and everybody would lay on the gear. I remember a bunch of trips [where] we'd throw in all these blankets and just kind of snuggle up to the guy next to you, without really getting too close.

I bet you that van lasted us about five years, and I know we got it used. It was probably from the early '90s. The next van after that we wrecked; we were in an accident in our second van -- this big red van. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. [These days we have] a new Silver Bullet.

What's your current car?
James: My wife and I chose a silver 2004 [Honda] CR-V. It can haul [my] gear and haul [our] dogs.

If you had the opportunity to own your dream car, with no price limit, what would it be?
James: I like those mid-to-late '60s Pontiacs -- the LeMans and Grand Prix. Or a GTO. Those cars with the long, straight quarter panels, front and back -- just beautiful cars, especially the convertibles.

What car or cars do you see most often these days in and around Pittsburgh?
James: You mean besides the minivan? I would have to say that I'm seeing a lot of CR-Vs. And you know how it is -- when you have a car, you look around and see it everywhere. Pittsburgh is a middle-class, practical town, and a CR-V kind of fits that. And second to that, probably various [other] types of Hondas.

Of the guys in the band, who is the best or safest driver?
James: I'd say [bassist] Greg [Joseph] is. Hes a very focused individual, he has really good reflexes and he's very conscious of the road.

Which guy in the band has the biggest lead foot and likes to floor it?
James: That would be [singer] Scott [Blasey]. Scott's got amazing reflexes, and he's a very good driver, I think, but he also has the most speeding tickets of any one of us. [Drummer] Dave [Minarik Jr.] probably has the most [combined] tickets from [driving] two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles.

How is the band getting to the Late Show With David Letterman this week?
James: I think they're sending up a car for us, or like a 15-passenger something-or-other. They are coming to the hotel to pick us up, which is really cool.

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Official Clarks site:

The Clarks on tour and on TV (schedule subject to change):

Aug. 30: Maxwell's -- Hoboken, N.J.

Aug. 31: Late Show With David Letterman -- CBS, 11:30 p.m. ET

Sept. 3: Shooters Bar and Grille -- Johnstown, Pa.

Sept. 5: The Palms -- Conneaut Lake, Pa.

Sept. 9: The Outpost -- Kent, Ohio

Sept. 10: A.J. Palumbo Center -- Pittsburgh

Sept. 14: Crowbar -- State College, Pa.

Sept. 15-16: Indiana Theater -- Indiana, Pa.

Posted by medleyville at August 30, 2004 02:05 PM