Stomp and Stammer turns 17
Local rock rag still loves championing music while pissing off readers
As editor and figurehead of local rock rag Stomp and Stammer, Jeff Clark has garnered a reputation as — depending on who you ask — a tireless champion of great music, an asshole, or both. "Every now and then, somebody will come up to me and say to my face, 'You're an asshole' and walk away," Clark says over a beer at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club. "I can handle it. A lot of people are afraid of not being liked. For most of my adult life I've never had that fear."
That bravado has served the fortysomething Clark well for 17 of those adult years, establishing the magazine as both cheerleader and acerbic critic of Atlanta's music scene. Like many 17-year-olds, S&S enjoys nothing more than losing itself in new music and loudly sharing its opinions, a tendency that's occasionally made Clark a target for fans — and performers — angered by his sometimes stinging appraisals. He's been skewered in song by comedy-core band Attractive Eighties Women, and gotten into an altercation with Mastodon's Brent Hinds.
"People always make a big deal about us slagging bands," Clark says. "We do that. We're not afraid of offending people, and we're not afraid of pissing off bands. Unfortunately, at times we're not afraid of pissing off advertisers, either. But if you read the magazine, at least 80 percent of what we cover, we're praising to the hilt. We all still have a passion for hearing and discovering new bands and an interest in going out and hearing new stuff."
Clark is even more passionate about sharing the music he likes — whether it's a new garage-rock find or an unjustly overlooked R&B artist — in hopes of introducing that music to a wider audience. Each year, Clark stages one or more shows around Stomp and Stammer's anniversary with the goal of shining a spotlight on acts that excite him, from bands on the cusp of the next level of success to genre pioneers that readers and Atlanta audiences may not know. In the past, he's showcased such disparate names as the Olivia Tremor Control, Black Lips, Deerhunter, and girl-group icons Mary Weiss (of the Shangri-Las) and Ronnie Spector.
This year's anniversary outings continue that tradition. Friday night's show promises a vibe somewhere between indie punk and performance art: The members of headliner Prince Rama were famously raised in a Hare Krishna community in Florida, and their brand of hallucinogenic rock is every bit as elliptical and otherworldly as that information would lead you to expect. Supporting them are the relatively new punk quintet Zoners, whom Clark describes as "a really great, energetic, fun sort of punk band," (Full Disclosure: Zoners bassist Wes Duvall works as Creative Loafing's Art Director.) and the live debut of White Woods, the retro- and Americana-toned solo project of the Coathangers' Julia Kugel.
Saturday's show features its own share of familiar local names: Supporting acts Sodajerk and Shonna Tucker and Eye Candy (the latter featuring former Drive-By Truckers bassist and vocalist Tucker backed by a team of Athens vets including fellow former Trucker John Neff) drop anchor in the fertile territory along the borders of rock, country, and Americana.
But it's the marquee act that most vividly embodies Clark's desire to stage something you wouldn't otherwise see in Atlanta. Swamp Dogg, aka veteran singer, songwriter, and producer Jerry Williams Jr., mixes classic Southern soul with lyrics that veer between psychedelic social commentary and straight-up novelty. Just presenting this cult hero live would qualify as a must-see, but Clark aims to spice things up by having Alabama-based punk outfit Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires back him up.
"They're punky in a sort of Southern redneck way," Clark says of the rock 'n' roll outfit fronted by former Dexateens singer Bains. "Like if Bruce Springsteen was from Alabama and started a punk band. Lee has a lot of soul influence, too. What Swamp Dogg normally does is more traditional, and this is going to be a little bit more rocking, but Swamp Dogg's into it. He's like, 'I love rock 'n' roll, let's do it.' So it's kind of a mash-up that makes sense but wouldn't have happened naturally — I don't think."
It was a similar desire to create something he wasn't seeing anywhere else that led Clark to form Stomp and Stammer with Steve Pilon in 1996. At the time, he'd already made a name for himself as a regular Creative Loafing contributor and as an on-air personality on alternative-rock station 99X. "A lot of the criticism and humor that had been a big part of Creative Loafing and other local publications in the '80s through the mid-'90s was starting to fade away, and we wanted to do something that was kind of fun and irreverent, and that covered bands that we liked," Clark says, pointing to defunct publications like Creem and Atlanta's Muzik as touchstones. "We tried to have fun with it, and also have a little bit more of a critical eye on things."
Pilon departed after five years, leaving Clark as the magazine's only full-time employee: publisher, editor, distributor, and ad salesman. And while he good-naturedly complains about many aspects of his job — the monthly grind of putting a publication together, selling ads, getting feedback from readers who take issue with his politically conservative opinions — he wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, he sees himself still attending shows and getting excited about new music well past retirement age. "I don't know what else I would do," he says. "There's nothing I like better in my life than going to see a great band put on a great show."