Performance Artist, Lyricist, Poet and More Cliftun Combines Music, Visuals and Heart

Photography by Phil Knott

There’s no one quite like Cliftun. Bred in Louisiana but formed in Los Angeles, Cliftun is a performance artist, lyricist, provocateur, poet and punk rock pop star who aims to start riots in people’s brains. “I make left-handed, middle child music,” he explains.

People always ask, “what is that?” It’s me. I’m left handed. I’m a middle child. It’s the music I make. I’m talking my shit, I’m building worlds and letting you into my chaotic life. Genres don’t exist anymore. I hate having to put myself in a labeled box for people to understand what I do musically but I do it anyway because the general public is basic. It’s just chaos and music. It’s feelings and sounds over a crazy beat. Call it what you want.

He pulls no punches and his music isn’t afraid to go to dark places. For example, “Cupid’s Rampage” from his 2019 album, The Poetry in Violence, Act 1 is his exploration of the American obsession with guns (something he has firsthand experience with after losing his father to gun violence), while 2021’s “Going Dennis” on A Fucking Intermission, sees him going wild, topless and wearing pink bunny ears across LA as he channels the fury of Dennis Rodman.

Which brings us to the Cliftun aesthetic: it’s just as important as the music to him. Everything from his day to day outfits to his music videos are carefully considered. They might look completely left field to the mainstream but they’re absolutely considered.

I’ve always looked at getting dressed as an art form,” he says. “Another extension of who I am. When I’m on or off stage I want to look like how I feel and I feel like a motherfucking superstar. I feel unstoppable. A lot of times people see me and how I look before they hear my music so I think it’s important to give them a “painting”, something they can look at off first impressions and decide whether they fuck with it or not. Something intriguing that makes them want more.

When he’s recording his songs he’s already visualizing the music videos
in his head. The task then is to share that vision with his creative team so it comes out of his skull and into fruition. “My life is a long-form music video and I’m the one scoring the soundtrack,” he states. “I love film and music so the ideas just flow from a limitless well of inspiration. It’s fun and never feels like work although it’s a lot of fucking work turning nothing into something. I think everyone should be the creative director for their lives. Make it into a movie.”

Cliftun is as much a poet as a musician. In fact, all of his songs start off as poetry before turning into something else. “It all starts in the Notes app,” he explains. “I look at the world as one big poem. The rises. The falls. It informs everything I do but most importantly the songs I write, which then evolve into a sick music video. From there the art goes out into the universe, makes people feel things, inspires them to do some cool shit and the cycle continues, the world keeps spinning.”

Alas, the world might not be spinning for much longer. At least not in Cliftun’s mind.

Lately I’ve been inspired by the apocalypse. The uncertainty and the hope of it all. It’s an exciting time to be an artist. A lot of us creators have gone rogue and are realizing the power is solely in our own hands. I’m a one man wrecking crew these days. I mean doing this shit on your own without
a team can be disheartening sometimes but I feel blessed knowing I can do it all. I’m a self-contained nuclear weapon that’s about to blow.

Which is why his forthcoming record is titled, Act Two: For Lovers, Friends, Enemies, and You and takes place a night before the end of the world.

I’m in the back seat of an Uber after getting broken up with at this big end-of-the world party. The songs are me reflecting on all my relationships: the romantic ones, the friendships, my family and my relationships with substances, and technology. I feel like when we get to the end of our lives all we have are the people and moments we shared with them. I’m really proud of it.