Dear Montecito: Clay Rodgers

By Stella Haffner   |   July 30, 2020

As I write the introduction for today’s letter, I’m doing something I usually don’t do while I write and edit: listen to music. I’m listening to a funky, young album called The Deep End produced by a composing duo who recorded the whole thing in only two weeks. Today we’re hearing from rising artist, Clay Rodgers.

A double major in music and government, Clay boasts a modest résumé including his album The Deep End – released earlier this year – a number of singles (with some locally inspired titles, like my favorite, “Bucket Brigade”), and a second album he is working on currently. I turned on Clay’s tunes at the beginning of my writing session today, pretending that I was doing “research” for this edition. But as it stands, I’ve had to go back and restructure my vignette for Clay several times now, as I found myself distracted by the playful bass and my tapping foot. (There is a reason I don’t usually allow myself to listen to music while I work.) My first encounter of Clay’s soulful, So-Cal-inspired track was doubly enhanced by his account of how our town put him on the path to create his music. Take it away, Clay.

Dear Montecito,

My name is Clay Rodgers, and I have been blessed to be a resident of our village for most of my life. My childhood was about as good as it gets – I had a nice house, a nice family, and a nice neighborhood, as is the case with most of my peers. My life in Montecito has had an incredible impact on my path into adulthood, not only because of the nature of the town, but also because of a day I’m sure we all remember: January 9, 2018. The mudslides.

Clay Rodgers, with his bass, has just released a new album, The Deep End

Everyone has something that makes sense – whether it is math, sports, writing, or art. We all have something that just clicks. For me, that has always been music. For as long as I can remember, and probably before, it has played a massive role in my development and character. Before I could speak, I was singing gibberish and strumming a kid’s tennis racket. As soon as I was able, I was asking my parents year after year for a drum set and lessons. By my senior year in high school, I was playing both drums and piano proficiently and had started experimenting with songwriting.

At my Montecito house on Tiburon Bay Lane, I had a near perfect setup. We had a guesthouse where I could set up my drums, and even when I was playing hard, I wouldn’t bother my family or neighbors. I was blessed to have near complete freedom to play whenever I wanted. I had my mind set on becoming a professional drummer, and I practiced for hours every day to reach this goal. However, my blissful little bubble would soon be burst, and my life would take a dramatically different turn than what I had been planning.

On the day of the mudslides, only my dad and I were home. At around 3 am, I woke up to my dad screaming my name and walked out of my room to find mud and debris rampaging our house. Luckily, we were able to find safety upstairs and were found by search and rescue workers around noon. Although my family was able to escape relatively unharmed, the memorable casualty of that day was my drums. When we were able to go back and salvage what we could, I found them utterly wrecked. The little guesthouse stood no chance against the unrelenting wall of mud, and all of my gear was obliterated. This is in no way comparable to the tragedy of the 23 lives lost, but if you are a musician, you’ll know how hard it can be to lose an instrument.

We rented a house in Hope Ranch. Many of my peers also affected by the mud lived in hotels (or less) for months, and I’m sure they would have much preferred a house like I had. The support we received from our fellow Montecito residents was incredible. Almost everything, from furniture to meals to bedsheets, was either donated or loaned to us while we got back on our feet. A family friend even let me borrow a drum set. However, this house was not Tiburon Bay. There was no guesthouse I could go and escape to. I set up the drum set in the garage, but even then, I could only play a fraction of the amount I had been able to, as it essentially sounded like I was playing in the living room. It wasn’t realistic to expect my parents to put up with that – they were already dealing with a hell storm of legal and insurance issues. I had to find a new area of focus.

I took up bass lessons and started using my laptop and some music creation software to teach myself how to write and produce music. After a while, I found I was actually pretty good at it – much better, in fact, than drumming alone. Best of all, when I am working on my computer, I can simply plug my headphones in and not bother anyone. This year, I have just released an album, The Deep End, and am currently working on a second. I am incredibly proud of both of these projects, but neither of them would have been possible without the impact of my life in Montecito. The mudslides were (and still are) a huge tragedy to our town, but it forced me to explore out of my comfort zone into a new world which I would ultimately find much more success in than I ever had before.

I am not an overly spiritual or superstitious person, but I like to believe that the soul of Montecito knew that I was meant for a different path. Without its guidance, I would not be able to do the amazing things I can. Out of destruction and death comes life and rebirth. For this, Montecito, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you.

Clay Rodgers


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