KWMC photo by Thom Lang
They had seen it all before. An overzealous fan rushes the stage, grabs a microphone stand and begins rocking it back and forth in wild abandon. Mr. Clarke, no stranger to pain, continues to sing and play without missing a beat as the microphone smacks him repeatedly in the teeth. But the year is not 1983 and the setting is not a dark basement club on the Lower East Side. A new millennium has dawned and Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke are performing their first official kids concert at the Garden Preschool Cooperative in Jersey City. The enthusiastic fan was a five-year-old preschool graduate carried away by the energy and rhythm of the "Rattling Can". The show was an unqualified success and Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke felt they had finally found their true audience.
Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke began writing and performing together in 1990 and formed the duo Reak and Stump. They shared an enthusiasm for Punk, Bluegrass, Old Time String Bands, Mills Brothers, obscure folk tunes, Hank Williams Beatles, and Dylan - not necessarily in that order. The great country brother duos (Louvin, Delmore, Everly, Blue Sky Boys) were also an obsession and tight vocal harmonies have always been a defining element of their sound.
Clarke, who still holds a British passport and has never learned to speak with a proper American accent, grew up in England and France. His early bands (Boring Sponge, The Undead) were prominent in the 80's Long Island punk/hardcore scene. Wilde grew up in Texas and North Carolina and started out playing Bluegrass (The Rank Strangers, The Dreadful Snakes). One of their first performances together as an acoustic duo was described in The New York Press as "Syd Barrett meets Hank Williams". In a good way.
They began recording original material together - occasionally in professional 24 track studios but for the most part with lo-tech 4 track home systems. Committed to a DIY agenda and ethic they began circulating hand assembled cassette releases featuring original artwork. During most of the 1990's Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke were regulars on the NYC Antifolk scene and performed extensively in the East Village and Brooklyn. They also became one of the beloved house bands at Sunny's Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn - the nerve center of one of the city's most vibrant artist communities. A series of live recordings was made at Sunny's - engineered by Paul Verna of Vernacular Music. The comprehensive 12 volume boxed set of Closet Cult Classics may actually be ready for release around 2012.
In the mid-1990's Mr. Clarke moved to California where he played with the bands Beyond-O-Matic and Bula Matari. During this period Wilde and Clarke kept the collaboration alive - exchanging cassettes through the mail. In 1997 Mr. Clarke returned to New York and resumed teaching in the NYC public schools. He formed a Meringue group with his students and he and Wilde led several Teacher Training seminars. Mr. Clarke has spent the past few summer recesses in Brazil collaborating with local musicians to develop a "Samba Country" style. In 2005 he performed several times on Brazilian TV and radio. The Latin rhythms have found their way into Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke's songs for children and are often combined with traditional American folk styles to create an exciting new sound.
For over 20 years Key Wilde has developed his unique skills as a visual artist and his illustrations have appeared in newspapers, magazines and children's books. He started writing songs specifically for children after being asked to perform regularly at his daughter's preschool. "I found that, rather than traditional kids songs, they responded most to my own quirky original tunes", says Wilde, "so I began adapting my material for a kid audience which often entailed simply omitting curse words."
Together Key Wilde and Mr Clarke are now committed to combining outstanding visuals with funny upbeat original songs that will appeal to people of all ages. Songs and pictures - with an emphasis on HUMOR and memorable characters - that parents and children can enjoy together.
They are excited about their debut on Little Monster Records. The songs were recorded at Wormhole Studios (actually a tiny room in Mr Clarke's Brooklyn apartment) with the enlisted help of Alan Byers on bass and Mike Stevens on drums and percussion.
Mr Clarke also traveled to Brazil to engage the services of the infamous Celso Saculejo, an eccentric Cabo Frio percussionist, and returned with the foundations for "Big Pet Pig" and "Going to the Moon". The former is an original song based on a traditional Irish folk tune and the latter is a song Wilde made up with his daughter when she was four years old. "She should really get a writing credit on that one", Wilde admits, "we worked it up sitting around singing about places we'd like to go together".
"Favorite Names" celebrates Wilde and Clarke's shared enthusiasm for the great early punk bands of their formative years. The song has long been a smash favorite on the radio program "Greasy Kids Stuff" and will be included on the compilation "Greasy Kid Stuff - Songs From Inside The Radio VOL III." on Confidential Recordings. Destined to become a kids classic.
Wilde reverts to his "traditional country" roots on "I Had a Little Dog", a song that champions individuality ("You can't be what you're not / so be proud of what you got") and Clarke came up with "18 Wheeler" in response to his nephew's obsession for big rigs. (And he wanted to show off his extraordinary guitar playing.) "One Fat Frog" is a counting song and despite its length (nearly five minutes!) kid audiences have on many occasions aggressively demanded that the song be performed again in its entirety. The record also includes a rollicking version of "The Rattling Can" (the song that incited the near riot and the first KWMC kids gig) and closes with a lovely lullaby "Pekepoo" - another song that emerged spontaneously while singing to the kids at home.
In addition to their follow up LP for Little Monster (12 songs already in the can) Key Wilde and Mr Clarke are currently working on a series of animated videos and are developing a kids TV show.