By Johnny Griffith
It’s pretty much a given if you want to be a working musician, at some point you’re going to have a day job, or two, or three. Some people have full-blown careers and simply perform to give themselves an escape, a few extra bucks for bad habits, or simply for the love of it. More commonly, musicians will work part-time jobs in between weekends to fund the gas and food for the next road trip, buy that next instrument, or pay their bar tab at the next show. East Texan Clay Thrash decided to take up the family business and become a barber while writing material for his next album.
A native of Quitman, Clay grew up pretty much the poster-child for the stereotypical “cool” kid: playing football and track all four years, state qualifier in the pole-vault, setting records along the way. In fact, Clay didn’t even pick up guitar until around the age of 16 when Clay’s dad bought his mom a guitar, and Clay began to teach himself some chords along the way.
After leaving Quitman for Angelo State University on a track scholarship, Clay continued to pursue music, developing a love for performing even though the pay was almost non-existent, like the time he played for $50 and a case of beer. From those roots, Clay went on to record an album and toured in support of the album, getting some Texas Radio attention and making the rounds to several major-market radio stations in the process. A couple of years removed from that time-period, Clay has settled back down in Quitman, working full time, and keeping an eye toward the future and his next album.
Clay gave us some time this month to see what he’s up to and what’s coming up in 2018:
Johnny: When did you initially develop an interest in music?
Clay: I initially developed an interest in music in elementary school, probably kindergarten, with a mild obsession with Elvis. Then later in the third and fourth grade it was grunge and alternative rock, bands like the Toadies, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. My mom was horrified when she found me screaming “Do you wanna die?!” along with The Toadies’ song Possum Kingdom.
Johnny: What was the hook for you, that grabbed you and drew you into to the musician lifestyle as opposed to say, a barber?
Clay: The hook for me was Pat Green. Plain and simple. I’d catch him every time I could and was just fascinated with the idea of this normal dude going around making a real living basically throwing a party. Of course, he’s anything but normal. I think the dude is a genius in his own way; a great writer and even better performer.
Johnny: How was that conversation with your parents when you decided to tell them this was what you wanted to do?
Clay: They never had a problem with it. They were always very supportive of whatever I’ve wanted to do. I’ve been very lucky with my folks. They are the best parents I could have asked for, and they love me unconditionally, so there was no drama there to speak of.
Johnny: When did you make the jump from sitting in your garage or living room strumming on the guitar to deciding to get up on a stage in front of people?
Clay: That’s an easy one; I credit that with my old roommate at Angelo State. Spencer played the guitar, and he was on the track team. He was much better at talking to people than I am, and probably still is. His personality is larger than life and can come across as a jerk, but a lovable one! I went up to Spence one day in the weight room and said, “Hey, man, I hear you play the guitar?” He said, “Yeah, you should come over to my apartment tonight.” This was before we moved in together. We kind of messed around for a night, and he was like, “We should really try to get some gigs.” I honestly had never even thought of it like that up until that point. All of a sudden it became a reality! I think it was that weekend we ended up at this place called The Scrub Pub in San Angelo. (I’m dating myself, I’m sure). Mark David Manders was playing that night, and Spencer, in typical form, goes up to him and asks him if he and I can open for him the next night of their two-night-stand, and Mark said yes! We show up and stagger our way through 45 minutes of terrible covers, but that was the beginning.
Johnny: I’ve listened to your debut album, and it’s a nice, high-energy melding of older and newer country styles with a rock flair here and there. Which artists would you say had the most influence in the development of your current sound?
Clay: Well, I’d say that sound isn’t current to what I’m doing now. The stuff I’m writing now, of course it’s still me, so there will be parallels, but as far as that album goes, it’s tough to say. I was kind of all over the place. Radney Foster was always an influence, but probably a little less these days. I’m actually more into pop driven stuff now, but still with that rock and country flare. I wouldn’t say I’m trying to be FGL, not that kind of pop, but big pop, big choruses, big moments, and big hooks. That’s what I’m trying to do these days.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you playing?
Clay: I’m kind of in a hiatus and working as a barber pretty much all the time. I’m writing, and we are planning on starting back up in 2018. But I’ve needed some more stability. I tried to kind of live a normal nine to five, thought I had a girl to marry, and that ended up just being more fuel for great songs. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that, for now.
Johnny: What are some of your hobbies when you’re not thinking about work or music?
Clay: I’d say hunting is up there, though I haven’t gotten to go much lately. I read a ton of stuff. I’m interested in Cormac McCarthy novels. You know, the guy that wrote “No Country For Old Men.” I like stuff based in the south and with a bit of mystery. Currently, I’m reading “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham. I guess I like books that have been made into movies. One kind of weird thing I’m interested in lately is that I’m a bit fascinated with paranormal stuff. UFO’s and stuff like that. The idea of it all fascinates me. My birthday is on the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So, of course, I’ve always been interested in that stuff. Really, I guess it’s a fascination with what’s behind closed doors, the mystery of it all. I’ll always chase a good mystery.
Johnny: You’ve enjoyed some success in recent years, making the rounds on Texas radio, recording your debut album, touring to promote the album and gain exposure. At any point has it been hard to keep sight of Quitman, Texas and the path that’s brought you this far?
Clay: Absolutely not. I’m there almost every weekend right now.
Johnny: What has been your best memory so far in your musical journey?
Clay: Playing Gruene Hall.
Johnny: What’s on the agenda for 2018?
Clay: A record, no doubt. I have songs that are the best stuff I’ve ever written, and they need to be heard.