Gary Clark Jr. isn’t holding back on “This Land,” his new single and the title track from his upcoming studio album. In the song, released Thursday, the singer-guitarist gets candid about race and growing up as a black man in America, singing, “I see you looking out your window / Can’t wait to call the police on me.”
Oh, and he’s angry, too. But that’s not where this track began. It started with a simple beat that Clark came up with while working on music in Los Angeles.
“I was messing around, and I came across this Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings sample … and I was chopping it up and mixing it around. I was doing headphone projects because my wife was super pregnant at the time and my son sleeping. We were in a small place in LA. I couldn’t do it like I was at home and turn my guitar up. … I was experimenting,” he told HuffPost. “The result was the foundation to the song.”
He sat on the music for a while, but around November 2017, Clark got inspired again by what was going on socially and politically in the United States.
“There was a lot of stuff happening,” he said. “What you’re seeing in the news, growing up in the South … I felt this kind of climate change and it reminded me of when I was a kid. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s in Texas. It could get a little bit funky there sometimes.”
“I see you looking out your window / Can’t wait to call the police on me””
Then, a specific personal incident involving race and discrimination prompted Clark, 34, to write the lyrics for what would become “This Land.”
“I had a little situation with somebody that took place in front of my child. He [my son] was asking me what was happening and I didn’t want to explain to my child why this guy upset me. I didn’t want to explain to him at three and a half years old because he doesn’t see that,” Clark said about discrimination. “It just made me so angry. So we got ‘This Land’ after that.”
When the song reached the recording studio, Clark opened up to the other musicians about his thoughts on race relations and equal rights in the country today.
“I had to get it out. It’s 34 years of dealing with this. I was thinking about my family. My grandmother. My great-grandmother. … Fuck it. We’re here,” he told HuffPost. “There’s no denying it. There’s no stopping it. We’re all going to die. We’re all going to be buried and scattered somewhere and we’re all going to come together. It’s like, what are you going to do?”
For his part, Clark wants to inspire camaraderie among his fans through his music. At his shows, people from all different backgrounds come together, he said, but elsewhere the discrimination and hatred continue.
“I’m in a business where I play music and I bring people together and I see all types of different faces. And there’s a lot of love there. But then I go to some places and I’m just a nigger to somebody,” he said. “I come from a lot of love.”
Clark’s third full-length album is due out on March 1. Watch the video for “This Land,” directed by award-winning filmmaker Savanah Leaf, below. Beware the NSFW language.