Glenvar High grad Adam Clark is founder and drummer of the New England-based Afrobeat band The Superpowers. Before playing at FloydFest, he spoke with So Salem journalist Ryan N. Jones by phone.
Q. So how did The Superpowers get started?
A. I started the band in the spring of 2005 and we’ve just been chipping away since then.
Q. What made you want to start the band?
A. I had an extreme interest in Afrobeat music. It was music that I had been looking into pretty much exclusively for about a year. There wasn’t a band doing it in the New England area at all. So I was really into the music and wanted to play it and decided to start the band…not really with any long term intentions because you never know what’s going to happen with a band.
Q. Did you know all the band members before?
A. I went to school with pretty much all of them. Most of them I had met at New England Conservatory of Music. Part of the thing of having a big band is it hasn’t always been the same people. Six people have been there the whole time, but we’re on the third of fourth generations of band members.
Q. How many people are in the band now?
A. I don’t like to put any kind of specific number on it. We’ve done shows with seven or eight. It just depends on who can make the gig. We would all love to just be traveling and playing this music, but it’s just not happening right now. Sometimes we do gigs with seven people and we’ve done gigs with 13 people. If it were up to me I’d have 80 people in my band.
Q. Why so many?
A. It’s all about the sound. There’s a polyphonic sound that you get with having all these different parts … Each person has a specific role. When you put it all together you get a grand sound that’s very epic, like in an African drum circle. You only get the context of it when you hear the whole.
Q. Explain Afrobeat.
A. Afrobeat is quick and dirty. It’s like James Brown’s band goes to Africa. Really funky guitars, psychedelic keyboards and a big horn section playing really powerful, epic horn lines. It’s like trance, with very specific written parts and long songs. It has everything to do with the universe and the rhythms of the world and trying to get everyone to unify.
Q. Is it hard to find acceptance playing this African-inspired music when only one member of your band is of African descent?
A. It can be difficult. [But] every African that’s ever seen us is always so excited to see a bunch of white boys just playing their asses off to this funky Afrobeat music. We put 110 percent of our blood, sweat, tears and souls into this music.
Q. What instruments do you play besides the drums?
A. I play piano and bass and guitar and I’m starting to play the sax a little bit. I try to get my hands on as many instruments as I can. I grew up playing piano first and I started playing drums with the Glenvar Middle School band. Then I went to Virginia Tech for two years after I graduated [from Glenvar High School] in 2000 and started playing jazz. Then I transferred to New England Conservatory in 2002. I got a B.A. of Music in Contemporary Improvisation.
Q. What activities did you do in high school?
A. I was in the marching band from eighth to twelfth grade. I ran track, played baseball and was on the golf team. I was valedictorian at Glenvar in 2000. Right around ninth or tenth grade I realized that music was pretty much what I wanted to do.
Q. What kind of music were you listening to back then?
A. I listened to Metallica and Guns N’ Roses… then I listened to Phish and Medeski Martin and Wood, and that’s where my whole perception of music changed. It was a much freer, artistic vibe.
Q. Do you have any other jobs?
A. I teach music. Drums, piano bass … That’s where I get my most steady source of income. Next to playing shows and music, that’s the most gratifying thing I could think of doing is spreading music to young people and helping them to understand and learn it. Hopefully it will permeate their soul and their spirit like it did mine … I try to make them see the joy of art and music.
Q. So what will come after The Superpowers for you?
A. This band is it for me. If it doesn’t work out with this band I’ll probably just quit playing music. I can’t imagine that I’d ever play in a band that’s much better than this one.
Q. How often do you make it home to Salem?
A. I come back for the holidays and I make it back three or four times a year. All my family lives in Salem. They’re all still there so it’s good to come back and see them. I bring the band down with me and we stay in my house and my mom fixes a bunch of food and they love to come hang out with my family as much as I do. The band wouldn’t be able to exist if it wasn’t for my parents, Shelley and Stacey Clark. If it wasn’t for them The Superpowers would never have lasted as long as they have.
Top photo: Adam Clark performed with his band, The Superpowers at Floyd Fest in Floyd, Va. on Saturday, July 26.