Back in 2011, Saint John singer-songwriter Clinton Charlton issued himself a unique sort of challenge: Write, record and mix one song a month, from scratch. And thus, the first (and aptly named) January Through December project was born.
But if there’s one “con” associated with being an in-demand performer, as is the case with Charlton, it’s that your own projects sometimes get the least amount of attention. After having spent the last five years dedicating himself to bringing the music of others to life, Charlton sought to turn his attention back to his own work. Feeling somewhat daunted by the prospect of needing to come up with new material, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to revive the January Through December project.
Here’s our chat with the musician about his latest work:
The first January Through December series you undertook was back in 2011. Since then you’ve been a key player with a number of other local artists, Jessica Rhaye and Bonnett House, among others. I know you’d never complain about the opportunities you’ve been given, but did playing with others come with the sacrifice of putting your solo stuff on the back burner?
That’s an interesting question, and one which I have given a lot of thought to. I suppose the short answer is yes, but ultimately it was of my own doing. I’ve always been able to make my own music while participating in a host of other projects but things changed for me in 2013 when two major life events happened;. my father passed away and my son was born. Aside from the obvious things that come with being a new father, I had a very hard time processing the loss of my own and for a long time,I could not write. The simple act of picking up a guitar and opening my mouth to sing felt like a giant burden. I was scared of what was happening and the longer I went without doing it, the more I lost those muscles. So long story short, I went back to my first love and focused on playing the drums. If anything, I am grateful that I had other peoples music to put myself into when I needed music most.
I assume that reviving the January Through December project was the perfect means to ensure you placed some focus on your own work for at least the next 12 months?
After some distance, and time, I knew I wanted to get back to my music but it felt so daunting to try and put together an album. I would start to write and the self-doubt would just be overwhelming. So, I turned to friends for help, which is how the Bonnett House record came to be actually. Being able to make a record with Bill and Sandy was perfect. I didn’t have to write or sing all of the songs, I had two extremely supportive friends that I could bounce my ideas off of, and I got to make a record without the pressure of being ‘the main guy’.
It was really only these past few months that I found myself falling into the old habits of tinkering around with my guitars in the evenings, or hearing new melodies in my head while I did my everyday tasks. So as much as doing January Through December this year is about reminding anyone that might care that I’m still here, for me it’s about finding that piece of myself that got left behind.
Do you work well under pressure? I know we’re only a couple of months into 2018, but with a certain sense of urgency hanging over knowing you “need” to come up with a new song each month, do you find it motivational?
Very much so. I think deadlines are a great thing for any musician. Aside from not being able to over think a song, you also get the benefit of beating the self-doubt. With my project, I am only doing a song a month, which really isn’t that daunting of a task. But, I am not just writing the song and posting it, I’m trying to present the best product I can within the limits of a home recording. I was very pleased with how January’s song turned out and I’m hopeful for February’s tune as well.
With two songs under your belt so far, what would you say makes these newest songs stand apart from those you were writing seven years ago?
I’m not sure yet. With January’s submission it was the process that was different. I wrote using loops and samples, which I had never done before. I’ve already scrapped a tune that used that same formula for this month however, so I’m not sure I’ve tapped into a new process. What I do know is that I feel excited and inspired to create and I’m coming at music with seven more years of life experience than I had the last time. I hope I’ve learned a little bit more about living in that time, and that it will creep into my songs and lyrics.