Cover artists get a bad rap. When someone says he or she only play covers, the immediate assumption is that he or she must fall into one of two categories:
The first is the middle-aged wedding singer who has no business singing Whitney Houston, and the second is the guy who always brings his guitar out at parties, thinking that everyone wants to hear him play John Mayer and/or Oasis. (Hint: this won’t help get you laid.)
But local musician Joshua Clemens does not fit either of these descriptions.
Armed with bold vocals, an acoustic guitar and a handful of loop and effects pedals, Clemens takes songs which span time, geography, and genre. Then, he bridges the gap by reimagining them into cohesive, but completely new acoustic rock adaptations with R&B and indie flair.
The covers range from rock anthems to Motown ballads, from British alternative rock to contemporary R&B. Clemens takes hits from the likes of Bill Withers, the Eurythmics and Justin Timberlake and reconstructs them for his one-man acoustic performance.
Many of Clemens’ performances take songs and build them slowly, creating the basis for songs by composing individual loops and gradually overlaying them. It gives Clemens the ability to create on the spot, which can be as challenging as it is rewarding.
“Everything is live, nothing is pre-recorded, which adds to the fun,” said Clemens. “Sometimes I screw up, and that is just part of the game. But when it works, it is a pretty great feeling,”
Clemens’ musical journey began in Detroit, Michigan, his first home. It was there, at age 12, that he got his first chance to perform.
“I auditioned for this really select choir … and somehow managed to get in,” he said. “I am pretty sure I only got in because they needed more male singers. But whatever! It made a dramatic impression on my life.”
His home life also contributed to Clemens’ musical identity. Much of what constitutes Clemens’ musical taste can be attributed to his parents.
“My parents had Motown playing almost all the time,” said Clemens. “Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations … it wasn’t until I started playing guitar with musicians that I was turned onto Radiohead, which blew me completely away.”
Taking up the guitar was a defining moment for Clemens, but it was one that did not come until he was 19.
“I immediately loved [the guitar] and was immediately angry I did not start learning to play it sooner,” said Clemens. “So, I learned two or three chords and started a band. Typical.”
Many of his first few years as a musician were spent in bands, writing original music, touring the Midwest, and learning more chords, of course. But as time became more of a constraint, Clemens found himself as a solo act, performing covers of songs that he loved. While his set list changed, it did not stop Clemens from building a rich musical history.
From Detroit, he moved to Chicago, where he found a house residency at a local bar. Later he moved to Hollywood, again regularly playing for a bunch of (probably underage) kids. Three years ago, Clemens transplanted to Reno and wasted no time becoming a familiar face in the Reno music scene.
Currently, he is lined up for a regular show every second Sunday of the month at St. James Infirmary on California Avenue.
As for the future, Clemens is working on making live recordings of his performances at St. James and hopes to one day return to writing original music. But for now, he is focusing on an endeavor which is a little more important: fatherhood.