Maryland-based genre-bending artist and producer Clifford creates music from a place of freedom. His distinct signature sound prompts new and existing listeners alike to live colorfully and fully by embracing their authentic selves. Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross as she connects with Clifford to discuss his exciting journey.
Learn how being a multilingual (English, French, Arabic) US/UK citizen influences his songwriting, the most important lesson he has learned from his ongoing collaboration with Grammy Award-winning drummer Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey, fun stories from his experiences growing up on a family farm, and why he believes that “evolving is your duty as an artist.”
Since he was a child, music has served as an emotional outlet for Clifford. He started playing snare drum and bass drum in his school band at age 9, expanded into a full kit, and soon after, formed a band with one of his friends.
“Later in college, I learned Arabic hand drumming, where I was introduced to new rhythm patterns, which helped to broaden my mind on drumming,” said Clifford. “Pretty crazy when I reflect back because it’s the drums/beat that really drives my music now.”
Clifford’s love of languages and culture also blossomed during his post-secondary years, where he pursued coursework in Arabic, French, and Spanish. Clifford’s language studies expanded his songwriting palette sonically and made an indelible impression that lends such distinction to his music. “The sound of languages was so fascinating, especially learning a language like Arabic,” said Clifford, adding that it was “a totally new world.”
Growing up, Clifford helped to manage his family farm in rural Maryland, which taught him valuable insights about the parallels between nature and human beings. His family split its time between the States and London, which is home for Clifford’s father. “I’ve had many different animals over my life – from turkeys, to llamas, to sheep,” he shared. “I had sheep for the longest time. I used to show sheep when I was like 5 years old. I was Supreme Fleece Champion of the Virginia State Fair, I think. I was like 6 or 7 years old.”
“Once a farmer, always a farmer, at heart that is,” Clifford added, laughing. “There are critical lessons in farming that are difficult to explain. You always have someone else’s back, and they have yours, too. That builds trust, confidence, loyalty, and a sense of belonging to something greater than just yourself. I think all those things help me to be a better person, and I try to bring that to my music.”
Take a listen to Clifford’s growing body of work, including “Mariana,” “Can We Dance to This,” “Too Big Too Strong,” and “Quick Quick Slow,” and it becomes clear that his sound is an amalgamation of genres, including those that are typically isolated. Most importantly, Clifford says that he seeks to be “expansive” and “not to restrict the creative process.”
“Since I was little, I’ve always listened to many styles of music,” Clifford explained. “When I started to do music myself, I couldn’t think of any other way to do music than just to genre-bend.” Clifford would find himself considering different genres and thinking, “Well, wait, if you just put that instrument here and replace this instrument, I feel like that would sound cool.’”
As he took a moment to scroll through Spotify during the interview, Clifford shared the artists who are on his playlist as an illustration: Willie Colón, Dido, Etta James, Nina Simone, Big Pun, Naughty By Nature, Foster the People, The Neighbourhood, Disturbed, Blur, and “lots of Motown.”
“In production, I learned about frequencies of different instruments and found that literally what might be one instrument in, for example, soul music – you could take something from heavy metal and put it in there, and it would cover the same frequencies. And on top of it, it could be a really cool kind of way to expand the whole experience. That’s what I try to do with my music: expand the listening experience for the audience.”
Approximately 3 years ago, Clifford began a collaboration with Grammy Award-winning artist Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey, and the partnership has resulted in three singles to date: “Who Are You,” “Nightfall,” and “Swish.” Clifford notes that the backstory of how he connected with Brailey, a Richmond, VA native, is “kind of crazy.”
Clifford’s parents had a mutual friend who was dating Brailey in the 80’s, and the group would hang out regularly near Georgetown in D.C. and Old Town Alexandria. Fast forward to the present, and Clifford’s mom reconnected with Brailey whom she had not spoken to for years prior and introduced him to her son. The rest is history.
“It’s really kind of an amazing, crazy, beautiful thing,” said Clifford who now considers Brailey an invaluable mentor. “Even though I’m just an independent artist, and he is a Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, he has treated me with the utmost respect and the utmost freedom to express myself and be the artist that I am. He obviously brings his artistry to the table as well.”
A drummer at heart, Clifford notes that he and Brailey can geek out on percussion and the influence of the rhythm section in music. “A lot of people have heard that humans are 80% water,” explained Clifford. “Lower frequencies from drums – this is the producer nerd coming out of me – lower frequencies make water vibrate. That’s why I think drums are so impactful, that whole low-end.”
Jerome Brailey is a legend in his own right, and yet, Clifford notes that Brailey does not attempt to force him into becoming someone else. He simply seeks to bring out the best of his art and eclectic style. “He literally just says, ‘Do your thing, get on it, take your time,’” said Clifford. “He doesn’t try to rush you into anything. It sounds like such a simple, almost like a ‘duh,’ but a lot of people will try to make you do that. He understands the art enough to know that art cannot be pushed.”
In turn, this freeing, empowering creative environment allows Clifford to grow organically, providing a sense of grounding during challenging and joyous seasons alike. “Evolving, to me, is your duty as an artist,” he reflected. “When you find your sound, for example, that’s great and that’s wonderful. But to keep evolving your sound with the vibrations of the earth. It could be political current events, it could be social events, it could be technological advancements in music production literally, or it could be new-old genres that come around. I think it’s important to evolve as an artist, as a human being, all of the time.”
Clifford’s broad cultural exposure provides a unique lens through which he views the journey to becoming, and his music reflects a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, where individuals from all backgrounds are welcome and accepted.
“The world is a very large, yet small, place filled with people who are just like you and me,” said Clifford. His experiences have taught him to “hold judgement, be willing to understand people’s differences, and embrace the wealth of knowledge we get from our exchange of ideas.”
In the coming months, Clifford shared that audiences can expect “lots more music” and collaborations. And he is keeping his options open and sights set high despite the uncertainty of the outcome as an emerging independent artist. “Professionally, I cannot imagine doing anything else except creating music. The path for an artist is not clear, and it’s not for everyone, but for an artist, staying the course is all they’ve got.”
Stay tuned for what promises to be great things to come for this rising talent who will not settle for anything less than who he was meant to be.
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Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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