We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Clay and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
Truth. I think no matter what intentions always become apparent, especially with artistic things like music. There is something primordial and familiar when you see someone play music from a deep place in themselves. It doesn’t always have to be serious, just honest. One of the positive symptoms of this pandemic has been a forced reflection. Mother Nature sent humanity to its room for a while and I believe people have become a little more introspective these days, at least I have been. Also as a science minded person (working at a Nature Sanctuary) I like to ask questions and find answers. And the process is endless. The more questions you ask the more answers you find that have questions attached. And you can go on with this infinitely. The pursuit of truth is honest work. For me anyways.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My adult life has always been a strange combination of music + random science/biology related jobs. The name Darwin’s Finches came from a handful of names i picked from the glossary of a biology textbook. I feel stubbornly sticking with this as the name all these years is becoming increasingly more entertaining, now that it is ever more apparent certain segments of this culture are actually against science. I get to defy them just by being what I have been for years; a biology nerd. But I began playing my songs with a very “punk” mentality. I just felt compelled to say things, rather than be a back up musician. I was a drummer in my youth before Darwin’s Finches and remember being unfulfilled and wishing to form a band where the songs were not just “good”, but captivating or alarming or devastating or psychotic or exuberant, basically more than just entertainment. There are moments in some music that no matter how many times I hear it it makes me feel alive. This is what I want to contribute to. I want to add to this tradition of music that means something. I have also felt that Darwin’s Finches is a way I document stories I encounter. Placing these encounters under the magnifying lense of a song leads to more ideas. Sometimes you stumble upon ideas, and it is similar to finding an animal in the wild. I just record my observations as honestly as possible in song format. I treat my songs like organisms. I like naming them after characters I meet. I like thinking of the songs as always up for evolution, selecting for what is most real. Since the pandemic started I have been doing a lot of writing and hope to record in an old train station in Giddings that we practice in. It has amazing acoustics with its old tin ceilings. I have an albums worth of new songs ready to go. I released a compilation of material I created about two years ago called Good Morning Creatures I on various digital formats. It is a jumble of electronic instrumental music and acoustic songs. My brother Adam Clay helped me with a few of the tracks. He is a pianist and any time we get to collaborate i reconnect with that psychotic childhood glee from the good old days. Darwins Finches contributed to a tribute album for Houston punk originals Really Red. In the bands three piece format (guitar, bass and drums) me, Cody Honey on drums and Morgan Moody on bass covered the song “Entertainment”. This double LP is out now and Darwins Finches sits on it alongside the likes of Mudhoney and Jello Biafra. Earlier, Darwins Finches also released a split 45 with Houston noise band Clockpole, who are a collective of sorts with audience being absorbed into playing with the band. Justin is long time friends with Joe Ortiz, Clockpole’s ringleader. Justin & Joe met years ago in pre-hurricane Ike Galveston and have been doing music together ever since. On the split both bands preform on each other’s tracks. Justin says of Clockpole, ” Everyone is a potential member of Clockpole, they just don’t know it yet.” As for Darwins Finches, I have done a handful of virtual live stream shows and have been contributing when possible to my friend Liss Victory’s podcast (That BroadcastNYC) as a Texas correspondant on Covid issues.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In the era of Covid I would especially recommend any natural space. I already mentioned the Arboretum and further south I always loved Brazos Bend and Armand Bayou. Just go get lost in the wilderness. I don’t miss eating at restraunts or hanging out at coffee shops or bars. Although, before the pandemic I was a regular patron of Antidote Coffee. The pandemic has distilled my character to to be more hermetic which I am naturally inclined to be. Because Houston is such a huge spread out kingdom just exploring the different regions can be enlightening. Go down to the island of Galveston and go walk around the haunted downtown buildings. Explore the downtown area with Buffalo Bayou Park. Go see the Waugh bridge bat colony with over 200,000 bats under the road. There is a ton of adventures to be had here.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have always found inspiration in nature. I was the kid who spent hours messing with ants. I always find that being alone in nature my mind is drawn to meaningful. I feel like in nature, if I spend enough time just walking through it, I come across compelling little stories/scenes that make me feel really pure undiluted feelings. You can’t argue with nature. It is fair. So I would like to give a shout out to my place of employment the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. It is a 155 acer nature sanctuary close to downtown. I work there as a naturalist/animal caretaker, and have for about 5 years. Being a nature sanctuary in the middle of a big city, the Arboretum is a quiet place where the noise of the city subsides somewhat. I feel like everyone should go take a walk there. And I think having natural spaces to walk around is good medicine.
Photo credits: Richard Tomcala, Kylie Kinsolving