Clemens & Co Leans on Rock's Current Jam Band obsession on "Cashmere Feels"
By Zak Kolesar
An article printed in early June in The Washington Post detailed indie rock music’s descent into jam band obsession, topping it off with Vampire Weekend’s dense “Father of the Bride” release this year and its apparent mania with The Grateful Dead and Twiddle’s Mihali. It also details how bands like My Morning Jacket and Wilco kicked off the trend right before the turn of the decade. Coming across the above-mentioned article while listening to local blues, rock, and pop act Clemens & Co opened me up to the thought that as we approach 2020, rock music is letting the instruments do the explaining more instead of flirting with quirky, clue-filled lyrics.
If you frequent the live local music scene, odds are that you’ve seen and heard Eric Clemens. As an aspiring young musician in Columbus, Clemens could be found at many open mics across town during his teenage years. Recently, you may have seen him jamming with indie rockers Silvis or getting funky with The Deal Breakers. But what Clemens has been spending most of his time on in 2019 is the debut release of Clemens & Co, a collective of almost 10 musicians that includes: Efrum Imler (bass), Will Ash (drums), Jeff Straw (keys), Kristen Peters (violin), Kristin Gramza (vocals), Dre Peace (vocals), Isaac “I The Imperial” Osborne (vocals), Papa Steve (percussion), and Wendell Lowe (percussion).
Clemens fronts the band as its lead guitarist and vocalist, as he tries to set the tone right from the start on “Cashmere Feel” with a blues and funk-infused guitar intro. Although this prelude to Clemens opening his mouth sets the tone for a party, the lyrics are more introspective. The first words we hear on “Pendulum” are, “Well, I could make fun of the generation preceding us/And we don’t think much of the generation succeeding us.” Clemens looks at his own problems with this same scope throughout the entire album, making us question our own selfish ways. Also, the hint of violin right before the breakdown of this track shows how tight and on the money Clemens wanted this record to sound.
Following “Pendulum” is “Set Things Straight,” the longest track on the album and the first song that opened me to the idea that Clemens wanted words to permeate through the tracks just as strong as the emotions of the instruments. The very subtle percussive noises, which begin to awaken near the end of the track, are also a nice touch before a very soulful guitar solo brings listeners into the final chorus, where Clemens sings with a female companion, “I missed you so, you do not know/And I regret everything that I said/Your presence here is so sincere/I cannot wait to set things straight.”
Although this is Clemens and Co first record, they have been playing some of these tracks for some time. “Moving On” is one of them, a John Mayer “Heavier Things”-sounding cut that reflects on love lost and how to move on. It’s not the most upbeat of the songs on “Cashmere Feel,” but it does have the most pop appeal to it. Breakups are naturally relatable, and they’re even easier to get through when a soothing voice like Clemens is the one calming you down. To expand on Mayer’s influence, even “Grass Seeds,” an upbeat folk tune with no words at the heart of this album, sounds like a Dead & Company contribution.
The credited vocal guests — Dre Peace and I The Imperial — on the final three tracks keep the slow-build model that most of the songs take on “Cashmere Feels.” Dre Peace joins Clemens on “Black and White,” a Disney-esque duet preaching unity and respect no matter our differences. “Bad Intent,” the most different-sounding track on this record, creeps in with isolated bongo drum hits, which sets the tone for I The Imperial’s feisty verses later on in the song. Through-and-through, it’s not a hip-hop song, but like most of Clemens and Co tracks, they don’t seem to be blending genres as much as they’re trying to make a plane that all musicians can exist and create on.
I wouldn’t classify Clemens and Co as an indie rock band, but take a song like “Fool,” a four-minute track that has a guitar solo taking up a quarter of the song, and you can see the apparent influence of a genre that was once considered a counterculture. “Jaded Blues” is a song that starts off sounding like an easy-going pop tune but by the end has you thinking of Trey Anastasio when Clemens isolated and psychedelic-sounding vocals echo, “I’m feeling so jaded, so overrated, I can’t complain, but oh how I hate it.” For an album named “Cashmere Feels,” it does sound like a soft take on jam band music, which is perfect for this moment in music.