One of my 21 for 21, Clara Mann is a Bristol-based folk musician who has already drawn attention from the likes of The Line Of Best Fit, Clash and Secret Meeting. Clara recently released her debut EP, Consolations, an intimate four-track collection, exploring the shift into adulthood, the fragility of self and the importance of connection, at a time when so many people are struggling to find it. The record was made during the first UK lockdown, with Clara working remotely with producer Benjamin Spike Saunders, each contributing alone from their respective homes.
Across the record, Clara stitches an array of influences into a cohesive whole, while there’s obviously modern touch points like Dana Gavanski or Hand Habits, Clara is equally influenced by the choral music she heard in her childhood in the South Of France and classical composers like Franz Liszt, whose piece inspired the title, Consolations. Clara has also spoken of trying to bring a visual element into her music, attempting to bring her listeners into the scenes she creates, channelling her love of the paintings of Edward Hopper, literature and poetry, to create fully formed worlds for her listeners to explore.
The record starts with Waiting For The Flight, a classic folk song as finger picked guitars are joined by distant meanders of fiddle, it feels timeless, as if it could have been written at any point in the last hundred years and still have felt just as emotionally stunning. Elsewhere, Station Song is an impulsive story-telling track and Thoughtless has a gentle waltzing quality, Clara seeming almost to sigh out her story of the fragility of boundaries and the difficulty of escaping difficult situations.
Today Clara is sharing a live session she recorded for Delinquent Magazine filmed on a Lightship 95 moored in London. Discussing the live session, Clara recalls, “I really didn’t want to have an airy-fairy shoot, where I fell into the tired cliches of folk music: there was something strong and modern about the red steel of the boat, and to me it reflected the side of my music that is about resilience and strength”. Alongside the live session, Clara took some time out to talk to me about the loneliness of recording remotely, the influence of place on her music and why music is, “the most full and honest way I have to express myself”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Clara Mann?
Hi!! I’m Clara, and I make lofi alt-folk music in and around Bristol. I have just released my debut EP with Sad Club Records, and am really excited to be sharing it!
FTR: You’ve just released your debut EP, Consolations, what can you tell us about recording it?
I had planned on recording this in person with my producer, Ben Spike Saunders- it would have been with his equipment, in a sort of semi-professional environment. When lockdown hit, I realised I was going to have to do it remotely- I recorded from my room, and he mixed it from his! I felt a bit cheated out of the experience of working together in a more focussed way, but instead Felix M-B and I wrote arrangements and recorded parts as and when we could. Felix MADE me focus properly- he knows a lot more about recording than I do, and without his help I might still be sitting on my floor in tears over wanting to put train sounds in all my songs. I’m quite glad he stopped me.
It was a bit lonely as a process, and I wish it had been easier, but I ended up coming to grips with some of the technology (a bit, I’m a massive technophobe), I learned a lot, and I’m proud of the result and of everyone involved.
FTR: Did you approach writing Consolations differently to how you would approach writing a single? What made you want to release an EP?
I wanted to release something more substantial than a single – making the EP felt a bit like hanging paintings, like when you put something next to something else and realise that together, they pop, and the colours sing. The songs made more sense next to each other than they did on their own, at least for me. I didn’t approach writing any differently- I try to let my writing be as spontaneous as possible, at least in the early stages, otherwise I tear all my ideas apart and am left with something bland and dishonest.
FTR: I read you grew up in the South of France, does place have an important influence on your music?
It definitely does! The colours of that village, the river, the summers… but I think most of all it’s about how I feel in a place, rather than the place itself- I’m quite a visual person, so memories of moments and places are very present in my songs.
FTR: Who are your influences as a songwriter? What were you listening to when you wrote this record?
People like Aldous Harding, Molly Drake, and Haley Hendrickx are my tip top faves, but I listen to quite a lot of choral music too, so that’s been important for the EP- things like Dan Forrest’s “Entreat Me Not To Leave You” were on repeat over the summer. I love 20th century French song too (Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf)- their story telling and innate sense of melody have had a big effect on me and my music.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
I would have liked to gig more- I miss sharing music in person, and feeling things WITH other people- but otherwise I was able to just get on with my music making quite quietly. I miss feeling like part of a physical community of artists, and especially in Bristol where the DIY scene is so strong, it feels like a real hole in my musical life. Luckily, my close friends, and Sad Club Records, have been really supportive of the release, and all things considered it feels like it’s gone as well as it could have!
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
BANDCAMP!!!! And also reaching out to let them know that they’re not just releasing music into the void of the Internet- the best thing is knowing your music has resonated with someone, especially when you can’t gauge the reception of a song by being in the same room as an audience!
FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Clara Mann live show?
Lots of sad songs and less sad chatter inbetween- if I’m not playing an instrument, lots of waving my hands around whilst I’m singing. Maybe some new songs…
FTR: Why do you make music?
Because it feels like the most full and honest way I have to express myself- but equally, every time I finish a songs, it feels like I’ve pulled off some mysterious magic trick that amazes even me. I always wonder if I’ll ever know how to recreate it- it’s nerve-wracking, thrilling, and completely addictive.
FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
I’ve painted and drawn for as long as I can remember- for much, much longer than I’ve written music. I also make ceramics sometimes, but painting is my main outlet! I have been knitting quite a lot too- enthusiastically, but without much skill.
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?
I’m so, so happy that people are hearing this record- I never dreamed it would have this kind of reception or any kind of interest, and have been overwhelmed by the response. Anything else that comes of this release would be a bonus- it’s a constant joy to be sharing music, and I’d like to keep doing so for a long time. Yes, I think music is still a viable career- but it can also be a lonely one, especially at the moment. It’ll be so much easier when live music is able to happen safely again.
FTR: What’s next for Clara Mann?
More songs, and, I hope, more shows- other than that, your guess is as good as mine!