Zen As Fuck With Christian Clancy

words by Peter Holslin

photography by Asha Efia

 

 

It’s an understatement to say Christian Clancy has a demanding job. As the manager for Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future, his workdays are lined with high-profile projects: album releases, tours, carnivals, TV shows. He travels a lot to attend shows, and he has to be available when his clients need him. But there are other challenges, too. He might be hit with an emergency situation, like the time OF’s 23-year-old leader, Tyler, the Creator, was arrested at South By Southwest for allegedly inciting a riot at a show. Or he might have to play defense against members of the media, some of whom fixate on OF’s Jackass-style hijinks, horror-movie lyrics, and frequent uses of derogatory terms like “bitch” and “faggot,” while paying less attention to their songwriting ingenuity, new-media savvy and multi-gendered membership (which includes two “out” artists).

 For some music manager types, these responsibilities could easily become too much. Clancy himself has plenty of experience with stress, which usually manifests in the form of headaches, stomach issues and fatigue. “I’m the king of physical manifestations,” he says. But in order to keep his body functioning and mind at rest, the 43-year-old maintains a solid schedule of healthy activities.

 On Tuesdays he does hot yoga gets acupuncture. On Thursdays he does hot yoga and gets a massage. On Wednesdays and Fridays he goes to the gym. On Saturdays and Sundays he takes the day off. And every day of the week he meditates – sitting in his quiet backyard, or in the bedroom of his seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, he usually takes about 20 minutes to disengage from his various workaday crises and just let go.

 “I’ve learned to watch the rollercoaster as opposed to being on it,” Clancy says, speaking by phone on a recent Monday afternoon from the suburban L.A. office where he runs his firm, 4 Strikes Inc., with his wife, Kelly. “However, I’m not perfect, and sometimes my insides are like a fucking pot of espresso. In order for me to maintain as best I can, I am pretty strict about how I take care of myself.”

The Clancy family has worked with Odd Future since the group first blew up in 2010, and in the years since then he and Kelly have helped shape OF, from a crew of talented provocateurs, into a successful, multimedia franchise boasting tons of merchandise, an annual carnival (Camp Flog Gnaw), and a comedy series on Adult Swim, “Loiter Squad,” now in its third season. Sometimes, it almost seems like Clancy is another one of the kids. But perhaps he’s more of a father figure. Tyler acknowledges as much in his song “Answer,” off of last year’s Wolf LP, where he delivers a stinging message to his own absentee father, “But fuck it, I got Clancy, he gave me the chance to see / A world I wasn't supposed to, I'm stoked that I didn't know you.”

Tyler may be prone to shocking statements and controversy, but Clancy knows him beyond the public persona, and also has experience with divisive characters. As Buzzfeed reported last year, one of Clancy’s first jobs as a product manager at Interscope Records in the 2000s was doing marketing for Eminem’s third album, The Marshall Mathers LP (the one where Em acts out murdering Kim, the mother of his daughter). Clancy picked up many of his managerial skills while at the label, learning from his mentor, Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg, how to be confident and laid-back, but also fearless and willing to occasionally, “Tell someone to go fuck themselves.”

Of course, the industry has changed radically since Clancy's Interscope days. He and Kelly now have to navigate a plugged-in, fast-moving media landscape, and they try to stay maneuverable and embrace new things rather than play by the old rules. In addition to working with members of Odd Future – including Tyler, the Loiter Squad crew, and neo-soul group, The Internet – they’ve also recently taken on Mac Miller and Solange. All of this gives Clancy a lot of work to do, and a lot to stress out about. But amidst the unpredictable turns, he makes sure to carve out time for himself and his family.

Clancy wakes up around 7:30 a.m. each day and takes his dog for a walk. Bodhi, a seven-year-old golden retriever, is Clancy’s best friend and “spiritual advisor” – the pooch’s name comes primarily from a Buddhist term for “awakened” (but is also in honor of Patrick Swayze’s bank-robbing surfer bro character in Point Break). As they stroll around, Clancy refuses to check his iPhone, and when he gets back home, he hangs out with Kelly and Chloe, loading up on organic vegetables and “superfoods” for breakfast—sprouts, broccoli, kale, apple, hempseed, goji berry, raw cacao, etc.

