Amid a week of sold-out shows in New York City, Texas bluesman Gary Clark Jr. is playing a special gig tonight to help Hurricane Sandy victims on Staten Island. "This is my second home," says the 28-year-old, who spends time in the city with his girlfriend, supermodel Nicole Trunfio. "We're doing what we can, because Staten Island needs a little extra love and support." Before taking the stage at the Brooklyn Bowl to raise resources for relief efforts, Clark spoke to Details about the influences fueling his latest album, Blak and Blu, and his early love of Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men.
DETAILS: You split your time between Austin and New York but recorded Blak and Blu in L.A. How was your time there?
GARY CLARK JR.: It was great. The only thing that sucked was getting on the 101 every day to drive to the studio.
DETAILS: Worse gridlock than your hometown?
GARY CLARK JR.: I'm never complaining about Austin traffic again in my life.
DETAILS: The album's horn-laden first track, "Ain't Messing Around," is a clear departure from the blues that made your reputation. Why change it up?
GARY CLARK JR.: It's just something I wanted to experiment with. I saw these other things going on and got a chance to put them on this record. Put it all out there. Otis Redding was a major influence. I'd show up at [50 Cent producer] Mike Elizondo's place, but it wasn't like we'd put on a bunch of hip-hop. We just experimented with ideas.
DETAILS: Who were some other major influences?
GARY CLARK JR.: A friend gave me Jimi Hendrix's Ultimate Experience and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood on the same day. I'd never heard sounds like that. It was a life-changing moment. Also, Nirvana's power and intensity was exciting. They were big and badass, and I was just drawn to it. It was one of those things that struck me early, and I still love it.
DETAILS: What was your first concert?
GARY CLARK JR.: Michael Jackson's "Bad" tour. My cousins and my sister and I had our minds blown at a young age.
DETAILS: Did you get a glove?
GARY CLARK JR.: No. But I did tell people that I almost caught the hat, even though it was absolutely impossible because we were way far in the back.
DETAILS: You've said jocks picked on you in high school. Why?
GARY CLARK JR.: My friends on the basketball team would give me a hard time. It wasn't cool to sing in the choir. I didn't care, though. I loved music, singing, and learning to read music. I just wanted to make sounds.
DETAILS: Were you in a band?
GARY CLARK JR.: I got together with a couple guys to write songs and harmonies. We wanted to be the next Boyz II Men. Our name was Young Soul. We wrote songs with titles like "Dream Girl," just young, teenage stuff about how cool we were at age 12.
DETAILS: Each boy-band member has a signature archetype. Were you the thoughtful one or the bad boy?
GARY CLARK JR.: I was the shy one. The quiet, contemplative, shy guy.
DETAILS: How old were you when the Austin mayor declared that May 3 would be Gary Clark Jr. Day in the city?
GARY CLARK JR.: Seventeen. I was young and just playing, unaware of any buzz that was building. I was still in high school, playing basketball at the park and stuff like that. It was a great honor to be respected by the city like that.
DETAILS: So what do you do on Gary Clark Jr. Day?
GARY CLARK JR.: Nothing. I don't know what to do. I really appreciate it, but it's not like I throw a big party at my house with pictures of myself everywhere.
Gary Clark Jr. plays the Brooklyn Bowl on November 6. Doors at 6p.m. $20 minimum donation. Canned food and household goods will be collected at the show.
—Stayton Bonner (@staytonbonner), assistant editor at Details