"Know When to Walk Away" from the album Driving Blind
"Things are going really, really well," says celebrated singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jay Clifford, formerly of local band Jump. The Johns Island resident and longtime local music icon just returned from a two-week tour that extended from Alabama and Tennessee into Georgia and the Carolinas. He sounds relieved and rejuvenated. It's Clifford's first major tour with a full band since Jump's announced hiatus in late 2005.
The songwriter and his current touring band — pianist Michael Flynn and guitarist Josh Kaler (both of Slow Runner), electric/acoustic bassist Jonathan "Johnny" Gray (of Jump), and drummer Tom Hamer (currently of The Fire Apes and Hed Shop Boys, formerly of The AstroJet) — are working in support of Clifford's newly-released solo album, Driving Blind, released in September on Thirty Three & 1/3 Records. The group is eager to get on stage at their official CD release show at Music Farm on Fri. Nov. 2.
"At first, I was worried that this band was kind of a convenience thing," Clifford says of assembling the new troupe. "Slow Runner needed a tour and I needed a band. We just kind of came together largely because of that. It developed into something a lot cooler than I expected. Michael and Josh are just so good at the color aspects of the record. They've taken it all at full force. Tommy rockin' on the drums and all over it. And you can't stop Johnny [laughs]. They're all doing a great job."
Clifford put the final touches on Driving Blind earlier this year, traveling to Los Angeles to record at Swing House Studios with producer Warren Huart (known best for his work with Howie Day) at the helm. Huart set things up with a crew of mutual friends and session musicians, including drummer Travis McNabb (Better Than Ezra, Sugarland), bassist Dan Rothchild (Beck, Fiona Apple), and guitarists Dave Levita (Alanis Morissette, Daniel Powter) and Greg Suran (Sunny Day Real Estate, Jewel). A few additional tracks were recorded at Clifford's home studio.
"I got in a room with the right guys, and it went really well," Clifford remembers. "I had played with these musicians on a few records before, and I knew what sort of players they were — just really cool guys. Musically, I trusted them to do their thing and contribute to the songs."
The music on Driving Blind is lush, flowing, and lyrically, the songwriter clearly set out to make more of a personal album, dealing with complexity of relationships between himself and family, bandmates, and friends ... deep life experiences that apply to diferent situations.
Clifford, 36, grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's been playing music and writing songs in Charleston for over 12 years. Clifford, cellist-guitarist Ward Williams, multi-instrumentalist Matt Bivins, and drummer Evan Bivins first came together as Jump, Little Children at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, putting an alt-rock polish on Irish folk, blues, and classic pop styles. Bassist and fellow Tarheel State native Jonathan Gray signed on in 1994 when they relocated to Charleston, in time for the group's first two independently-produced collections, The Licorice Tea Demos and the live Buzz EP.
In 1999, they released a guitar-heavy album titled Magazine on the Breaking/Atlantic label partnership. The album contained the adult-alternative hit "Cathedrals." Vertigo followed in 2001 on their own imprint, EZ Chief Records. Jump released their last studio, Between the Dim and the Dark, in the spring of 2004.
On the side, Clifford stayed busy and creative, writing songs and recording with a project called Rosebud — featuring Gray, percussionist John Wilson, pianist Michael Bellar (of the As-Is Ensemble), and violinist/singer Amanda Kapousouz (a.k.a. Tin Cup Prophette) — and collaborating with musicians outside of the Jump and Rosebud camps. He co-wrote songs with Howie Day, Sean Lennon, Missy Higgins, Robert Randolph, and Mandi Perkins.
Jump officially said "farewell" to their fans at their 10th annual Dock Street Theatre concerts — a three-night grand finale in late December 2005.
"I started off on this tour telling myself, 'I don't want to play Jump songs with a full band,' because it might come off as a disrespect to some of the fans who've come to so many shows," Clifford says. "They're used to hearing Matt on accordion and Ward on cello or whatnot. I figured this new full band would play the new album only, and then maybe Johnny and I would play a few Jump songs. We did that on the first night, and I definitely sensed that people wanted to hear certain songs . We changed the theory and worked up a handful of some of their favorite Jump songs. The Jump fans have been so committed and devoted to the cause that I didn't want to have blowback from that. I wanted to show some respect. Really, many of them just want to hear their favorites again. They've all gone over really well so far."