Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert series presents The Commonheart
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ahead of the Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert series show Saturday, April 6, Explore Steamboat chatted with The Commonheart’s co-founder Clinton Clegg to learn more about the Pittsburgh-based, rock-soul, nine-piece band.
Explore Steamboat: How and when did The Commonheart form?
Clinton Clegg: We just had our fourth birthday. The drummer, Sean McGregor, and I were in between some projects and wanted to start something new and fresh, so we started putting this lineup together and doing more rock-soul.
ES: What kinds of projects and music genres had you guys been working on earlier?
CC: The bands we were with before were kind of all over the place. We’d be really rockin’ for one song, then do a reggae song, then a slow ballad song. At the end of the day, we couldn’t figure out what we were. When we started The Commonheart, we were really focused on when you hear us, you know it’s us — rock-soul.
ES: What’s the Pittsburgh music scene like? How do the band’s roots there influence your music?
CC: The scene is great. I started there after I graduated college, went to a lot of the open stages and met a lot of the musicians I’m working with now. There’s a lot of Americana, rock acts and blues — a diversity of genres. There’s also a huge history of music in Pittsburgh with blues, soul and R&B. It’s always been there, but in the past five years or so, we’ve been trying to bring it back further.
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ES: What are the most significant changes the band has gone through in the past four years?
CC: When we first started, we were a five-piece group and had an idea for a show that we wanted to try to have some horns and backup singers to add some layers to the sound. It went really well. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. We invited everyone to stick around, and they were willing. The lineup we have now — ha, one of them’s dancing in front of me and making me laugh — has only been here about a year. When we got a booking agent, we started traveling really extensively all over the country. That’s when a few people who said they couldn’t really do that, and the people we brought in next knew it was going to be that busy. The people who are signed up now are more the band than ever before.
ES: The band has nine members. How does having that many brains and bodies involved affect rehearsals?
CC: When we started, we were strict, doing two rehearsals a week, getting everyone in a room. We got to a point about six months ago, when we got to a certain comfortable place with the material that it wasn’t as beneficial to have everyone there at once. Now, we do more section rehearsals: rhythm section rehearsals, a horn and vocals section rehearsal. Our set has been pretty similar because we’re about to put a new record out, and we’ve been touring on that material, so we’re pretty tuned in.
CC: I’ll start with an idea and work on some stuff with a few members, then we add layers as the song grows. People all have input, and the band helps me arrange. We all piece it together, together.
What: The Commonheart
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6
Where: Steamboat Stage, 2305 Mount Werner Circle
ES: Logistics and travel?
CC: It’s not easy sometimes. We go run by run. Some tours we stay with people we know; other times, it’s Expedia and hotels. It can definitely can be a challenge
ES: In a group this size, is it challenging for everyone to get along and stay drama-free?
CC: Everyone gets along. It’s tough to be in a van all day together, but I heard a saying once that goes, “They don’t pay me to play music, they pay me to travel.” Those 10-, 12-, 14-hour days in the van wear on you, but once you step on stage, that really lifts the spirits and brings you back to why you’re doing it. That’s the cure to any van ailments.
ES: What’s the best way to spend one of those long days in the van?
CC: Bizzbuzz! It’s a counting game. It was a drinking game, but we don’t drink in the van. You go in a circle, and you count per person, but seven is “bizz,” and double numbers are “buzz.” I think the farthest we’ve gotten is 100. The 70s are ridiculous.
ES: For someone who hasn’t gotten to see one of your shows yet, could you describe what they’re like?
CC: In the recent months, we’ve tried to turn our shows into outlets for positivity. You’ll hear me preach a lot about loving your neighbor and giving love to get love. It’s all about smiling and tuning out from any negativity you might see on TV. It’s very revivalesque. We try to give people a big dose of positivity to their spirit and, hopefully, pick them up that day.
ES: Where do you find inspiration for that positivity?
CC: It’s something about being in this country the past year — there’s so much hate flying around. I think people need that positivity now. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do with music; I think our music always sounded positive, but in the more recent months, I’ve been more vocal about it on stage. I saw Al Green putting out positivity this way, and that was inspiring. It’s also all reaffirmed when after our shows, people tell me, “I needed that today,” or “You inspired me today.” I’m all about it now.
ES: What are some of the most memorable or fun groups you’ve opened for or who have opened for you?
CC: We and JJ Grey and MoFro are like family. We’ve been on three runs with them for four to eight weeks at a time — the music made so much sense on stage. They’re real genuine, kind people. The first few times with them, it was a little bit like school for us. We weren’t very trained in how to be a band on the road — like how do you manage in a van? Then you have these mentors with great advice. Those guys are the best. We also had this crazy experience last summer — we worked with Outlaw Music Festival, with Willie Nelson, Brandi Carlisle, Sturgill Simpson. We kicked the thing off, then it was a nonstop star parade.
ES: What in the near future is the band excited about?
CC: We’re definitely excited for Steamboat — this will be our second time out there. We’re also excited to get our second record out; we’re aiming for hopefully May, possibly June. Behind the scenes, we’re getting ready to release it on a global scale. We’re excited to see what it can really do. We all feel like this record will determine the longevity. So exciting times, nervous times.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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