“That whole process of articulating what I was thinking really solidified that time in my life”
Chloe St. Claire was the act before me at my first ever gig in Melbourne, and she is someone who did an exceptional job with catching the attention of the room with her musical presence. I so enjoyed the way the captured my interest with her guitar playing, and her lyrics which felt close to home. We sat down on zoom and chatted about her experiences in music, while her cat trodded around on her bedspread
How did your journey with music start?
Hmm… probably with primary school choir?
Yeah! But for the music I’m doing today, I’m probably most influenced by my dad- he taught me guitar and I learnt everything from there
That’s so nice! Do you feel like that musical upbringing helped influence your sound? Do you think your music sounds like what your parents were listening to?
Oh absolutely! I’ve been told that my singing style is similar to certain artists my parents would listen to. A lot of the music that was playing in the house wasn’t really on the radio at the time, it was more what they listened to as teenagers, and that’s definitely been a big influence
Yeah, and I think that the way that original music develops is such a representation of the environment the writer has grown up in, and the way you’ve taken on influences from your family, but also what you’ve connected to personally. The music I grew up listening to was a mix of my parent’s music and really trashy pop music that I would download illegally! It’s a strange coming together of worlds
Yeah, it’s an amalgamation of different decades and genres. I think that makes people really unique too because no two have the same specific influences
Everyone has totally different experiences with music and what they’ve enjoyed growing up. How do you think your sound has evolved?
I’m not too sure! I try and not think too much about it, I guess with where I am now and where I was at when I was like 13 or 14- it’s really quite different. I didn’t have the technology I have access to now at my disposal back then, and I was solely on my guitar singing mostly folk songs. Having access to software, or even pedalboards for my guitars, that has definitely helped me shape the sound that I wanted to make
How cool that we have these kinds of technologies! You get logic and you essentially have an orchestra and a full studio at your disposal and it can really influence your sound and creative process
Yeah, there’s so much to use
I think a lot of musicians discover their sound by experimenting with the options at their disposal. I really like the tone of your guitar playing and the pedals you use, I remember at that gig I was like ‘oh my gosh those sounds are so nice!’ because I always plug my guitar raw into the sound system because I just have no idea. I was so impressed with how your guitar sounds bring so many layers into your music. Are your songs mostly written around the guitar?
I think so! That’s where most of the melodies come from, and the guitar helps direct the general vibe of the song too. My writing is generally really tied to the guitar
When you’re listening to other music are you generally focusing on what the guitar is doing?
I focus a lot on the guitar, and I probably should be listening to other elements of the song because I feel like –in my own songs- there are elements that are lacking because I just don’t have that knowledge around basslines, or drums, or harmonies because I’m so focused on the diversity in the guitar and all the sounds it can make. I find it so interesting how many different textures and timbres can be discovered and played with
What are some of your personal influences for your music?
I think this is something that changes all the time, but I grew up listening to a lot of Jeff Buckley from my Dad, and I really liked the grunge in that style of 90’s music. I listen to a lot of Norah Jones
From my mum! But my personal influences- I got really into Bon Iver, Vance Joy, a lot of folk-inspired compositions. Recently, I’d say the Bleachers have been really influential to me. I’m really enjoying that 80’s inspired pop-synth
Yeah that kind of music is so cool, is that a direction you think you’ll head into?
I’d love to! I just don’t know how to re-create it and channel that kind of energy into a song
There is so much diversity with music, and sometimes you can listen to something and wonder how did you get there? How did you develop your song to sound like that?? Is collaboration something you think you’re open to?
Oh absolutely. I’ve never formally written anything with anyone else before, and I would really love to bounce ideas off other people because sometimes I can be too much in my own head when I’m alone
It’s so easy to overthink things when you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off and help keep you on track. Are you much of a perfectionist?
At the start I definitely was. When I first decided that I was going to try and release a song, I was so ridged when it came to recording, and I would be really self-critical and be searching for the ‘right sound’. I think in the end that became quite limiting for the song
And if you go into a recording session with the mindset of feeling uncomfortable or a bit unnatural, that’s something that can really show up in the recording itself. I guess the more that that process becomes familiar to you, the more uncomplicated it can be. Do you feel more comfortable performing or recording?
I think it changes, and I find it a bit difficult to compare because the way I perform is so different to my recording style. Often when I’m playing I’ll be using an acoustic guitar, but when I’m recording I’m generally on electric- it just feels so different to me. I think I like recording more because there’s room for mistakes and I don’t feel like I’m being watched! But with performing I really love connecting with people
The sense of energy that’s there in live performance settings is really something you can draw on to enhance your own performance, which can be hard to replicate in recordings! I think that’s why people will always love watching live music. What’s a musical moment that you’re really proud of?
I think one moment that stands out for me is the first time I played with a proper band set up. I’m so used to playing solo, but I played with two of my mates for a- what is it called? I haven’t gigged in so long!
I know right! Like a launch?
Yeah! And that was really fun. So many people came and there was such a great atmosphere about it. I also really enjoyed playing for the opening of an event for International Women’s Day, and that energy and vibe for those days was something I always want to try and recreate when I play
That would have been so great! What are you hoping people leave with when they listen to your music?
