Editor’s Note: Our occasional contributor from Greece, John Sleepwalker, conducted this interview of Eric Clayton shortly before the recent performance of Eric Clayton & The Nine at the Demon’s Gate Festival 2019 in Athens, Greece. Clayton is perhaps best known for the band Saviour Machine that he formed in 1989 with his brother Jeff, which has reunited following an extended hiatus and is at work on a new album, as well as Eric Clayton & The Nine.
John Sleepwalker also asked us to specifically mention that, as the following interview began, Eric first wanted John to tell him some things about himself before the questions began, so he could get to know the person behind them, which seems to be an uncommon occurrence in interviews.
This interview was first published (in Greek) at Avopolis.
Unfortunately I wasn’t present at your historical gig with Saviour Machine at Rhodon Club. Was it 1997?
1998 actually, but that was close. I believe it was September or October 1998.
This gig has remained in people’s thoughts as something legendary. Older people like me still talk about how they couldn’t believe what they saw.
It was an amazing night, even though my memory of that night is a bit cloudy at the moment.
Yes, I understand. How do you feel about returning to Greece after 21 years and why won’t this take place as Saviour Machine but as Eric Clayton & The Nine instead?
First of all, I am really glad I am returning to both Thessaloniki and Athens. My memories of being in Greece during the fall of 1998 are very powerful even to this day. I am very much looking forward to creating new memories and I remember the warmth, the intensity and the passion of the Greek audience. Man, it’s something I never took out of my head and my heart and I am so impatient about my return.
On the second part of your question, the reason I am coming as Eric Clayton & The Nine has to do with the fact that Saviour Machine‘s new record is just nowhere near ready at the moment. We’ve been working on and off for the past two years and we made a commitment when we got back together that we wouldn’t even consider performing again if we didn’t have a new album completed. I formed my union with The Nine and put this side project together very much because I was just dying to get back on stage, brother. That’s the truth behind the whole story. I’ve been away for a long, long time and went through a lot of crazy stuff to get here.
To be honest though, I am going to miss a bit that we won’t see you on stage with the classic Saviour Machine outfit. Do you think you too are going to miss that while on stage?
You know what? I can tell you this: I don’t miss performing as the character of Eric Clayton in Saviour Machine. It has always been a tremendous amount of work regarding the preparations and making up a costume alone before and after a concert. It’s a young man’s sport. To make it clear, when I do return with Saviour Machine, I will go back in my routine and become what I need to be for my performances. But in this case, I have enjoyed so much something different since 2015, when I performed with Ayreon for The Theater Equation project.
Yes, I loved your participation there.
Right on brother, that’s really cool to hear. I had a great time making that record [Ayreon’s The Human Equation] and an even more wonderful time performing it. So, basically, when I got on stage, I was just Eric Clayton, the singer. Among other really great singers of course, as well as really great artists. This put a seed in a heart that I thought had died. It really sparked my heart and my desire for performing again, especially as myself for the first time in my career.
I think Arjen is the kind of musician that inspires that in people.
He is a genius, there’s no doubt. He’s a brilliant artist and more importantly, a good human being. It was a pleasure to work with him and I am thankful for the opportunity. It sparked something in me and a few months later, David Bowie died, a musical hero of mine. When he died it also sparked something in me that I had no idea was still there. Within a year, my brother and I recorded a tribute record called the Bowie/Decade project which was a work of passion. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it and it was really worth every second of it. Along the way, by the time we finished the Bowie project we were back as Saviour Machine amd thought we should start writing for ourselves again.
Do you think that performing as Eric Clayton & The Nine is going to inspire the same kind of awe compared to Saviour Machine?
Well, I have done seven concerts as Eric Clayton & The Nine. We played in Germany and The Netherlands last year. I loved those guys, the vibe, the energy and the passion I feel on stage is different than Saviour Machine, but it’s just as powerful in other ways. For me, when I sing those songs, in my mind and heart I am performing Saviour Machine songs. I’m Eric Clayton, the guy who wrote them, so it feels completely natural. My band is not Saviour Machine and they are not trying to be, but they sure are trying to do justice and honor them. I say this and we joke about it a lot about how Eric Clayton & The Nine is the best Saviour Machine cover band the world will ever see.
Why Eric Clayton & The Nine?
