Independent Toronto-based musician Clara Engel is a multi-faceted and prolific artist who has independently recorded and released eight albums. BBC Radio and Italian National Radio caught wind of the talent, featuring her music on several occasions. Her most recent release, The Lovebird’s Throat, is a prime example of her imaginative, rustic, dark and deep approach to gothic Americana, folk and chamber blues.
Though she is currently working on a new album, which will be released in 2013 by Talking Skull (Mtl) (she is using crowdfunding to get it done: http://www.kapipal.com/claraengel), Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Engel to discuss The Lovebird’s Throat. This is what she said about it.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
I really couldn’t say, because my writing process is ongoing and a bit mysterious to me. Ideas will sit as kernels for months or years and then suddenly be songs, and then some songs get written really fast. It complicates the notion of chronology. The work kind of has a mind of its own and is on its own time. There’s a real element of haphazardness in terms of what I record in one sitting, and I wouldn’t change that if I could. I like to surprise myself. I like leaving some things up to chance.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
“Disembody My Voice” was the hardest to mix, because it sounded hollow to me at first. We fixed that, though. “Lovebirds” has the most overdubs, and we, (Mitchell Girio, the mixer and I), mapped out a build for it, it has a tighter arrangement than the others. I wouldn’t describe any of them as troublesome. It was a pretty painless recording, I went in to Tony Goddess’ studio, with drummer Nate Greenslit, and we recorded four songs in an afternoon.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Lovebirds.” Originally, it was just me and guitar, and I had only started playing it live the week before it was recorded. That one blossomed a lot in the mixing stage. The pacing and feel of the song changed, I added a lot of instrumental overdubs.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Nate Greenslit play drums on three tracks. Valerie Kuehne plays cello on one.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
I don’t like the word producer, I find it pretentious a lot of the time. But I suppose I am the producer, in that I played the songs the way I wanted to play them, and guided the way they were then sculpted in the studio. I got some very valuable insight and help from Mitchell Girio, who mixed the album.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
If there is one, I don’t know what it is. I’ve never consciously made a concept album. As I mentioned — my songs are ahead of me. My intentions when writing a song become a bit feeble and obsolete once it’s out there in the world — which makes me glad, I want my work to grow beyond me. I’d rather the songs stand up for themselves than have to prop them up with explanations.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
I’ve played them all live. “Not Knowing” has made some people cry. So I guess that’s the strongest reaction… but people also have mentioned “Disembody My Voice” as being their favorite. It really depends on the listener. Each listener brings something different to a song.
(Engel’s complete discography can be found here: http://claraengel.bandcamp.com.)