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Zac Clark Q&A: The Young Volcanoes Frontman Talks About Meaningful Art

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Young Volcanoes

There’s a meaningful resonance to a Young Volcanoes song that lingers unexpectedly long after the final chord is strummed. It only took one conversation with Zac Clark, the man at the helm of Young Volcanoes, to reveal the reason. Clark approaches his craft with a thoughtfulness and passion that’s clearly embedded within the solid pop structures of songs like “Sing You To Sleep.”

Whether it’s the charity he’s supporting or his definition of music, Clark’s answers make you not only want to ponder the beauty of art but intently to his own.

I want to start with a statement you make that I really connected with about music being so much more than a sound but an experience and community. What informs that for you?

I think it’s the difference between approaching a record from an inside-out perspective rather than this top-down, outside-looking-in mentality that I’ve seen as dominant for so long in music. It no longer makes sense to me just to jump up and shout, ‘Hey, look at me- I made a sound, look what I did!’ It feels so much better to ask those closest from the outset, ‘Who here wants to build something, affect something, and create something together based on this sound?’ I’m not interested in selling a song. I want to tell a story and that has to be a collaborative, community effort.

It seems the direct-to-fan model is a great way to illustrate that description. Can you talk about the experience so far?

This model seems to be exactly the shot in the arm that I think that art and expression need right now -- at least as far as providing a legitimate community service worthy of support. The forum and the platform that Pledge in particular provides is invaluable in just keeping the conversation open, making a scene with likeminded souls and coming together for a cause that resonates and reverberates on a large scale long after the record’s done spinning.

I’m so excited to be able to share every little step of a process with a group of folks willing to connect openly on this crazy process of creation, and I’m having a blast so far getting direct feedback from folks, passing lyrics and charts along for the songs so that people can sing and play along. I’m looking forward to working with everyone individually to see how we can make the experience a memorable and personal one.

You’ve been sitting on these songs for some time, but how far back do some of them go?

They were all written between 2007 and 2010, and as songs tend to do, they’ve grown and taken on lives of their own since then in a lot of respects. I’ve carried them around with me and seen them through the lens of so many different experiences that they seem to carry the weight of the better part of a decade in the final versions.

Is it hard to have these songs for so long and yet not have a proper outlet for them?

Totally. But it’s been beyond necessary, because I think it’s incredibly important at this point to fully believe in and back the chosen mode of release in order for a statement to have a fighting chance of connecting. The frustration that’s manifested itself at times from waiting on a certain group of songs in favor of other projects really quickly gave way to profound inspiration and an amazing sense that I’m ridiculously lucky to have the soul and spirit of so many great players, bands and ideas, musically or otherwise, embedded in these tunes over the years.

How long has the band Young Volcanoes been together? Just curious how this outlet came together when the project is under your name (and website) and you mention another band. Just wanting to clarify here.

Young Volcanoes, as an album title, a mentality, a group name all in one, came from a phrase I just loved that described the place these songs came from and where I’m at with playing and writing these days -- a Kurt Vonnegut quote that essentially said to me that no one, no thing, comes out of the mainland, the mainstream. It grows outward from a unique scenario and set of connections.

These songs mostly began in solitude, but I’ve always itched to put them out there as a full band affair and explore them with the musicians I’ve been able to play with over the years, while everyone continues to do their own thing, make their own mark.

So it’s been great to put together bands out west with friends, play with a variety of personalities here in the Northeast, and just keep the whole project fresh and fun. Some of us own bars. Some of us are making films. Some of us are producing records for other artists, and all of us have other bands that are very dear to us. But this project is one where some of my best friends and I can get together and go wth the flow whenever it feels right.

I know you have a personal connection to your charity of choice, Burlington’s Cancer Patient Support Program. Can you tell readers a bit about that who might not be aware?

Part of this process of deciding to put this record out and how exactly to do it has centered around a deep need within me to support a cause tangential, if not essential, to my art and my life -- to who I am and the people who’ve shaped me. I’m committing 20% of the pledge goal for Young Volcanoes directly to the Cancer Patient Support Program of Vermont -- a homegrown organization whose funds go entirely to those affected by cancer in a lot of meaningful and direct ways.

For 10 years, since my mom lost her battle with cancer when I was 14, I’ve sat at pianos trying to bang out a melody that would make her proud, and help myself and others cope with the strange feeling of living, and dying, here on earth. CPS is an ally in so many ways and I now look at this record, and records in general, as much as a chance to share music as a responsibility to collaborate with people who bring positive change to a community and a cause close to home.

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