interview: claire london
Claire London is a singer/songwriter here in New York City who is on the verge of something big.
Behind the pretty face lie powerhouse vocals, a polished and produced sound and an altogether talented woman whose ambition matches up. As evidenced by the singles “Color Me” and “Basket Case”, Claire’s sound is well produced, melodic, at times moody and manages to meld the blues, rock and roll and a little pop together in a unique, seamless way. I caught her acoustic show on Monday, March 7 2011, and was blown away by her versatility. Whether she’s unplugged and raw, or in the studio crafting her hybrid genre, Claire’s talent speaks for itself.
I sat down with her for an interview last week, below are the highlights.
Tell me about your artistic process. What inspires you? Do you write your own songs?
I write my own songs. I usually start out with a piano, and I just have a keyboard here in New York. So my main kind of starting point is the melody on the piano. I usually come up with the melodies first and then bring it to my production team. We go over things and then we start to develop the entire song. And then I really get inspired lyrically. So I am a melody person first and then lyrics later.
Your sound is definitely produced. Do you think of the production while you’re writing, or does it all come after?
I do think of the production. I have a really specific aesthetic and sound that I want. I’m going for a very moody, dark, kinda rock and rollish, kinda bluesy, edgy thing, so it’s really important that my producers got that and they got my vibe. I’m really happy because I feel like it’s something that I haven’t really heard from a lot of other artists. I’m going for this whole bluesy, Black Keys meets Portishead meets Nine Inch Nails type thing with a little bit of a pop sensibility because I write pretty melodically. I’m going a little more mainstream, soundtrack-ish sound – more than just a girl and a guitar.
When you’re writing a song, do you have an idea in mind?
Yes. On this record, I wanted to write about not just love songs, I wanted to explore a different thing. I’m open about suffering from pretty severe depression for a time and I wanted to write about that – how it affects your life, the way you view things, the way you view yourself, your relationships with other people…I know a lot of people can relate to that. I want to open up the door and write about things that don’t necessarily deal with the broken heart. That’s kind of what “Basket Case” is about. I wanted to write about something you can’t even explain in your mind, like apathy and those horrible non-emotions that can mess you up. That’s why Like A Machine is kind of a dark record. But of course there are some upbeat parts too, I also wrote about a relationship I was going through.
Tell me about your personal background.
My brother and I are both first generation American citizens. My parents have lived in the US for the past 30 years. I am as American as anyone else, but I just have a different home life. Growing up in the south (Richmond, VA) was weird, being the only sort of liberal family on the street and not going to church on Sundays. I really have always respected my parents for their uniqueness. I eventually moved to New York City because I realized that’s where I needed to be.
Have you played a lot of live shows? What do you want people to take away from your live shows?
I’ve played a few. The reason I haven’t played more is because the ones I do are acoustic, which is great, but for the sound and experience I want to give people, it isn’t enough. I took my time with this record because I wanted it to be something really genuine, something that is 100% me. My vision is to have a very big, semi-theatrical really intense show. Big production, cool costuming, cool lighting, the whole nine yards. I want to put on a show for people. I’m not saying I want to be Lady Gaga, it’s going to be my own style. I want to rock out. That’s what I’m excited about.
Especially with music, the internet has become such a prominent vehicle for getting exposure. Do you see that as something beneficial or something you don’t like?
I don’t like using the internet, but I’ve bitten the bullet and realized I have to because if you’re not playing the game, you’re not in it. I hate self-promotion, but I feel like I have to, so it’s more of a compromise. Yeah, I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter, but it’s a double-edged sword. Even the last five or six years since I first started, everything has changed.
I do understand the benefits of it, though, and I’m trying to start this nonprofit called Project Armour. I wanted to do something with music and therapy intertwining because I used to teach music to severely mentally disabled people. I was a music director for a place called the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and I worked with a lot of people who had really severe mental depression and ailments. To see them really respond to music, that was their favorite part of the day to play the piano and sing, it was really important and has become something I’m really passionate about. Project Armour is something I want to be an inspiration for younger kids. The world now is so over stimulated and insane, I want to have place where people feel like they can connect with other artists – writing, singing, painting, anything artistic – and have a nonprofit for that, featuring different people and what they do. I’m still working it out, but I started it on Twitter. I just post quotes or feature different people I find inspirational.
That’s awesome! What’s the first show you’ve ever been to? The best show you’ve ever been to?
I saw New Kids On The Block back in the day! The first show I saw in New York, I was working at a place called the Supper Club and the Foo Fighters performed. I was working it, so we got to hang out backstage. I don’t love love them, but to see them that close up in an intimate show…I feel like I’ve seen a lot of shows, I saw Jay-Z once in MSG and that was my best arena experience. Now, I go to see my friends that are musicians because I want to support them and I want them to support me.
Are you content with an independent label singing or would you prefer to go mainstream eventually?
I envision myself on a mainstream label because I have an ultimate goal to brand myself. I want to do other things than music – music is foremost, of course, but I am into the nonprofit and fashion too. I also think I’m more of an edgy mainstream artist than an indie singer/songwriter. I just don’t equate myself with the indie scene, I’m kind of in between – I’m not there, but I’m not Britney Spears, either. It’s always been a little harder to find my niche, but now I know what it is and I hope people will get it.
They will. Last question: Are you a feminist, and if so, in what way?
I think I am a feminist. I feel like women tear each other down a lot, especially in this industry and that’s really unhealthy. We should build each other up more. As far as being in some kind of a parade for feminists, I dunno. My sound is a typically male space – I’ve always been attracted to harder male music and me doing it. The blues is really my home, but then I started to get into harder rock like Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against The Machine and then The Black keys and Radiohead. So now my sound is a hybrid and I enjoy being in that realm. I think all women should be a little feminist. You don’t have to wave a flag, but I think women and artists especially should just be noticed for talent before anything else. I don’t love the “famous for being hot” thing. Of course, looking good is part of it, but there’s a line.
Like A Machine is out May 24, 2011 on Modern Vintage Recordings. To hold you over, check out her kickass “Wonderwall” cover (and other videos).
(Photo Credit from the 3/7 show: Anthony Marchese)