This week we sat down with Clinton Hill, a music producer, songwriter, and singer/rapper from New York. I’ve been a big fan of his music for a while. We talked about his background, writing process, and favorite musicians just to name a few.
You can find Clinton Hill on the following platforms:
L: Please introduce yourself
J: I’m Clinton Hill. I’m a music producer, songwriter, and singer/rapper in a field of alternative music. I’ve been primarily focusing on songwriting, and now I’m just getting into the sphere of becoming my own artist. So, moving to New York was a huge stepping stone in that direction, and now I’m just pursuing that dream.
L: Did you grow up playing music?
J: My mom was a songwriter for Beyoncé and my Dad was an executive producer for Motown at the time of my childhood, so I didn’t grow up playing music necessarily but I definitely grew up around it. I was into sports early on, which helped me to develop my work ethic and that translated really well into my music. I was rapping in high school under a terrible name, and then went to college and changed it to Othello and now I’m Clinton Hill.
L: Did your mom helped Beyoncé write any major songs?
J: Yeah when she was with Destiny’s Child she worked on the whole “Writing on The Wall” album and then she worked with Mary J. Blige. My Dad was doing stuff for Diddy in 93. Basically early 2000’s R&B and rap was what my parents were most heavily involved in.
L: How did you know that you wanted to make music professionally?
J: My first musical influence was rock because I was a wrestler and growing up in rural North Carolina they just played classic rock at the wrestling tournaments. That was my first time really listening to music consistently and liking it. I didn’t really listen to R&B too much. It wasn’t until late high school that I really got into studying music of all genres—Jazz blues etc.—this is when I ran into Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix.
L: When you were studying music what was your approach like? How did you study on the day-to-day?
J: I started with the earliest forms of music that I could find which was like Baroque era shit and started listening to Pange Lingua Masse a lot. I was really trying to understand the origin of music, and I found that it was all just expression. Even though it was attached to the church pretty heavily a lot of things between religion, life, love, drugs are all the same and connected to the pursuit of happiness. It was cool that I started off with classical because it all starts with religion. That changed the way I conceived how music was meaningful, not only to myself, but also many other people. Then I started getting into avant-garde jazz, at first I wasn’t into the whole black power cultural movement type thing, I just wasn’t around it enough I guess, but I soon grew an appreciation for the original jazz and soul. Old slave music. I listen to everything man.
L: What is your favorite instrument to listen to?
J: Umm I don’t know, the fucking triangle. I don’t know man. I really love all forms of it, my favorites would probably have to be the violin or the guitar.
L: Do you think that growing up the way that you did helped give you a leg up in having the right ear for music? Did your taste have to catch up to what you were trying to create?
J: I was kind of blessed in the fact that I was able to grow up the way I did. Most people say, “oh my parents were playing John Coltrane in the living room everyday”, my parents didn’t play shit they just worked on the music that they were making. I was around the studio, and because of the surroundings. I would listen to classic rock and then I would come home and a rap artist would be rapping, and then I would go upstairs and listen to some India Arie or some singer songwriting shit. The diversity of music I listened to shaped how I make it. I think that my ear is trained in quality of music. I have an ear for when the sounds are all in tune. That’s why I like mastering music so much.
L: What was the first piece of music that you ever put out?
J: Lol. This rap I plugged into my laptop over the Kanye West “Power” beat, I sang and did some rapping and it was horrible. It was like the worst quality ever. This was in like the 6th grade. I was under the name JT the Ruler or some shit like that. It was terrible. Everyone was like ‘yoo you can rap’ and then after that I didn’t really release anything. And then that kind of stopped until I got into high school.
L: When you release a new project on say Soundcloud, do you wait to see if people are fucking with it? So for example, like when I post something I always wait 24 hours to see if people fucked with it or not.
J: I’m very meticulous. I have like 100 to 200 songs always ready. I don’t put it out unless I think that it is absolute perfection. So once I put it out, I don’t really care, most of the stress was done beforehand. If people like it then that’s either icing on the cake or motivation to work harder.
L: Where does your name come from?
J: When I first came to New York I moved here because I got a job at a talent agency, hail corporate, it’s top three talent agency in the country. I was working under Lauren Graham’s sister. From Gilmore Girls. Hella stressful. The day before I started working that job. I had my guitar and I was hella depressed because I knew I was going to work from 9-9 almost every day and I didn’t know how I was going to make music on top of that. I got really fucked up with my guitar and just ended up in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. I didn’t know the layout of New York at this time, and I woke up on a park bench with this guitar in my hand in the morning, and I was like “oh shit I have to be at work in three hours”, and that was my first day on the job. I didn’t remember anything from that night so the name is my remembrance. Clinton Hill was something that I had to remember. I knew that I had to pursue music because it just comes naturally before anything else that I have to do.
L: That’s a crazy story I love that the name has such sentimental value.
J: Yeah bro, it’s also cool that Clinton Hill is in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
L: Are you good at coming up with titles for material? Does the title come before or after the song?
J: The title always comes after. The title is one of the easier things to do; the concept is always one of the harder things to do. I feel like if it’s hard to come up with a title, it means to me that your concept isn’t innovative.
L: Ok where do concepts come from?