Good vibes! Well I say that, but I’m thinking about it and none of my songs are all that happy! I guess a connection is what I really want to hope to achieve. To have people gain an insight to what I’m thinking and know that they have felt the same way before- that’s really cool
Yeah, I think that all counts as good vibes, it’s always nice to feel heard and validated, and music is a really special medium for being able to convey that sort of thing
I noticed you were a little bit inactive on Instagram for a while, and you’re coming back into it now, is there much of a story behind that?
Yeah, after the last single I released ‘Brittle Bones’ at the end of 2019, I got into a bit of a lull, and I felt like I was really forcing a lot of the things I was trying to make –with performing and recording. I needed to take a step back and a bit of a break and see what it does for my creativity. I had a bunch of gigs planned and was excited to do those in 2020
And then all of this! I guess being in lockdown, I got so isolated with social media- I was kind of consumed by Instagram feed and my Facebook feed, and it was just feeding into my own self-criticism and this feeling that I wasn’t too enough as a creative so I decided to take a bit of a break. I’m coming back with it a bit now, but just trying to have fun with it
I think that’s really important, and there’s a lot of pressure for musicians and artists to become these expert social media moguls, which –for a lot of musicians– isn’t really in their nature. There’s pressure to put on a performance of success. Social media is a tool to use and help you, but sometimes it is so necessary to take a step back. Do you battle feelings of self-doubt often?
Yeah, I try to stop myself before I fully get there, but I think it’s easy for people to fall into that thinking. You want to do a good job doing something, but you’re always going to have those questions in your mind- am I doing this right? should I be doing this more? I’m trying to be more aware of it
And just being gentle with yourself. It’s hard to put your goals in perspective. If your goal is to put music out, and you work hard and you do that, suddenly the goal has changed, and you get deep into your music journey and forget how far you’ve come
It’s something that takes effort to remind yourself of
What’s one thing you’ve learned as an emerging artist?
To always give it a go! That’s kind of my mantra with everything that I do creatively and musically. I’m quite a shy, introspective person, and I like to be in my comfort zone. As a musician I want to try and make sure that I’m not always in my comfort zone. I don’t want to be stuck and not growing, and if I tell myself give it a go, try something new, then I think growth will follow that
How do you try and actively challenge yourself?
I think that if I know I’m uncomfortable, then that’s probably where I should be. If I know that I’m exerting myself in a way that maybe I wouldn’t normally do outside of my musical life, then it’s probably a good direction to head in
That’s a good indicator I think, it’s a good way to view situations that leave you feeling uncomfortable- it’s a very positive outlook on the experience of being uncomfortable! To see it as a good learning experience
Your track ‘Mahogany Desk’ which is a song you released in 2017, I really liked the lyrics
You talk so sweet
I wonder how you don’t get a sugar high
Big surprise you swallow your words
Such a strong opener! I’d love to dissect your writing and process with that track
Wow I wrote that quite a while ago! I’ll try and remember!
Take yourself back!
Yeah! So that song- my lyrics we’re trying to suggest that I was trying to unpack someone psyche a little. As someone who is shy and probably doesn’t start a lot of conversations, I always have these thoughts of what’s going on inside your head? And I never really ask but I’m always thinking about it
Speculating about what they’re thinking about
Absolutely, and in that song there was this particular person who was also a bit shy, so there are these two shy people who aren’t really communicating! I guess this song is an elaboration of that situation. I like to make ordinary and mundane moments a bit more dramatic, so I guess those lyrics were dramatizing me thinking about what someone else is thinking
Music gives you the freedom to romanticise the mundane which I think is actually a really important way to live! We can get caught up in expecting happiness from big achievements, or big moments in life, and getting trapped in that mindset means that nothing is going to really feel fulfilling. Taking the time to see the beauty in the small things- I personally believe that to be a life-changing mindset, to be honest!
Your ‘Young Like That’ EP has such beautiful tracks on it, what is the overarching message of this EP? What made those songs feel like they fit together for this project?
I think that out of the songs I had recorded, those tracks felt the most cohesive together- there were other songs that stylistically just didn’t merge. I was thinking about putting another song that was finished and ready to go, but it didn’t feel right as a collective from start to finish. Thematically for those songs, I wrote them when I was in my late teens, and I wanted to encapsulate this feeling of youth and growth, and the highs and lows of change in that way- I knew I was leaving that moment of my life pretty quickly
Young Like That is about mental health, and feeling pressure from people that you don’t want that pressure from. Apollo was looking outwards beyond youth, into adulthood and what life was going to be like after high school. Frostbite was more dramatizing of moments that and happened in high school, and looking at them with a magnifying glass
And the last song ‘Call Your Mother’?
