In ‘When the Curfew Blows,’ Woody Guthrie bellows, “Was the lonesomest sound, boys/ that ever heard sound, boys/ like the midnight wind, boy/ when the curfew blows.” Gaining their footing in the marshy bayous of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, CLAY PARKER AND JODI JAMES would later hear Guthrie’s lyrics and model a life off of the late songwriter’s distinctive demeanor. Taking a cue from Louisiana traditions and closely following in the footsteps of Guthrie, the duo have followed the streams of Southern music sources, generating a lifestyle tinged with the mystery of traditional Americana.
Since meeting around 2009 and both being part of the close-knit Baton Rouge music scene, Clay and Jodi could occasionally be found playing on the same bill, but didn't join forces until late 2014. Shortly thereafter they released a self-titled EP and have never looked back. Their upcoming album inspired by Guthrie’s lyrics, The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound out July 20th, is the product of countless miles, the encouragement of friends, and a creative union whose existence was always inevitable.
Their sound borrows from and transforms traditional Southern cornerstones such as folk, blues, country, and Americana. However, though the duo remains loyal to the heritage that brought them together, Clay and Jodi are unafraid of experimenting further, often intermixing mellow psychedelia and cosmic country into their classic harmonies.
In fact, Clay and Jodi aren’t afraid of much. Just six months after they wrote their first song together, Clay quit his warehouse job and embarked on tour with Jodi, all without the perks of an advance, a tour manager, or even social media to guide fans to their first shows. “I think we both appreciate old-fashioned methods and ways of doing things,” says Jodi. “We’d rather play a different town every night like artists used to…traveling and bringing our music to all these different people and places organically.”
Though the duo’s nomadic way of reaching listeners may sound daunting in the age of social media, their method has had a rippling effect on both the sleepy Southern towns and large electric cities they’ve passed through on tour. Winning over audiences every night meant that Jodi and Clay built up a long list of industry insiders who believe deeply in their talent. For The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound, the duo worked closely with multiple engineers, studios, and mixers, including Denton Hatcher at the Blue Velvet Studio and Joshua St. Moblo at the Bakery Sound Studio. “We love all the people that we worked with,” says Jodi. “It’s not just somebody whose production style we heard and then met for the first time. All the people that we worked with are close to us.”
Just as Clay and Jodi’s work with their collaborators is intimate and founded primarily on trust, the duo’s own collaboration method is so deeply ingrained that, to others, it projects a secret, enigmatic quality. Writing their first twelve songs together remotely over the course of just a couple of weeks, while Jodi was spending time in Nashville and Clay remained in Baton Rouge, the duo soon learned that they shared something unusual. “We very quickly saw each other’s nuances,” says Clay. “It seemed that when we did this just the two of us, it held more power that just us doing our solo songs as a duo. We started writing songs that will always be done as a duo.”
When speaking, Clay sparks and trails, sketching profound comparisons and images whereas Jodi’s steadfast way of unearthing details brings a certain warmth to Clay’s notions. Their complementary personalities are immediately apparent not just in their songwriting, but in the way they communicate with each other. The duo’s magnetic nature is so transparent that even strangers become curious. One such stranger, Ethan Hawke, decided to cast Clay and Jodi for a musical role in his newly released 2018 film, Blaze, after meeting them at what Clay describes as a neighborhood “hootenanny” in a small town just north of Baton Rouge.
2018 proved to be off to a good start when Clay and Jodi were invited to play the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The duo gave an electrifying performance, bringing the seated crowd in front of the Lagniappe stage to their feet at the end of their set.
In explaining the origins of their upcoming album, Clay recounts the traditional folk fable, ‘Stone Soup’. Within the tale, a homeless man approaches a strange town with nothing but stones in his pocket to offer the townspeople. With the help of the generosity of strangers who offer a single ingredient at a time, the homeless man is able to make a pot of soup large enough for the whole town to eat. “The recording came together in an interesting way first and foremost because we’re poor,” jokes Clay. “There were people that simply heard us and believed in what we were doing and offered their services for next to nothing. That’s really how this record came about.” If there was ever a need for Stone Soup, Clay Parker and Jodi James have surely perfected the recipe.