Clint Niosi speaks in a measured, almost cogitative cadence –– the impression is of a person who prefers to give the best answer in as few words as possible –– but that reticence belies a voluminous musical output. Sitting down for an interview in the office/green room at MASS, he glanced once at the iPhone lying on the TV tray table between us and said, “I wasn’t sure what you wanted to talk about.” Then his face eased into a smile.
I wanted to talk about all his projects (as well as the 10-day Midwest solo tour he starts on July 20), because I’d been somewhat surprised when I’d seen him play a show at the Boiled Owl Tavern with his surf-y instrumental band, the Chrome Mags. I’ve been peripherally familiar with him as a songwriter, and seeing him play an electric guitar in a rock-oriented band clashed with the “literary folk musician” identifiers –– acoustic guitars and serious performances in front of hushed audiences –– with which I’d mentally tagged him.
Obviously, there’s more to Clint Niosi’s music than my own reductive assumptions, but to my credit, Niosi does come from a solo singer-songwriter background. He started playing guitar in his early teens around the time his family moved from a suburb of Minneapolis to Mansfield. He cites Sid Barret, Nick Drake, and Cat Stevens as early models for his songs, and he got his start playing solo acoustic gigs in Arlington coffee houses.
“There was a place called Coogan’s where I really got going, and as for solo acoustic gigs, I’ve done them all over the country at this point,” he said.
He’d been in bands as the primary songwriter, but he said he got tired of them breaking up. He decided to make the material his own and find backing players as needed. In 2008, he realized that aspiration with the James Talambas-produced album, The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders.
“It was born out of a solo singer-songwriter thing,” he said. “All the instruments were recorded around the acoustic guitar.”
His next album, Pleasure and Spite, became a different beast altogether, though.
“I think the second album for any artist is going to be the most challenging,” he said. “We spent forever on it, threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. I still really like it, but my mixed feelings are that it just got so big. It took an incredible amount of time to finish.”
In fact, it took four years, debuting finally in 2012.
“It was like this never-ending project,” he said. “So with the third one, I didn’t even really know if it was going to be an album. I set out to write and record what I could in a month to just see what the results were. I did it all myself. That was where I learned to have fun again. There was a point where [making an album] isn’t fun.”
That album, Captives of Sense, debuted in 2015, and its gloomy, cinematic songscapes seem to be an outgrowth of another project he’d done after the expansive task of Pleasure and Spite. In 2014, Niosi gained some fame for scoring indie filmmaker Frank Mosely’s critically acclaimed Her Wilderness. The soundtrack’s ambient noises –– birds chirping, streams flowing, feet crunching over grass –– mixed with Niosi’s ominous synthesizer score are hauntingly dreamlike, and it’s led to other work scoring short films. In March, Niosi released an online compilation of these soundtracks called Demo Releases for Short Films.
His next project is an untitled fourth album.
“I really wanted to do something that captures the sound of a live band listening to each other and responding to each other on an album,” he said. “And I wanted us all to be comfortable with each other before we went into it. So over the last year, I’ve been playing with [drummer] Eddie Dunlop, and my wife Claire [Hecko], and we’ve added Joe Rogers on keyboard. He was the longtime music director of Jubilee Theater. He and Eddie go back to the ’70s –– they had a prog-fusion band called Master Cylinder. Claire is playing bass and viola.”
Niosi plans to record his new album in what he says is a “vacant art gallery” in August, hoping to release it in the spring. But in the meantime, he also has two other projects waiting in the wings, both of which he’s made with his wife Claire, who has written an album’s worth of music under the moniker Frosty, to which Niosi has contributed guitar and drums.
The couple also performs as a free-form ambient duo called Nightly Closures.
“We’ll have maybe one practice, just to know the palette we’re working with and then go do it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s very improvisational. … We might do an album, but really that project is entirely for fun.”
Then we spent another hour talking about movies. Turns out he’s not so laconic after all.
Clint Niosi, 6pm Fri at Dreamy Life Records and Music, 1310 W Allen, FW. Free. 817-733-5463.