The 27-year-old blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. was something of a legend before he released a record. In 2001, the mayor of Clark’s native Austin declared May 3 Gary Clark Jr. Day in honor of the then-17-year-old prodigy. He’s since won the Austin Music Award for Best Blues and Electric Guitarist three times, but he didn’t come out with a record until last August: Bright Lights. It became the first EP ever to garner a lead review in Rolling Stone, where he was hailed as the first “genuine 21st-century bluesman.” Out this summer is a full LP.
What are you doing right now?
I’m in the middle of what was turning into a mid-nineties movie marathon. It started off with Swingers. I told myself I was going to get back to work today and be productive, but my excuse is it’s still early.
It’s 2 p.m. in Austin.
Yeah, actually I’m just going to call it a movies-marathon day.
You were born and raised there, right?
Yep, my family is here. I have four sisters, and I grew up in a house full of girls.
Do they play music?
Everybody in my family is musical. My two younger sisters play guitar and one plays keys, and they write songs and stuff.
You need a Clark-family band!
We actually tried that! My dad would have us perform when the family would come over. Sometimes we didn’t want to. We wanted to play video games or go swimming or jump on the trampoline or go to the park or whatever, and my dad was like, “Y’all need to play this song for your family!” [Laughs.] This is so horrible, he’s going to hate me, but we used to call him Joe Jackson.
You love to play live?
Touring and playing live is how I came into this whole thing. I started off pretty young, age 14, 15, hanging around spots down around 6th Street, Continental Club and Antones, meeting musicians and jamming, playing blues bars and clubs and whatever venues would have me. I love playing the same songs different ways and changing things up—adding things and taking them away and being spontaneous with it. I’ve never really spent that much time in the studio.
That impulse to always mess with a song must make it difficult to decide on a given take in the studio.
Yeah, that is a huge issue. I listen to something and I’ll rest on it for a day or so and come back and say, “Oh, I want to sing this this way.” But I’m getting better at letting things go.
Have you watched those videos on YouTube of close-ups of your fingers playing?
That’s just crazy! I have to keep practicing if people are really paying attention.
How close are you to finishing your album?
I’ve got eight solid ideas, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to work with. I thought I would be one of those people who can write on the road, but I realized very quickly that I’m not. I’m really excited to put this out. I’m taking a little time here at home to wrap my head around that process, but I’m so ready to get it done and hit the road again with a bunch of new stuff.