Rich Cloke has been waiting for this moment. After a series of obstacles, the Canadian country artist, hailing from southern Ontario, has finally been able to share his sophomore album, Starts Like That. The release is a high energy pop rock inspired compilation bursting with hook filled choruses. Dancing around romantic themes, playful instrumentals, and Rich’s signature upbeat energy, these are songs made for belting your heart out with the windows down.
In 2019, Rich joined us on the Front Porch to discuss his single “You’re the One”, leading up to what he thought would soon be an album release. Over three and half years later, we had the pleasure of having Rich join us again to talk about the challenges of sporadic recording, authenticity in artistry, and a sold out show at Toronto’s Rivoli.
Interview with Canadian Country Artist Rich Cloke
Front Porch: Hey Rich, thanks so much for coming to hang out on the Front Porch! Why don’t you give the readers a little update on what you’ve been doing over the last three years since the last time we spoke?
Rich Cloke: Yeah! So the last time I spoke with Front Porch was when we released “You’re the One” back in 2019. We had just received Factor approval to record a record, which was great to get their support. We had lined up recording and a handful of songs that we wanted to pull the trigger on. Then obviously, Covid happened.
So we said, we have an opportunity here. On the one hand, we can cross our arms and stomp our feet and say, “well, this sucks.” Instead, we said, why don’t we take this time to source as much music as we can and just write and that’s exactly what we did. We collaborated with a variety of different songwriters, talked to a bunch of different publishers, and took outside pitches all in search of the best songs.
Once recording studios started to open back up again we jumped in to record. We ended up recording very sporadically, because of the closures related to the pandemic, over about a year and a half, which I would not recommend anybody do! Ever. Tastes change so frequently, especially when you open yourself up to inspiration.
FP: This kinda ties into my next question. How did all the delays from Covid affect the album that you started recording three years ago versus the album you ended up with?
RC: First, I’m so grateful to Brandon Fehderau, a good buddy of mine and even better producer based out of Kitchener, ON. He and I started working together back in 2017, when we were down in Nashville together, and I just really liked his vibe. He comes from a more rock/pop/folk background and wanted to dabble in country and that was what attracted me to working with him. He brought a whole different perspective to what I was doing and I was so curious to hear what the effect would be.
With the additional time covid gave us, I wanted to experiment, and part of that was working with someone from outside the genre, like Brandon, to help me carve my own path and find something sonically unique to me. After some sporadic recording sessions, and more closures, we had some rough mixes, and the time to sit and fine tune them. We heard what we were missing, went back to the drawing board, and experimented which resulted in the final product I’m really proud of! So looking back, I think the extra time worked to our advantage but I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
FP: Sounds like you sort of lost the energy and momentum that come with recording in sequence but what you did get was the space and time to experiment. With some course correction along the way, you ended up with an amazing body of work you probably wouldn’t have ended up had things gone according to plan.
FP: What is your favorite song on the record and why?
RC: “Starts Like That” for sure is my favorite. From the moment it was pitched to us, I was so hyped on it. All along, I’ve always just loved that song. I was looking for a song that would work well in a live setting. I wanted something cool, upbeat, and energetic – something you can bob your head to and I think it’s a cool take on a love song.
FP: With this album, what do you want your fans to take away as the staples of your style as an artist?
RC: Fun. High energy. Fun. I’ve always wanted to make music that obviously connects to the audience. But it’s funny, I always thought in order for the music to connect and capture the emotion of an audience, it needed to be sad, mid tempo, heart on a platter type music. But I’m a fun, upbeat, cheery, smiley kind of guy. I’ve had a very fortunate life. I don’t have a ton of terrible experiences to pull from, but I’ve had a lot of fun experiences and a lot of good times. So that’s how I want to showcase my personality through my songs. I’m upbeat and energetic. I want people to walk away from a live show, or when they listen to my music, to think “that was fun as hell.” But we’re also still trying to carve out who Rich Cloke is. It’s a work in progress trying to find that true identity or authenticity in the artist.
FP: There’s a lot of talk about authenticity and music. What do you think makes an artist authentic or makes you authentic in your work?
RC: Not giving a shit what everybody else is doing. And just focusing on you, and your story writing. I do a lot of writing myself. Just recently we took a deep dive into the back catalog and I was like, man, there were some really great songs here. But I don’t think I would ever release them because they’re just not me. You know? We’ve written so many classic country songs that might be fun, energetic, and check a lot of the boxes I’m looking for style wise, but I’ve never driven a truck. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I grew up in the city of Hamilton. I live in Burlington, in a condo. I don’t wear cowboy boots. That’s me and I’m trying to write that truth. So I think it’s being a hundred percent you. We’re all guilty of at least trying to chase what we think is cool because we see someone else finding their success in a certain style but it’s important to remember what you can bring to a song, because who you are, is your most valuable asset as an artist.
FP: Is it like self-awareness?
