Live & Direct: The Commonheart
The Commonheart stopped by WYEP on Friday, Oct. 27 for a Live & Direct session. The beloved Pittsburgh band talked with Joey Spehar about their plans for the fall and debuted a brand new song live on the radio.
Joey Spehar: We are Live and Direct today with Clinton and Mike and Lucas from The Commonhearts, one of Pittsburgh's most beloved bands. And I got to say, it's never, never feel lonely when we're with you.
Clinton Clegg: Hey, we appreciate that.
Spehar: So I was creeping a little bit this morning on your Instagram just to see what you guys have been up to this year and you've been pretty busy. So for anybody who hasn't been paying attention. Give us a little recap. You know, this could be like the practice for your Christmas card letter, if you want to think of it that way.
Clegg: Yeah. So the band's been hard at work. We just kind of finished our touring for the year, which we're excited about. We got to go around to all kind of fun parts of the country and share “For Work or Love,” our last record with some great folks, different festivals, different towns, got around a good bit, really enjoyed it.
To be honest, it was a little more sporadic, a little weak and wary, like things are just a little different. Post-COVID, to be honest. And I hate to say the C word, but it's real. So, you know, not as lengthy of runs, but more kind of, you know, out on a Thursday, back on a Monday kind of stuff, which is great. It's good to be home. It's good to spend time here. And then kind of yeah, so we're wrapping that up and then it's back to the writing.
So I am writing the next record diligently every day with Mike and Lucas and the whole gang and looking forward to plowing through that for the rest of the year. And then our big show coming up here in Pittsburgh. We're all looking forward to December 29th at Smalls, and that's really from a performance standpoint. That's all we got on the table. It's been a year.
Spehar: That's exactly what we wanted, Clinton, you always understand the assignment. So another show that you did recently was a tribute to John Prine, which I couldn't make it because I had to be a responsible adult, but it looked awesome. And I just want you to talk a bit about John Prine and what his music means to you.
Clegg: Yeah, so I found John really late. My friend Michael DeLuca, who's a part of the group that we do that with, introduced me to John Prine only like five years ago, and I just head over heels fell in love with his material. It's so different from The Commonheart. It provided such a new avenue of enjoyment for music, which was really great, and digging in and doing that, you know, typically we do those tribute shows once and but we just had so much fun doing it. It was just like, unbelievable. And the material and just everything.
His music is just so special and, you know, everyone knows it. I don't want to say too much about it. It's very beautiful. And everyone in Pittsburgh just responded so kindly and enjoyed it so much. And I got a lot of messages like, “You have to do that again, right?” So I of course, yes, I would love to. And we did. And I can't say enough about Bottlerocket, too. Awesome venue. Very cool. And that was fun. I felt like I was in my hometown at some like, old club. You know, 65 cent drafts, that kind of thing.
Spehar: Well, I mean, let's take a little bit further. You said the next Commonheart show is coming up December 29th, which just happens to be the day of my surprise 40th birthday party.
Clegg: You’ve got to stop saying surprise.
Spehar: Which is going to be at that same place (Bottlerocket). And you guys are going to be at Mr. Smalls to play a secret album show, you call it. Now, I know that you can't really say what the secret is, but maybe you can give us something. Is it going to be like Phish playing Remain in Light Halloween 96? Or is it going to be like Phish playing their Fuego album before it came out and Halloween 2013? You don't have to answer any of that. Clinton I just had to ask.
Clegg: Listen, I put a lot of thought in this answer, right? And I am here today to give you a newsflash. It will not be John Prine.
Spehar: Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, and I mean, another recent gig that you had just one week ago, you played with some other really amazing Pittsburgh songwriters like Paul Luke and Morgan Arena and Mark Dignam. And I feel like you are really starting to be recognized as like a “Capital S” songwriter. So how do you think your songwriting has grown over the years?
Clegg: That's very flattering. Thank you for saying that. I don't know, really, I think. As you get older, you learn and you share your experiences. And maybe I've just been experiencing more. Regardless, the songwriting is nothing without the people next to me and the people around me and the full Commonheart. And we do everything as a team and a family. So, you know, my little ideas get stretched and believed in and given life from my bandmates and my family. So kudos to them. And I think we're all growing together. I think we're all growing together and we're learning every day and things are, you know, if you said every record got better, I'd sleep a happy man. That's the goal.
