By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Roger Clyne and P.H. Naffah of the Peacemakers walk into the all-white room in Phoenix’s Parkwood Studios, prepared for a cover shoot. Clyne adjusts his trademark floppy hat in a nearby mirror, while Naffah twirls his drumsticks between his fingers.
“Let’s do this,” Clyne says.
That statement represents go get ‘em attitude of Clyne and his Peacemakers. If it wasn’t for that, Clyne wouldn’t have been able to maintain his 20-some-odd-year career playing music to the masses.
His latest missive is Native Heart, a 10-track project that was produced by Grammy winner/Los Lobos musician Steve Berlin and mixed by Michael Brauer at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
“It was really hard to work with Steve Berlin,” Clyne says.
“That’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted somebody to challenge me, to help me find my strong points, my weak points and my good and bad habits. I wanted him to lay them out for me to examine with an eye toward creating the best music I could 22 years into my career.
“For example, if you listen to the key change in the song ‘Shadyside,’ for the solo, there’s this really weird spot and I never did anything like that. He said, ‘Don’t fall into those habits. Don’t go in minor sixth. Don’t do what you normally do for your solo sections. Pick a spot on the fret board and work from there.’ That’s what we did. Little things happened like that all the time and made the album fresher.”
Some bits were more uncomfortable than others. Berlin interrupted Clyne in the vocal booth and asked him to take a couple breaks because he wasn’t quite feeling the lyrics.
“It’s tough to be dismissed from the batter’s box,” he says. “He did that more than once. It was fun walking around Tucson, but I was definitely a little temporarily wounded by those suggestions. That’s where growth happens, though.”
Word got around even before the album was released on June 30, creating a buzz.
“I saw people out there wearing preorder T-shirts,” Clyne says. “We saw some in Atlanta. There were people singing (the first single) ‘Flowerin’’ and ‘Every Kind of Lucky.’ Fans were getting familiar with it before it hits the shelves, so to speak.”
Although the records fare well, live shows are the Peacemakers’ bread and butter, Clyne explains.
“I think it just goes back to no matter how the record gets disseminated—i.e., radio, internet, record store shelves or if somebody burned it on a mixtape—our band is a live band,” he says. “We connect to people person to person. We stay touring, even though it’s energy intensive. The Peacemakers’ voice becomes their voice. We speak with one heart—one ‘native heart,’ so to speak, to go back to that.”
The Peacemakers will perform during the 10th annual SanTan Brewing Oktoberfest on Saturday, September 30, in Chandler.
“This is our fourth time playing,” Clyne says. “We opened for Matisyahu one year, and Reel Big Fish another. I think they’re playing with us this time.
“They offered us the chance to headline, but I want to do my work and go and enjoy the beer.”
Seriously, though, Arizona is where Clyne’s heart is.
“Any show in Arizona is great,” he says. “First of all, I love Arizona. Two, I love the Peacemakers and three, I love rock ‘n’ roll. It all comes to a confluence.”
That belief creates a bond between the Peacemakers and their fans.
“The line between band and fan is really blurred and we’re just a community of friends,” Clyne says. “I hang out with our fans because we’re all Peacemakers. We’re lucky that our music resonates with so many.”
Clyne took a chance with the writing of Native Heart deciding to improvise instead of sitting down and creating a “statement of intent.”
“For example, (2004’s) Americano was largely an exploration into the price of the course of empire for a nation and an individual human heart,” he says.
“For Native Heart, I was approaching my 10th studio record, which is a hallmark for any artist, 20 years-plus in the business. I wanted the music to flow more spontaneously and explore what I would say without a statement of intent. Native Heart is what came about. It’s a summation. It’s a compilation of free expression without following a path.”
Native Heart was a labor of love because of this.
“I love, love, love songwriting, but the more I do it, the more I realize I have a habit and I fall into certain routines,” Clyne explains. “I wanted to challenge those in Native Heart and that became difficult. I wanted, one, to see what was becoming rote in my writing, and break it in a way that was uncomfortable and challenging.
“Two, I wanted good quality. I didn’t want to throw something out there because it was different. I wanted it to be informative to the piece of work, to the song and to the album. It was tough. It was one of the tougher writing sequences I’ve been involved in.”
Clyne admits to being a perfectionist, something that’s clear when he describes his music.
“I create a lot of things, a lot of music and I don’t use most of it,” he says. “At the same time, I never throw anything away. I work on my music quickly and spontaneously. I scrutinize my songs. I don’t want to put too much glaze on the songs, though.”
This fall, Clyne is performing his albums in their entirety at intimate shows around the Valley, and on U.S. tours. In Vegas, on Labor Day weekend, he will play 2008’s Turbo Ocho. He admits that the album’s age is a little freaky.
“I’ve been in the business for more than 20 years, and I don’t have anything to show for it,” he says with a slight laugh. “It flew by and I know I had a great time. Time flies, and we must pay attention to the moments we have. They don’t come back.
“It’s amazing that it’s 20 years old. Fizzy Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy is 21 years old. It’s weird to think I’ve been doing this crazy career, being a professional in the public eye, for more than 20 years. I hope I get another 20.”
Clyne, who penned the D-backs postgame song “D-backs Swing,” has something to say about the passion he still carries for his job.
“I’m so lucky to be able to do what I do, with whom I do it, and for whom I do it,” he says. “It’s a blessing every time I get to go on stage, or start writing a song. I can share them if I wish. It’s an honor.”
Sometimes he doesn’t care to share his tracks; other songs he’ll suck up and release.
“I might feel that I’m exposing too much of myself,” he says. “I understand that people come to cope with life and celebrate life and that’s an honor. It’s not an obligation but a privilege that I have a bunch of people asking me how I’m doing all the time. I get to share it in song.”
Clyne hasn’t started writing new material yet, as he’s reveling in the newness of Native Heart.
“It’s pretty atypical that I write immediately after a release,” he says. “That’s typically what I do. I’ll sing these songs as often and as loud and passionately as I can. Then I’ll walk back to my guitar, start strumming and see what’s next.”
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, SanTan Brewing Oktoberfest, Dr. AJ Chandler Park, 178 E. Commonwealth Avenue, Chandler, santanoktoberfest.com, 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday, September 30, $12-$100.