Theme Songs for People

While his mother might be disappointed he doesn't sound like Jack Johnson, Clay Dudash aims to win fans with hooks and melody

Twenty-two-year-old Clay Dudash is an interesting character. Naturally charismatic, raised in rural Nevada surrounded by the hip-hop music he inherited from his older brother and sister, and then finding his own musical voice by turning the emotionally detached sounds of the '00's post-punk revival into warm hearted folk, this would be troubadour, complete with a pompadour and plenty of circumstance, leaves a lot more questions than answers, and seems to prefer it that way.

"I came out here when I was 19 and met some friends," he remembers. "The reason I started playing here actively is that I met my friend Saku in a class at the Pima Downtown Campus. He's, like, an alternative hip hop artist and he played his music in the cafeteria and I thought it was amazing, just the fact that it was happening here in Tucson. I played him my really shitty demos and he told me where he recorded. He made me realize that all this stuff is feasible — promoting, emailing, just doing all the work behind the art."

As a youngster, Dudash was more interested in video games than playing the Jack Johnson covers that his mother and stepfather planned on him performing when they bought him his first guitar. He didn't care much for Jack Johnson and rappers like Jay Z weren't telling his story. Once in a while, MTV would air a music video, and Dudash stumbled upon the dance-punk style prevalent in British and American indie rock bands over the last decade.

He had "played a little bit of guitar as a kid and then picked it up again in high school," adding, "I got really into British Indie bands; I'd watch footage of Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys, and all these bands playing at Glastonbury (Festival in the U.K.) in front of 80,000 people and I'm thinking, "this is a career?' It really started making a difference to me on an emotional level, that this was something I could do. The lyricism of bands like Arctic Monkeys or Editors or Interpol was open ended and you could just attach all of your baggage onto these songs and identify with it.

"I tried playing with rock bands in high school, but maybe the care level wasn't there, but I still had my acoustic guitar. It was just through having to do it alone. I felt like I had to play music — I couldn't not do it — and all I could do was play on my four-track in my bedroom."

In late 2012, Dudash began recording what would be his debut EP, Keep You Company, at Great White Studios in Tucson, with engineer Luke Amble. Due to financial limitations, the sessions were sporadic but productive. "We recorded most of it in May of 2013. I went into the studio with these particular songs and that was what the project was going to be. Altogether, it took a few weeks.

"When I started recording at Great White, I was playing all the instruments, but with the band I play with now, I'm entertaining the idea of 'you guys play the parts (in the studio).' On the EP, I did most of the parts but there are some instances of the engineer playing bass, for example." Amble and guitarist Neil Schwartz, who also performed on the recording, now regularly contribute to Dudash's live show.

On Keep You Company tracks like "Shore for Cranes," Dudash takes the coldness associated with bands like Interpol or his beloved Bloc Party and transforms it into baritone-voiced rockabilly devoid of post-punk's permafrost.

"I make rock and roll music — like Buddy Holly stuff," he explains. "I don't write stuff that's overly complicated. I like poppy melodies and catchy songs.

"I'd rather people enjoy my music for what they think it's about rather than what I attached to it. I'd like my music to be, like, theme songs for people. As a listener, that's what's most fun, when you connect with these songs and the people who wrote them were talking about something completely different."