The way Clayton Senne sees it, a songwriter’s work is never done and that’s just how he likes it. Onstage for the fifth night in a row, he plays his crowd-favorite “Walk Out The Door,” but this time adding in just enough tweaks and twists to keep it fresh and fun - not just for his fans, but every bit as much for himself. Such is the life of a singer/songwriter who loves the road and plays a different show each night, even if the set list remains the same.
“I’m constantly tinkering with songs, even after they’re recorded,” he explains. “I’m not making these major, sweeping changes, but maybe I’ll alter a certain emphasis or chord. They’re still living, breathing parts of me and are always going to grow and morph and change.” For Senne, whose songs are built around the fluidity of feelings and emotions, it’s only natural that they shift shapes during live sets whether they be his own headlining gigs or opening slots for Marcy Playground, Eve 6, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers or Vertical Horizon. “As a fan, I think it’s incredible to go to shows and say, ‘oh cool, it was recorded like this but the performer killed it in another fashion.’ And I don’t want to shortchange myself musically, I want to feel that freedom onstage and not be confined to completely duplicate the recorded version….if ‘Cry’ is really flowing one night and the crowd is really into it, yeah, we’ll toss a couple of extra lines in there. I’d do myself and them a disservice to just say ‘hey this song is 3:42 and I can’t go a second over.’”
It usually takes the spirit and ability of a seasoned professional to approach each concert with this kind of casual confidence, not a youth whose peers are still taking shaky, tentative steps toward adulthood and careers. But Senne started on his journey decades ago while growing up in Kansas. The son of working musicians, he describes a childhood of piano lessons (from Dad, of course) that began before Kindergarten and of being “a five year old kid in the bars at 3am watching my parents play.” Their artistic influence runs deep, explaining how he can channel such deep blues and soul in each of his songs. And their professional influence is even more obvious - becoming a songwriter and musician was a natural, and extremely supported, choice for their son.
Despite such a seasoned approach to his work, Senne remains remarkably modest about his own soulful pop. On his debut album, Wonderland, he aims to just let people know who he is. “I want it to be something I can have confidence behind and use as a great foundation. I want to hand it to people and maybe open some really cool doors as much as I want my niece or nephew to love it.” And those doors are indeed swinging open, including the front gates at MTV, who picked both “Cry” and “The Sun Will Rise” for their hit series “The City” and “Wonderland” for The Real World: Brooklyn.
Wonderland is a personal tome, a collection of songs that reflects his life, songs that tell of the heartbreak and mutual destruction of a 3 year relationship that was headed toward the altar. “A lot of the lyrics on the album are about my (and friends’) experiences, but recently when the audience starts singing along with me at shows it’s been making me hear them from a whole new perspective,” he laughs, “and it makes me want to be an even better writer.”
While Senne is a multi-instrumentalist and a complex songwriter, he chose to include two tracks on the album that are stripped down, pairing his vocals with only a piano. “There’s that temptation to squeeze too much into a song, just to sort of say ‘hey look at all this cool stuff I can do,’ and I won’t lie – I certainly went through that phase,” he admits. “But I’ve grown so much and feel so comfortable in my own abilities that I don’t feel like I have to overdo it.”
While working on the album, Senne penned “The Sun Will Rise,” a slow ballad that actually brought him to tears as he wrote the lyrics. “I’m amazed that even with all the emotion I put into the song, I think it’s the album’s best crafted one, too, totally stripped down to chords, melody and lyrics.” His emotion breaks through again on “Cry,” the first song Senne’s stepfather gave his stamp of approval on. “He’s an incredible musician,” Senne raves, “a real bluesman and when he said ‘dammit son, I wish I had wrote that, can my band cover it?’ it was the height of my career. I learned so much about what it means to feel each note or word in a song from him.” Wonderland has its share of fun, too, with songs like the title track, an uptempo, fun crowd-pleaser where he strives to create something broad enough for his audience to love while bringing even the most cynical songwriter to his feet right alongside them.
From a songwriter who is working on 20 new songs at any given moment (“my ADD is very prolific,” he laughs) while reworking his entire repertoire whenever he hits the stage, Wonderland is every bit the calling card Senne hoped it would be.
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