An interview with Madison songwriter and performer Clay Rehm about his debut album
by Mike Huberty
Madison musician Clay Rehm has been gigging around the scene with his cover acts BABY ROCKET and THE CHANGE for well over a decade, occasionally slipping an original song in the mix of classic and alternative rock favorites. But as a musician, the itch to express yourself through originals is hard to scratch, and after years of playing other people’s songs, he decided to get into the studio and give people a chance to hear his own.
His debut album, Burned Again And Other Love Songs is a collection of tracks he’s written over the years and it’s his first foray into recording original songs. Engineered by Madison Americana and Pop mainstay Beth Kille, Rehm sings and plays the guitars and piano, but the recordings features his wife (and BABY ROCKET bandmates), Gina Milani on keys, Ken Anderson on drums, and UNTAMED’s bass and vocals powerhouse Melissa Kieler on backing vocals. The songs range from forlorn love (“Burned Again” to political anger (“These States (Are Worth Fighting For)”) and he even sneaks in a reworked version of the 90s’ chestnut “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in a nod to his cover band roots. The songs are easily accessible and fun to listen to, while firmly rooted in the Traditional Pop landscape. Clay’s voice is sometimes reminiscent of Elvis Costello and his songwriting strongly echoes Classic Rock and Americana.
Rehm and his band will be celebrating the album release at the High Noon Saloon on Tuesday February 4th, opening up for the Beth Kille Band. Everybody gets a free copy of the CD with the $7 cover charge. I talked with Clay about his influences, his inspirations, and what people can expect from this album and the release party.
MI: What inspired you to pick up your instrument and play in the first place?
CR: I was 14 years old and this was way before the internet and MTV, and I happened to see some band on The Midnight Special or Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, or something like that, and that really inspired me to learn guitar. So at 14, I worked and saved up money and bought a really crappy guitar and more importantly, a book on chords, and taught myself how to play. Conveniently for me, I was very shy, so I spent a lot of time at home practicing how to switch between all of the chords and build up calluses on my fingers! Ever since then I have always enjoyed playing in bands, and have so in Milwaukee and Madison and have played guitar, bass, and even drums in all types of bands including heavy metal, wedding, country and now rock and pop.
MI: Who were your favorite artists growing up?
CR: I was heavily influenced first by what my parents were listening to such as Engelbert Humperdinck, Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass, Tom Jones and Elvis. When I was able to listen to my own music, which was the mid-70’s, I really liked listening to David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Judas Priest, Stones and the Beatles and so on. Other bands soon came in the late 70’s such as the Cars, Ramones, Elvis Costello, Boston, the Knack, etc… The bands and artists that really impacted by sound though was Nick Lowe / Dave Edmunds from Rockpile, Tom Petty and John Cougar (Mellencamp).
MI: What would you recommend as the song to listen to for people who are listening to you for the first time?
CR: I think the song that stands out on this album is named “At the Corner”. It was inspired since I drive a lot on Madison’s east side, and there are two streets that cross named Schmligen and McPhearson. I thought - what are the chances of these two street names coming together? So I put them into this song. It is a kind of fun and upbeat song yet is about losing someone…
MI: Is there any theme that runs through the new album?
CR: The album is named Burned Again and Other Love Songs and is a tongue-in-cheek expression on love, or rather, finding and then losing love. Each song on this album ties into this theme. So, yes a very upbeat and fun album!
MI: What’s your most memorable performing experience?
CR: I have been fortunate enough to play in many bands with many talented musicians and many venues in the Madison and Milwaukee areas over the years. One time that stands out is when I was invited to play with the Sleighriders - an annual holiday event in Milwaukee. Many years ago I played on some cold snowy night, and the drummer for the show was Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick. I got to play with Bun E. and kept looking back behind me during the show and thinking, “I am playing with Bun E. Carlos!”. My other memorable experience is when we played at Summerfest on the Miller Lite Oasis stage. We were treated wonderfully by the event staff, and it was such a great time playing on that stage.
MI: What do you feel separates you from other Madison musicians?
CR: Ironically I don’t feel I like I separate myself - I feel that we are all a team working together to entertain our friends and fans in Madison and surrounding areas! I truly enjoy playing with different people and there are so many great musicians in town. I have more fun when I am not in the limelight and the others that I am playing with are…
MI: What can people expect at the High Noon on February 4th?
CR: I feel that it is not about me that they are coming to see, but rather the band members that are with me. We work together to put on a fun show that involves the audience, and we enjoy it much more when the audience is dancing and having fun, as opposed to just watching us. We try to throw in some relevant jokes in between songs as well!
CD: Burned Again And Other Love Songs Record Label: Self-Released