Exclusive: One-on-One with Clinton John

Clinton John
Image by D0pecinema

Nashville-based queer pop artist Clinton John recently released a music video for his single “Cry,” which will also be featured on his upcoming debut EP Embarrassing. The project, scheduled to release on November 19, is a visual album that will have accompanying music videos for each track. “Cry” is the first release.

According to John, “Cry” is about the difficulty of expressing emotions and longing for a good, processing breakdown that may or may not come. The artist used to numb his emotions with alcohol for a long time and was worried that he would be unable to create art without being under the influence. However, his new-found sobriety allowed him to finally process those feelings and find the clarity to create this new project.

With a few singles already under his belt, John has built a mass following, performed on Nashville Pride’s mainstage, and earned a spot in Lee Jean Company’s Artists at Home performance series. For the last eight years, he has been working behind-the-scenes with songwriters, producers, videographers, and photographers to fine-tune his crafts and fully prepare to release music that was true to his vision. The result is a blend of hyper-vulnerable lyrics and captivating pop soundscapes that draws inspiration from boundary-breaking artists like Troye Sivan and Kim Petras.

John took some time to chat more about “Cry,” his upcoming EP, and his passion for music with Instinct.

Clinton John
Image by Ash Hurst

Hi, Clinton! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me. Can you begin by telling us more about the concept and inspiration behind your latest single, “Cry?”
“Cry” is a song that I wrote because I am really bad at crying [laughs]. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. In any situation where something happens and crying is definitely warranted, it doesn’t happen, and I felt like that led me to so many situations where I was not getting over my ex, and I wasn’t processing through the emotions that I had. I was just getting angry about it and such.

I remember talking to one of my friends saying, I literally wish I could cry about this and bawl my eyes out. I remember that snapshot memory of being so devastated and knowing that I don’t ever want to go back to him. So, I figured I would write a song about that and try to find some cathartic element to it. It didn’t really work, but we tried, and that is really the concept behind it. I wanted to have a moment to get all those feelings out.  

“Cry” will be on your upcoming debut EP Embarrassing?
It is! There will be four songs on the tracks. “Fresh” has been released thus far, and the other two are “Cool B4 I Met You” and “Embarrassing.” This is basically kind of capping off my first relationship, and hopefully, we are closing that book for now. This is also capping off my early 20s as well. I officially stopped drinking and have been completely sober since last February, and talking about drinking or experiences that happened to me because of drinking were big elements of how these songs were inspired. It feels right to close off that chapter of my life.

The EP is a visual album that will feature accompanying music videos for each track. Can you talk more about that and why you wanted to go in this direction?
It was something that came about during COVID because I had super bad writer’s block, as everyone gets. It’s nothing new or crazy, but I was just trying to find inspiration. You couldn’t go out, you couldn’t do anything, you were stuck in your home, and I was looking for creative outlets and things that were going to get me excited. Writing music and doing photoshoots, they get me excited, but I just didn’t have any safe way of doing those things.

I was talking to my friend, Ren McConville, they are an incredible videographer, and we were throwing around the idea of making a visualizer for each of these songs, and it just kind of tumbled out from there. Like, I love this for “Cry,” I love this for “Fresh,” I love this for “Cool B4 I Met You,” and “Embarrassing” turned out to be a full choreographed dance video, so it really kind of had a life of its own and happened naturally. A lot of work went into it, so I am really pumped that we have a visual for each song to represent me as an artist. Since I am really just starting my career, this is kind of like an introduction of me. Who I am, my brand, fashion, all that jazz. I feel like it’s all tied up in this.

Is that what you are looking forward to the most about releasing Embarrassing out into the world?
Yes.  In my early 20s, I was in Nashville for eight years, and moved there when I was 17. I went to an audio engineering school, and I have been doing music since I was 15 or 16. That is when I started writing, but I was very conscious about not wanting to release stuff until I was like, this is who I am, and this is my type of music. I don’t want to have things in my discography where I look back on and think, oh my God, I can’t believe I ever released that. I wanted to hit the ground running with a fully realized idea of who I was.

Even though these songs have been a year and a half in the making, the project itself has been, like, eight years in the making of, and a lot of work went into finding videographers, photographers, songwriters, and producers that I love working and collaborating with. It feels like it has been so much more than just a year and a half because I have been moving towards this goal for such a long time, and I am very proud of it. As an independent artist, you don’t have someone being like, ‘we’re going to do this’ or ‘we’re going to do that.’ You are the one who has complete control, and it is awesome to have so much freedom, but at the same time, it is a fuck ton of work.  Funding it yourself, mostly styling it yourself, directing everything yourself, but I feel like this is a good base level for my career as an artist. I feel like it can only go up from here.

