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INTERVIEW: Clara Mann’s Mesmerising Debut EP ‘Consolations’

‘By the open window you’re wasting all your nights, you always get distracted waiting for the Flight’. The opening track of Clara Mann’s stunning debut EP intricately explores ideas of passing time, uncertainty and change. It’s an idea we’re all overly familiar with by now, and yet when Mann sings about it, she seems to expose something profound in the process. This track welcomes us to Consolations, an EP that is a key into an intimate personal world, filled with vulnerability, heartache and beauty. Clara Mann is one of the most exciting, original and engaging artists producing music right now. The soothing antidote to periods of chaos and uncertainty. With her debut EP out soon on Sad Club Records, we spoke to her about her inspirations, aspirations, and worldly reflections.

RC: Hi Clara! Can you describe the music that you make in three words?

CM: Hiya! Probably delicate, understated, and thoughtful.

RC: Your debut EP Consolations is out soon on Sad Club Records. What is the story behind its creation?

CM: No story really! If I had to sum it up I’d say that the thread that runs through the EP seems to me to be this longing to be understood by the people around me. I try to give a sense of my world, in the hope that people will recognise something in it, and want to enter into it too! 

As to how I happened to release it at all- I’d put out a few early demos on Bandcamp around summer 2019 and had met a few musicians at shows who’d heard them via my social media, and who eventually put Sad Club Records onto me- I got a message from them one evening on the bus home after a gig asking if I wanted to release something with them, and I was so excited I got the hiccups.

RC: The music you make is incredibly vulnerable and fragile. Is song writing cathartic for you, and do you base the lyrics upon personal experiences?

CM: Thank you. It’s something people say a lot, and yes, I think my songs are vulnerable, but for me they’re also full of genuine pain, and joy, and doubt, and other incredibly overwhelming feelings – I do hope to be able to convey the strength of those emotions to the listener, as well as my own fragility.

It’s funny, songwriting actually isn’t cathartic for me in the way that I know it is for some artists. Most often, my songs are distillations of feelings I’ve lived with for quite a long time, and they’re a way of putting things to rest, or trying to. I try not to think about it too much, and sometimes, yes, I do write things that release something in me, but generally I’m quite a careful writer. I have to have some  distance from my feelings in order to be objective about them.

Most of my songs are inspired by snippets of my life, and I’m a very visual person, so images from my day-to-day or from my memories do tend to crop up in my writing.  To me, the most important thing in writing is honesty, so I can only write about things I really feel or have lived through- but that’s not to say I don’t tell stories to complement those “real life” moments.

RC: How has the disruption of the pandemic affected your ability to record the EP, and do you think this is reflected in the style of Consolations?

CM: I wrote these songs before lockdown, so luckily, I avoided having to scrape around for inspiration in the total emotional void of 2020. I did, however, have to change my recording plans, and Consolations recorded from my bedroom at home.

I initially regretted not being able to work with Ben, my producer, in person, with more serious equipment – but actually, sound wise, I’m really glad it’s come out the way it has. The lofi recordings have brought out and enhanced the intimacy of the songs themselves, and they feel honest and true to me. There was no chance of over-doing anything, and I like things to be understated production-wise- it gives the songs room to breathe, and to speak for themselves.

Photo by Chiara Gambuto

RC: Listening to the EP, the song that particularly resonated with me was the opening track ‘Waiting for the Flight’. It seemed fitting to the current situation, with a melancholic and lonely tone. What led you to write this track?

CM: I’m so glad you like that one! I wrote this at the beginning of a relationship, going into 2020. I could feel the strength of the feelings we had for each other, but also the fragility of this new connection, and how important it was that it be nurtured, because without care even the most important relationships sometimes don’t work out. In our own insecurity, we were wasting precious time waiting for the other to up and leave, and spending those early days fearing we would just slip through each other’s fingers, imposing a distance between us that frightened us both.

The phrase “Waiting for The Flight” comes from one specific image, that I made into the central metaphor- I’d so often drive home past the airport, and see drivers standing in the lay-bys by their cars, to watch the flights coming in and out. I transposed the image, made it mine, made it fit the relationship- catching someone up too late at night, looking at the sky, and feeling them waiting for you to leave them. 

RC: You’ve discussed the importance of classical music in your childhood and approach to music. Which pieces resonated with you growing up, and how do you think this influence is present across Consolations?

CM: Oooo lovely question. Obviously I’m most familiar with music written for piano, so I’ll mention a couple that I feel I couldn’t have lived without, apart from the Liszt Consolations, whose name I nicked for this EP! I think, out of many, I’d pick the Schubert Impromptus (I have played them for a long time, and have vivid memories of my ma helping me when I was younger)- then, Chopin piano concerto number 1 in E Minor, which completely blew me away when I first heard it, and still does. I’ve never played it, but I think it’s just a perfect piece of music.  Then, maybe the Gymnopedies, by Erik Satie. I have an edition with a pair of hands by Egon Schiele on the front, which is so beautiful, and I just  love how delicate and imaginative Satie’s music is, as well as being utterly revolutionary. I also heard (though it may be a myth) that he had 6 or 7 identical chestnut coloured suits, and just wore a different one each day. What a dear.

RC: Alongside musical influences, you have also cited art, such as the paintings of Edward Hopper as being a source of inspiration. How significant is the overlap of music and art in your creative process, and is the boundary something you would be interested in exploring in the future?

CM: There’s definitely a big overlap – like I said, my songs are very much based in pictures, colours, and shifts in light. I’ve drawn and painted for as long as I can remember, and was lucky enough to grow up in a family in which I was always encouraged to look and think about art properly, and in a way that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. 

I don’t know if my songs and love of art will ever overlap more than they already so- but I’m open to anything.

Photo by Chiara Gambuto

RC: What have been your favourite lockdown discoveries (musical or otherwise)?

CM: Mary Oliver’s poetry, Little Mazarn’s music, and adding paprika to literally everything I cook. 

RC: What are your hopes for this EP, and the post lockdown world more generally?

CM: I like to share it with people in person, i.e. to be able to gig with it! 

I’d like to think that this period,  painful though it has been for so many people, might be a chance to reset things, and maybe step back and take a look at the world we’re living in- so much needs to change. I feel that for most of us, there will be a “before” and “after” in our lives, marked out by this strange time. I hope we take it as an opportunity to make the “after” a little better. 

RC: Finally, if you could collaborate with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

CM: Erik Satie, but only so he’d lend me one of his velvet suits, so that we could match. 

Clara’s debut EP Consolations is out on Sad Club Records on the 24th of February. Listen to her singles Thoughtless here and I Didn’t Know You Were Leaving Today here.

You can check out our other interviews here, or give them a listen on out interviewees playlist.

All photography by Chiara Gambuto

IG: @chiaragambuto, Website: https://gambutini.com

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