Turning the clock back to a misspent youth has given songsmith Mike Clerk a belated shot at rock fame.
The Kirkcaldy troubadour was on course for the big time a decade ago with his band The Lost Generation before deciding to take a step back from music business demands to concentrate on giving guitar lessons.
But still hankering to share his music, he threw himself pre-pandemic into recording a solo album on which he’d play every instrument.
“Music is mostly about having fun, so the reason I stepped away was I didn’t want it to start feeling like a job,” Mike explains.
“When I was teaching people I’d keep telling them if they kept doing all the stuff they were good at, they’d get better at that but all the magic happens when you try stuff you’re not good at.
I swapped the van for a piano, to see what it’d be like to have a different avenue for my writing. It just kind of grew arms and legs
“So I took a bit of that advice myself and swapped the van I had for the band — which I didn’t need any more — for a piano, to see what it’d be like to have a different avenue for my writing. It just kind of grew arms and legs.”
The resulting album, The Space Between My Ears, is a frequently understated offering that draws on late 90s / early Noughties influences to create an atmospheric body of work structured like a movie soundtrack.
I tried to write the album like it was a film in three acts
It also packs a lyrical punch, with the 41-year-old probing his younger self’s psyche during a traumatic period of almost complete internal meltdown.
“I tried to write the album like it was a film in three acts,” he says. “Very few people might take that from it initially, but hopefully they’ll eventually get what’s going on, in the same way you would with a Tarantino film.
“I watched a lot of his work and really dark series like The Punisher and True Detective, as well as reading loads of books, to try and get inspiration of soundscape.
“One of my mates, when I let him hear the final master, he said it sounded like the Queens of the High Flying Black Rebel Motorcycle Keys, a bit of a mixture of all the bands that I like. I couldn’t say anything back to that — he was spot on,” he laughs.
Trainspotting was another inspiration. Robert Carlyle tweeted his praise
Another inspiration was novelist Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel The Blade Artist, with Clerk stunned after “Begbie”, aka actor Robert Carlyle, unexpectedly tweeted praise for his electro-mantra Keep Movin’.
Similarities between Welsh’s milieu and the singer’s own experiences are obvious, but he insists drugs played no part in The Lost Generation’s demise. “A lot of people have taken it that I was an addict and had to get out of the hole,” he adds.
“What actually happened to me is in my early twenties I got stuck into recreational drugs and I ended up with psychological issues and struggled with panic attacks. Like anybody living on a council estate trying to enjoy myself I thought happiness was everywhere else and started finding it in pills.
“Eventually they bite you in the a*** and you either have to crack it and get on, or you keep doing what you’re doing and you’re not here in 10 years. I got to grips with it by becoming a wiser version of myself.”
Online campaign to fund his album
Last year’s lockdown prompted the martial artist to start a lucrative online campaign to help finance his album. Covid restrictions mean his tuition job remains on hold, but after recording his opus in his spare room and at the Lang Toun’s YMCA studio, it seems he’s literally in a good place now to pursue his ambitions.
“I’d never sit down and go, ‘Right, I’m going to try and write a song’, because I think when you try to force creativity you always come away with your worst stuff,” Mike contends.
“But being stuck at home, I’m usually just writing. I’m already about a third into a second album. I don’t want to fire it out too quick, but it gives me a heads up. I might drop a couple of the tracks I’m working on, but the ball is rolling.
No doubt there’ll be a lot of pop artists writing songs about facemasks
“Sometimes creatively you want to draw from big life experiences because you feel your writing’s more honest. No doubt there’ll be a lot of pop artists writing songs about facemasks, and I find that quite distasteful.
“The hard part for me is trying to draw myself away from what’s going on so that I don’t inadvertently look like I’m trying to cash in on a crisis.”
* The Space Between My Ears is released next week on download and vinyl via Bandcamp.