J: For me I get concepts from reflecting on the things that I have gone through or the things I foresee myself going through. They also come from the lives of other people who I don’t know. I don’t know how they feel but they just sort of arrive there. I don’t really know where all my concepts come from. I could watch an episode of black mirror and get a concept.
L: You seem very dedicated to the writing process, how would you describe it?
J: My writing process is at first organized chaos and then very meticulous thought. I believe my talent in writing is being able to combine the abstract with the understandable, so I’d like for you to read through lyrics and understand that there is some broad content being talked about based on words that are being thrown at you. Hopefully, your perception and your own experiences take over and interpret what that means because the things that I’m saying always have double and triple entendre.
L: When you are writing a song for someone else do you try to broaden the scope so that it is less personal than if you were writing a song for yourself?
J: Well the beautiful thing about how I approach writing is that I try to come up with concepts that are personal to myself, but also detach myself from them. I try to use abstract examples from my life. For example, I can be writing a song and use the word love and I may be talking about a drug but to you that love may be sunshine on a Sunday afternoon or whatever it may be. I’m describing a core principle and allowing you to interpret what it means to you.
L: I’ve definitely had that realization listening to a piece of music where I’ve learned that people of all backgrounds and cultures can enjoy the same thing.
J: Exactly, music is the universal language.
L: So what is the biggest mistake that people make when trying to write songs?
J: Over-thinking. Writing is speaking and you’re just speaking to yourself every day. I talk to myself in my head, I might be in the shower thinking about what I have to do today. When you write a to-do list you don’t think about having to write a to-do list, you just write it. I don’t always think about the words I’m putting down I just write them. Whatever comes out comes out, I can think about it later. You see what I’m saying? You have to go through a lot of shit to come up with good stuff, but you just have to write be able to write. Once you can shake off the tendency to not be able to write in any condition than you will never not be in the condition when you can’t write.
L: I agree. This is very similar to my philosophy when it comes to writing as well.
If you could give one piece of writing advice then would it just be to write every day?
J: That would depend on how you like to write. Like for me it’s a writing everyday thing because my fear kind of lives and dies by the amount that I put out, but I am also writing within the limits of time. My art is short, I don’t think I could write a script, or fucking novels.
L: It’s hard dude. I’ve been writing a novel for like 2 and a half years, it’s not been fun all the time.
J: That’s not my expertise, but for any aspiring songwriters, do not limit yourself based on what you think you could perform. That was my biggest problem at first, was if I couldn’t articulate the performance of the song immediately then the song was trash, but just because my voice couldn’t perform the song didn’t mean the song was bad.
L: I like that your music is atmospheric. How do you tell if a song feels right, or how you want people to feel when they listen to it?
J: Here’s the honest truth, the music that I’m making I don’t really know how to categorize it, so with that realization I just had to go with what sounds good to me, and if it sounds good to me then if it connects with others then I’m doing a good job. And if it doesn’t then maybe it needs time, or I just need to keep working. I don’t think other people’s understanding or connection with the vibe determines its quality or how it should be taken. I understand my influences, what is popular now, and what is going to be popular in the future. I don’t want it to be so ahead of its time that people don’t like it, or so current that it sounds like everyone else.
L: Do you try to achieve a balance between music that’s very frantic and music that’s slower on a full project?
J: Yes, we were just talking about this. I’m working on a project now and I’m just cranking out songs. I need to make 130-140 bpm songs, I said that in the conversation, but I have to make what sounds good to me. I just take the songs that are given to me and run with it. I have to create a patchwork with what I have and try to make it as cohesive as possible, and if it doesn’t then I strive to make it consistent.
L: Who are some of your favorite musicians?
J: All of my favorite musicians were ahead of their times when they were out, Outkast, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Janis Joplin, voices that were making music that has concepts.
L: It’s a good list, it definitely seems like a list for someone who is focused on writing. So for example, I think Andre 3,000 is like one of the greatest poets of the 21st century.
L: What about other forms of art that aren’t music?
J: I’m huge into music that is accompanying film. Scores are also something that I was really into when I started studying music. Rupert Gregson-Williams, Hans Zimmer
L: Yo do you fuck with Phillip Glass?
J: Yes of course I do. I listened to like 8 hours of Phillip Glass the other day.
L: Oh that’s my shit.
J: Tchaikovsky. Samuel Barber “Adagio for Strings” is like my favorite song ever.
L: What is something that most people don’t realize about the world?
J: Most people don’t realize that we are all the same, we are all animals. Humans have the tendency to believe that they are the highest form of species because of infrastructure, buildings, technology, etc. We are just looking to survive. We have created a comfortability where eating and drinking is not the focus of the day, but that does not change the fact that we are no different than every animal trying to survive. Everything after that is excellent. That has allowed me to go about music in a fun and spiritual growth experience and less about trying to make a million dollars and not be eating ramen noodles every day.
L: If you had to describe your music in one word?
J: It’s a hard question. I would not want to answer the question because it puts it in a box. For me: it’s “relaxing”
L: When is your next project coming out?
J: The music for it, late April. The full documentary, documentary short, we are pitching right now as a music series we are starting the treatment now. I’m going to be depicted anonymously, the album is called the pilot. It’s the pilot of the television show. Every song is an episode, so there are going to be 12-13 songs, and then I’m going to be in the show, and I’m making the score for the show.
L: This is crazy exciting it sounds super cool.
J: Thanks man.