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The Clarks

It takes a lot of love to look forward to the same job after nearly twenty years. Not many people get the chance to experience that level of passion for their work. But the four men of the Clarks get to live it every day.

The band (Rob James ’87, Greg Joseph ’85, Scott Blasey ’87, and Dave Minarik ’88) has been touring nearly nonstop this past year throughout the eastern third of the U.S., playing solo and touring with artists such as John Mayer, Steely Dan, Train, and the Buzz Poets. Fueled by a string of regional hits and a solid track record of sold-out shows, the Clarks’ latest album, Another Happy Ending, has caught fire. The album sold 9,000 units nationally during its first week of release, making it the number-two album on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and number one in the Pittsburgh area, outselling new releases by Korn and Eminem.

But despite headlining several major amphitheater shows with audiences of up to eighteen thousand and getting national airplay from their latest songs, the Clarks still love to come home and play for Indiana.

The Administration, as the group was first known, got its start in the early ’80s while the band members attended IUP. Joined by Joseph in 1986, the band changed its name to the Clarks. Performance venues consisted mainly of fraternity parties, and the repertoire encompassed covers of U2, the Cure, Joe Jackson, and other artists.

“We basically played for free beer and maybe a $100 if they made a lot of money at the door,” said Blasey. “Playing at IUP gave us a chance to discover what it’s like to work as a group. We got a good sense of what kind of friends we actually were and how to work together to get through the rough spots.” The spring after Joseph joined, the Clarks wrote their first batch of original tunes and took second place in a Pittsburgh band competition.

They moved to the city after graduation and quickly became a draw at bars as their name recognition and fan base started to grow, abetted by what Blasey describes as “songs about girls and beer.”

Over the next decade they released a series of independent albums, including a well-received live album. Their songs also made it into the films Boys (with Winona Ryder), Just Write (Jeremy Pivens and Sherilyn Fenn), and Summer Catch (featuring Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jessica Biel).

Any rough spots remaining may be easier to get over now that the group is under new management. Another Happy Ending is the group’s second album for Razor & Tie, one of the country’s leading independent music labels. “We’ve received a lot more personalized attention from R&T than we would get from one of the really big corporations,” said Blasey. “Our new producer, Justin Niebank, has been a great help, very supportive. That personal attention has really helped us come together.”

Part of the support from Niebank, whose credits include John Hiatt, Eric Clapton, and Blues Traveler, included hiring a national publicist to promote the band and obtaining a tour bus for their widening concert area. In addition, the band has a newly redesigned website.

The band has no problem drawing crowds, whether playing in bars or amphitheaters. But the view from the stage did not give the band’s members a real sense of why they were becoming so popular. It wasn’t until Minarik broke his hand that they realized they sounded as good as their fans were saying.

“It was a great opportunity for me…. I got to see the whole band from out front,” Minarik recalled. “Sometimes you don’t understand what people see in what you do because you’re a little bit too close to it, but, man, I sat back and watched those guys play and was thinking, ‘Damn, this is happening!’ And I was proud.”

Even with steadily increasing fame and hopes to expand their tours to the rest of the U.S. (“We’ll travel anywhere on the bus,” said James. “It’s awesome, especially when someone else is driving!”), the Clarks haven’t forsaken their origins.

“We have our roots here at Indiana and IUP, and it’s good to know that we can always come back,” said Joseph. “There are kids nowadays who weren’t around when we first started out. But they come out and enjoy listening to us, and we have a ball playing for them. It used to be that we played the local scene in the Indiana and Pittsburgh areas and people would be coming in to see us. And now, we’re taking our show to them.”

“It seems like wherever we go, there’s always someone there connected with IUP,” said Blasey. “No matter where we’ve been playing, all we have to do is mention IUP and we get a reaction from the crowd. Indiana feels like home. It’s good to know that we can come back here and play, and that we’ll always be welcomed. If we make it big and start selling out concert arenas, we’ll still come back to Indiana. We may not play the bars then…”

“Fisher Auditorium would be nice,” said James.

“People take different paths through their lives,” said Blasey. “We made choices, we set ourselves on a certain way of life, and we moved on from there and made it the best that we could. Maybe when I turn forty I’ll decide that I want a career change, some other profession, and then my life could totally change there. This is what I’m doing now, and this is the choice that we’ve made, and we’re doing the best we can at it.”

Reprinted from the Fall 2002 edition of IUP Magazine

Update

The Clarks, recipients of the 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award, demonstrated ongoing support for IUP by raising more than $25,000 in a benefit concert for a new recording studio in the renovated Cogswell Hall, home to the Department of Music.

The final rock concert in “old” Fisher Auditorium, itself now undergoing renovation, saw generations of alumni come together to provide an enduring gift to the university.

The band members—Scott Blasey ’87, Robert James Hertweck ’87, Greg Joseph ’85, and David Minarik ’88—were approached in the fall of 2005 with a proposal to secure the naming rights to the recording studio in Fisher Hall.

The Clarks were immediately on board with the idea. With help from artist and longtime friend Chuck Olson ’74, M’76, the fundraising concert took place in April 2006 in Fisher Auditorium.

The Clarks Recording Studio will allow ensembles, groups, or individual students to record performances or rehearsals for study, for application to graduate programs or competitions, and for other uses. The band deferred to the College of Fine Arts to determine what the new recording studio needed. The room, deceptively small and plain, will contain state-of-the-art equipment.

It was the last major show in Fisher before the auditorium closed for renovation that is scheduled for completion in Fall 2008.

“We joke about the fact that the last song played at old Fisher was “Cigarette”—performed by an all-Distinguished-Alumni band!” Olson said.

Update is an excerpt from the Spring 2007 edition of IUP’s Lifestyles Web Exclusive.

Profile published on 7/17/09

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