You know, I have been fascinated by the number nine since I was a little boy. I grew up as a big fan of baseball, I’ve played baseball for many, many years, and I teach baseball, it’s a passion of mine. The game itself is deeply connected to the number nine and I got fascinated by it. But of course, there are many other connections too, historically and biblically speaking. I think it’s a great number, probably my favorite number, and at the very end I was looking for a band name that worked, something catchy that sticks to your mind. What was cool and kind of a happy accident is that these guys were called the Nifties before joining them, which happens to be a French term for nine. It’s ironic, we basically came up with the band name on our first meeting during the first five minutes of it.
Are you planning to record your own material with that project or did you form them solely to perform live?
In fact, I just completed writing a new personal album. I never planned to do a solo album — if you’d have asked me 20 years back whether I would ever do it I have no idea what I would have answered, it was never in the cards. This album is very personal and very close to my heart, it’s a story that’s been 50 years in the making. It’s my life story somehow and I suppose that if you are a fan of ’70s concept rock, I would say this is my version of The Wall. It’s a very deep story about a man struggling with his demons and the many, many wounds that shape us into becoming what we are. The album is called The Thousand Scars, it goes from my childhood to the present, an actual life story.
You were after also fighting your own health problems too…
Yes, ten years ago I was sick. I had a cancer diagnosis and I wasn’t even sure whether I would be able to sing again, or whether my stomach and esophagus would be the same after the treatments. But I’m healthy now, after ten years that’s been a crazy, crazy journey. I was not only physically sick at the time, but emotionally and mentally sick as well. Basically, when I started to disappear back in the late ’90s, I guess when Saviour Machine was at its peak, I started to disappear into the Legend project and things around that kind of became this crazy chaos. It’s a long, long story, connected to some personal issues of my life and some problems I got into with my own government in the United States at the time, as well as some other things that I was a part of theatrically on stage with Saviour Machine. It’s a crazy story with connections all over the place.
Any clue what label is going to release it?
You know what? I have no idea. At the moment, I’m trying to produce it independently and even manufacture it independently, maybe based on pre-orders and things like that and we’ll kind of go on from there. I kind of have a dark history with record companies and I signed a couple of bad deals back in the day…
Which was to be my next question.
Yeah, but I’m not opposed, I am a much older, wiser man now. I’m not opposed to the right deal, or the right distribution, but at the moment I’ll just go forth with the production and along the way maybe the right opportunities will appear to distribute this one and make it available on a much larger scale. It’s an album that has a lot to offer, my personal story that people will connect to in different ways.
How would you describe its general feeling, as well as musical style, compared to the different phases Saviour Machine have gone through?
Sure, that’s a really good question. In Saviour Machine, my brother and I always tried to focus on atmosphere. Proper atmosphere for the lyrics, proper one for the general vibe. At the very beginning, what was important to us whether it feels right, you know? We didn’t know what we were doing technically, or whether it was proper musically, we were just young kids who were ambitious and had a lot of interesting ideas. Out of all these things, Saviour Machine was born into something unique.
Then again, this record that I’ve written has elements of many tracks, there are 15 songs in it. It’s a very long album. There are songs on the record that If you didn’t know it and you’d hear the first 30 seconds you’d think it’s Saviour Machine‘s music. It’s going to surprise people how similar the vibe is on the darker tracks especially. On the other hand, there are tracks that sound as if this material could have been in Saviour Machine II, really piano-centered material with very intimate vocals. It’s interesting how this personal narrative that connected some dots in my life has opened some understanding concerning my older material. Lyrics that I thought I understood when I wrote them, but make a different sort of sense to me today. It’s been fascinating.
Did your cooperation with Massacre Records have to do with how you are releasing your upcoming album? And them releasing demo versions of Legend III:II against your wishes?
I’m sure it had to do with how all of it went down. In fact I had an earlier bad experience with a southern Californian Christian metal label as well. So, in the ’90s, I had a bad history of record deals that went bad twice. I’m just unlucky I suppose. However, I’m not opposed to the idea, I just need to meet the right people, the right company, they should have the right thing to offer with the right heart. We’ll just see what happens when the time comes, but right now, I’ll just focus on finishing the record. I’ve completed some really good demos that I’ll make available to fans pretty soon. The plan is to start recording as soon as we get back from Greece, brother.
