Sure, it’s only half over, but no one would deny that 2012 is Claire de Lune‘s year. In January, the Minneapolis singer and songwriter joined forces with MCs Lizzo and Sophia Eris to release “Push It,” the first single from all-female hip-hop collective The Chalice. By March, the group was performing at South by Southwest. That was coming off of the November 2011 release of the debut EP from A Loud Heart, Claire’s acoustic project with rapper/poet Guante. She’s also found time to stay active in the local rap scene by singing hooks for such artists as MaLLy, on the album he released in May.
How did the record come together?
I had come to know a lot of producers in this city from doing hooks for other people. I had worked with The Tribe, MaLLy, Wide Eyes, and I met all these awesome producers. I sent out an e-mail to start, like, “Hey, this is Claire, we’ve worked together before.” I said, “I’m trying to do some solo stuff, and I want to do kind of R&B and soul stuff. Would you be interested?” And everybody was like, “YES.” Because they do the same thing, over and over–rappers want certain beats per minute, a 16-bar verse, it’s very formulaic. It’s really fun for producers to do something weird and different.
I would just go over to these people’s studios or houses or whatever and play them stuff that I wanted the record to sound like–which was Joss Stone, she did a record with Raphael Saadiq called Introducing Joss Stone; Alicia Keys’ first record, Songs in A Minor; and Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I played those three and said, “This is what I want this to sound like.” And then we just kind of collaborated.
There are producers I worked with and songs I made that didn’t make it on the record because originally it was going to be a full-length. I really wanted it to be a cohesive statement, a complete thought, and working with as many people as I did, it didn’t sound like that to me. So I kind of edited it and cut it down to seven songs that I thought were really solid and really complemented each other, versus 13 or 14 that were kind of just thrown together.
How do you write your songs?
For this record, I think I wrote like 90 percent of the music driving around in my car. I would get a CD from the producer of the beat and put it in my car and just drive around.
“Declaration,” the song I did with Julian Fairbanks, was crazy. That was track 5 out of 5 on a beat CD he gave me, and I heard the beat, and I was driving home from his house, and I took a half-hour-long detour of driving and just wrote that whole song in one shot, minus the bridge. Just instantly, it was my favorite song I wrote for the record, and it still is. Right away, I heard the beat and wrote it in my car. And then I had to fight over that beat, because a couple other rappers wanted it, and they were texting me, “Claire, we already wrote on this beat, too. We want it.” And I was like, “You don’t understand, this is my favorite song I wrote for this record, you have to let me have this beat.” Then I was like, “All right, I’m gonna go demo this song at Julian’s house.” I did it in one take, just a really crappy, rough demo, and was like, “Listen to this demo, and if you don’t like it, take the beat, whatever.” One of them texted me the next day, “Yo! Julian gave me this demo and I’ve been bumping it. You can totally have this beat. This is awesome.” So that beat’s near and dear to my heart, because I had to fight for it.
Do you usually write about your personal life?
I’m a storyteller, so I like making things up and picturing a relationship and writing from different perspectives. I like writing about my friends’ relationships. It’s like a standup comedian–if you’re friends with me, anything you say around me is totally fair game to use in a song. Some of the stuff on the record is ripped from the pages of my diary, and that actually happened to me, verbatim. Some of the stuff is totally made up, and some of the stuff is based off of people’s stories. I don’t know if I’ve experienced perfect, beautiful love that’s just whole, Brady Bunch. But I think I’ve experienced that feeling, even if the relationship isn’t that way. So all of he songs come from a true place of what I’m feeling, and then I either use the anecdotal evidence from my actual life or from my imagination or from other people to fill out the storyline.
Have you been making music all your life?
I don’t really remember a time before I started writing songs. I used to write songs about my day, just start making up things like, “I’m eating toast in the kitchen,” whatever. I didn’t realize until I was older that it wasn’t normal to come home from school and write songs. That’s, like, what I did. I didn’t know how to play instruments, I didn’t have beats, obviously, but I would just write songs a capella, with melodies and everything. I had my iMac, the ones that were huge and see-through plastic colors, and at a certain point I got Garage Band, and I would record all of the songs so I would remember them. My hard drive crashed a few years ago and I lost all of them, but before that I had a couple thousand songs.
At a certain point I figured out that my friends weren’t coming home from school and writing songs, and I figured out that that made me weird, so I kind of kept it a secret. I never really thought of myself as a singer; I thought of myself as a songwriter. It was always my pipe dream to be a singer, but I thought, “I’m not a good singer, I just write songs.” Which is funny now because now I sing songs sometimes that I don’t write. But I remember at a certain point I got brave enough to sing the songs for my friends, and I remember being like, “Don’t listen to my voice, just listen to the song, tell me what you think of the song.” Every time, they were like, “No, you actually can sing, for real though.”
Then I got into Perpich, the arts high school, for singing, and that’s when I was like, “This is a person who does not know me, who does not have to tell me that I’m good, who thinks I’m good enough at singing to bring me into their music program.” That’s when I started doing it professionally and taking it really seriously. So when I was 16 I started playing gigs, that sort of thing.
What do you like about the Minneapolis music scene?
I think that because there’s no real major-label presence here, or of anyone that’s really a tastemaker that could contribute a large amount of money, people just make the music they want to make. They don’t necessarily worry about the standards of what’s cool or what’s gonna make money in New York or L.A., because those people never come here, anyway. People just make really good, really interesting, kinda weird music here, which is awesome.
The hip-hop scene in particular, which is what I have experience with–I don’t think it’s as competitive as other scenes, because the demand is so high. We can have three local hip-hop shows in one night, and they can all sell out. There’s just enough people that are into that kind of music here and want to go, we don’t have to be like, “Fuck their show, come to my show.” We can both have awesome shows. That kind of environment really fosters the kind of community that is really nice to be a part of as a musician. It’s a lot about collaboration, and about your team, your crew, versus the every-man-for-himself mentality that I’ve seen in other cities. I think that’s because, A, we’re in the middle of nowhere and all we have is each other, and B, there’s plenty of enthusiastic people to go around. We can all make hip-hop here, and there’s room for everyone.
What do you think needs to improve about the scene?
I think it would be awesome if we got more national attention. Listening to–not even mainstream rap, but mainstream indie rap, like the independent artists people know about? There’s just so many really good artists in Minneapolis that would blow those people out of the water. I think it’ll happen. It’s on its way there, because it’s all about blogs and Internet presence now, and that’s stateless and countryless and boundaryless. I think it’s great that bands like Poliça are able to have a national presence, but it just goes to show, any of us could.
I’m biased because I have a lot of friends making music right now and I’m making music right now, but I think it’s a really exciting time for Minneapolis music and Minneapolis hip-hop. It seems like it’s heading somewhere.