Yeah, that was about stories I had heard from people that had grown up, and I was still in high school unpacking those stories and looking at them from a pretty naïve mindset. I was thinking family is so important to you, why don’t you come home? I was trying to rationalise those stories in my head. The theme of that EP was about being young and trying to make sense of things
I think that those late teens- those moments in your adolescence are so precious because it’s a lot of firsts. When you’re becoming a young adult, you may be experiencing love, betrayal, fear, or hopelessness for the first time ever, and in a lot of ways, it feels so intense and extreme. I think people look back on those years in their life as huge moments- not necessarily because the context around them was very massive or important, but because it’s the first time your brain is dealing with those feelings and emotions
To capture that is really precious. That release was two years ago, looking back on it as something that was intended to capture this feeling of growing up and the transition between childhood and adulthood, how does it make you feel to think about the Chloe who wrote those songs?
When I wrote that EP and was preparing to release it, I thought I was on the precipice of my youth, leaving it, and going into adulthood. I guess I viewed it with the mindset that there would be this switch
You’ll have it all figured out!
Exactly! It’s going to be all different and I’m going to feel and think differently. Looking back, I feel like I haven’t changed a lot? A lot of the feelings I felt when I was writing that EP are still feelings I feel now. I have more memories and experiences in my back pocket, but I guess the way I think about things is pretty similar. The Chloe back then is still very much the Chloe today
Do you think that if you hadn’t immortalised those feelings by releasing it as music that you would feel differently?
Yeah, I think that if I hadn’t released or written about those feelings I would have a more muddled view of that time in my life. Writing it out and rationalising my feelings, releasing it and explaining to people what the songs meant, talking about them in interviews, that whole process of articulating what I was thinking really solidified that time in my life. It had this category in my youth and teenage-hood that had shape that I can recognise when I look back
That process of rationalising and understanding yourself in those big transitionally moments is special, and it’s special that you can look back on those songs for the rest of your life and see how you have evolved and developed. Let’s move on to ‘Under City Lights’ what is that song about?
That song was a part of a project that I was doing with the Geelong council where I was asked to write a song for Geelong. At the beginning, I just didn’t know how to approach that, and I was so used to writing about people. To write about a place or a concept was very foreign to me, but I thought that if I personified the place of Geelong that it would be a bit easier. I tried to make this place that I was from and that I had grown up in, into a person and that’s pretty much what the song is about
I really like the lyrics,
Underneath I can see your bones
Underneath the stars, I’ve never felt so whole
It’s so beautiful, and it reminds me of the Lorde lyric,
I see the veins of my city
Like they do in space
I love the idea of personifying a location, because there is so much connection with the places that we place meaning on top of, and being back after a long time can take you back in time in a way! Do you have locations like that for yourself in Geelong that you feel especially connected to?
Yeah, there’s this place on the waterfront with a carousel, and that’s always been really important to me. I mention it in the chorus because it’s been there throughout so many memories in my life, and I feel very connected to it. I’ve always associated it with happy memories
When you’re writing do you often find imagery like that to build a song around?
I love sensory imagery and building my song from that place. To write around a smell or a feel, and the experience of what that’s like helps me build where the song is going
And that probably keeps you on track as well
Yeah, and if I’m thematically thinking the song will have a lot of illusions to light or coldness, I have a framework to write my song in. Otherwise, my lyrics are all over the place, and less focused
I think building that sort of imagery for a listener helps them see themselves within your concepts as well. ‘Brittle Bones’ is the track you released at the end of 2019, what’s that song about?
So ‘Brittle Bones’- I wrote that song for my friends. After high school, I took a gap year while a lot of my friends went onto Uni, and I wrote this song that was kind of yearning for past memories of when we were all together in a cluster in high school, and we all knew what each other were doing. On my gap year, it felt very obvious to me that we had gone different ways. I wrote ‘Brittle Bones’ to communicate inevitably knowing that we would go different ways, but still wanting to keep in contact and stay close
Yeah, and I think part of us wonders what it would be like to just loop some of those moments forever, or what if we all went to the same Uni or lived on the same street. It’s nice to play with those feelings a little bit, but it can be hard to come back to reality and remember that things aren’t like that. I think the guitar has such a voice and a drive in your music, and I’m excited to see how that sound develops and created new worlds in your music. How do you go about experimenting with the tones in your guitar?
There is so much personality in the guitar, and the sounds can all feel so different. Sometimes I’ll find a sound that feels like it can only exist with another certain sound and it feels so specific. With where I’m heading now with my music, I really want to take a less rigid approach to my composition, because I find I’m very formulaic. I want to give the other elements in the song a bit more voice and more flexibility, and I think that will help me enjoy the process more and inspire me to create more
And when you enjoy it at the core, then it’s only gonna get better and better. What’s next for the direction of your music?
I would really like to keep recording my songs- I’m not sure where I’m heading exactly, and the feeling I get from each song changes depending on the day of the week! I’d really love to keep writing, but I want to collaborate more. Writing and recording in lockdown feels quite isolating, and I feel like you can hear that in the writing
What do you want to stand for as a musician and an individual in this industry?
I would love to be able to give voice to people’s inner monologue, and draw connection in that way. A lot of my songs thematically focus on mental health, anxiety and depression, and they are topics that are really important to me, and talking about it is a really big passion of mine. As a musician, I want to be continuously be threading that line of thought into my songs. I want to keep making connections with people in that way. I hope to keep growing and evolving, and learning more about what I want to stand for, but that’s where I’m sitting at the moment
Check out the music of Chloe St. Claire through her socials below