When asked if his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio still somehow resonated in his music, Clarence Bucaro said, “I think there’s a sensibility towards the way I was brought up and the people I was around in the Midwest. But in my music maybe a more subtle, quiet, soft-spokenness I guess if nothing else.” His most recent and ninth studio album, Pendulum, reveals a down-to-earth insight into the world around him, drawing from experiences of fatherhood, love, and the reticent nature of the human soul. From the title track’s lyrics about the inconsistencies of love and swaying to songs like “Tragedy,” a steel guitar infused track channeling the turmoil of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Bucaro affirms his Midwest sensibility.
Bucaro is now based in Brooklyn, New York and had a chance to tell me about working with producer Tom Schick (Wilco, Ryan Adams), co-writing the ballad, “Strangers” with country singer Allison Moorer, and why writing fiction is quite different from songwriting.
You just got back from a tour in Italy! Tell me about it.
It was really amazing. There’s a label out there that puts out my album and they have a big festival in July. So they asked me to come. I was there for two weeks and there was 10 shows in 12 days I think. It was a whirlwind but it was really, really awesome. It’s such a beautiful country. I got to take my family.
Where all did you go?
Kind of all over, which is the cool part. Because there were so many shows, there wasn’t really downtime to sightsee. I’ve been there a couple of times, but this was the first time I was getting to go all around. So there was a show in Venice, a show in Rome, Milan. And there was a lot up in rural mountain areas, which was really cool. I had no idea that Italy was so mountainous. I knew that there were pretty postcard type mountains, but I never knew it was really mountainous all over, basically, the whole north. There was one show right at the base of Mount Blanc, in the Alps, which was spectacular.
I hear you have a brother who inspired your love of music. How was he inspirational?
I have three brothers and they’re all quite a bit older and they actually all live down by you, Georgia and Tennessee. But my one brother, he was always very different from everybody else. He would go around on his motorcycle and travel all over and come back and sing songs and play guitar. I always wanted to be like him. And travel like him. And play guitar and all that. I always kind of emulated him. He introduced me to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen. All the greats that would change my life. He was responsible for a lot of that.
You’ve lived in several cities with diverse cultural backgrounds including New Orleans, Los Angeles, and now New York. How have those experiences shaped you as an artist and in effect molded your music and writing?
Yeah, I’ve been around a lot especially when I was young looking for different cultures and looking for, I guess, my people if nothing else. But each place that I stayed in taught me something invaluable about either myself or about music. In New Orleans, for example, it was much more about music. Watching those guys play and watching what they do night after night, life changing for sure. So I would say each place I’ve lived has added new color to who I am as a person and what I do musically. New Orleans was definitely all about music. L.A. was a whole different story maybe. It was more about finding out what I’m not than what I am if nothing else [laughs]. And then I moved to New York about 12 years ago. New York is just a great place culture wise and there’s just a lot to do, lots to see, lots to be inspired by here.
For your somewhat politically focused album, Walls of the World, you took inspiration from writers such as Orhan Pamuk. Were there any authors or writings you took inspiration from for your latest album?
Yes and no. Yes in that I read like crazy. I read specific books that year I wrote [Walls of the World]. I wouldn’t say there were any in particular that inspired [Pendulum]. It was a very strong presence on my writing and on everything. Even if certain things don’t come out specifically in songs from books that I’m reading, there’s just language that’s constantly going through my head from books that I try to speak with in the songs or that at the very least come out in a subconscious [way] while I’m writing. So literature is definitely a huge part of what I do. Reading it and being inspired by it for sure. Yeah, Walls of the World, I think more directly at that point because what I was reading was more directly going into what I was writing. I’m reading more now, but it’s more of a state of mind to draw from when I’m writing.
I read you were also writing fiction. Are you working on a book?
