Featuring Clark Feldman | By John Silva
From dazzling mic skills and high-quality gear to legendary feuds and annoying smarks, Songs From The Squared Circle explores the similarities between the kindred subcultures of music and pro-wrestling…
Referees, while often overlooked and under-appreciated, are a crucial part of wrestling. Without them, the believability falls apart and the storytelling doesn’t work. Usually, they are in the background of the match, in constant communication with the wrestlers to keep them safe while also ensuring the audience can see that rules are being enforced. You don’t always notice the refs, as the wrestlers are front and center, yet if the referee wasn’t there, their absence would most certainly be felt.
Clark Feldman is the type of referee who is just as great at performing as he is at keeping the match tight. Whether he’s giving a wrestler the “disappointed dad stare” or even throwing in a stunner of his own, he is always so entertaining to watch. Feldman first got an itch for the stage when playing bass in bands like Imagine the Silence. And while the ring is a different type of stage, he’s still playing a similar role; keeping the rhythm moving along and putting on a hell of a show in the process.
What are your top three favorite bands?
That’s a good one. It changes for me from time to time, but I think I do have a three. It would be The Gaslight Anthem, Cursive, and The Lawrence Arms. Every time [The Gaslight Anthem has] come through Minneapolis, I’ve made sure to catch them. Same with Brian Fallon’s solo stuff. I think I’m even in—blink and you’ll miss it—their “1000 Years” video, which they shot at First Ave. Also, same with Cursive and Lawrence Arms. It was cool when I got booked out at Fest for part of the wrestling, to see them and get to hang out with them for a couple nights.
You’ve done work with Fest Wrestling, Freelance Wrestling, and other promotions that are closely tied to punk and DIY. Why do you think wrestling and punk are intersecting so much in recent years?
I think, coming from being in bands, there’s so much of what I learned while I was in bands that crosses over, and I think it comes into that DIY attitude. Also, places that we named like F1rst, Freelance, Fest, Bizarro Lucha, they also have that punk ethic of trying to be inclusive. And it seems like a lot of the fans are—whether it’s with wrestling or with punk—they’re very open minded [and] well-read.
Are there similarities between the two subcultures?
I would say so, yeah. I also worked for Game Changer Wrestling; they do a lot of death matches. That would almost be like your crust punk or d-beat, you know, it’s like a subset of a [sub]culture.
The same way there’s subcultures within the subculture, wrestling has that too?
What are some of the similarities between wrestling and being in a band?
Well, absolutely the travel. There’s a pretty regular group of people that I’ll get in the car with because, let’s be honest, at this stage in the game, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to be driving myself out to a lot of these places as far as money goes. Plus, you know, the more the merrier! Travel’s one of the big ones. Like, you’ve got your green room with bands, you’ve got your locker room with wrestling, and it’s kind of the same deal: a place backstage for people to get ready [and] get into the zone. One thing that, especially from bands that kind of brought me over into wrestling, is the hustle of it all, getting your brand out there.
You gotta hawk your merch for money to get to the next show.
Yeah! And same with wrestling. Trying to sell your buttons, your shirts, your merch, and also have a bit of money to get on to the next one. I think one of the most interesting ones, coming from what’s different, is … in bands, it felt like it was a lot of self-promotion. The promoter would book you, but it was all on you to bring the draw.
With wrestling, it’s the opposite. It’s all on the promoter. I mean, sure, they’ll book guys like Effy, who does a brilliant job of getting promos out there and marketing Effy, but at the end of the day, if the show doesn’t draw well, it’s on the promoter. And I think the mindset from the band, of like, it falls on us to bring the draw, that’s something that stuck with me going into wrestling. Even though refs are certainly far from the center of the spotlight, trying my best to promote and get the word out about the show.
Do you get a similar rush being onstage that you do being in the ring?
Oh, absolutely. That was one of the first things I noticed right away, whether it’s … when I’m onstage with my band, the second I flip the switch on my bass and start doing sound checks, or once the announcer for wrestling is like “alright, your opening contest…” and I burst through the curtain. Same rush. It was uncanny how it was the same.
Is there any music you’ve discovered because of wrestling?
Absolutely. You’ve got your wrestling themes. I notice places like Chikara, and also other wrestlers, instead of going with other peoples’ music, they’ll have their own themes made; I think that’s pretty cool. And going on the road trips too, or especially being like, the pre-show and post-show music that people play, their playlists, that’ll give me a lot of new stuff. I’ve gotten into a lot of hip-hop, actually, through wrestling. That seems to be a popular choice for pre-show music that hypes up the crowd.
Why did you decide to be a ref? Most people want the glory of being a wrestler. And the ref is a very critical part of the match, but kind of in the background.
A little bit about myself there, I initially started training at The Academy School of Professional Wrestling to be a wrestler. And it got to about, I wanna say the six month mark, where honestly, props to the people that wrestle, because that aspect of it was really tough on my body. I was tweaking my ankle, all sorts of minor injuries were racking up, and I felt like I was even getting a little behind in class.
So, I talked to my coaches, and I [asked], what are some other roles in wrestling? And they mentioned reffing. So, they brought it up, and at that time, I’d been helping at a lot of local shows with set-up and tear-down and they needed a ref, so I was like, ‘okay, I’ll give it a shot.’ It was a lot more complex than I thought it would be, and I was a little surprised, so that’s when I started to dive into it. At some point in training, I was just like, ‘Hey guys, I really like being a ref, can you help me go down this path?’
They don’t always get as much credit, but I think they’re just as critical as the wrestler.
And honestly, deep down inside, there’s part of me that’s like, I was a bassist in so many bands, and it almost seems natural to become a ref.
If referees were members of a standard, four-piece rock band, which would they be: the guitarist, the bass player, the lead singer or the drummer?
Bassist. Because the drummer would be the guys in the back trying to make sure the show’s hitting all it’s time. The rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist would be the wrestlers in the ring.
And the bassist is the guy working with the drummer to keep that rhythm going.
Yep. Keeping it going and helping highlight and spotlight the guitarist, too. It’s the same with, like, when Bryce Remsburg will have some of his spots in the match; I think that’s the same as like, Matt [Freeman] from Rancid having a bass solo. Things like that.
You seem like a ref who’s popular with a lot of wrestlers. What do you think is the difference between a ref whom wrestlers want to work with and one they don’t?
One of the biggest things [Arik] Cannon taught me, and I think it applies to life, is just be a good human. Be someone that people get stoked to see and hang around. So, I guess in the context of wrestling, that becomes like, ‘Hey, he’s a good dude; we would prefer to have him in our match.’
It’s kind of the same with bands too, right? Like the ones you wanna bring on tour.
Yeah. I think it comes down to just being a good person to be around.