 “I’m vegetarian 95 percent of the time… With all the other GMO and kind of shit we eat that’s not even food, I just started to be conscious. I want the least amount of ingredients, I want [as] fresh as possible, least processed, and I stay as far away from factory farming as much as I possibly can,” he says. “But once in a while, I’ll fuck up an In-N-Out Burger.”

 Things weren’t always so grounded for Clancy. Raised in Philadelphia and Arizona, he moved to L.A. in a failed bid to be a rock star, and when he was the age of some members of Odd Future, he was in rehab for a cocaine addiction. He found a new path, though, thanks to his father, who handed the young Clancy a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s New York Times best-seller, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.

In the book, Tolle counsels readers to let go of anxiety about the past and future and to embrace the present moment. The idea is to get closer to the true state of Being, which the self-help guru describes as “The eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death.” This didn’t have much impact on Clancy at first, but a second reading blew his mind. “Reality’s never as interesting as the movie in our head, and the movie in our head is usually bullshit,” he says now. “But reality, turns out, is actually fucking amazing.”

 Tolle offered a taste of inner calm, but Clancy’s taken things further in more recent years by practicing meditation. He first started doing it about eight years ago, when the legendary producer Rick Rubin referred him to Nancy Cooke de Herrera, a socialite and teacher of Transcendental Meditation, who had studied the practice with The Beatles at an Indian ashram in 1968.

 Developed in India in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a mantra technique where you meditate on a pleasant-sounding word (like “aing,” “kirim” or “shiring”) for 15 to 20 minutes twice each day. The practice has followers worldwide, and it’s especially popular among entertainers and music industry people, such as Rubin, Russell Simmons and David Lynch, who rely on it to manage stress, channel creativity and center themselves.

“It really puts you in touch with the deepest, most stable and glorious part of who you are inside,” says Billie Jean Billman, a certified TM instructor in the L.A. area. “It allows you to move through long, different aspects of change in life gracefully.”

 Clancy learned the technique by taking lessons at de Herrera’s Beverly Hills home. But meditation didn’t click for him until he started trying it while taking walks with his previous golden retriever, Boo.

 “I would try and listen to the pitter-patter of his feet hitting the cement,” he says. “You typically don’t hear it. But if you focus hard enough, you can hear it. And if you focus hard enough, you’re kind of meditating, and you’re kind of hearing a world that you never really hear. It sounds silly, but it’s true.”

 

 Clancy keeps his practice simple, focusing on his breath. Doing it helps him disengage his brain, but also find release from his troubles and anxieties.

 “When you meditate, that thought comes up in your brain, ‘Aw, fuck, I gotta call somebody.’ Then you get a little ping in your stomach, and before you know it you’re not meditating anymore, you’re off calling somebody,” he says. “But if you can realize that all of that is just your body’s natural programming to react whatever way it has reacted for the longest time, because of whatever fear, insecurity or ego shit you have going on, then you know the world’s not ending. You’re going to remember to call the guy. It’s just about watching your emotions as [opposed] to being fully engulfed by them.”

 These days, Clancy doesn't make all of his personal appointments. He had to cancel acupuncture recently so he could fly to London, where Odd Future opened for Eminem.

 But he makes do, and his healthful regimen helps him weather the bad weeks. Perhaps that was the case earlier this spring, when R&B singer (and Odd Future member) Frank Ocean suddenly fired the Clancy family, along with Ocean’s publicity company, to pursue new management and PR. Though Clancy declined to comment on what happened with Ocean, it's clear that his meditation practice helps him separate the business from the personal.

 “Meditation teaches you to just kind of see it and then let it go,” he says. He added later, “I don’t hold onto stuff. That’s my thing. Why? We’re only here for five fucking seconds, man. We’re a speck of dirt—dust in fucking billions and billions of stars. Life is short, and I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had, and that’s it. It is what it is.”