A compelling songwriter with a commanding voice, Clint Roberts combines the acoustic roots of Americana music with the complicated emotions of unrequited love in his debut album, Rose Songs. The powerful and personal project introduces Roberts as one of Western North Carolina’s most promising new artists.
“In some senses, this record is the end, symbolically, of some things in my past, but it’s also very much the beginning,” he says. “I feel the relief of a lot of things being behind me and the optimism of what might be in store for me in the future.”
Roberts wrote about the experiences of being in love from a distance, on the outside looking in. When those feelings ultimately faded, he gathered material from that time for Rose Songs.
“I think of 2015 through mid-2019 as my ‘Rose phase,’” he says. “I have a bunch of very different songs as a result of a single muse, but that’s only because I’ve created different characters and scenarios. They’re all speaking to emotional truths, but some of them are more literal than others.”
For example, “The Drifter” is richly detailed and carefully crafted, allowing listeners to feel like they’re in the room. In contrast, “Nero’s Waltz” is a wry political commentary that came to life as Roberts saw the juxtaposition of rhyming “Hallelujah” with “What’s it to ya?” Not specifically inspired by a certain president, it’s more about the “have and have nots” in society – but in a twist, it’s sung from the smug perspective of the privileged.
Although he says that melodies come naturally, Roberts meticulously constructs his lyrics. For example, “Chrysalis” took five years to complete. That attention to authenticity is evident throughout Rose Songs. With understated production, he conveys the challenges of maintaining a relationship while working as a touring musician in “Annabelle,” then conjures up the dramatic (and imagined) epic grandeur of “Amarillo.”
Acoustic renditions of these two songs, as well as “The Drifter” and “Nero’s Waltz,” are included as bonus tracks on Rose Songs. Because Roberts occasionally performs as a “one man band” – playing kick drum, tambourine, harmonica and guitar – the alternate versions show these songs to be just as effective without any other musicians on stage.
Roberts recorded the album at Ocean Way in Nashville with producer Ben Fowler. By collaborating in the studio, the musicians captured a vibe that falls somewhere between roots rock and contemporary folk. Today, Roberts describes the sessions as “the most profound experience I’ve had in my career thus far.”
As a teenager growing up in Brevard, Roberts found his calling on the stage. At 14, a senior in his drama class brought in a ukulele. Because Roberts had always wanted to learn a stringed instrument, he used the uke as a jumping-off point, and received encouragement for the songs he wrote on it. He then joined a band as a singer and picked up banjo, too.
That band, named The Fox Fire, played festivals in North Carolina and Colorado, before Roberts left the lineup at 20. He switched from banjo to guitar, and started using his voice more powerfully at solo gigs to make up for the missing energy of a band. Everything changed when another guitarist showed him Travis picking, where the thumb is on the bass strings and the fingers pluck the higher strings.
“I thought that was infinitely more interesting than strumming a guitar, because all of a sudden, now you can hold the rhythm down but you can also be playing these intricate melodies if you need to,” he recalls.
As a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Roberts has multiple paths to forge a connection with an audience – something he strives to do with every show.
“I think my music has something for everybody,” he says. “There’s an elation that comes with this being my debut record, for all these years to be put into this craft, and all of these songs being a culmination of my efforts and experiences in the world. I really love this album and I hope that everyone else does, too.”