Before, Jalen Cliatt felt like rock music was almost hidden from him.
It’s not like his parents burned all their old Jimi Hendrix CDs before he was born or banned him from watching MTV. But, in his town and in his school, rock music just wasn’t the “cool” thing to do. Well, it just so happened that Cliatt wasn’t the cool person to know (his words, not mine).
Today, the 25-year-old stands as the lead vocalist in the Lancaster-based band Wayward Giants. Along with Cliatt, the band includes Sy Rossi (Bass/backup vocals), T.J. Cole (Drums), Drew Piros (Lead Guitar).
Though Cliatt originally classified them as a rock band, the band’s sound includes undertones of jazz, pop and punk. There are some softer songs like “Heathens,” where Cliatt’s voice gives me the same feeling as walking on a beach. Then, there are more rugged songs like “Roadtrip,” whose thrashing instruments and Cliatt’s breaking voice almost sounds like a battle cry.
“Before, I was just calling it rock and whatnot. But, after we got the full team together, we only ever get described as two things: jazz and punk,” he said. “So, now I just call it jazz-punk because the people have spoken.”
His discovery of rock came from road trips with his parents. If it wasn’t R&B, funk, or censored hip-hop, they listened to rock music. It was the same rock that his parents listened to back in their youth, the same rock that made them feel like outcasts. But, it wasn’t until his parents broke down the history of the genre that he fell in love with it.
When many people think of rock they see white faces–Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and so on. But, at its core, according to Cliatt, rock music stems from blues, a genre created by black artists.
“You can hear it in the rhythms, in the kind of things that they were describing,” he said. “Hard rock started basically as a genre of hard times, and who was that more intrinsic to than the plight of the African people?”
According to Cliatt, the beautiful thing about rock music being taken away from black people is how we started to take it back. There were those like Jimi Hendricks, who reclaimed the genre and even redefined the way some people hear the National Anthem.
And black rock is still being made.
There are a variety of modern-day black rock artists such as Blood Orange, Alabama Shakes, Toro Y Moi, and, of course, Cliatt.
“They’re out there still pushing. It’s still happening,” he said. “People want deeper music, and there’s nothing deeper than black underground rock right now, recorded, signed, or otherwise.”
The Wayward Giant’s latest work, “Cold Start,” was released in January of this year. The group is currently working on new music, a few acoustic and stripped-down music videos and more.
“If there is anymore reading who has been keeping up with us, that radio silence will soon be broken,” he said. “Sorry for the wait.”
As for five years from now, Cliatt’s not sure where he or his band will be, but he’s not looking to slow down anytime soon.
“People seem to enjoy us, and I have no intention of half-stepping, so I’ll just say as far as we can possibly push it.”
This story is one in a series of local musician profiles in celebration of African American Music Appreciation Month.