By Kel Wilson / Special to The Globe
Nik Clovsky is a regular guy. The Marysville resident coaches kids at Everett High School and works at Washington state’s juvenile justice office. He’s well-known in his community and not so much elsewhere.
But as a young bass player during Seattle’s grunge scene in the ‘90s, Clovsky had no idea he wasn’t famous.
His band, Vain Mistress, made as much noise as they could and played anywhere that would let them. Sporting long hair and sleeveless flannel shirts over band tees, Clovsky and his bandmates would drive to venue after venue, amps and drum sets hanging out the windows of their beater cars, schlepping their equipment to the stage. They electrified crowds with relentless beats and power chords that could blow windows out.
Vain Mistress was part of a movement that galvanized Seattle’s music scene, where famed artists like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder got their start. Bands often dissolved as quickly as they formed.
Seattle’s music venues filled up nightly with a sea of slam-dancing bodies, ripped jeans, unwashed hair and sky-high stage dives.
Vain Mistress played at local haunts like The Crocodile Cafe, where Clovsky once attempted an impromptu backflip into a packed crowd. As if choreographed, the crowd cleared out right as Clovsky jumped and he crashed to the floor, causing a concussion.
“Hey, it had worked several times before,” Clovsky said, like a kid who would do it all again.
He got up from his failed stage dive, laughed it off and finished the show. The rush of transferring electricity between his band and the crowd was worth more than money could buy.
But after six years, Vain Mistress dissolved due to tension between members, and Clovsky was left with the reality countless musicians eventually face: He had to get a better paying job and with that, let go of his dream to become a full-time rocker.
He spent the next several decades raising a family and helping people in the community. He has coached and worked with teenagers on parole in Everett for the past 22 years.
“Those days in the clubs were fun, but they are long gone,” Clovsky said. “I’m excited about what I’m doing now.”
Clovsky always played guitar, but time changed what music gave him.
“Today it is about musicianship over fame and connection over intensity,” he said.
Music now brings him solace. He can find the most effective therapy by spending hours with a guitar.
Clovsky began performing live again, for fun.
For a while, Clovsky played for the creative release it gave him, then transitioned to writing original music. He still loves rock, but blues giants are what inspired him to continue his journey of producing authentic, stripped-down music. Early influences like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath gave way to Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
He wrote five songs and recorded them with what he had: nothing expensive or technical. He played the blues with an acoustic guitar and sang raw vocals. Clovsky had no intention of recording an album.
Then he attended a jam session under a gazebo at his aunt Nancy Miller’s house in Marysville, where he met Tony N, a local producer who owns a recording studio in Arlington. The pair bonded over songwriting instantly.
“It happened so fast,” Clovsky recalled. “Next thing I knew we jumped into the studio.”
He worked at night and on weekends to create a full-length album. Produced by Tony N, Clovsky’s 11-song record, Wooden Music, was released online in January. The acoustic album has its roots in the blues, with elements of rock and Americana. A variety of upbeat and slower, more reflective songs help ground the album.
Wooden Music was a transition to Clovsky’s more melodic approach to music, as well as his journey from a young rocker to singing the blues.
His new album is “like a road trip from the Mississippi Delta to Jacksonville. Bluesy with some Southern rock and outlaw country,” Clovsky’s former bandmate Jack Rothwell said.
He is playing his new music at local venues this summer.
“If you are an artistically creative person, and you feel you are not creating what you want at work, you should be creating something with the time you have,” Clovsky said. “You simply have to make time to do it.”
Wooden Music is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon. For more information, visit nikclovsky.com.
Kel Wilson is a freelance writer living in Everett, and a juvenile counselor for the state of Washington.