Learning the instrument:
The “Mission Impossible” theme song was apparently inappropriate for grade school music class. I was kind of proud that I had learned it by ear, yet my Coronet teacher scolded me for ignoring the lessons in the book. A brief stint with a drum set was equally ineffective in cultivating a loyalty to musicianship. It was the guitar, several years later that finally hooked me.
I have three people to credit. The first is Joe Cenus who taught me a handful of open chords and showed me how to tune the instrument. I only played for a month or two at that age (a distracted thirteen), yet it was Joe’s influence that laid the pivotal groundwork. Two years later, I would remember what he had shown me.
Summer, Washington Square Park, New York City…practically every day. I sat for endless hours listening to the street musicians. Enter influence number two: one particular guitar player and his habit for Jimi Hendrix through a Mouse amp. He made an indelible mark. I asked him one day why he wasn’t in a band. He laughed and informed me that he was in several…he just really liked to play. Over dinner with my dad that night, I told him I wanted to play, and he borrowed a guitar for me. By day, I observed the Washington Park musicians – the sounds they made in relation to the positioning of their hands. By night I would sit on the roof and would try to recreate the combinations I had seen and heard and thanks to Joe, I was in tune. By the end of that summer, I could play the basic twelve-bar blues and a few simple lead licks and left the city having purchased my first piece of musical gear – a Pignose amp from Manny’s on 48th.
The second piece of gear came less than one month later. I bought a used Montgomery Ward “Airline” solid-body electric guitar from a local shop called Cap’n Bullfrog’s Music (Brattleboro, Vermont). That guitar was less than desirable, and its action was so high it was almost impossible to play, and yet I spent much of my free time devoted to the instrument. Several months later I converted to a fairly decent Strat copy, and with the addition of a couple of effects pedals and a Fender Twin amp, I found myself newly obsessed and practicing 6-10 hours a day. It was Andrew Laitres, a new friend and incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, who made the third substantial mark on my development. He hung out, jammed, taught me new songs, and helped to correct my self-taught technique. It was Andy’s guidance that brought me to that next level. (What a patient man he was.) I realized…I just really liked to play.
OK, my Mom gets a ton of credit here. When I was five or six she gave me a player and a stack of at least 25 records. Sure, there were the usual children’s sing-a-long and storybook albums, but also an incredible assortment of world music. They were all fascinating to me – the Russian and Hawaiian folk songs, German marches, classical. My favorites were a collection of Leroy Anderson works (he composed pops orchestral pieces), the New Vaudeville Band’s tune “Winchester Cathedral”, one great Sandy Nelson record (he’s a surfer-style percussionist), an instrumental version of Bizet’s “Carmen”, and even a swingin’ Glenn Miller album. Thank you, Mom, I learned to listen with those albums!
A small handful of years later a friend and budding musician Andrew Hildebrandt introduced me to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti (I was about twelve). I wasn’t expecting to have an emotional response to music, but “In My Time of Dying” made a huge impact. It reminded me of a surreal version of a Hawaiian lap steel song (to which I had become previously acquainted in boyhood). “In the Light” had an affect as well. I was drawn to Zeppelin’s compositions, the well-crafted arrangements and the richness of the instrument’s textures.
As a teen, I was a well-rounded listener, interested in Motown, rock, funk, and pop. I was mildly obsessed with Cat Steven’s “Teaser and the Firecat”, and simultaneously Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ “Just Another Band From L.A.” – not a typical playlist mix. The list grew when I started to play myself. Earlier influences included Van Halen, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, and King Crimson. Later, it was Steve Morse (specifically the Dixie Dregs), Stevie Salas, DJ Q-Bert, Randy Rhoads (Ozzy), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Adrian Belew, Joe Satriani, Buckethead, and Steve Vai.
So, I’ll divulge the musicians on my current playlist (although as we all experience, tastes change, and so I’ll keep you updated): Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, This Will Destroy You, and Liquid Tension Experiment.
A brief synopsis of a previous musical life:
So I started to play at age 15 and by 18 I was the lead guitarist in an established cover band that toured New England (I worked hard). I performed with a number of cover bands for about a decade following. I took it seriously – it was my job after all. Yet, it wasn’t the creative outlet I needed, and so I was composing my own music in my spare time. Eventually, I stopped playing covers altogether, choosing to work as a live sound engineer. I had already become well versed in live and studio engineering, sampling, sound design, synthesizer programming, MIDI sequencing and a variety of other music technologies. I already owned a decent PA system, and a 14’ box truck. Plus, I learned pretty quickly that the soundman makes more money than the band members! It was a necessary step sideways.
Other music-related gigs added to my experience base. I worked as a “sampling expert” for a music publisher that administered the publishing of the “Bridgeport Music” catalog, one of the most sampled music catalogs of all time. I entered into a totally fun collaboration with artist and musician Dug Nap. I stepped on several occasions as lead guitarist and/or sound engineer for a number of local bands/projects. I’ve recorded, arranged and/or mixed professional renditions of a large handful of local artists/bands’ music. All of this has contributed to what I am, and what I play, today – my music, Substation 7’s music.
Where I am now (and where I’m going):
I embarked on the current journey with experimentations in processing audio, experimenting with tape loops and digital delays. The technology wasn’t there yet – the short delay times combined with devices that made live manipulation difficult was discouraging. As technology progressed and live looping devices improved (in early 2006 I purchased a Boss RC-50 Loop pedal) the gear began to more closely match my goals. It was the point of departure I had been waiting for - the way I would create rich, multi-part, multi-timbral, solo arrangements for a live setting.
I came to understand the strengths and quirks of the RC-50 after several months and wrote music specifically for the looper. By the end of 2006, I had performed my first solo show. After several short sets at local venues, the project was coming together in my mind and Substation 7 was born. The project is a whole concept that has and will incorporate a narrative and also visual work in addition to the music. I perform a variety of musical styles, but all of it is coming together under one cohesive theme. In the future, Substation 7 will integrate musical video, multi-media performance, and interactive internet technologies. I’m working on it all simultaneously.
This stuff is truly fun for me (a pastime I plan to obsess over until I can make it my job again). It’s my lifeblood, the way I live, the strength I get for living.
It took a little time to come up with a description of what is Substation 7. But, here’s where it’s at: Substation 7, a.k.a. Clement Yonkers, plays original instrumental compositions using solo guitar and live looping techniques. The music incorporates a range of styles (avant-garde, alternative, ambient, rock, heavy, melodic to name just a few). Substation 7 uses state of the art musical technology (like the Boss RC-50) to execute an eccentric musical vision. I am a composer, guitarist, and self-professed music technology nerd, and I am Substation 7.