For Austin-based musician Gary Clark Jr., music brings him back home.
“Every single memory that I have, there’s a song that goes with it,” Gary says. In many respects, music could be considered an extension of his being, a sixth sense fully integrated into his outlook.
Many of those memories stem from his upbringing in South Austin, a part of the city relatively separated from the downtown music scene commonly associated with the city. “I wasn’t really aware of [the Austin music scene] growing up down south,” Gary says. “It was just the neighborhood where we played baseball.” His introduction to music, then, came about as it does for many young Americans —listening to records at home, attending a church that celebrated through song — but it wasn’t until his teens that he realized he was, in fact, at the epicenter of American live music. And that’s when he started to obsess over the “Austin sound.”
“I wasn’t aware of how rich the musical history was,” says Gary. “Once I got that image and was aware, and the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ was being thrown around, I was kind of drawn in.”
In the local music scene, he discovered an abundance of musical genres, from honky-tonk to hip-hop — all accessible right in his own backyard. Early on, Gary found himself drawn to the blues “It sounded like the root of a lot of music that I loved when I was growing up,” Gary says. “Sixties soul, seventies funk… riding around with my dad, and those records playing in my house.”
Gary had no formal musical training, and learned by instinct and sheer passion. As a young man determined to learn the craft, Gary began recording televised musical performances on VHS tapes, studying each sound and movement he saw on screen. “I learned how to play the guitar by just sitting in front of TV and in front of the radio,” he says.
“The guitar is another voice. This is my outlet, a way for me to express myself.” — Gary Clark Jr.
The guitar soon became an extension of Gary, a self-proclaimed “terrible communicator,” as a means of channeling his emotions and speaking to others. “The guitar was another voice,” he says. “This is my outlet, a way for me to express myself. Music is powerful, and I think the guitar is the most expressive [music of all].”
Sound is the driving force for Gary, and he embraces the medium on its own terms, allowing the music to take hold of his heart and mind through the sound itself, and his own reaction to it.
“I’m not a classically trained musician; I don’t know a lot when it comes to music theory,” Gary says. “I know about how things feel to me. I see songs in colors. I start to think of sounds in those colors — dark, fiery — and how do you get to translate that to sound?”
“Every single memory that I have, there’s a song that goes with it.” — Gary Clark Jr.
In his mind’s eye, Gary is able to perceive music and its attendant emotions in color: blood red minor chords for moody moments, blue major chords where he wants brightness and resolution, and a dash of piano that drives the track and “makes it kind of orange.”
This approach lends itself to a sound that reflects the sum total of Gary’s musical experiences to date — blues, Motown, hip-hop, classic rock, and a dash of Texas honky-tonk — in a voice that is unique to him and his significant skill.
“How do I make a sound like the guys who came before me? You can’t make a sound like that,” Gary says. “What I’ve tried to do is take what I love from that, and incorporate it into what I like now,” he says. “[Their] sounds — the crackling, overdriven speakers, the just about to bust sound that was being recorded back then — it makes me feel a way that I just can’t get enough of.”
It was that feeling — crackling, electric, about to burst — we were pursuing when we proposed our amp collaboration with Gary. It was an experiment in the possibilities of personalized sound. To that end, the Lincoln team, with engineering and construction help from Revel Audio and master amp craftsman Ben Fargen, worked together to create a one-of-a-kind amp as unique as Gary’s sound. The result: an amp wired to accommodate his significant range, with tones that contain vintage hues, yet feel modern and fresh.
For an artist like Gary, who sees sound in color and communicates emotions in chords, it is also providing a means of projecting his voice — rich in the sounds that came before it, intensely personal in its attempts to touch the audience — further out into the world.“I just think music is the most powerful form of communication that we have,” Gary says.
To an artist who associates every memory with music, that power has long been evident. To everyone receiving that message for the first time, Gary and his guitar may just be the proof.
To celebrate the spirit of That’s Continental ahead of music’s biggest night, The Lincoln Motor Company and Revel collaborated with master amp builder Ben Fargen and his team on a custom amp for Gary Clark Jr. To learn more about how it all came together, visit us here.
Learn more about the new 2017 Lincoln Continental, here.