An Interview With: Clara Mann

Photos by Chiara Gambuto

Hey Clara, hope you’re well! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Hi! I’m Clara, I’m usually based in Bristol, but left the city when Covid hit and am currently living on Dartmoor. I have a green car and a red coat.

Describe your relationship with music.

It’s just been a constant all my life, really. We moved around a bit when I was growing up, but wherever we went, music came with us.

My mum would play the piano in the living room, with the windows wide open, or teach my little sister and I songs that she loved, and we wrapped ourselves up in music. I’ve sung alone and in choirs my whole life, and played the piano since I was 6, but only fairly recently started writing. Once I’d started, I didn’t want to ever stop- without sounding pretentious, it did feel natural, and although I write quite sad music, it also felt joyful.

You grew up surrounded by music in rural France - what was that like, how do you feel that it has affected your views on the world and your approach to music?

I feel so lucky that my parents chose and were able to give us that life! Firstly because both my sister and I grew up bilingual, which I’m so grateful for, because it opened up a whole world of books and music, jokes, and poetry, that I’ll always hold on to.

The French songwriting tradition has definitely influenced me: songwriters like Charles Aznavour or Barbara draw hugely on poetry in their work, and they almost always tell stories. That’s what I want to do- tell stories, weave a web of some kind.

Living in quite a traditional village in France, the church was bound to play a part in our lives, despite none of my family being very religious. Without engaging with that part of the village we would never have been integrated into the community as a whole, and so we occasionally went to mass, and lit candles, and sang hymns with all the other children. Though I was never drawn to it after we left the village, the church was important throughout childhood, and has definitely influenced my music. It’s not very trendy to admit that one is influenced by those things, but it’s true.

You’re an accomplished piano player but you chose the guitar for this EP. Why?

I still find it hard to write on the piano: my hands know the shape of the keyboard too well, and move to predictable chord sequences or melodies. I came at the guitar as a complete novice, in a very innocent and exploratory way, and I found I was able to pick out much more original patterns. I understand the instrument better now (I hope), but I want to hold onto that freshness i found when I first picked it up.

I also knew I didn’t really want to write ballads, I wanted to write folk inspired music, because that’s what I love listening to, and guitar felt like a much more appropriate instrument.

How do you go about writing a song? What process do you follow?

Every time I write a song, it feels like I’ve pulled off some amazing magic trick that even I don’t quite understand- it’s unpredictable, and somehow surprising every time! I also ALWAYS think it’ll be the last song I ever write, you know, “that’s it, I’m all out now” kind of thing. It’s exhausting, but exhilarating.

From that you can probably tell I don’t have a formula- but I do seem to fall into a pattern of writing. I usually start with two or three chords, and one line of melody, with words. The words help me find a rhythm for the melody, without which I tend to get too fussy melodically. From that one line, I build the rest of the song.

Your music echoes a British & Irish folk tradition whilst your earlier influences come from your childhood in France, including classical and choral - what contemporary musicians do you listen to?

I really love Haley Hendrickx at the moment. There’s something so fresh about her writing, and her voice- a friend’s mum said it was “like a babbling brook”, which I thought was lovely.

I’ve loved Fiona Apple’s new album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters, because of how visceral and abrasive it is. There’s some raw and angry about it, and it’s just so full of energy.

I like Aldous Harding, Fontaines D.C, Julia Jacklin... just bits and bobs, really.

Listen to Clara's new EP 'Consolations' here.

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