- Better Them Than You (M4A - 6388kb)
Singer balanced making music, flying helicopters
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.
Who: Tigger Clarkson Band
When and where: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, at The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington, 1 S. Front St., and 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at The Palm Room, Wrightsville Beach
There are probably very few musicians who can say they finished recording songs for an album, left the studio and then found themselves on a naval vessel deployed overseas so they can pilot helicopters.
Tigger Clarkson has followed a curious path to making music. A knee injury playing football at the U.S. Naval Academy led him to the guitar. Later, he would make albums between deployments to Africa, Haiti and Afghanistan. Clarkson served in the Marine Corps for eight years and spent time in Wilmington while stationed in Jacksonville.
He now calls Wilmington home, and he and his band will perform twice this week – Friday at The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington and Saturday at The Palm Room in Wrightsville Beach.
"Two weeks before I blew out my knee, I bought an acoustic guitar, thinking I'd just tinker with it," Clarkson said. "I dedicated myself to learn(ing) it while I couldn't play football. I don't think I would have had the attention span to teach myself had I not had to put my leg up for six months."
After college, Clarkson entered the U.S. Marine Corps, intending to become an officer. With multiple wars happening, there was need for pilots. Clarkson passed flight school and became a helicopter pilot. He would later deploy for humanitarian assistance after the earthquake in Haiti and fly support for troops in Afghanistan, both experiences he calls humbling.
"These 18- and 19-year-old kids in Afghanistan putting their lives on the line for people they don't even know because it's the right thing to do, it's pretty inspiring," Clarkson said.
Many of the songs on Clarkson's first EP were written while he was in Djibouti, Africa. After recording them in California (his brother lives in Los Angeles), Clarkson left for Haiti.
While on a ship, he tried to download sound mixes for the songs he'd just finished, but the bandwidth was so slow it took nearly an hour per song. Clarkson would listen and then email notes about the tunes. He finished his second EP before a deployment to Afghanistan.
"The whole duality (of a life as a musician and a pilot), usually I just kept (the music) part of my life quiet," Clarkson said. "I wanted to stay focused on what I was doing while serving in the Marine Corps. It's important when you're doing those missions to stay focused. I didn't want anybody to think I was distracted by anything else."
Clarkson kept a notebook and a digital recorder to capture ideas that he'd revisit once he was home. It might be recorded in a studio a year after he first made note of an idea. Some found their way onto his EPs, songs that were done in a compressed amount of time yet resulted in a lush tapestry of husky vocals and gentle, danceable grooves. The songs bear a '70s soul vibe mixed with a guitar style similar to that of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"There's a certain way to do stuff – record to tape if you have the ability – certain instruments, certain microphones," Clarkson said. "I'll always want it to sound like it's influenced by '60s and '70s soul. Those records have more of a live feel to them. The term I wear out in the band is when you record to have things perfectly imperfect."