Portland Center Stage Rent Portland Oregon

Weekly preview: Lindsay Clark mines the depths

The Portland-based singer-songwriter releases her latest album with a concert at The Old Church.

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Lindsay Clark. Photo by Myles Katherine.
Lindsay Clark. Photo by Myles Katherine.

In the interviews she’s given to date, singer-songwriter Lindsay Clark alludes to the pain and loss she’s endured in her life, a cyclical pattern that has informed much of the material on her five studio albums. She doesn’t go into details about her emotional labors, but she doesn’t have to. All anyone who isn’t a loved one of Clark needs to know is right there in the lyrics of her softly expressed folk / country songs. 

On “Evening Star,” the opening track from her latest album Carpe Noctem (out June 24), Clark tangles with the ringing tones of a guitar line from William Tyler and her own finger-picked melody as she works through a series of romantic letdowns. “I’ve been running from myself like the wind,” she sings. “Like the wind, I am chasing me / trying to find a love that’s gonna stay with me / I’m chasing my own shadow.” 

“I don’t necessarily think that you need to be in pain to write something good, but I do think that there’s a depth from mining those experiences and having something to say about and also trying to work through it,” Clark said, calling from Santa Rosa, California during a recent tour. “I think writing is a way of coming to a new understanding of something. I think often what I’m trying to do when I write something is trying to look at it in a different way, then come to a new sort of understanding or place about it. Even if it’s not a resolution, necessarily.” 

From the beginning of her career, the indelible beauty of Clark’s songs is that they don’t often resolve. She reveals small details without unveiling the full picture of her life. And she writes her lyrics with the mind of a poet, often using the natural world as a metaphor to comment on the beauty and dangers of life. 

The flowers she used as the title for her 2009 debut Thistle the Maker are both beautiful and stinging. The blackberries she sings about on that album’s song “Blackbirds” are delicious but could cause distress if they’re not washed first. On Carpe Noctem, things sound a touch more hopeful. The sun makes frequent appearances, as do buttercups, roses, and night blooming flowers. But each song–especially in the rich musical backdrop created with assistance from her friend Jeremy Harris of Vetiver–has a touch of a weariness that calls to mind the work of artists like Karen Dalton and Fotheringay. 

“We have a lot of similar influences as far as the baroque folk music of the ’60s and ’70s, like Judee Sill and a few obscure people that we really love,” Clark said of her collaboration with Harris on Carpe Noctem. “We talked about how they wrote their arrangements, and how I wanted it to sound with strings and wind instruments, and some of the additional layers that are on there. We were trying to go for a pretty natural sound with everything.” 

The depth of what Clark created on the album feels appropriate for an artist who grew up in California studying classical music and singing in choirs even as she dipped into her father’s record collection to drop the needle on her favorites by the Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, and Peter Paul & Mary. She wound up on the East Coast, studying jazz and composition at the Berklee School of Music where she met Harris. 

Through that entire stretch, Clark dabbled in more traditional songwriting, looking for a way to meld her dual interests in prose writing and music. While on the East Coast, she more deeply explored working in folk and pop forms, slowly putting out collections of music over the past decade or so. And since moving to Portland, she’s become an integral part of the local folk and indie scenes–which is how she was able to call on folks like Alela Diane and Sage Fisher to contribute to Carpe Noctem, and how she got tapped to sing on Michael Hurley’s most recent album. 

As she moves forward, Clark has started to look beyond music as a means of expressing herself. She’s currently working on a nonfiction project that combines some autobiographical essays and stories along with poetry. 

“It’s a little bit more challenging, and maybe feels a little bit more like hard work,” Clark says. “With nonfiction writing, you can go to different places than you can in a song. You have to, to get the story out. You have to look at things in a different way.” 

Lindsay Clark plays at The Old Church (1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland) on Friday June 24 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $20 advance / $25 day of show. TOC requires either proof of a full course (booster shots not required) of COVID-19 vaccination OR proof of a negative PCR or antigen COVID-19 test taken in the prior 72 hours. All tests must be medically administered. At-home tests not accepted.

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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