We have been providing quality income tax preparation services to
the entertainment industry for over 20 years. We have grown to
become one of the largest tax preparation firms in the Los Angeles
area on word of mouth alone. As a former touring professional
musician, I have a unique understanding of creative individuals and
their businesses. Our goal is to offer the best service possible
while maintaining integrity, accuracy, and the lowest legal
Keith Clark, EA
I got my taxes done by a pro this year. Not wholly out of financial responsibility, but because I've been ripped off and put in audit danger by a certain square, green, quick-serve chain. In planning my perfect revenge for 2007, I heard about a man who could lend me a little street cred when it comes to matters of the IRS.
Keith Clark started his career in finances as the original drummer of Megadeth, only to be recruited away in 1983 by another Keith (Morris) to tour and manage the Circle Jerks — for 15 years. How did this lead to his current status as the preeminent tax guy to the entertainment industry? He always had a thing for numbers, and back in the day, when punk rock was punk, it wasn’t such a lucrative prospect. In between tours, Clark had to pay the bills, and the tax-prep schedule was perfect — tax returns from February to April, then rock & roll the rest of the year.
He first set up shop in a space at the then–punk epicenter Crossroads of the World. Now he has a posh office in Toluca Lake filled with personal artwork, a vintage stapler collection, Ren & Stimpy memorabilia and clients. In his waiting room, you’re likely to meet any one of the 2,000 creative types from the film, music and, now, publishing industry seeking his sound tax advice. As busy as he is, family man Clark maintains an audit record of less than 1 percent and still makes music with his band, Ultra Sound Explosion.
As I made my way back to the car after our meeting on that bright January day — with my healthy refund numbers jotted down on a paper flower sculpture made from a Post-it note — I knew I had found my money manager. Regardless of the fact that I had my nose broken during a particularly rambunctious performance of “Wild in the Streets” in 1986, it was destiny. Even the name, HNR Clark, is a rebellious ode to my former tax-return franchise. Take that, green squares.Photo by Kevin Scanlon. The LA Weekly
Want to be serenaded as your taxes get finessed and your money massaged? Need some punk-rock cred to accompany your 1099s and W2s? Then do what much of musical Hollywood has done for two decades and turn to former Circle Jerks drummer Keith Clark for your tax-time needs. Clark, an impish, intuitive, dry-humored man who plays a wicked 10-key calculator, has so many music-industry clients that his always-packed waiting room in cheerful Toluca Lake feels like Wong’s Chinatown or Club Lingerie circa ‘80s-’90s.
As April 15 approaches, and Clarke deducts Organic Style subscriptions instead of Flipside on aging punks’ tax returns, he’ll also strum an acoustic guitar as he clicks away on your depreciations and amortizations and probes into your possibly-pathetic financial situation. “I don’t do covers, and I don’t sing for many people,” he clarifies, though there’s more time for rocking his clients during “extension season.” Since his first office at Hollywood’s Crossroads of the Worlds building in 1983, Clark has amassed a client base that now numbers approximately 1,500, divided equally among musicians, actors as well as music industry and behind-the-scenes film types. Two of his employees in fact, are singers: Gia Ciambotti counts the E Street Band among her credits, while Sharon Celani plies her vocal trade with Fleetwood Mac.
The drummer/tax guru was not a founding member of the seminal Circle Jerks, but joined the lineup in ‘83, taking the band in a harder direction. Clark last toured with the Jerks in ‘95, and while this father of three doesn’t miss “getting in a van for six weeks,” he still has a creative jones. His own label, Applied Atomic Energy, and band, Ultrasound Explosion (whose upcoming release is entitled “Love, Coffee and Murder”) keep him in tune and in check. In addition to the occasional song, Clark also will dispense “garden-variety psychology” to clients who seem open to it, especially those musicians who hit middle age and haven’t “made it” yet. This, of course, in addition to “telling them how important I am in the scheme of the 2000-2010 music market.” In his office full of Mars Attacks and Star Trek memorabilia, guitars, Music Connection magazines and framed family photos, Clark is clearly a multi-tasking man on a mission. His company, in homage to tax behemoth H&R Block, is called H.N.R. Clark (“the entertainment industry income tax specialist”) — though it’s unlikely you’d be able to chat about Bad Religion or grill your “Block” tax preparer about songs he’d written. If the only certain things are death and taxes, you might as well have a suitably punk preparation for the latter, and have your money tended to by a “Jerk”; it can only soften the blow of a having to pay quarterlies.
If the essence of punk rock is the defiant flouting of convention to follow out one's own path, wherever it may lead, then the fact that Keith Clark, former drummer with the legendary L.A. hardcore band the Circle Jerks, now runs a flourishing accounting business may make him the punkiest punk of them all. Clark, a resident of decidedly un-punk Bell Canyon, started his tax-preparation business when he was still playing for the Circle Jerks, with whom he spent 15 years beating the skins. In addition to his drum duties, the Illinois native, who has always had a head for figures, also managed the band and handled its finances. Today, his tax firm, Toluca Lake-based H.N.R. Clark (a cheeky nod to H&R Block), advises hundreds of musicians, writers, photographers and other creative professionals. "People think of punk rockers as complete derelicts, but it's just a different kind of music," says Clark, who still makes music, and in recent years has taken up the guitar as well. "We're probably no more derelict than jazz musicians; we just seem wilder."
Photo by Lionel Deluy
BEFORE I JOINED the Circle Jerks. I was playing in Megadeath, a heavy-metal version of Spinal Tap with songs like 'Make the Bitch Pay, and 'Killing for Jesus,' Keith Morris [the Circle Jerks' singer] would come to our shows, and when he needed a drummer, he asked me. I didn't start out as a punk rocker, but I grew to like the music.
"The early '80s were radical. We were very underground, doing six or eight tours each record. People would stage-dive off 25-foot-high speakers and carve CIRCLE JERKS into their arms with knives. Kids who were into the music were into it 100 percent.
"People think that as a punk rocker you're tearing up hotel rooms or driving cars into swimming pools, but we were quite professional. As far as groupies go, we primarily attracted 16-year-old males. If we got chicks, we'd have to work for them.
"While I was in the band I had a dual income. I did tax returns between February and April, and then toured the rest of the time. In 1981, I started my own business, which has grown so much of the years that I don't have time to tour with the band anymore.
"My clients are primarily involved in the music industry. I also deal with movie people like grips, lighting directors and animators. My clients think of me as someone who can see eye-to-eye with other creative people, and I like low maintenance individuals who just want to get some quality tax work done.
"There's a link between punk rock ethos and doing tax returns. People think that punk is about not caring about anything, but it's the opposite-- it's the expression of feelings. A punk-rock accountant wouldn't try to screw you over." As told to Randy Haberek.