Todd Clouser is a Baja, Mexico-based guitarist whose genre-defying compositions and passionate live performances have earned the praise of musicians, critics, and lovers of jazz and rock alike. His newest full-length release Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric, available February 1, 2011 on indie jazz tastemaker label Ropeadope, is an intuitive blend of 70’s rock, Curtis Mayfield groove, and modern jazz, featuring eleven original compositions and two covers: Harry Nilsson’s “One” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“A Love Electric is possibility and energy. I come from a rock place as a player. I still love Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the total madness in noise, even if I’m listening to Charlie Parker, Monk or Wayne Shorter more often these days. When I got my first guitar at 11, I plugged it in and just started scraping, strumming the strings open, shivering at the feedback, and making weird shit go on, but I was told that stuff was not right by early teachers. As time went on, I went from listening to Zappa and King Crimson to Miles Davis, lots of the organ trio blues players like Jimmy Smith, New Orleans music. All that stuff that just has an inherent scream to it, even when played softly,” explains Clouser. “On A Love Electric, I present real tunes with melodies and structure, but there’s freedom within the written parts to get back to having fun and screaming. Strumming the guitar like I did naturally, with swaths of sound, and just generally a passion to create. What I have to offer at this time in my life is the energy that shakes inside, all the emotion and the oddity which I cannot express in words or relationships. All that was once new was initially regarded as ‘out,’ ‘nasty’ and ‘evil’ from Robert Johnson to Ornette Coleman to electric Miles Davis to electric Dylan. That’s the stuff that feels real to me and it’s always been that way.”
A Minneapolis native educated at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Todd Clouser toured for a number of years with rock outfit, 4 Letter Man, before relocating to Baja, Mexico in 2007 in the hopes of adopting a slower pace of life. It wasn’t long before Clouser found inspiration in his new surroundings, making his way back to the studio and stage with the release of 2007’s sparse, thematic Baja, and 2008’s Beatnik Highway.
“When I first moved to Mexico in the 2006, my sole intention was to develop my own voice. And Los Cabos being kind of an island unto itself allowed me to get some gigs, shed tunes, and fail a lot without consequence,” explains Clouser. “I’m not sure I would’ve been afforded the opportunity to dig into things were I up in the States, whether it be by my own personal pressure on myself, or just the general rush I can feel up there. I tend to be an anxious person, so a move to Mexico, the beaches, a public that can be a bit less rigid, works great for me. I love playing in the US and most all the players I greatly admire live there, Frisell, MMW, Nels Cline among them. But for me, personally, emotionally, and musically, I needed to make the move.”
Revered “downtown” New York City trumpeter, Steven Bernstein (Levon Helm, Lou Reed, Sexmob) recognized Clouser’s talent, touring Mexico in 2009 and 2010 with Clouser as co-bandleader to crowds of a thousand-plus. Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric prominently features Bernstein’s trumpet work.
“I did a two week tour last year with Steven, and I was humbled that he wanted to come back and make music together again. By the end of last year’s run, my band took to calling him Uncle Steven, a wise and accepting presence that managed to put up with the youthful playing, and living, of the three of us. We had all kinds of mishaps that happened on tour, although it was a great success musically, that Steven took in stride and celebrated. A musician with his accomplishments could easily maintain a cold and pompous demeanor, but he runs from that, passing on his knowledge to the next generation of players inspired by what he has done.” says Clouser. “We had multiple car break downs, no soundchecks, missing gear, the kind of mishaps I’ve seen drive some celebrated players up the wall. None of it rattled Steven. There’s not that sense of entitlement that creeps in with age for some. By the end of the tour we were traveling in a 1984 VW golf, one of the seats ripped out, a couple windows missing, that maxed out at about 40 miles an hour. We got Bernstein to the airport in that. After a couple of long nights we woke to find papaya slices that Bernstein had cut for us on the kitchen counter while he was doing tai chi on the beach. In Guadalajara the two of us would take to the streets aimlessly and I’d absorb some of his philosophy about playing, the business, and so on. Hanging with Bernstein is such a gift.”
With the release of Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric, 2011 will continue to chart the young guitarist’s success. He will tour the U.S. this winter in support of his new album, while maintaining his heavy tour schedule south of the border in Mexico, sharing his bold, genre-bending compositions and soulful approach to jazz guitar with new audiences. Signs of his audience building back in his U.S. home are apparent. He sold out the famed Dakota Club in Minneapolis at the beginning of 2010 as well as receiving invitations to share the stage with modern blues legend Keb Mo, members of Billy Joel’s band and guitarist Jack Sonni of Dire Straits.
In his adopted home of Mexico, Todd Clouser works tirelessly as a music educator and advocate for the arts. He even started his own non-profit: Arts Day Out, which inspires Los Cabos youth through the arts.
“As a person that battled a lot of insecurity growing up, it’s important to me that kids can find a way to express themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or trained or whatever, it’s a release, and it’s theirs. So many kids get told they suck at this or that, or they don’t have ‘talent,’ and so on, and that is just so destructive to a person’s growth. It’s so important that kids believe they can do it, whatever it is. Somehow I believed that, so I’d like to pass that on.”
It’s both Todd Clouser’s artistry as a guitarist and his humanity that attracts the admiration of his musical peers and informs the wide-eyed spirit of his music. As Steven Bernstein puts it, “He does it all: musically, socially, politically. Enjoy.”