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Get to Know Gary Clark Jr., the Guitarist Who's Making Live Albums Cool Again

Get to Know Gary Clark Jr., the Guitarist Who's Making Live Albums Cool Again
Amy Harris/AP
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When it comes to playing guitar, Gary Clark Jr. is second to none. So it makes sense that the 33-year-old musician would feel adamant about performing live. In fact, he recently wrapped up a headlining tour in support of his fourth full-length album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, and just released his second live studio recording, Live/North America 2016. He's also opening for Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden tonight.

But before Clark Jr. jetted off to his next stage, he did a set at the Levi's Outpost during SXSW in his hometown of Austin, Texas, where we spoke to him, fittingly, on the back of his pickup truck. "I feel very comfortable here," he said. "This is a place for me to recharge and feel connected in a way that I can't connect with people anywhere else. I grew up with these people. When I'm home, I'm home. All of the other stuff that happens just goes away."

Here, Clark Jr. gets candid about the importance of playing live, collaborating with Alicia Keys, and his fashion influences.

I find it fascinating that you drove here from your house.

It was very convenient. It's like, SXSW, welcome to my town. I'm glad you finally made it.

You just released a live album, which is becoming increasingly uncommon these days. Why do you think that is?

Can I tell you something? I feel like people can't perform live. This is what we do. I grew up here in Austin, Texas—the Live Music Capital of the World—and the musicians that are here are real musicians. I want to represent for that. It's time to appreciate live music. Don't call yourself a musician if you're not playing music.

The city's other motto is "Keep Austin Weird." What does that mean, anyway?

Austin is special. Look, I love Texas, but if you drive out here a couple of hours, it's a little bit different. You know what I'm saying?

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What's your favorite thing about playing a live show?

Awkward silences. Looking people in the eye, having them look away, then I look away. Having staring contests. [Laughs.]

You've toured with Eric Clapton, BB King, and The Rolling Stones. Anyone else you'd like to share a stage with?

Yeah, of course. I've got a lot of stuff coming up, but I can't talk about anything yet. I don't want to jinx myself. Lil Wayne said it best: Real Gs move in silence like lasagna. I stick with that.

Alicia Keys supported you early on when you collaborated with her for her 2012 album Girl on Fire. How did you two meet?

I knew her from being a fan. Then she called me up and ask me to come into the studio. To be able to be invited into her world and her opening that up to me was huge. I've got a lot of love for her.

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Gary Clark Jr.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

How do you feel about being nicknamed "The Chosen One"?

I feel differently about it depending on where I am and what I've accomplished as an individual in a day. It's a lot of pressure to put that on somebody. Chosen to do what? I do what I do, and I feel confident in what I do. But I still feel like I have a lot to accomplish. I always feel like I have to raise my own bar. [The nickname] is a little bit of added pressure on top of what I put on myself, which is already crazy.

Let's talk about style for a second. What influences you?

My pops is fly. My mother is beautiful. A phrase we threw around in my family is "be presentable." All that matters is you feel good no matter what anybody else says. I like to feel comfortable. I like to feel confident. I never want to feel like I'm underdressed or overdressed. I like to feel like I could walk into any situation and be good.

Where do you like to shop?

John Varvatos, Levi's ... put on those 511 slims, boom. It's just classic.

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What music are you listening to right now?

People expect me to listen to old-school blues, but I've been listening to that Big Sean record. "Halfway Off The Balcony" is my sh*t right now. Run the Jewels 3, Childish Gambino, T-Bone Walker, Alabama Shakes. I studied blues and R&B and all that, but I'm 33 years old now. You get in so deep that you need to come up for air and figure out what else is happening. That's where I'm at.

Watch the live video for "My Baby's Gone" above, and buy Live/North America 2016 for $10 on the iTunes Store.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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