If Clay Pendergrass and his brother opened the windows of the converted attic bedroom in their Anita Street childhood home, from one direction they could hear the music pouring out of the Granada and Arcadia. In the other direction, once the old Dr. Pepper Plant shut down, they could hear the music from the Dyer Street clubs. It was a different time, when you could still smell fresh bread from the Mrs. Baird’s plant at Central Expressway and Mockingbird Lane all the way down Lower Greenville. Pendergrass would slip out of his window and stand outside the bars he was too young to get into, just listening to the music. “It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” Pendergrass says. “I don’t think we could do things like that now.”
Pendergrass, a guitarist, bassist and percussionist who also dabbles in visual art, has been a mainstay in the Dallas music scene for over two decades. He’s recorded and toured with the likes of David Garza, Jackopierce, American Horse and Jack Ingram. Longyear, released by his label Clay Sounds last year, is “psychedelic, funk, pop, noise, ambient, electronic, Tex-Mex and flute rock.” It’s a combination of original songs, a New Bohemians cover, a church hymn and the national anthem. Created with New Orleans-based producer Danny Kadar, the album was made over the course of several years with tracks being sent back and forth virtually. It features a lot of guests, mostly friends. It encapsulates Pendergrass’ career — a collage of genres and collaboration.
How’d you get your start in music?
Some of my first memories are singing in church with my family. I played trumpet throughout elementary school and high school. And I probably didn’t get my actual start until probably about my senior year of high school and then (until) David Garza. We started a little band in high school called The Happy Farmers. We got really serious about playing and writing songs. I had taken some bass lessons with Brad Houser, who’s a musician and bassist who plays with Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. He was really instrumental in helping me get started. And then that was probably the first big break, being able to open for them at Club Dada as high schoolers. It’s just kind of crazy to think about.
What was that experience like, opening for them at Club Dada?
It was pretty amazing because we were huge fans. They were really encouraging of the musical community and helped out a lot of young players — I mean, loaned instruments, allowed people to open up for them. It was thrilling. Club Dada was a profound influence on me. When they started, they were really a dada club. It was a surreal place, and the calendar and the acts reflected that. So you’d have New Bohemians, you’d have Tiny Tim, you’d have Cafe Noir, you know, playing this brilliant gypsy jazz. That’s the Dallas I came up in. We were really lucky to be fostered by our musical older brothers and sisters.
How has your musical style changed?
I think if you talk to the high school self, he might have been content to be a session player or a sideman only playing bass. I think that’s how it evolved, you know, constantly trying to learn, put yourself in new situations, being fearless about picking up new instruments, making sound and allowing it to be fun. I also moved over into production, and mixing, and all that sort of thing, too. I’m constantly trying, striving to be maybe a fuller musician that can understand more perspective with each day that passes.
Why do you think vinyl is such a big part of the music industry in Dallas?
I think people fall in love with it. It’s a great sound. I think so many people these days experience music through tiny headphones or Bluetooth connected speakers. Usually if you’ve gone through the trouble of getting vinyl, you’ve gone also gone through the trouble of getting a somewhat decent system. It’s going to represent the full spectrum of what was put into that music on playback. I’m in love with the way that at a certain volume, when you send that sound through the air, it’s gonna move you and make you feel a different way than if it’s not there. There’s magic in the music that you’re going to get no matter what medium you take. But I do think vinyl delivers a really impressive and sustaining dose of that magic.
What types of visual art have you been dabbling in?
Mainly collage, that’s my favorite. And it kind of correlates to the music, because I do a lot of instrumental music as well, in a style that I call sonic collage. So a lot of the same concepts like interspersing samples, or cut up music, concrete tape loops. And then, you know, also applying organic sounds to them, like live performance or field recording.