Outlaws and outsiders, road-trippers and lonely rollers; whether it’s someone searching or someone who doesn’t want to be found, we can’t help but be drawn to the drifters. Singer Steven A. Clark is that next stranger to roll in from out of town, a restless artist recasting R&B. He’s a straight-talker in a genre filled with wish-fulfillment, whimsy and cliched beats; think the Outlaw Josey Wales raised on N.E.R.D. and 808 & Heartbreak.
On his cinematic new album Lonely Roller, Clark’s descriptions of emotions and bad breaks aren’t just a set-up. It’s personal identification set to song, new additions to a canon looking for fresh blood. At a time when artists such as Frank Ocean and Abel Tasfaye are pushing back boundaries and making clean-cut definitions of R&B obsolete, Clark continues charting his own creative and confessional path.
“Rhythm and blues ain’t all candy and hearts,” he says. “There is real emotion, and lots of times, artists don’t always go there. Tapping into the darker side helps make a song more real, and keeps things fresh.”
Miami-by-way of Fayetteville and Little Rock, Clark’s raw, confessional singing and personal stories pair with pulsing synthesizers and rhythms that hang in the air like a glowing grid of roadside neon. It’s a means for the soft-spoken artist to process all the drama in his head. On songs such as “Not You,” he flips a brutally honest breakup tale and draws emotions and empathy from being on the “right” side of the conversation. The title track uses a slinky, sensual beat to create a perfect backdrop to tell the story of a weekend-long tryst in Vegas. For a man of few words, his unadorned and uncomplicated lyrics hit home.
“I don’t want to just be some guy trying to bring something back, but I always think there is room for a flawed character,” he says. “The characters in the songs and me, they’re often the same guy.