KLARK: First Loves, Uncertainty, and Coming Out
At the crossroads of music and storytelling, KLARK’s debut album 88 is a collection of eight songs produced and written by KLARK himself following his coming out journey. 88 transports listeners to a world of first loves, uncertainty, and ultimately, coming out, weaving in LGBTQ+ history through references to the HIV/AIDS crisis and a tribute to the artists lost to the epidemic.
One unique aspect of 88 is that it is not a retrospective album. Track by track, the album was written during the journey it’s about, recording the feelings as they existed in those moments. “I wrote and recorded the album in sprints over three years, which also happened to be the most eventful years of my coming out journey. The tracklist follows that journey, and is also more or less the order in which I wrote the songs.” says KLARK.
KLARK not only intertwines storytelling and music, but also incorporates various genres of music and art forms. Citing everyone from Frank Ocean to Beyonce to Kevin Garrett to Felix Gonzalez-Torres as inspiration, KLARK weaves pop, R&B, ambient sounds, filmmaking, and confessional storytelling together in 88.
KLARK’s partner is another inspiration, inspiring the aquatic theme throughout the album. The penultimate “NEPTUNE” is a tribute to his partner, a swimmer, and a light-hearted reference to the Roman deity of the sea. “MERMAIDS," along with the oceans, tears, and thunderstorms of the other tracks, expand upon the aquatic imagery of birth, rebirth, and baptism. Even the album cover—KLARK sitting in a bed of ruffled sheets—seems to serve this metaphor.
A jack of all trades, KLARK is also a painter, photographer, and filmmaker. Artfully creating intersections between these fields, he borrows from these other art forms in his music. Felix Gonzalez-Torres' installation “Lovers, 1988” lends the album its name, and painter Philip Guston makes a cameo in the final track.
One can see KLARK’s visual art talent in the video for “NEPTUNE." “The song and video were my way of weaving mythology, religion, and aquatic imagery into my personal love story. It’s about finding romantic support in someone who reminds you that you have the right to be happy—a key moment in my personal journey.” The video plays with light and water, and was shot on 16mm film and a Bolex camera, both new media for KLARK, who wanted to experiment with different art forms. “I try not to think about music as a discreet art form. Art of all stripes, so long as it has depth and rawness, inspires me,” said KLARK.
If you’ve listened to 88, you know the album is one of the most brutally and beautifully honest records you can find these days. When we asked KLARK about how he found the strength to share such a deeply confessional album with the world, he said, “Honestly, I wrote the album for myself—it all started as a selfish act. Writing it was cathartic and it helped me process one of the hardest periods of my life. However, at some point toward of the end of recording it, I realized there are so many people out there who are going through or have gone through similar journeys and that so little music out there is about the coming out process. So this was my contribution to getting that conversation started."
Perhaps one of the reasons KLARK’s debut album is so well received is that the world is desperately in need of artists like him. Asian Americans, especially queer Asian Americans, are scarcely represented in media and pop culture, and when they are, it’s often in stereotypes. KLARK hopes his personal story will add nuance to the public portrait of Asian America, queer America, and their intersection, as personal stories are the only way to shift norms and change perspectives.
“Whether it’s music, Hollywood, literature, art, or politics, queer Asian voices rarely have seats at the table—and on top of that, there’s so little discourse around queer and Asian underrepresentation in pop culture. So I’m just doing what I can to change that and hope that others will join me,” KLARK says.
Lastly, we asked KLARK for advice for those who may be going through journeys similar to the one in 88. His response is modest yet empowering: "I’m hardly qualified to give advice, but I’d say the first step is self-acceptance. Recognize that your voice is an important part of that greater portrait of America and the world".
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