INTRO BY MADDEN LEVIN
INTERVIEW BY CAMI LIBERTY
A true Gospel singer, Cliff Beach shares what he loves with the world. In his newest album, The Gospel According to Cliff Beach, he celebrates how he got his start in music and why he loves what he does so very much. In our exclusive interview, we chat with Cliff about what made him initially want to be a musician and how he feels now with all of his incredible accomplishments -- those accomplishments include, but are not limited to, his LA music award nominations. So, what are you waiting for? Get to know your new favorite artist!
When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue music?
CB: "I started taking piano lessons at the age of 6 and did choir all through school, but I didn’t know I wanted to pursue music professionally until a Pastor, who I did not know, saw me and said he had a vision of me playing music and that people would kill to have my talent. This was when I was 14, when I was not really that good at music but he saw my passion for it. His words have always resonated with me."
You recently released your third solo album, The Gospel According to Cliff Beach. Can you tell us a little about what the process was like creating the album?
CB: "As far as the writing process goes I started writing the songs on this album in 2006. I started talking about producing the album in 2012, but we had many production issues. I had to learn how to produce. Thus I made 2 other albums, Who the Funk Is Cliff Beach? And Stripped Down and Unplugged and then in 2014 started back on this album which I finished in 2016 and released in 2017. This project is my biggest and best yet, with a bigger budget and bigger team, but it all started with a vision and a dream. It’s a concept album, meaning it’s a song cycle. It is meant to be a journey in long play, not a bunch of singles. I want it to be consumed from start to finish, even though we all have our favorite songs."
Is there a song on the album that you found was harder to create than the others?
CB: "The hardest song by far was the cover of the Head Hunters God Made Me Funky. The original, which was already 40 years old when I recorded it had amazing musicians, producers, and backing vocalists so it was a daunting task to cover it and make it my own. When we started, in a church, in my home state of MD laying down the drums and bass, this was the last song of an 8 hour session. At 4am everyone was tired (from eating gas station fried chicken) and ready to go home. We only had one take left in us and we attempted it thinking worse case we would scrap it if it didn’t work. What happened miraculously is we did get through most of it in the one take and magically it worked. There is even a moment in the middle where the beat turns around and I never knew if it was an accident or mistake or on purpose but I left it in because it was so vibe-y. When we later overdubbed all the horn parts and vocals back in LA, with a gospel quartet it just became a juggernaut musically. The icing on the cake was showing it to Mike Clark who co-wrote it and played on the original and him saying he loved it. Best cover of it he has ever heard and it has been covered by greats like Jamiroquai to name one."
Where do you find most inspiration when creating music?
CB: "Everywhere. But mostly relationships. I have had some terrible romantic relationships and my only solace going through so much pain is the beauty of being able to express those stories in music, writing songs that people enjoy. Thank God I have an outlet that allows me to be cathartic in that way. As far as producing music I am inspired by all the great music that came before me. I listen to music probably 12 hours a day or more. I can never get enough. I’ll listen to the same song on repeat to hear every nuance in it, analyzing it. I take master classes from greats online to keep studying and watching documentaries to stay inspired and motivated."
How would you describe your music style in three words?
CB: "Funky, expressive soul."
Do you ever listen back to your older music? If so, what do you find has changed the most over the years?
CB: "OMG yes. I listen to my old stuff all the time. Sometimes my mom or someone who knew me along time will say I loved your old stuff, why don’t you do that anymore? I tell them that I am not the same person I was. My voice has changed and has become deeper and fuller. I don’t have the same level of energy to jump around like I did when I was younger. I have settled into a different pocket and groove. You cannot recapture moments. I use my voice in a much more healthy way. I have more control over my instrument and more experience in the craft now. I still use elements of what I have done before, building upon them and cherish all the great memories I have. I am happy that all my old albums live in a digital form where they can be discovered by new fans every day. My writing has improved significantly as well. My stories have more heart and meaning. I was young and dumb once but I wised up. Still I don’t shy away from my past. I just live in the present and look forward to the future. I never sing even an old song the same way twice. From moment to moment I am always changing and evolving and my emotions swing like a pendulum in the wind. I am ever-changing. Staying the same is boring and stagnant."
Of all your songs, which would you say represents you best as an artist and why?
CB: "They are all my babies and this is a Sophie’s Choice. If I had to pick one I would say Delilah. Of all my songs I notice the audience’s reaction most on that one. I don’t know if it’s because the story of Samson and Delilah is so well known or just the groove of the song, but people always request or remember that one. I allow the audience to sing in call and response with me, and live we usually mash up current songs with it. Hearing my take on Britney Spears, or Katy Perry, Or Erykah Badu, Or the Black Eyed Peas, we just like to mash it all up for the audience. It does not matter what the original style was, all songs have soul and all can be funked up by me. By mixing my original with covers it helps people attach it to something familiar. It also shows them the musicality that is the underpinning of pop music by stripping away the pop elements. Sometimes the production can cover up the songwriting. I also think we finally nailed the recording of it on the new album. Though it does not fully capture the live element, which it shouldn’t. Studio is Studio and Live is Live. 2 different hats. 2 different beasts."
Is there anything else that we can expect from you in the near future?
CB: "We released a video for the single for Right Side of The Tracks that is currently on the festival circuit. It will premiere at a festival in December in NYC and another in May in LA. You can watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykwP9qkQfdQ. I am also working on a collaborative mixtape with my producer Mister Rocks called CBMR (a producer and singer collaboration like Gnarls Barkley), in which I am making a more commercial album, juxtaposing my bluesy vocals onto more urban tracks. We will have a few rappers on the project as well, which is my first time using them, and so far the feedback on the demos we have been making has been very positive. I am always digging into the realm of possibilities, to remain limitless. I always have one hand on the current project, while another is on the next project. I stretch myself with every song, always different, but always, at the core, still me. Don’t try to label me, I will defy you, on purpose, every time."