Have you always had a passion and desire to pursue a music career?
Yeah, I have. I started writing music because I knew that I wanted to be a musician. I have always loved singing and performing, and it was always something that I did, whether it be in musicals or whatever. When it came to writing songs, I was like, this is a skill that I really want to hone, which I guess is kind of different. I think a lot of people get started because they have such an outpouring of emotions, and they need an outlet. This was something I wanted to get good at and I wanted to see if I could do it.

Clinton John
Image by D0pecinema

Then when I was 17, I wrote a song with my friend Megan Campbell, who was kind of a country artist at the time, and we wrote a song that was submitted into CMT’s Listeners’ Choice of the Year Award, and it was one of the final five songs. That was when I realized, maybe this could be something that’s not just a hobby. I always loved it, but my parents never pushed me when it came to music or songwriting. They were neither encouraging nor discouraging. They were just like, yeah, do your thing, but they definitely were not stage parents who were like, yeah, this is incredible! So, it was at that point I was like, wow, I could definitely do this.

What do you hope audiences take away from your music?
I really hope people can relate to the songs in some way. When I am writing music, I like to write about emotions that I don’t hear or feel like are super represented in pop music. Like, a song talking about something that was super embarrassing for you. I don’t hear songs like that very much, and I never go into writing a song being like, this is a cool idea and I want to try and do this. It is what I am feeling in that moment, and if I’m feeling it, then I am sure other people are as well. The relatability is one thing that I really look forward to with music. Sharing and connecting with people, but overall, I just hope they like it.

How would you describe your musical aesthetic?
When it comes to my musical aesthetic, it’s very gay [laughs]. For a while, I was kind of afraid to go fully gay with it, but then I was like, I literally don’t have a choice. But my musical aesthetic, I love pop music. I think some people don’t like to be described as pop musicians, but that is the best compliment someone can give me. So, it is pop music on a base level, and some descriptive words that I love to be associated with my music are ‘very honest,’ ‘very vulnerable,’ and ‘catchy melodies.’

Whenever I write a song, I always want to be extremely honest, transparent, and real, and I love mixing the elements. Brutal honesty with super catchy melodies in a pop production that you don’t know whether you want to dance or cry. You’re like, wow, this is super fun and I love the way this sounds, but then you kind of peel back a layer and you’re like, oh, this is definitely a deeper song. So, when it comes to my aesthetic, it is very hyper-pop, but at the root, I always love to stick with super honest and transparent lyrics with catchy vibes.

Clinton John
Image by Ash Hurst

You have spent the last eight years working behind the scenes with songwriters, producers, videographers, and photographers. How has this benefited your own craft?
I am a big believer in surrounding yourself with the right people. That is such an important thing that I think everyone needs to focus on. People who have good vibes in your circle and people who are supportive of you. I have been super blessed to have friends and work with people who are now doing incredible things with their careers, and I think it kind of gives a domino effect when it comes to seeing people who are constantly pushing themselves, being the best they can be at their craft, and really pushing boundaries. That impacts you as well when you are close with those people. One of my photographers who I work with a lot, Acacia Evans, she is now on tour with Miranda Lambert and is one of her personal photographers. I feel so blessed with the people that I have been surrounded with, and 100 percent, I could not do anything that I’ve done without them.

What are some of your passions outside of music?
Oh my gosh, that is literally such a hard question because music is pretty much my life. I enjoy working out, and I know that is such a lame answer, but for me, working out not only helps my physical health, but my mental health as well. It is a necessity to keep my anxiety and depression in check. I also love fashion. Fashion is a big thing for me, and I have always tied it to music. They kind of go hand in hand because to me, a pop artist is not just a singer or songwriter. They are everything. When I think of pop artists, I think of Britney Spears. Like, she’s fashion, she’s a singer, she’s a performer, she’s everything. So, I feel like all elements of my life tie into music because it connects with everything that I do.  

What are some of your future goals you would like to accomplish as a musical artist?
Again, this is kind of my first big, major release, so I would really like to start playing more live shows once they truly start back up again. Obviously, that is something that has been taken away from us in the last year to keep everyone safe, but that is what I love to do. I love to perform, and I would love to get on some Pride circuits. The LGBTQ community is so supportive, and that is who I make music for. I feel like they will relate to my music the most just based on shared experiences.

I also really hope to get a manager by the end of this year or early next year so they can help out with some things, but long-term, I want to be leveled with artists like Troye Sivan. I don’t want to have insane mega fame, I feel like that would stress me out, but I want to be doing this full-time all the time and have the resources to be able to make any video or concept I want to create. I want to share my art, mind, and creative process with people. That is a 3–5-year goal for me.

Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
Just that the full EP comes out November 19, and I have music videos coming out every two weeks leading up to that point. From there, hopefully, you will see me at your next Pride!

Stay up-to-date and connect with John by following him on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. His music is available on Spotify and all other digital streaming platforms.


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