Emerging Brooklyn Bluegrass Songwriter J.M. Clifford Talks New Single ‘Damn Shame,’ Upcoming Album, & More

Sometimes experiencing the downfalls in life can create an uplifting new era moving forward.

Big Apple-based country and bluegrass songwriter J.M. Clifford rediscovered his influences and inspirations for music once again, after taking a step back following the passing of his mother. But when the pandemic hit and created a shroud of depression over us all, Clifford felt himself relying on music yet again. While rekindling this once familiar love, Clifford spent his time as a teacher at an inner-city elementary school. Before long, he would be looking through past demos to fully revive his love for songwriting. 

Clifford took his love for bluegrass music and soon made enough material for an album after teaching at The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Releasing in August, his upcoming album, On A Saturday Night, was co-produced by Ron Pope, Nicole Cosme, and himself. It expands traditional bluegrass roots, heartbreaking ballads, and reflective lyrics, creating an all-around unique track list. He will be releasing a piece of his art as it reflects the hardships, struggle, and closure he experienced in the process of bringing this album to life.

On April 30th, Clifford dropped his new single, “Damn Shame,” from the upcoming album, which entices to just what will follow. The single’s traditional upbeat bluegrass tempo and fun-filled melody compromise with the message within the song as it reflects the familiar image of an end to a relationship. With manic speed and an emotional storyline, the song compliments Clifford’s smooth and brimful voice as the song relates to a certain point in time coming to an end and resonating the time spent.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Clifford about the single, his upcoming album, and more.

How might you describe your sound and style to those wondering what you’re all about?

I love all the great singer songwriters: Dylan, James Taylor, Van Morrison. A few years back I fell really hard for bluegrass music. I think the new record is really a fusion of both of those worlds. Singer-songwriter tunes put through the bluegrass filter.

What does a day in the life of J.M. Clifford’s songwriting process look like?

I’m a bit of a binge writer. I’ll go for a while, often months, without writing much at all, and then a switch flips and I get into a creative headspace. During the pandemic I was alone with a ton of time on my hands and I just got down to business. Hours a day of brainstorming, revising, tweaking etc. When I’m in a good place with my writing, every session has value. I might not walk away with a tune, but I’ll usually get something for the effort. A line, a phrase, a cool chord change. Something to pick up and refine next time.  

So I was hoping you could talk about your debut single “Damn Shame.” What’s the inspiration and influence behind it?

It’s a tune about processing the end of a relationship. In the aftermath of that breakup you look around and the world seems like a different place. I love the fact that this plaintive lyric is set to a driving, almost manic groove. I really like that juxtaposition.  

And is it safe to assume it will be part of your August 2021 album On A Saturday Night?

Absolutely. The record tells a story. This tune is a big part of it.  

What made you choose this song as the lead single?

This is a brand new project and I wanted to kick things off with something energetic. Something to announce this new artistic direction I’m exploring. This tune fit the bill.  

Can you talk about any overarching messages or themes within the album as a whole?

Personally it’s been a rough couple of years. The record reflects on the way I’ve processed grief and loss, some of the good and bad coping strategies I turned to, and music as a kind of saving grace through it all.  

How do you know when you have a quality song ready to be cut and distributed?

That’s a good question! For me a tune has to feel good enough to me to make a demo of it and pass it around to a few trusted ears for feedback and scrutiny. I workshop the tune and get it as tight as possible.  

What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?

I’m an elementary school music teacher and I love my job. I’m not looking to quit and go tour across the country in a car. BUT, my schedule allows me a decent amount of flexibility and I definitely intend to do as much performing and promoting as I can. I want people to connect with this music. I don’t need to cash in big. Just reach some people in a meaningful way with the music.

What else might fans expect to see from you as we carry on through spring and into summer?

Hopefully some gigs!! I’ve got a few things in the pipeline. And of course the record release which will be at the end of August.

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