When describing his songwriting, Clint Roberts often uses the word “catharsis.” A native of Brevard, North Carolina, the folk artist follows in a long line of Appalachian storytellers. While taking notes from the country troubadours like Tom T Hall and John Hartford, who often wrote from outside perspectives and experiences, Roberts explains, “Songwriting helps me process painful emotions and allows me to find some silver lining to it all.”
His twang-tinged track, “Amarillo,” from his recently released debut album Rose Songs encapsulates the healing power he describes. The Western aesthetic sets the scene for the vivid lyricism, portraying an unforgiving landscape with burden-born characters. He sings of a woman wearing a “faded wedding gown” crying in a quiet chapel with “no one there to bother” her and her soundly sleeping, fatherless child. Though far from his narrative, the track holds an intimate sentiment.
“I wrote this song contemplating guilt in one of my personal relationships,” says Roberts. “The fictional backdrop of the song was an easier vehicle for talking about those emotions than speaking to my actual problems at the time. I had played the chord progression, and it sounded very dusty to me, so setting the song in Texas felt right.”
Inspiration strikes Roberts in what he describes as a “eureka” style fashion, and his best work comes if he can drop everything immediately to capture it. The catalyst is usually a profound or unfamiliar experience. The artist jokes that “psychological hardship usually helps.”
Speaking of the epiphany-phenomenon, Roberts says, “Many writers describe it as a gift from the Divine(s). I find that frame of thinking about it to be agreeable. Sometimes if I’m lucky, an entire song will flow out of me in 45 minutes. Other times, it’s more labored but not necessarily inferior. When the song is only partially gifted to me, it’s the job of my conscious brain to figure out what to do with it. Sometimes that’s not so easy.” He adds, “Many of what I believe to be my best ideas are unfinished, and I’m trying to cultivate a more focused ethic of writing a song, even when I don’t feel inspired to.”
The breakthrough Americana artist continually shapes his writing craft, looking to the greats. He recommends a book called On Writing by Stephen King — one of his most impactful literary influences — to writers of all influences who seek to sharpen their focus and hone their approach.
“Like with any song I write, I hope that people would find the events and emotions conveyed in the song relatable,” says Roberts. “They were very real for me, though I didn’t speak strictly to things I had actually experienced. I hope the ambiguous presentation of the narrative allowed for listeners to more easily project themselves into the story.”
Rose Songs was produced by Ben Fowler (Maddie & Tae, Chrissy Metz, Lynyrd Skynyrd), engineered by Fowler and Ryan Yount, and recorded at the revered Ocean Way Studios in Nashville. Mastered by Richard Dodd, the 12-track collection features musical collaborations with Gordon Mote (piano and B3 Organ), Dan Dugmore (electric guitar and steel guitar), Fred Eltringham (drums/percussion), Brian Sutton on acoustic guitar, and bassist Mark Hill.
Listen to Clint Roberts’s acoustic version of “Amarillo” below. Stream Rose Songs here.