Fort Worth singer-songwriter Clint Niosi, 33, works in the basement of a community college library doing on-site tech support and on-call tutoring. This does not sound fascinating, and I quickly see upon taking his invitation to meet him at his job that it really isn't.
For about a half hour I watch him sit at a desk, and that's really all that happens. Some of his coworkers come up to his chair to talk to him, but no students require his assistance during that time. He says that there are really only two times a year that are crazy busy for him, and aside from that, it seems that what I witness of his day job is about as enthralling as it gets.
Still, he enjoys his job, and it provides benefits like health insurance, perks he says are luxuries not often afforded to most musician lifers. The main perk of his job, however, is that it facilitates his real passion, moonlighting playing his gorgeous folk rock for the masses of DFW, making albums and touring during vacation periods.
Despite his "legitimate" job, he still looks like an artist, whatever that really means. His pencil-thin Dali mustache, shoulder-length black hair and dress pants torn at the bottom of both legs are a stark contrast to the more conservative attire of his coworkers, dressed in business suits, khakis and button-up shirts.
During his lunch hour at the Taco Cabana near his job, he opened up to me about his current life as a writing tutor by day and musician by night.
"Really, I can't think of any other [musicians] that I know that don't have at least some form of part-time work," he says. "But I guess I'm in a more secure position that a lot of people are. I mean, I'm in a more secure position than I would be if I was a bartender because I have health insurance and a retirement plan."
He relates that he often thinks about going back to school to get a graduate degree in history, but that it's not likely to happen anytime soon. He doesn't want to lose even more time making music than he already does.
He completely acknowledges how fortunate he is, and gives examples of musicians he knows who have been severely screwed because they had no safety net. He mentions the example of 74-year-old guitar great Slim Richey, who in February of last year suffered a concussion and a few other injuries after being the victim of a hit-and-run incident in Austin. Without insurance, Richey had to largely rely on money brought in from benefit shows held on his behalf.
He also discusses a musician he considers a legend, Alex Chilton. "He had a heart attack, and there were warning signs, but he didn't have health insurance so he just didn't go [to see a doctor], and then he has a heart attack at 59," he says. "And that's a situation that happens all the time, I'm sure."
He also feels lucky because he just really likes his job. "It's 10 times better than working retail," he says, referencing the five years of his life when he was a picture framer. Last year, Niosi released his newest album, For Pleasure and Spite, a 2012 follow up to his beautiful, Leonard Cohen-like album The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders. Both albums are intelligent folk, interspersing some rock, country and even punk vibes.
Niosi grew up in Minnesota and then moved to Texas with his family in his early teens. It's from his family that he learned most of his musicianship. His grandfather Emil Niosi, a gifted floutist and piccolo player who graduated from fucking Juliard, was probably his biggest adolescent influence.
Emil died three weeks ago at age 92, and Clint flew down to Florida to play guitar at his funeral. This might explain why, during my interview with him, he seemed a little morose. Niosi also has a gifted cousin, Ellie Dehn, a soprano singer he describes as an "opera diva." Her success is clearly defined by the fact that she now lives in Manhattan, and supports herself singing in opera Olympuses like the Metropolitan Opera, and the San Fransisco and Los Angeles Operas.
His most recent project is the film score for an independent film by Frank Mosely called Her Wilderness, and he is of course, always playing shows and writing new music. Before he has to return to work behind his desk in a basement computer lab, I ask him the $64,000 question: If he were to land a day job that paid him significantly more money than he makes now, but that took up all of his time, forcing him to neglect his true passion, would he do it?
He looks out the window of the Taco Cabana, in the direction of the college he works for, and then shakes his head with a definitive "No. I really would not."
Clint Niosi plays at the New Media Recordings showcase on March 9, in Denton, and with his new band, Clint Niosi and the Unaccountable, on April 6, at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival.