Peyton Clark in her Owls Head Fire Department gear
Peyton Clark in her Owls Head Fire Department gear
With her generosity of heart, rainbow drumsticks tattoo, and passionate local involvement, Peyton Elise Clark is both formed by, and forms, midcoast Maine. A few years ago, when Peyton and I were on the Rockland Energy Advisory Committee, sometimes she’d say, “I’m so sorry, so sorry,” excusing herself to get to her volunteer shift with the Owls Head Fire Department. For the past eight years, starting at 17, she’s been a gem of Rockland’s Good Tern Co-op, working as “cashier, front end manager, head cashier, candy and snacks buyer, general merchandise buyer, pet food buyer, deli worker, stocker, and much more.” Just recently, she became a CNA, preparing to do life-saving work that is, like so much “essential” labor, underpaid and undervalued. Peyton loves cats and no-kill shelters and currently sits on the Maine Lobster Festival Sea Goddess Coronation Committee. And perhaps closest to her heart, she’s been slamming drums for the garage-punk-rock band Drive by Todd since starting it with a friend in high school. For the past year-plus, Drive by Todd’s trajectory was, like musicians the world over, dramatically curtailed by the pandemic. But the band is playing out again and has a grungy, tight new single, “Problems,” recorded at Cosmic Chicken Studios in Rockland (who knew?). The band is so close-knit that at Peyton’s wedding last August, Drive by Todd’s bass player, Joanna Grierson, was maid of honor, and guitarist, Jake Nagy, “shredded ‘Here Comes the Bride’” as Peyton walked down the sandy Rockland Harbor aisle in white tulle and turquoise Doc Martens, her iconic tattooed knuckles flashing: STAY GOLD.

Becca: First of all, what’s the story behind your fabulous nickname, Peytonious Maximus?

Peyton: Okay, so this is a good question! My late uncle Kevin had a bunch of crazy friends always coming and going or staying at his house. There was this one guy named Todd (no relation to Drive by Todd) that lived in a van in his driveway for a long time.

I don’t know why, but he started calling me that as a kid and it just stuck.

Becca: What was it like growing up?

Peyton: I’m appreciating the childhood my mom gave me more and more as I grow older. She was a single mother working as a teacher for the Montessori school and a private nanny. I was so spoiled. We didn’t have money. I was spoiled with experiences and love. I grew up in Camden and then moved to Rockland a few years ago.

Becca: What keeps you in this area? And what would you like to see change here?

Peyton: Ooof, lol, don’t even get me started. What keeps me in the area is the fact that I truly think it’s the most beautiful place in the world. Yea, it sucks to have nine months of dark and cold weather, but the three warm months make it all worth it. I can’t be landlocked, I need the ocean. It’s not too rural and it’s not too urban and it’s all I’ve ever known and it feels comfortable and safe.

There is, however, a huge thing I would change: affordable housing. Or even just freaking housing!? There are literally no apartments available. If there are, they are either wayyyyy too expensive or there are 50 other people applying to the same house. It’s worse than it’s ever been here. I have never seen so many people

I know on the verge of being homeless. Even people with good incomes and steady jobs. There are obviously many different reasons why there isn’t affordable housing. But I can tell you that one of the main reasons is Airbnbs and people from away buying houses and fixing them up really nice but then thinking they can charge New York City prices. We all make minimum wage around here guysss, lol. It’s literally IMPOSSIBLE to afford an apartment without two incomes, and even still, [my husband and I] are struggling.

Becca: A few years ago, you told me it felt hard at times being a co-op cashier ringing up carts overflowing with fancy foods you couldn’t afford to buy.

Peyton: Well, luckily the minimum wage is going up, and we get a 25% discount, but I still struggle to afford food no matter where I go lately. We are trying to get in more affordably priced products [at the Good Tern] as well as the higher-priced items.

Becca: In your eight years at the Good Tern you said you’ve been through 13 managers! That seems like fairly high turnover. Any idea why?

Peyton: I feel like it is many different things, but I personally feel that we should try to be employee-run.

Becca: I think your presence has meant so much to the overall culture of the co-op during your years there. What has the co-op been like for you?

Peyton: I am now officially the longest employee still working there. I owe so much to that place and the people who shop there, volunteer there and work there. Half of the staff was part of my wedding party, lol. I have made lifelong friendships there that I will cherish forever. I will say that this year we have had a surprising amount of customers that have been so difficult to deal with. The amount of negative energy and cruelness I have received in this past year is the main reason I am moving on. Almost all of our customers are amazing, but it’s always the mean ones that you can’t forget.

Becca: You’re on the Owls Head Fire Department.

Peyton: There was a house fire near my home and I just remember feeling so helpless and wanting to help in some way. Owls Head had recently put the word out that they needed more [volunteer firefighters] or they would have to shut their doors. [In 2018] I finally got the courage to attend my first meeting. I was shaking I was so scared, nervous they’d take one look at me and not want me. I was met at the station with an overwhelming amount of smiles and encouragement. Every. Single. Member. of that fire department is my family. We are a small department and don’t see too much action, but no matter when it is, where it is, who it is, why or how it is happening, no matter the weather or the situation, when these people get called, they drop whatever they are doing, and they are immediately on their way.

Becca: Would you encourage other people to join, especially women, or LGBTQIA+ people?

Peyton: The Owls Head Fire Department has four female firefighters. I would tell anyone that wants to be a firefighter to not give up, don’t be nervous that you won’t be welcomed or wanted. I can’t speak for all departments but I know that all fire departments in Knox County have some of the most incredible, loving people on them. They do this because they care about all people.

Becca: How did Drive by Todd form, and when?

Peyton: I struggled a lot in high school. One day a group of my friends told me they were going to a place in Rockland, Out! As I Want To Be (now known as Out Maine), and I decided to tag along. I was so nervous because I was straight and wasn’t sure if I would be able to be part of the group. But when I got there everyone was so accepting and welcoming. I was part of Out Maine for many years. We marched in Pride parades all around the state, went to drag shows, and Rainbow Ball. I met many lifelong friends there, including Drive by Todd guitarist Jake Nagy.

I always knew I wanted to be a drummer. Ever since the movie “Josie and the Pussycats” came out. I played off and on for many years in my mother’s basement. Then in high school I met my dear friend Emerson. We decided to start a band together [and later asked Jake Nagy to join]. Years later I asked my Good Tern co-worker Joanna Grierson if she would be interested in playing a wedding with Drive by Todd; she happily agreed. What I thought would just be a one-show deal turned into the most magical and meaningful thing in my life.

Becca: How has the pandemic affected Drive by Todd, and the local music scene in general?

Peyton: 2020 was set to be Drive by Todd’s best year yet. We had just ended 2019 where we had played countless live gigs, fundraisers and won our first-ever award. I had already booked several months of shows and then we were asked to play two of our most memorable gigs to date — opening for Rustic Overtones at the Camden Opera House, and in March 2020, we played a segment on NBC’s “News Center Maine.” We won first place in the 2020 Knox County’s Best of the Best local band. We almost had enough money saved to record our new album and people were actually reaching out to us to book shows! It was a dream come true. Sadly, we didn’t realize that our show at the Camden Opera House was [going to be] our last live performance for a year and a half. We didn’t see each other for months. Each of us were struggling with our finances and mental health. I personally went down a very dark road that I almost did not make out alive after. Without the support from my bandmates, I’m not sure how I would have ended up. But Drive by Todd refueled me and brought an energy back to my life that I was missing during quarantine. The craziest part is that I know I am not the only person who struggled. Did anyone not struggle in their own way?

Becca: Oh, Peyton, I am so incredibly glad you are still here, and so sorry to hear you were struggling so terribly.... Going forward, how can people support local music?

Peyton: Musicians had it so hard and still do today. Most of the venues we played had to close after COVID; some may never reopen. The few places who are having live music again are already booked up for the year. Local artists have not made any [music] income in over a year and a half. Most of them have full-time jobs; a lot of them rely on that extra income to get by. There are countless ways to support your local artists. 1. Go to their event. 2. Tip them. 3. Buy their merch. 4. Share their post or event on your social media. 5. Like and follow their Instagram and Facebook. 6. Tell your friends about them. 7. Buy their music.

Becca: You were crowned Miss Congeniality at the 2016 Lobster Festival, Miss Congeniality at the 2017 Maine Wild Blueberry Pageant, Miss Rockland for the 2019 Miss Maine International Pageant, and are involved in pageants currently. What got you into pageants originally, and what about them feels good, or liberating and empowering, versus perhaps stifling?

Peyton: I originally got into pageants to make a statement. I only ever saw the same type of girl compete: thin, white, straight, and maybe a tad conservative, so I decided to enter and proudly show my support for the LGBTQ community and compete as a bigger girl. I ended up loving it so much.

I thought these people would be snobby and rude but it was just the opposite. They helped me get set up with college classes and taught me a lot of different things. I also met two of my best friends still to this day. Not all, but most pageants nowadays are very community- and volunteer-oriented and help with scholarships towards college. There is a lot more to it than beauty.

Becca: The 2020 Lobster Festival sea princess application has eligibility guidelines I find troubling: “Must not be, or planning on becoming, pregnant during the pageant or after, if crowned,” “have no past or pending civil or criminal charges exceeding moving violations” (italics mine), “be no more than 21,” and it costs $500 to apply. As recently as 2019, the festival required the applicant not be married or divorced, and had an anti-transgender policy wherein applicants had to “represent and warranty that you are a female (recognized medically and legally as a female in the United States).” Does this all sit right with you?

Peyton: Sorry, but I can’t speak publicly on these matters.

Becca: It is Pride month! When, and how, did you become supportive of LGBTQIA+ people?

Peyton: I am and have always known I was straight. But ever since I started maybe eighth grade I knew I needed to make it known to whoever I could that I was an ally. As I grew older

I became more aware of the history and current news about the LGBTQ community. I got so frustrated when I experienced gay slurs that I ended up getting in verbal fights with my classmates [at Camden Hills Regional High School] and getting sent to the principal’s office way too often, getting detention frequently and even occasionally getting suspended. What I did and how I handled it I now know was not the way to do it.

I was a teenager and didn’t know any better and didn’t really care if I got in trouble because I knew what I was sticking up for was the right thing to do. Whenever I hear people say things like, “Well, everybody is entitled to their own opinion” or, “How do you know you’re right if they also think what they’re doing is right?” I KNOW I am on the good side because the difference between myself and them is that they support hate and evil, mean things, and I support love and acceptance and compassion. And love is good and right and hate is bad and wrong and it’s simple. You learn that in preschool.

Becca: Anything else you would like to mention?

Peyton: If anyone is struggling with mental health please reach out for help. If you don’t know who to ask you can call one of the hotlines and they can give you resources. You can also always message Drive by Todd’s social media pages and we will chat with you.