Spehar: Well, that was an absolutely beautiful song. Clinton. I know you said you have no experience in being a father, but you are an amazing uncle to write a song like that. Just before we went on the air — people listening don't know this — but our good friend Lonnie is in attendance, who has a six week old baby at home. And you just gave them, you know, a little onesie, which you just got those in the car, too?
Clegg: That's actually accurate. Yes. The Commonheart onesie is real. I'll be announcing that on Instagram next week. They are literally 100 newborn onesies in my car.
Spehar: Great. Good to know. Well, today is a bittersweet day. There are good things happening. You guys are here. It's my daughter's birthday. We're going to see the Eras Tour movie tonight. But also, it's the fifth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. And there are so many events like that that just happen more and more often. They take a toll on all of us. So I don't know if this is just circumstantial or if it's, you know, the power of music or your music specifically. But when I feel bad, I get a lot of solace from Commonheart music. And I got to think that that's part of your intention when making these songs, am I right?
Clegg: Yes, 100%. I mean, you know, music can be a cure through tough times we face as a people. Music can provide comfort. It can provide escape. Really, whatever you need from it to take from it, you know. Yes.
Spehar: Yeah. I mean, I've. I guess I've heard you say that a thousand times, but I just like the way that you say it, and I feel like sometimes we need to hear it again.
Clegg: Yeah. I mean, you know, from every artist and musician in the world, you know, I kind of speak for them, which I shouldn't, but: Take what you need. That's what I've done, you know? And I listened to B.B. King's music. Some would call it blues. Some would say sad, but not for me. I take what I need and it makes me feel good.
Spehar: We're here under pretty special circumstances today. You all just dropped a brand new song. It's called “Believer,”. Clinton I love the album art for this one, which is what a picture of you and your grandpa?
Clegg: Yes. Clinton Northbared. “Popeye” as we referred to him. Mimi and Popeye were my mother's parents and believers about family. A lot of the background of the song is about my family and growing up. But the more of the message of the song is about just wanting to have belief in something, let and let that belief give you comfort, just like we were just speaking about, you know, finding something to believe in and just dive all in.
But as we all know, sometimes that's harder to do than, you know, it's harder said than done. So. It's kind of, you know, bittersweet. But I think the song is a message of just, “Hey, you know, you got to want it and you got to get there and do whatever you can to do that.”
Spehar: If anybody listening hasn't seen this picture yet. I mean, it is like quintessentially Pittsburgh. There's a young Clinton in a Steelers shirt. You know, we're obviously around the table at somebody's birthday or some holiday. Do you remember the day that that photo was taken?
Clegg: No. Unfortunately, I don't remember. But I do remember hanging out with my grandfather. He was a very stoic, stern man who left a big impression on me through the years. I only understood him when I was a total little jerk. So I was you know, he passed when I was 13 or 14. So I didn't get to, you know, be a man and meet him because I feel like that relationship would have been a lot different. I was always just a punk kid causing my mom grief, and he just shook his head a lot at me. So, you know, his imprint was definitely profound and significant. And I thought that picture for the song and what we're talking about was appropriate.
Spehar: So I assume this is going to be on a new album? I know you mentioned it before. Like how far along are we? Is there anything that is surprising to you that is coming out of you as you write these songs?
Clegg: I'm surprised every day when I wake up, but the what's coming is “Believer” is going to stand on its own. So little inside baseball: “Believer” was going to be on “For Work or Love.” Steve Berlin produced it from Los Lobos. But we had to make some cuts. And when I decided to make the cuts that we made, I chose “Believer” because I felt it could stand on its own. I cut arguably one of our strongest songs just to later share it because I thought it could stand on its own. And that's the whole process.
Also the other one was names, which also came out a little while ago, was a single cutting. It was a tough decision. But, we decided that if you're going to, you know, these aren't going to go to the garbage can, let's cut some really strong ones and then have them to share a little later.
So they are kind of carrying us through this writing time not to share the inside baseball, the music industry. But while I'm writing this next record, you know, we have these strong songs and we're so happy to share them. That's what it is.
Never Say Goodbye
Host: Kyle Smith
Audio Engineers: Tom Hurley & Thomas Cipollone
Videographer/Editor: Thomas Cipollone
Program Director: Liz Felix
VP, Broadcasting: Mike Sauter
Looking for more Live & Direct Sessions? You can find them here.