I am. I’m working on, I guess, it’s a novel. It’s a collection of stories that go together. I’m on my second draft of it. I’m finding out it’s a lot longer thing than even writing an album [laughs]. But it’s been really terrific. I kind of made a choice about a year ago to start. And it was such a wonderful departure from songwriting. It really has been so fun and exciting because in songwriting there’s a lot more rules and it’s a lot tighter, what you can do and what you can’t do. And I find myself in writing songs there were very frustrating periods where you could be working through just one sentence for two weeks, you know, and the rhyme would have to fit perfectly. There’s only so many words you can really use. It was very rigid. As soon as I started trying to write fiction it was so fun to open it up and to just be able to use adjectives or being able to not have to rhyme. You can tell different stories. My songs tend to be pretty personal. When I stray from that it doesn’t come off as honest and earnest to the listener. And so this is kind of a way that I can do the inverse of that, which is I can write impersonal stories and go anywhere I want with them and really use my imagination and have the freedom to do so. I’ve been having a blast with it.
Can you give me some insight into what the novel is about?
I’ve never described that yet. It’s little stories about moments of faith that happen and kind of extremes that happen through typical events. I don’t know how to explain it [laughs]. It’s still changing a bit as we speak.
You worked with producer Tom Schick on your latest album. What was it like working with him? Did he take you in directions you hadn’t thought of before?
I’ve worked with Tom on three or four records before and he’s from Cleveland, where I’m originally from, and then we worked together in New York a couple of times. He’s just a magical producer. He makes it exciting to write music. We didn’t have the time to go into detail much on any of the last two records that I did with him. It was such a limited budget, such a limited time frame, that one of the most important things that was needed from the production was inspiring and capturing [it] right. I’ve never worked with any engineer, producer like him that just makes the recording process fun. He makes it sound good from the moment you start singing. With him there’s a magic and there’s a live quality to what he does both on the engineering and production levels. It’s so important especially if you’re on a very quick time-table. There’s just no fat. You just cut right to it. If you perform right, he’s got it down pat. He’s a really tremendous producer and engineer. He’s the right balance. He stays out of the way but then comes in at the right moment when you need guidance or insight.
How did the collaboration with Allison Moorer come about on the song “Strangers”?
I originally met Allison at a festival in New York that we both performed at. And I really liked her music and loved her voice and writing. We said we should write songs together sometime. And we stayed in touch and made a friendship. When I was writing the material for the album I’d written a lot of songs, maybe 25 or so. But when it got down to time to do the record I felt like I needed one more. I wanted something different in some way from what I was writing and the songs that I had. I felt there was one variance that was necessary. So I called her. And It actually ended up being a slow, sad song. I was honestly hoping to get together and maybe write something different, maybe something happy and upbeat and impersonal or something. And it was a slow, sad ballad but it was kind of perfect.
How do you think it changed from being something upbeat to something slower?[laughs] Well, I think me, and her as well, kind of gravitate more naturally towards the slow and the melancholy rather than the upbeat happy ones. I feel like for some artists it’s much easier to write your happy poppy songs. And then for other artist it’s the reverse. If I write a good happy song I feel really proud of it because I know there’s very few of them. They’re much more complicated for me to write about than to write something about emotions and feelings that have that extra layer.
Do you have a favorite place to sit down and write music or is it more sporadic?
I used to write in more exotic locations. At this point, I find one place and that’s the place. I try to do it at the same time everyday and the same place. I’m a stay at home dad so I don’t have a lot of space and time when I’m at home or when I’m out touring to write. There’s a lot of songs that have been written in the past during their nap time or when they go to bed at night. For this album, there’s a French coffee shop in the neighborhood that I went to everyday, one hour when they were at class I would go there and sit down and write and that was the place. And for the whole seven months of writing it was that. So, I think whereas I used to enjoy the process of writing in different locations and getting a different vibe and a different impression from a different location, now it’s discipline. So now it’s a very different thing. I look forward to at some point down the road being able to thrive more on different places and different inspirations, but now it’s all about the rigidity of it.
How did the tour with Tony Joe White come about?
I’m a huge fan of Joe’s and I always have been. I think I was just looking at different shows. He’s playing City Wineries and I always love playing City Wineries. So I think I saw he was playing there and doing a tour. But I’m really excited. I’ve always loved his music.
Clarence Bucaro opens for Tony Joe White at the Cox Capitol Theatre in Macon on Sunday, 8/28/16. More info here.