Music aficionado Stephen Clair is renowned in Beacon as the driving force behind Local 845 — the organization that stages the In the Pines and Beacon Riverfest concerts — and the Beacon Music Factory, which teaches music to kids of all ages (read more about the Beacon Music Factory here). These endeavors take up large chunks of his time, so his own music-making has been on hold for several years. But now he’s returned to his craft and released his fifth record, entitled Love Makes Us Weird, which helped earn him a spot as one of the first acts at the city’s just-opened Towne Crier Cafe.
Here, Clair takes a few minutes to chat about said album, his first-ever music video, and why he loves his riverside town.
Love Makes Us Weird is the first album you’ve made in five years. Why the hiatus?
We moved from Brooklyn — where I had been making records as a solo artist — to greener pastures in Beacon when we had our first kid. Suddenly, I was in this new community and I wanted great live music here. I started Local 845 and it really took hold. Meanwhile, we had another kid. I was playing a little bit locally and writing songs, but it couldn’t be the focus while my kids were young. Finally, I felt freed up enough to start digging in and playing again.
This is your first album with a local focus, yes?
The guys playing on the record with me are both local guys who I’ve developed a musical friendship with over the years. It was recorded at the Loft in Bronxville, which is owned by a generous musician who lives in Cold Spring. It’s kind of all in the family.
What do you hope to achieve with the album?
I wanted to go back to all the things that had originally inspired me about music: songs that do indeed rock. They’re offbeat in some way but have a colorful narrative. I didn’t want the words to get swallowed up by a rock band, but at the same time I wanted the sound of a rock band.
Are any of the songs inspired by your Hudson Valley life?
If there’s anything that defines me as a songwriter, it’s my life here. Most of my songs tend to be about domestic life. It all comes from my own experiences. I’m of course prone to hyperbole.
So does the song “At the Foot of the Mountain,” which mentions neighbors looking in your windows and speaking Spanish, come from personal experience?
[Laughs] Yeah, that happens all around me!
And is that whole song about Beacon?
That’s very specifically about Beacon — too much so. What makes this town so vibrant is the mix here: You have people who have been here all their lives and a migration of people from the city. The moment when the old and the new meet is really exciting. You find some friction there, but that’s part of what makes it interesting. I wanted to convey that with the refrain of the song: You can find debris at the foot of the mountain, but despite that there’s immense beauty here. That’s the dichotomy.
Let’s talk about the title track, “Love Makes Us Weird.”
I think that love makes everyone weird. There’s a universality to it. We do crazy things because we’re in love.
Is there any particular instance, possibly one that made in into the song, where love made you weird?
Well… we could talk about the first line of the song! [“Skinny jeans, vasectomies, memory loss, I mean who are we?”] I love being a parent like crazy. But having one’s second child is so exhausting that you can’t possibly bear the idea of having another. Love makes a person do some seriously weird things — in the name of self-preservation!
Why did you select that song for your first video?
The feel of it seemed playful.
In it, many couples stand behind headless plywood cutouts shaped like people. How did you come up with that idea?
I didn’t want to single out any particular kind of couple. This is about everyone. So we came up with the idea of the carnival cutouts that anyone can stand behind and have their picture taken. It’s a way to even the playing field.
Did locals help with the video, too?
The director and producer live up the street from me. The cameramen also live here. I commissioned a local artist to create the cutouts. And to get the whole cast of characters, we just called in all of our friends. It was really wonderful and sweet to have this community get excited about it.
Are you happy with the end product?
This is my first music video ever, and it’s really exciting to have. In this day and age I feel like it’s pretty essential. If you have a clever little music video, maybe more people will discover your song.
Aside from the musical success you’ve achieved here, what do you like most about living in Beacon?
Well, I pretty much fail at trying to keep it a secret: This really is Beacon’s golden age. Over these past few years there’s been this potent confluence of people coming here — people with all kinds of skill sets, interests, abilities, and energy. It makes a person never think twice about leaving a place like Brooklyn behind.
Check out Clair’s video below: