When singer-songwriter Steven A. Clark released the nine-song Stripes EP, it found an immediate niche, a spot on an invisible shelf in between Frank Ocean and The Weekend, to whom he was immediately compared. Future R&B (nu-R&B?) has, of late, been characterized by an extraordinarily ambient sound, lyrical soul-baring, and what seems to be the inevitably young age of its purveyors—as well as their multitude of influences, which often extend far beyond old-school R&B.
Highlighted by intensely melodic, often dark moments, Stripes, produced by Steven himself with occasional help from Mr. Familiar, is a long, deeply personal story constructed of legitimate bangers. It should’ve earned him the immediate following his contemporaries received, but it’s usually better for these things to start slowly. Clark moved not long ago from Fayetteville, North Carolina to Miami, Florida to pursue his music, but his second, recent release, Fornication Under Consent of the King, reveals a passion for his craft developed ages ago, perhaps in a past life. F.U.C.K. is composed of maturely porous mosaics of sound, beats that are simultaneously heavy and nuanced. Rapper J. Nics and songwriter Albert Vargas are featured collaborators among a few others, but the most prominent player on the album is probably the unnamed girl to whom Steven sings on Don’t Have You, the heartbreaking, real-life influence for F.U.C.K.
Monica Uszerowicz: I like to ask most artists about their early creative memories—when they first began to indulge in mediums that allowed them to express themselves. What were those moments like for you, if you can recall?
Steven A. Clark: My earliest creative memories are of my mom playing all the music she loved, artists like Sade, Tracy Chapman, Anita Baker and Stevie Wonder. I remember my grandfather playing a lot of salsa and merengue on weekends around the house. I remember listening to a lot of gospel music—it played on all the popular radio stations on Sundays. I remember my dad playing drums in the different bands he was in. I remember my uncle playing his acoustic guitar and singing all of his new material every time we got together. He was always playing a lot of classic rock as well. I remember memorizing every word, note, and run of Boyz II Men’s first couple albums. I remember in the second grade trying out for our school’s Christmas chorus and not being selected, which fucked up my confidence for a long time. I just remember being completely surrounded by music, thanks to my family.
Monica: What brought you to Miami from Fayetteville? The Magic City is a magical place, but I don’t immediately think of it as the place to go to start pursuing a music career—although that’s kind of misleading, since the music scene here is pretty vibrant.
Steven: Moving to Miami was a huge step for me. Miami is a magical place and was very overwhelming at first. I actually moved back to NC a couple of months after I first moved to MIA. I just couldn’t keep up. I initially moved because I knew Miami would provide way more opportunities in the music business, as well as life opportunities. Looking back though, I think I was really just looking for life experience and culture. I’ve met so many interesting people and I finally felt like was living life. And I’m still in search of all of that. I don’t think I’ll ever stop chasing life experience. Miami will not be my last place of residence. I always want more, [which is] a gift and a curse.
There is an industry here in Miami, but mainly in the Latin market. It seems like a lot of artists in the urban markets and other non-Latin markets sometimes have to leave Miami and get attention in other cities, then bring the spotlight back to Miami. You gotta do what you gotta do.
Monica: Yes, I interviewed a visual artist, Bert Rodriguez, who said that it’s important for a lot of artists to leave Miami and then consequently bring the attention back that way. Moving forward, I heard the Stripes EP and it blew my mind. Can you tell me what inspired some of those songs, lyrically in particular?
Steven: Lyrically, Stripes covered every aspect of my life at the time. Most of the lyrics were just my personal feelings about trying to make it from a small town and all my failures with this one girl. Then I had a playful song like International Man, where I was talking shit. My life will always be my main source of inspiration.
Monica: Fornication Under Consent of the King has a sound with even more depth than Stripes. Can you explain that a little? It is called F.U.C.K., after all… What was going on in your life at the time?
Steven: F.U.C.K. is basically about me realizing I can’t be in any kind of relationship. In the songs, I’m realizing that I can’t be in any type of relationship at this stage in my life. Lyrically, I’m confessing that to myself and to the girl I’ve been in love with for so long. Then there are songs about sex because that’s really all I can handle right now. I thought “Fornication Under Consent of the King” just had a nice ring to it.
Monica: Who did you work with on F.U.C.K.— was it self-produced?
Steven: I worked with a few people. I produced every song except for one, which was produced by Mr. Familiar. I have a few guitar parts played by my friend Jesus and one guitar part played by Writesounds. I also have some co-production from my homie, Square.
Monica: Songwriting can be a cathartic experience. Do you feel emotionally relieved when you pen a track?
Steven: I can’t say that it feels great to re-live these experiences as I’m writing it, but it feels great when the song comes together naturally. Lyrically, I don’t ever really feel relieved after I put the lyrics on paper. It’s actually kind of scary, because I’m not really an open kind of dude.
Monica: When I think of the old-school predecessors of R&B, as well as the greats of soul and Motown, their influence on you is obvious. With the general resurgence of vintage sound, every mainstay genre has undergone some change. But I feel like new R&B really stays true to its roots while simultaneously sounding really unique, multifaceted. It maintains its roots more than any other genre, yet it’s insanely groundbreaking because it contains so many influences, bigger than its roots. You’re a good example of this. Can you talk about your influences and how you’re maybe part of a new generation, a new group of innovators?
Steven: I’m really influenced by everything when it comes to production: The Neptunes, Kanye, classic rock, ’90s hip-hop like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip. I just love so many different songs and genres. As far as writing, so far my main influence has been my life. Just digging deep and trying to pull from my own feelings and experiences. That’s what keeps it authentic and genuine. As far classic soul, I love the purity of that music. The classics and classic voices that Motown provided us cannot be touched. I don’t think we will hear voices like that ever again. I can’t hold a candle to those voices. I definitely think my songs come from a similar place and I guess that’s what people consider the “soul.” Being part of this new wave of singers is cool and I think it’s obvious we are all influenced by everything; R&B is just the easiest thing to call it.