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A Splendid Talk with... Clara Engel | First Contact

Artist: Clara Engel

Location: Toronto, ON, Canada

Peanut Gallery: Sound


Greetings Clara! How have you been as of late?

Hello! Lately I have been madly trying to gather support via crowdfunding, (which I had previously vowed I would never do!), to release my new album Where a City Once Drowned: The Bethlehem Tapes Vol. II on pressed cd, with packaging that features one of my ink drawings. A lot of my albums have been digital-only releases, and I really wanted to make something tangible this time, so here goes:

I have only recently discovered you in the the latter half of 2018, through your EP album A Shore Far From Any Prison. Are you essentially a solo singer-songwriter? What kind of music do you purvey?

Yes -- writing songs has always been a solitary process for me. So much of life involves compromise, but in music I feel a sense of freedom that I don't feel in any other sphere of life, at least not to the same degree. I do sometimes really enjoy bringing other musicians in after the song has been written, but the core of it for me is the words, melody, and guitar part (or occasionally keys, on the occasions where I've written a guitar-less song). Someone called my music "minimalist holy blues from another galaxy," and I like that description. Words are fundamental to my music, and there is a musicality to words that is really important to me. The guitar part also works in sympathy with the voice, it's a subtle ecosystem. I feel like over time I get better at making all the elements relate to one another in a symbiotic way.

How did you grow your love and pursuit of music? How did you come to use the guitar and voice to such an strong ethereal presence?

It kind of just took over my life when I was 13 years old -- that was when it occurred to me that I could try writing a song. I wrote a lot of poems as a kid, and my father had a few guitars lying around the house... I picked one up (a Framus classical guitar with ancient strings) and it soon became central to my life. The two albums I listened to most when I was starting to write my own songs were Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol III. Both of those albums led me to explore early folk and blues artists, like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Bessie Smith. One of the most touching and memorable presents my parents ever gave me was the Harry Smith Folk Anthology, when I was probably about 16 or 17. I still have all of those cds.

I find the folk music tradition, where voices are allowed to be idiosyncratic and where it’s more about telling a story of some sort, or putting across a feeling, than about technical perfection -- that appeals to me a lot more than the classical tradition that I was exposed to in school. My way of singing is something that I came to through years of listening and experimenting with my voice, and it's definitely changed and developed over time. In terms of an ethereal quality, it’s not a conscious aesthetic choice or anythi