As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong
New Orleans’s Americana artist, Joy Clark, is making a name for herself. A humble and impressively accomplished musician, Joy embodies the culture she grew up in and has collaborated with several seasoned artists. Her latest single, “Good Thing,” gives fans a peek into the culture influencing her sound. She is amongst the many female-identifying guitarists pushing the boundaries in the music industry.
You just released a new single, “Good Thing.” Congrats on that! What is the backstory of this song?
Well, I realized that most of my music was love songs centered around the beginning or end of a relationship. I realized I don’t have songs that can speak to being in the thick of a relationship; when you know you are in this for the long haul. I had to take a step back and think, wow, I’m only writing about when I met this person or when we broke up. But what about the middle? That is where the song came from, realizing the middle of the relationship is the fundamental work part. That’s where you begin learning about someone. Some things are tough, and some are straightforward; it doesn’t always feel good, but it takes the middle of the relationship to develop trust and vulnerability.
When did you begin playing guitar?
I like to say that I began playing when my parents got my first “real” guitar from a pawn shop around 12. I had a VHS tape that helped me start learning folk chords, hammer-ons, and the primary position chords. I watched that video a lot; I dug deep into the information to the point where it became routine. I memorized that tape, then began listening to pop songs from artists like the Backstreet Boys. I began to notice the patterns in the various chord progressions. That curiosity was the beginning for me, but it helped me explore more and more.
How did growing up in New Orleans influence your style?
First, our culture down here is pretty open; breaking into the local music scene, you are met with generous people who are typically supportive, especially if someone finds out you play the guitar. Often, people will invite you to sit in on live sessions, allowing you to learn improvisation through many genres like funk or jazz; whatever it is, there’s a door for you. And that’s how you learn; that’s how you build confidence. Jamming with other musicians is a good community builder, too, one direct way my culture and city have influenced me. It has made me a more versatile player now that I have had the opportunity to learn different styles. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to play on various projects and with artists such as Cyril Neville. The music culture, food, and people are diverse here, giving musicians the chance to hone their craft and explore new things.
Aside from the rich New Orleans music culture, what genres of music influenced you as a guitarist?
I grew up with a minister for a father. So when my parents got me my first guitar, my dad persuaded me to play in church because I was shy as a kid. Initially, I was nervous with the guitar, so I’d play quietly, and he would push me by reminding me that I could sing or play whatever I set my mind to. Once I started playing more, once I began to “cut my teeth” with playing in church, it began to feel good, and I began to feel at home.
You mentioned the church band not having a bassist, meaning you had to use the guitar to carry many of those missing bass tones. How did you learn to find the sweet spot between bass-like chords and lead guitar licks?
In many of the songs, I’d carry those bass lines by looking for the patterns and locking the bass notes, creating the foundation to get the song moving. After that, I add the melody that captures the listener. You will find this formula in songs of mine, such as “Here” and “Good Thing.” It’s about finding that intimate foundation, returning it to the melody or acoustics, and letting it ride from there.
What’s your writing process?
I start with the acoustic guitar because you can hear and feel things differently; initially, there are no bells and whistles, but beginning with the acoustic gives way to creating more versatility down the road. I believe that if you can play a song with just the guitar or piano, you’ll know when you’ve written a great song.
Performing in church gave you exposure to finding new approaches to performance. What are some of those lessons you learned, and how have they made you a better performer today?
Early on, I learned things won’t always be the perfect situation. I began playing my shows and quickly learned how to hold my own because I didn’t always have a band that would travel with me. I had to be my own “community,” learning to manage myself and make things happen.
Are there particular artists you’ve enjoyed working with thus far?