On Saviour Machine, I thought the cycle was supposed to close with Legend III:II, but that seems not to be the case. Is your next album going to be the last one?
I don’t know if it’s gonna be the last. I can say it’s gonna be the next. Who knows? For all I can tell, maybe my upcoming work might be my last solo album, you know. I don’t really know. For the moment I am just proud for the album I am going to produce and we have this Saviour Machine record too that is slowly turning into something magical. It just needs some time. I’m trying to be patient and I gotta be since I’ve been away for so long.
Is there a timetable concerning when the solo album is going to be released?
Unless there is some crazy random act of God or something, it looks to me like we could have this thing recorded and mixed by early spring. And then we could have a master handled by early March. Perhaps there is a chance for a spring release, sometime in early May.
And on Saviour Machine, how much different do you think the new album will be compared to what we have heard so far?
It will be different than every record, I don’t think we ever made the same album twice. Every abum was different than the one before. They are all Saviour Machine records, but they are also very different. If I had to make comparisons, imagine combining elements of Saviour Machine I with Saviour Machine II and something… else in between.
How about the Legend series?
Legend is such a separate entity. I’m not sure if at this point in my life I even consider Legend as a Saviour Machine project. It was bound to kill a band and it did. It was too big for us, my obsession got completely out of control and turned into a nightmare.
How do you feel about technology influencing music nowadays?
That’s another great question, man. You know what? There’s good and bad in everything. There’s beauty and progressive growth in technology, but there’s also things that are terrifying. All I can say is I wouldn’t be able to make the Saviour Machine record, or my solo album, without the help of modern technology. In particular, I have a band in America and a band in The Netherlands, while I’m currently in Germany. We are recording two albums by using dropbox and file sharing. We send these things back and forth in minutes, which is amazing. I have even been recording demos on my cell phone for the past year, which has proven to be quite functional, since they turned out pretty decent.
And how do you feel about downloading and how it affects the music industry?
I remember back in 1997 when I first heared about CD burners, mp3s and so on. It was one of the things that got me into trouble with Massacre. I remember trying to get them on board, but they were not ready, nobody was at the time. That was the beginning of the end for a lot of bands that went from selling a quarter of a million albums to 20.000 copies. Within a five-year period, things changed quite a bit.
How do I feel about it? It is what it is man, it’s the way of the future. It’s going to become even more sterile at some point, unless it will be more common for people not to collect anything, as it’s all files. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why vinyl has come back again, because it’s something tangible, something organic. Hopefully, we won’t lose our humanity completely and we can still make organic music that can touch people’s hearts.
However, I feel that now that everyone has instant access to information, we don’t go deep into a record the same way we did before.
That stands for everything, not just music. Due to this technology, people don’t show the same amount of patience, which is the biggest problem I think. Now we have a whole generation of people growing up and that’s what they know, the world is not the way it used to be. What has become of it is the world connected to those devices. It’s a bit terrifying and a bit sci-fi when you think about it. The part that terrifies me the most on a human level is how the global climate indicates an oversensitive political correctness to a point it gets obnoxious.
I kind of get it, you mean how everyone imposes their opinion on the internet in a sense they are correct?
Yeah, everyone has a platform, a box to stand on. Which is perfectly ok. What concerns me is the lack of humanity that’s continuing on a rampage to the point that I think we are breeding a whole generation of people who do not understand humor. What it is to have a sense of humor. That scares the shit out of me, man. Haven’t you noticed that in all this bombardment of information and data people have forgotten about it. I don’t know, I don’t want to live in a world where people aren’t funny anymore.
Yeah, I really undestand that. Going back to Saviour Machine, do you consider them as “white metal”? I think Saviour Machine is way more beyond that.
Thank you for saying that, it is probably the nicest thing I could ever hear about Saviour Machine. When we were young, we didn’t know what we were doing, we were just lucky and creative. The one thing we knew is that we wanted to create something that even if people didn’t like it, they would remember it and realize it’s something unique. We just wanted to leave our mark and create something original. It’s a pity how my brother is the understated genius and my right-hand man all the way through, but never gets enough credit.
How do you feel about your faith on a personal level and about expressing it through Saviour Machine?
