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From "Rising Stars Magazine" June 2008 issue

Mike Clifford - by Krystina Miller


Mike Clifford is making his way through life using his voice, we'll let him continue that by telling us his story in his own words:

ďMy name is Mike Clifford, Iím a Texas singer-songwriter.

Iíve been playing guitar since I was 12. I took piano lessons starting at age 7 and I gave up piano as soon as I learned guitar, it was just a lot more interesting to me and alot more portable!

Iím from Great Falls, Virginia. Iím definitely a long way from home in Texas. I spent 5 years in West Virginia going to school there, at West Virginia University and itís interesting, West Virginia and Texas are not that much different. They are both good Ďole red neck states when it comes right down to it, so I didnít have too hard of a time adjusting down in Texas.

I mostly liked rock and roll growing up; my dad was a big country fan. There was always a lot of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and even John Denver, who was really big back then, playing in our house. I moved out to Los Angeles to become a Ďrock starí in í89 and the scene out there at the time was really bad for rock and roll. It was the end of the hair band era. I interviewed with different bands and they said youíve gotta get hair extensions. I was just disgusted with it, the music was real shallow and superficial. Fortunately in the early 90ís Nirvana came along and the grunge movement kind of did away with all that hair band stuff.

A friend of mine in 1990 introduced me to country music and I realized that the songs were really great that were coming out. That really got me excited about it. I quit my job in Los Angeles and moved to Texas and Iíve been here ever since, that was in 1991. Since then Iíve really been into country. Iím not so excited about whatís going on in Nashville right now but thereís a lot of great stuff happening in Texas, it has its own style and market. There are a lot of great bands putting out great music and nobody outside of Texas is even hearing it. Thatís really unfortunate, but thatís what motivates me now, to put the word out, spread the gospel.

I worked in high tech up until 2003. I got laid off from that job; Iíd been there for 9 years. Iíd played in bands part-time back in college, and while I was working, but in 2003 I took the plunge and began doing music full time.  Pretty late in life I decided to go and start doing music seriously.   Itís kinda nice, it takes the pressure off, you donít feel like, ďIíve got to get signed by a major label,Ē because they wonít sign anybody my age. Theyíre looking for people pretty much under 30.

The easiest route to stardom is to be signed by a major label and become a star that way, but what they are looking for now is very much different from what I have to offer. The nice thing is, with the technology, Iím doing things I never could have done 10 years agoÖ meeting all these people online, selling CDís online, participating in all the bulletin boards all the myspace stuff and marketing my stuff through myspace and my web site, you know 10 years ago none of that was around. You either signed with a major label or you didnít do hardly anything, but itís kind of changed now.  I still canít do what a big label could do for me, but I can definitely make a good living at it and thatís what Iím doing now.

You can get played on the radio in Texas without being on a label; you really canít do that nationally. Most of big corporate radio will say, Ďwhoís he signed with, whoís his management?í If theyíre not one of the 4 big record labels or one of the big independents or you aren't with a hotshot manager, theyíll usually just ignore you.  But in Texas itís more about just working it. You do have to hire a promoter, you have to pay Ďem some money, then you gotta go around, work the radio stations and visit them all. 

Itís just a lot of hard work to do and it pays off sometimes and sometimes it doesnít. You just keep going.

We have another album weíre working on for release later this year.  Thisíll be my fourth album as an Indie, so 4 albums in 6 years. On the first album I put out I played every instrument on it, on the second one I did all the guitar work and the organ and then on last album I let really good people come on and do all that, I just sang.

We keep working pretty hard. I put in probably 70 hours a week doing music stuff. A lot of that is on the marketing part of it and not so much on the creation part of it. If I could have anything different, Iíd have somebody handle all my marketing responsibilities. That does make me a little envious of people that are on a major label.  Mainly what they do is play and write. Iíd love to be able to do just that. If thereís one thing I could change it would be that, but on the other hand itís nice to have control over your own destiny. This way Iím always on the front burner. I have a lot of help from my fans too; itís just a total grassroots thing. Iím not waiting for someone else to come along and make something happen for me.

Iím fortunate that I have a really, really good band and weíve been able to keep the same guys together for a while. Itís hard to do in central Texas; itís very competitive. Everybodyís moved here thinking itís the live music capital. Weíve got a lot of people in Austin that are burned out in Nashville and LA, that moved down to Austin and want to put a band together. Thereís a flood of musicians and itís very challenging.

Weíve done some great shows with guys like Rick Trevino, John Connelly, Larry Gatlin, Chris Young, Johnny Lee, Dale Watson, and some others. Weíve gotten to play with a lot of great people. Iíve also been nominated for two Texas music awards.  In 2005 I was nominated as vocalist of the year and in 2007 the Mike Clifford Band was nominated for record of the year. Didnít win either time, but thatís kind of a big deal down in Texas, just to be nominated... itís sort of our CMAs.

Weíve sold thousands of CDís on our own, mostly selling them just at the shows. Iíve made a great online community of friends out there. I think the greatest thing is not having to work a regular day job, which I did for many years. Just being able to be your own boss and not having to answer to anybody is probably the best thing about it. I really like the fans too. I met my wife Annie at one of my bandís gigs, so thatís probably the greatest thing that happened, playing at a Benniganís with my band on St. Patrickís Day and we met there.  We have a 5-month old daughter named Melody.

I have really strange shows sometimes. I take almost any gig that pays decently, just because nothing really good ever happens by not playing. All the good breaks have come just from playing, you never know what a gig is going to bring you, like I said I met my wife at what I considered to be kind of a lame gig, but that was meant to be!

The Larry Gatlin show we did was a retirement community, everybody there was over the age of 65, and so that was an interesting crowd. Iíll probably sound really like an old fogie here, but we play a lot of senior-oriented events, because they usually appreciate good country music. We play every 3 months at a senior singles dance at one of the dance halls on a Sunday, and they come out in numbers. Three days before the Gatlin show we played two fraternity parties, so it was the total opposite end of the spectrum from crazy loud raucous drunk kids and then the next gig after that at a retirement community. The nice thing about my band is we are very versatile. We can pretty much cover both ends of the spectrum and play to every crowd.

Up until now most of my songs have been pretty sad, they tend to be honky-tonk type songs. I cover a lot of different themes. They tend to focus on men and womenís relationships and the challenges of those relationships. I try to write stuff that hasnít been done before.

I try to go for a balance of serious and funny. Iím not a novelty writer, but Iíll write some funny songs and then Iíll try to write some more serious songs to try and keep a balance.

Putting an album of songs together is not easy. The songs all have to flow as an album. When it is reviewed, people look at that, theyíre like, Ďdo these songs all fit within a stylistic range, when I hear it do I know itís the same guy? Schematically is there a balance?í

If all I ever do is keep making an impact in Texas music, thatís really fine for me.

I see my music as fairly commercial. I donít think itís typical of what people think about when they think about an indie, they think about stuff thatís way out on the fringes. I would say my stuff is kind of traditional country with a lot of rock influence on it, itís not really poppy but it tends to be good dance music. Itís not like whatís coming out on the radio now, which is more pop oriented; itís definitely country music.Ē



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