Originally published by DIG Baton Rouge on July 8, 2014.
By Amanda Wicks
Walking into Clay Achee’s studio, it’s clear that the man has a passion for music. Posters and photographs of his favorite musicians and albums line the walls, generating an imaginative space dedicated to sound.
And yet he is not a musician.
“I’m a really good music fan, but I’m a terrible musician,” he chuckles.
Despite his musical inability, Achee instinctively gravitates towards projects or roles that involve music in some way. Nearly every aspect of his working and creative life revolves around local music and his enthusiasm for it.
That enthusiasm comes in various forms for Achee, who wears many hats. He’s the assistant talent buyer for the currently transitioning Mud and Water, an instrumental persona on the local community radio station 96.9 WHYR, and, more recently, a puppet maker.
Achee’s two jobs have much in common. As Mud and Water’s assistant talent buyer and a DJ, he plays a key role in supporting local music.
“The local music scene in Baton Rouge is ridiculously good,” he says. “The music community fosters a lack of sucky bands. If you go hang out with these musicians and they’re really good, they make you want to be good just through embarrassment, if nothing else.”
Achee aims to promote what he hears around town, so that others can discover what exists in their own city: talent that threatens to burst Baton Rouge’s seams. On the air, he always finds a way to play local music. “We don’t play this stuff simply because it supports the local scene. We play this stuff because it’s awesome,” he maintains.
While working at Mud and Water, Achee had the chance to take the major acts that the venue booked and find a local band to complement them. “They don’t have to be the same genre,” he explains. “You look for sounds that make each other better.”
Achee’s been with 96.9 WHYR for four years. He hosts the afternoon slot from 12-4pm, as well as Wednesday’s History of Rock from 6-8pm. He sees his musical selection in a horizontal light rather than a vertical one. By that, he means that most radio stations conform to one genre and have a limited number of songs to select from within that genre.
“People who like music like a lot of different types of music, so I have no problem having a ridiculously eclectic show.” There’s no telling what you might hear if you tune in to Achee’s show, but his vibrant persona always crackles through the airwaves.
His most interesting musical endeavor of late comes from his recent time building puppets. He and his wife Kirstin Martinez, a local painter and sculptor, share a passion for creativity and its more tangible forms.
Growing up, Achee always liked Jim Henson’s Muppets. Last year, he began looking for patterns, thinking he’d like to try his hand at building his own puppets. He found one he could work with and started from there. Initially, it took him three days to create a puppet, but he’s since shortened that time dramatically, as he’s learned the in’s and out’s of puppet making. Beginning as what he calls “lemmings,” the puppets eventually receive a personality in the form of hair, eyes, clothes, and other distinguishing features.
For Achee, the puppets are his creative outlet. “The puppets are very much my art, so I do whatever with them, but it’s funny because it’s almost instinctively gravitating towards music.” In fact, the music that exists on his studio walls bleeds out to his puppets. Each one holds a musical instrument.
Achee wants to use the puppets, in part, to film a music video, or perhaps even a few. Local band Liam Catchings and the Jolly Racket approached him about using the puppets for one of their songs. In the meantime, Achee’s been shooting with a few different songs in order to practice timing and choreography. His set looks like some terrific indie spin on Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, all youthful color with a slight edge. Jim Henson would be proud.
In the future, he sees YouTube video possibilities and other online or video undertakings, but for now it’s all fun without thinking of any potential profit. “I’m focusing on ‘What can I do right now?’” he explains. But as word gets around about his original creations, friends have already started ordering personalized puppets.
As a man dedicated to the Baton Rouge music scene in more ways than one, Achee’s creative endeavors promise a fresh approach to local music.