When we first started Saviour Machine we didn’t know there was such a scene like the “white metal” you previously mentioned, we didn’t even know there were Christian rock bands. We were just artists who were passionate about what we did and I felt I should connect those musical and spiritual influences together. It’s an interesting thing because my brother and I grew up in a violent culture, which was a strange paradox. The violent southern California culture of the ’70s and ’80s in contrast to a very strict but loving religious foundation. Those things combined created a very interesting blend of artistic energies.
As far as it goes to our faith, my brother and I are still men of faith, but we are not religious people. I am a person who was raised in religion and such an environment, but I am not a religious man today. But I will say this: the faith I had as a little boy somehow grew into a deeper faith as a 52 year old man. It’s really hard to explain it in words, but faith is definitely something that drives men. I can tell you my faith has driven me through times of great sorrow and despair and it’s also driven me through days of great success and prosperity. I’m just all about spirituality and emotional prosperity these days. As well as thankful that I have been able to maintain a certain center in my life even in the most difficult of times.
As we are reaching the end of the interview, what kind of audience are you expecting to attend the shows in Greece? Saviour Machine hasn’t been around for quite some time and many younger people are not even aware of the band.
Based on my memory of 1998, I remember a certain sense of warmth. It was a passionate experience and I imagine that’s something that doesn’t go away. I do however think you are right, it will most likely be an older crowd, even though I do hear about new people getting into my music all the time. This takes some time and I think in another ten years from now, the audience might turn more towards my art. I don’t know about numbers, or have any expectations how many will show up, but for the people who’ll be there I can promise a very special evening.
Do you think it will be challenging to attract the attention of people who’ll mostly show up to see Saturnus? They are a band who maintain a solid fanbase in Greece and their style differs quite a lot.
Truth is I have been away from the music scene for a while… I imagine it’s a dark metal fanbase, right?
It’s more like gothic doom with dark brutal vocals, but very melodic music as well.
I think people could be curious, even though I don’t expect all of those people will care about what I’m doing. I have made dark heavy music in my career though, so perhaps there is a connection. It about emotions and maybe hard to predict what people will, or will not like. One thing I am certain though: people who will be there will remember the moment, regardless whether they will watch the entire concert, or just a part of the performance.
Speaking about being away from the music scene for a while, what bands and such influences would you name as more important for Saviour Machine?
The initial early influences that were most important upon Saviour Machine‘s inception, birth, and early development were Black Sabbath, David Bowie, mid-Led Zeppelin, some of their more prog stuff in particular… and I am also a big fan of Jim Morrison and The Doors. My brother’s influences, who is a bit younger than I am, were more connected to metal. He was the person more connected to metal, while I was the one more connected to the ’70s prog rock stuff. Our common ground were probably Black Sabbath, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd. We both were pretty into those bands.
We’ve reached the end, thank you so much for your time. The last words are yours, please share anything you’d want for those who will attend the shows and read this interview.
I’m just happy to be back. It took a long, strange journey to get here and I’m looking forward to sharing my story with people, as well as filling them in on where I’ve been for so long. In the meantime, I’m more interested in re-connecting with people, giving them something special and sacred. I can tell you i am looking forward to Greece very much and I can promise you two very special performances.
What songs are you planning to play?
i can’t tell you the entire setlist, that would ruin the surprise, right? But I will say this, we are playing 90 minutes of Saviour Machine I & II. Basically it’s nine songs from Saviour Machine I and 6 or 7 songs from Saviour Machine II. It’s a ton of classic music from the first two records, as well as three brand new ones of my own that I am very much looking forward to.
Speaking of such, those albums came out on vinyl a few years back. Do you plan on repressing them? They are quite expensive now.
Truth is I wasn’t aware of the vinyl pressings you are referring to. I’ve signed many of them, seen many of them, but I had nothing to do with those releases. At some point, there will be a proper master for Saviour Machine I & II. I don’t know whether this will happen with Massacre Records or not, but I really want to have those albums mastered properly.
That’s sad to hear that you weren’t even informed about it and you had no control over the release. I don’t own them, but it wouldn’t seem strange to me if they just used the CD master and not some proper vinyl master.
Of course, but that’s what happens. The record industry changed in the late ’90s. My relationship with my label became so strange with so many deals, side-deals, and distribution deals. At the very end, you lose control over your music, to the point I’ve seen Russian copies of Saviour Machine records I was not aware of. But you know, I’d really want for the fans, as well as my own sense of history, to have those first two records properly pressed on vinyl and I’ll do what I can to see that happen.