Justin Clayton has discovered that good things happen when you least expect them.
The singer-songwriter-guitarist was lured by good friend Julian Lennon to be his lead guitarist on the road a few years ago. It was enough to convince Clayton to quit arts school in his native Liverpool, England, and pursue a solo career. He eventually landed a publishing deal with Warner-Chappell and, through his demos, secured a recording contract with upstart Ultimatum Music.
“I was in Europe doing some work and the publishing company said (Ultimatum) had interest,” Clayton said recently, “so I zoomed back and did a couple of showcases in L.A., and they were one of the labels that were most gung-ho. They were new and wanted to sign people, and it seemed to make sense. Because they’re an indie, it seems more attractive to not try to do the whole big-label thing and get canned if it didn’t work out. It was all quite smooth and fell into place.”
For his debut album, “Limb” (released Sept. 14), Clayton enlisted The Church’s Marty Willson-Piper as producer. The two didn’t have to go far to meet: They both live in Sweden.
“I met Marty because my manager is good friends with him and she suggested him,” Clayton said. “When I met him, we hit it off. I wasn’t looking at it like he was Mr. Producer; it was more like he liked the demos and got the vibe off them, which I’m not sure anyone else got the same thing. He sort of understood what was wrong with them, if that makes any sense. He understood the missing elements.
“I wasn’t very familiar with The Church. All I knew was the big hit (‘Under the Milky Way’) they had, so I didn’t realize they had such a solid following and were critically acclaimed. I didn’t want to listen (to their older material) because I didn’t want it to confuse me when we were doing my thing. It worked out well, because I didn’t prejudge him.”
It was a perfect fit. Clayton’s melancholic, atmospheric pop isn’t too far off the mark from The Church.
“I wanted to do my best,” Clayton said. “I had a bunch of songs, and I wanted to go for it. If it worked, it worked; if it didn’t, it didn’t. I’m under no illusion of grandeur. Because I had extensive demos that I had done at home, where I had written all the drum parts and bass and all the rest of it, I wanted the album to capture the vibe that was on the demo. I don’t mean like recreating the demo, just reproduce the raw thing that the demos had, so we cut it live. It was a three-piece … me, Christer Björklund (drums) and J. Odelholm (bass); we just winged it, not knowing what would happen.”
It’s an admirable effort, particularly the first single, “Tragic,” which uncannily resembles an “Imagine”-era John Lennon.
Clayton isn’t making any predictions on the album’s fate or his future. He’s just enjoying the ride.
“I don’t like to think about it,” he said. “A lot of it is about timing and what sounds current. I really don’t think it’s in my control at all.”
BWF (before we forget): For more on Justin Clayton on the Web, visit www.ultimatummusic.com.