I would be remiss not to mention Allison Russell, a phenomenal singer, songwriter, and musician from Montreal, Canada, currently based in Nashville. She had a big 2021 Americana album, Outside Child, which got her nominated for three GRAMMYs. I had the honor of recently playing with her at the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony. She’s just been great, and that is truly an understatement. She’s one of the few artists that know how to uplift people around her. Being on stage with her, supporting her songs, and interpreting her music gives me a sense of freedom. She has taken a story of abuse and trauma and found a way to weave joy and hope for others to feel inspired. She sees everyone she works with; she shows what a community means and the essence of what a robust supportive community can mean to many, which I love. She is prolific. And I’m proud to work with her and see her shine brightly.
You had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to play on a Cyril Neville project. Tell us about that experience.
Yeah, so I toured with his project from 2017-2018.; it was my first time in the Motherland, and boy, I’ll tell you, that experience was surreal. There were moments when I felt I had found a missing piece to my artistry I had not yet intentionally explored. I enjoyed the art of watching South African guitarists find and match styles with the next; it felt so natural to be part of our heritage as Black people. We also toured Ghana, part of which felt like home back in New Orleans. Music meant openness to many people, which is very familiar to me. The entire experience just gave me more to explore and be thankful for.
Who are some mentors that inspired you to keep pushing?
Lilla Lewis who was recently featured in Guitar Girl Magazine for her phenomenal 2021 album Americana. She has encouraged me along my journey. Having a friend in my corner was especially nice, telling me, “This is good. You need to record this and put it out.” She, along with many others, helped shape my perception of my work and build my confidence as an artist.
Are you currently working with any other Black country artists?
So Rissi Palmer is a country artist who hosts a podcast called “Color Me Country Music.” It’s a popular podcast where she publishes a list of country artists to watch out for at the top of every year; I was part of the 2022 list, so I am thankful and excited to continue connecting with potential fans and other artists. I am also involved with the Black Opry, a community for Black country, soul, and folk and roots artists to get together and know each other and collaborate. Often, because Black artists in these genres do not always know each other, we miss opportunities to collaborate; we don’t see each other. The Black Opry counters that by introducing us to each other in this space and learning how to navigate the industry together.
What keeps you grounded when the negative parts of the journey interrupt your flow? How do you remain inspired to grow continuously?
The first few things that come to mind are family, my partner, and my cat. There’s something about coming home that keeps you grounded when real life slaps you in the face. Things start and stop at my front door. When I get home, I am at home. I’ve also learned to heal myself by way of communication. If I can come back to situations and remind myself none of that other stuff matters, things begin to change. There is something powerful about meeting someone that says, “Your music helped me through some hard times; it gave me hope.” Things like that are what keep me grounded and centered.
What’s your take on performing live vs. with a live band? How do things change for you as an artist?
I enjoy playing with my full band because it gives me more room to stretch and have fun with guitar solos, you know? It gives me the space to show my range a bit more. Things feel more communal when I’m on stage with friends. We do things the way we do in rehearsal, giving us space to have fun once we hit the scene.
Speaking on being on stage, what gear is in your current rig?
So, I like to use Carbon Copy Delay from MXR Pedals for my acoustic setup. Sometimes, I will use my Hall of Fame reverb pedal. I also love playing with an MXR equalizer which enables me to add lows and mids, and I can empathize with the sound (shoutout to Keb Mo for recommending this pedal!). I sometimes play my Breedlove Moonlight, the guitar you see me playing in the “Good Thing” video. It’s a beautiful instrument.
So what’s next? What do you see for yourself within the next five years?
Honestly, my goals are ever-changing, especially with COVID still happening. I sometimes just don’t know. However, we just released “Good Thing,” so I am thrilled about that. I am excited to record and release more music in the near future. I found the team and I’m looking forward to releasing my full-length album in the near future. My career has been very organic, and I enjoy that.
What is some advice you would share with upcoming artists looking to pursue careers in music?
I’d first say get to know yourself. Along the way, you will receive many opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do. But those decisions are ultimately up to you. When you’re in tune with yourself, you can make better decisions for yourself. You can truly invest in yourself to gain confidence instead of waiting for others to invest in you.