20-year-old singer-songwriter Griff Clawson landed his third consecutive slot at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion “Spring Sing,” the annual talent competition last night. This is the event that gave both Adam Levine and Sara Bareilles their start. The Newport Beach native was vying for Best Solo Entry with his new song “One More Time” off newly-released EP “Make A Move,” released on Friday.
Clawson got his first guitar when he was 11, so he’s been playing music for about half of his life. The first guitar was just a $30 bargain from Bed Bath and Beyond, but he went way beyond expectations with it. At first, Clawson says, he was only making “sounds and noise,” but he picked up the fundamentals fast enough to play songs. He focused mostly on what he liked, versus technique, he says. But if you listen to his music, you can hear the precision and crispness of a pro. An Apple fan, Clawson is a self-taught producer as well, working mostly in Logic.
Clawson’s older music is available on Soundcloud as well. Clawson’s sound is, and has been diverse, crossing several genres from the start. This was even evident in his song Gold, from 2 years ago, amassing over over 118K listens on Soundcloud alone after he played it at Spring Sing in 2015.
Apparently, Clawson likes to be diverse in all his experiences and influences, not just music. While still a student at UCLA, he’s studying World Arts and Cultures and Entrepreneurship–straddling two very different departments and “learning good things from both.”
Below is a little taste of the artist’s talents from UCLA Studio 22. Just the man and his guitar:
Read the short interview from 5/13/2017 below.
MM: How did you first start writing songs?
GC: I started to hum along to songs I was learning. Humming turned into singing and it turned into better signing then that turned into songwriting. I was a shyer kid in middle school and I think that it was a happy coincidence that I stumbled upon the pen and paper.
MM: Tell me about the songs on your public Soundcloud link. They all seem to have a romantic story behind them. How did you write these?
GC: Each of the songs on Soundcloud came from different times. The first two were in a studio with a producer (“Gold” and “Caught up”). The other 3 were just me in a room. They come from things that happened with girls and or scenarios in my head.
MM: Popular songs in 2008, when you first got your guitar, were Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and so on. How were you influenced by the hits at that time?
GC: I remember being intrigued by Coldplay, especially their earlier songs. I still go back to them. Coldplay’s “Parachutes” album will always be… it’ll never fail… at least for me. John Mayer always comes up too. His “Room For Squares” album was cool because it was the first time I could maybe dissect music. I heard the guitar and the vocals and thought ‘oh I do both of those things’, given it was nowhere near the caliber he was performing… it was almost like a goal or something that I aspired to…
MM: So tell me about growing up in Newport Beach. How did you spend your time as a kid? Did you skate and surf?
GC: Ya, I skated and surfed but never got really good because it was on and off. I played club sports and with school… One thing I did love was to build things in the garage. I tinkered a lot. I built air cannons and contraptions. This summer, I wanna build a table. Probably because my grandpa has a shop in his garage and I remember building hammer and nail structures with him when I was really young. He lives in West Hollywood and I spent a lot of time in LA growing up. It’s kinda cool to be in LA again for school especially as it relates to family and music.
MM: What have you built lately that you are proud of?
GC: The table platform that I’m putting my controller (APC40) and laptop on for the show on Friday, [at Spring Sing] I built. And it looks kinda home-made. Kinda on purpose.
MM: Do you think you can correlate the process of building things and writing songs?
GC: They are really different processes. But the gratification of starting with nothing and ending up with something might be the correlation between the 2 things.
MM: My favorite song, other than your upcoming single, “One More Time,” is “Gold” from 2 years ago. It seems to have the most plays on Soundcloud as well. And you mentioned it was studio-produced… Tell me more about that. Why do you think it’s so popular, and do you hear your future sound in that song?
GC: There are songs that quickly for writers and that was one of them. That was about someone so maybe that was why it resonated with so many people. I also played it the first year, 2 years ago, at Sing [the annual UCLA show that’s coming up again this Friday] and I think it got a lot of plays after that show.
For Gold, I came into the studio with a few songs (Ben Howard, Lucy Rose Parton, Chet Faker…) pointing to drums or synthesizers in each song, and pulled references, like citations in a paper. Then you combine all your inspirations with your own voice and melodies and story and that becomes your sound. So that’s how I made Gold.
MM: Who were your inspirations for the upcoming EP?
GC: I produced the whole thing myself by the way… But sounds I had in mind were Honne (British duo), Jack Garratt (saw him at Coachella), Maggie Rogers (darling folk singer gone pop, whom Pharrell has taken under his wing), and Bob Moses.
MM: Who taught you music production?
GC: I taught myself, just out of a need to be able to communicate the direction of a song to different people. Because not everybody will hear the same things on top of an acoustic demo. For my own pleasure, for other people’s curiosity, I started doing the piano or strings or drum sounds on top of the songs I was writing… then it developed into me producing the whole EP.
My physical instrument is guitar always starts and ends on a guitar.
MM: Tell me about your gig coming up at The Hotel Cafe, on 6/30. Are you excited?
GC: I’m SUPER excited. And so excited for school to be out so I can get home and start rehearsing.
It’ll be just me, my guitar and controller to bring some of the EP production to the stage.
MM: What’s the message you want people to take away from your songs?
GC: The message I always want tp deliver is that the songs are real. There is no other feeling than having someone say “I feel that too.” It’s a cool kind of connection when something that happened totally separate from someone else feels so similar to what they experienced. And it’s just fun because it’s through a song.
Ok. Now we must all get tickets to see Clawson at the Hotel Cafe. Click here to get yours. He won’t have the Bed Bath and Beyond guitar, but you may see his hand-made table, and you will definitely hear some great tunes and see a rising star on his way further up.