RC: Yeah. It takes work though to kinda figure what that is. For some people, it comes naturally, like second nature, but I think for the majority, including myself, it really takes time to figure out what your authentic voice is. You have to keep asking yourself “Who are you?”
If I started singing all sad songs, I don’t think it would come across as authentic because, people know, Rich really isn’t a sad guy. He doesn’t have a lot of hardships in his life. But then when you hear something like Kelsea Ballerini’s recent record, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, and you know the story that pairs with it, It’s extremely powerful. You feel it because it’s real. It’s authentic because it’s real. It’s also how she sings the songs. Performance is another huge aspect of authenticity.
FP: Speaking of performance, you just played a sold out show at an iconic Toronto venue, Rivoli. What was that experience like for you?
RC: Oh, it was amazing. It was one hell of a night and It was so great to have Front Porch there. We had originally wanted to do it in Hamilton, because I’m from Burlington and I grew up in Hamilton and most of my fan base is in that area. So we said, Hey, let’s make everyone’s life easier and do it in Hamilton. But the venues we were looking at unfortunately couldn’t accommodate us on the timeline we wanted. So my team recommended Rivoli in Toronto. When they told me it was a Thursday I said, who’s gonna come to Toronto on a Thursday? My stress level hit eleven.
FP: Thursdays are the new Friday.
RC: Exactly. Thursdays are the new Friday. So I panicked a little bit. I didn’t think people were gonna come to the show. I thought they might just say “Hey, catch you at the next one. Let us know when you’re closer to home,” that sort of thing. My fans are amazing. I just didn’t expect them to travel so far on a weeknight to see me but I trusted my team.The day of the show came and my phone was blowing up as I was getting ready to leave for Toronto. Friends were texting me saying “Hey, rich, we’re trying to buy tickets and your event keeps saying It’s sold out.”
Once I was backstage, I peeked my head out and I saw a full room of people. I couldn’t believe it! It was so validating to see, after all the obstacles and delays to record this album, that people still care and they’re listening. It was a great feeling. The crowd was amazing. My band was incredible. The room that night was just so full of love and high energy. I don’t know of any other independent country artist that has sold out a 200+ person room recently so that was also a huge win for us.
FP: So for this album, what artists or songs influenced or inspired the work?
RC: When we were putting this album together we talked about a bunch of different artists. Fillmore’s style, someone I’m a big fan of, was definitely an inspiration. We really liked the playfulness of Jake Owen and some of the grittier, hip-hop, funk influenced work Morgan Wallen has put out. Then we also turned to our rock roots for big sounding drums, rock guitar riffs, trying to find the sound of a Nickelback album. We wanted to find a way to make a pop country vibe slam the way a rock tune would.
One song on the record, “Hiatus”, which is vastly different from the other tracks, really became our experimental song. The original demo sounds like nothing like the released version. We were moving the track towards a classic country pop vibe when Brandon, one day in the studio, was playing a really funky riff over top of what we had and I said, “Whoa.” What if you just mute everything that we’ve already done and just play that riff with a great beat? It reminded me of “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and instantly the whole song was changed into an 80’s funk vibe. So it’s our fun track and funny enough, when I look at streaming, and when people have reached out, “Hiatus” is the track they love.
FP: So three long years of waiting, you finally get to put out this awesome album, what are you looking forward to?
RC: Playing it live. Playing it live. Playing it live. The band that we’ve got right now is so top-notch. We’re rehearsing for shows that are coming up. We’ll be back at the Rivoli in the fall. So right now we’re really dialing in on the performance aspect. Taking it on the road is what we’re really looking forward to. The back catalog of songs that I have right now is so vast. So we’re eager to, even though we’ve got a record out right now, we’ve already started looking through songs for what’s next.
FP: That’s awesome. Can’t wait! The last time you spoke to us, you told us about how music had been a huge part of your life from a young age. Do you have any other passions outside of your life and love of music?
RC: Cooking. And it was because of Covid too! It gave me the time to really dig in and experiment there as well.
FP: What are your top two cuisines?
RC: I feel like it’s a cop out to say Italian, but Italian for sure. We cook a lot of Italian stuff. Tons of seafood. I learned how to perfect cooking steak, which is great. I learned those extra little flares, like making sauces and proper sides, the things that make a meal all come together – all those subtle nuances like knife skills. I really love cooking. Between music, spending time with my family, and cooking there’s not a lot of extra time to spare.
FP: Rich! We are down to the last question. Are there any Canadian country artists that you’d really love to collaborate with?
RC: Dallas. Dallas Smith for sure.
FP: Yes, I could definitely see you guys working together!
RC: Yeah, I pull a lot of inspiration, especially on the live shows from Dallas. I’ve watched so many videos of his live shows, because he does it so well – like effortlessly. He’s an entertainer of the year and he’s from the rock world too. He would be great to open for.
FP: Thank you so much for taking the time to come and chat with us on the Front Porch today, Rich! We’re so excited to see what you do next.
Starts Like That is available for streaming on major platforms.
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Any man of mine knows I’m a lover of anything involving music, writing, and beer.