Triple Threat Plus One
Dec 28, 2017 04:01PM
By Tara Spencer
All three are students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and live in the dorms, so we are meeting close to campus. Sophie arrives first, dressed like a typical college student in jean shorts and a yellow T-shirt. She apologizes for being late (though it’s only by a few minutes), and asks if it’s OK to go grab something to drink. She returns with brother Simon in tow.
As we start talking, Sophie and Simon speak over each other, occassionally interrupting and often finishing each other’s sentences throughout our conversation. I tell them I reached out to Cooper but hadn’t heard back from him. (From this point on, Imaginary Cooper will stand in for the third triplet.)
“That’s pretty Cooper,” Sophie says about her absent brother. “He wouldn’t say much if he was here anyway.”
(Imaginary Cooper looks puzzled for a second, then nods his head in agreement.)
This silence may be a way of standing out from his two siblings, as Sophie and Simon are both enthusiastic speakers.
While Clark & Company—the band—has been around for about five years, the siblings played music together long before that. Since they were around 8, in fact. They started out taking piano lessons in the same room with one instructor and several pianos.
“We were all really bad at it and the teacher did not like us,” Sophie says.
“She hated me,” Simon adds.
(Imaginary Cooper remains silent, perhaps pondering where they would be without those piano lessons.)
While none of them started out as savants when it came to the piano, Sophie says she was the best of the not-so-stellar bunch and continued practicing on an upright piano their parents bought.
Simon moved on to percussion in elementary school and Cooper started out on trumpet, later switching to guitar, then to bass. (Imaginary Cooper does a quick air guitar when this is mentioned.)
Over the years, the brothers joined the jazz and marching bands, and all three siblings were in show choir. However, their experiences with the School of Rock is what really got them into playing together as a group.
They joined while they were in middle school, between eighth grade and freshman year. Simon says it’s where they gained experience playing shows together as a band, and Sophie adds it’s also where she learned to write songs. (Imaginary Cooper opens his mouth as if to add something, but ultimately decides to remain silent.)
Current fans wouldn’t recognize the music they started out playing. Their first group was a hard rock cover band, formed with fellow musician Gage Clark. “No relation,” Sophie says.
“We had a few original songs,” Simon points out.
“We started out writing rock songs that were like, kind of terrible,” Sophie says.
“No, they were fine,” Simon quickly interrupts, though both admit to laughing whenever they go back and listen to those songs. “I cringe,” Sophie says.
Simon says they started playing shows around town and getting involved in the music scene. This is when Sophie decided she wanted to write songs in a more acoustic, singer/songwriter style. Eventually, they started Clark & Company — which has been described as indie, jazz, blues, and R&B/soul music — in their sophomore year of high school.
That brings us to the fourth, non-related member of the band. Longtime collaborator and sometimes mediator Cameron Thelander is a tenor saxophonist and occasional guitarist. He says he has known the Clarks for nearly 15 years, though he didn’t get to know them well until he joined the group.
Despite their youth, Thelander mentions that the band started out playing in bars around town.
“It was kind of fun,” he says with a laugh. “It was cool.”
Playing in a band with three siblings can be a unique experience, especially when they’re triplets. Thelander says he thinks his role as the fourth member of the group is to keep them grounded.
“Since they are triplets, they can go off on tangents where they’re disagreeing with each other or arguing, so I think it really helps having me there,” he says. “It gives them an outside opinion that is less biased, I guess.”
He adds that they can all be stubborn. “Well, maybe not Cooper. Cooper just kind of hangs out and does what he wants. He doesn’t really talk much.” (I am interviewing Thelander over the phone so Imaginary Cooper cannot deny or corroborate this information.)
Despite the stubbornness, Thelander says, “All of the Clarks are literally the most kind, genuine people I’ve known. They’re like my second family.”
Which makes sense since the group is essentially a family affair, with their mother, Melanie Clark, acting as their manager or “momager,” as Thelander affectionately refers to her.
“She’s really good about it,” he says. “She’s super understanding and usually tries to communicate with us before she books something.”
Simon and Sophie agree their parents have done a lot to help them in their musical ventures. Melanie has been their manager from the start, and their father, Fred, gave up his art space so they could have an in-home studio.
While Thelander has been a consistent figure in the group, their lineup does change, often adding more horns and stringed instruments to the mix.
The band has been nominated for several Omaha Entertainment and Arts awards over the years—including this year—with their music often being placed in different categories. Clearly, putting a label on what they do can be difficult. For Sophie, the feel behind the music is essentially singer/songwriter. “iTunes calls it indie R&B,” Simon says, “which is close.”
Simon says: “The cool thing about Clark & Company is, us being the Clarks, the company can be any other musician we bring in.” This could account for that hard-to-categorize quality.
While both Simon and Sophie say they are interested in performing outside the group, that doesn’t mean they would stop playing together. (Imaginary Cooper is unsurprisingly quiet on this subject.)
Sophie says, “I think that Cooper, Simon, and I will always play together, because it’s convenient that it’s in the family and we know how to work with each other,” she says. “Any project we do, we’ll all pitch in.”
Visit clarkcoband.com to hear their music and find their shows.
This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of the Encounter.