"I still look 14 years old; I still get carded all the time," lamented singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Josh Clayton-Felt. He is actually 28, and it's true: He doesn't look it. More to the point, he doesn't sound it.
"Inarticulate Nature Boy," his first solo album since the breakup of his old band, School of Fish, calls to mind neither a boy of 14 nor a man of 28. The myriad influences he flashes--from the Beatles and the Kinks to Sly Stone and P-Funk--could lead a listener to believe that Clayton-Felt is listening to a boomer in his 40s. This is classic rock in the best sense of the term.
Eschewing the alterna-pandering of School of Fish and countless other bands of its generation, Clayton-Felt has found his own voice, full of melodic ideas and throbbing hooks, of groove-laden funk crossed with notable, memorable song craft. He plays tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.
"School of Fish was an amazing experience and something that I feel really proud to have been a part of," he said during a recent phone conversation. "But by the second album, it became like putting on a costume, and I didn't want to do that anymore.
"I wanted to move to music that came naturally to me. This record is a real reflection of that, and I suppose I'll be discovering myself for years to come. But I had to leave the other situation in order to sort of free up my muses."
He and Michael Ward, his co-songwriter in School of Fish "had just grown too far apart in our visions and ideas of what we wanted to do musically. When we started out, we were kind of polite about trying to find a middle ground, but by the second year we'd really stopped trying."
Some of Clayton-Felt's muses are unusual for a man of his years. Along with '60s British Invasion pop and '70s funk, folk music helped foment his attitudes. He grew up surrounded by folk influences.
"My stepfather was a folk musician. He worked for a folk label and was best friends with Pete Seeger's son. There was always folk music in my house, and we even had an old guitar that used to belong to Leadbelly. There was an early connection to music through all that."
Clayton-Felt played all the instruments and composed all the songs on "Nature Boy," but the album manages not to sound sterile and bloated, as do so many solo projects.
But, lacking a trendy '90s element, "Nature Boy," four months after its release, has yet to find a following.
"I don't think it's been noticed yet to the extent that it deserves," Clayton-Felt said. "There's just so many records out there now. We toured for about four months, and we'd get a lot of people, and we'd sell a lot of records at the venues, but I haven't seen a whole lot of reaction yet."
For his road show, Clayton-Felt sings and plays guitar along with drummer Pete Maloney, bassist Walt Vincent and keyboard player Willie Hollis.
"I just tried to find a band whose inclinations were something that I would naturally respond to. I wanted something where it would be fun for them to play and you wouldn't have to constantly be telling them, 'No, play it this way.' I wouldn't want to do that to anybody.
"I looked for people who would get what I was doing, and I was lucky in that I found some great people as well as great musicians. In some ways, it's different from the record. There are moments that are more exciting in a way that I'll bring to the next record. What you can do on record with production, we're making up for live with energy. When you're playing live, you have that excitement of being in the moment."
He said he will keep pushing his music on the road, hoping that his album will get attention. But whatever happens, he added, he is determined to divorce himself from slavery to what is in fashion.
"The last two years have really been a departure for me from watching MTV and listening to the radio and all that stuff. For me, the best way is to not know what's going on. I just want to look inside and find my own thing. In the past, I was putting on my costume and trying to be an alternative rocker. To forget about all that and do what comes naturally is very fulfilling."
* Josh Clayton-Felt plays tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. Chalk Farm, Groove Salad and Peanut Gallery open. Show time: 8 p.m. $8. (714) 957-0600.