Friday, May 9, 2014, 8:35pm. Me, Clair Reilly-Roe, her guitarist for the night Charlie, and a few friends are sitting around a table while digging into $65 prime rib eye steaks and sipping top shelf cocktails at the Arlington Club, a high end steak and sushi restaurant in the heart of the wealthy Upper-East Side. It’s the kind of establishment that typically welcomes New York’s financial and social elite, rather than converse-wearing hell raisers like myself. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
“Excuse me while I slip into something more appropriate” Claire said before we were taken to our table. She quickly removes her urban-style kicks in favor for more establishment-appropriate high heels. Her fancy new dinner shoes mixed a little better with the matching red cocktail dress, which tastefully complimented her figure. After all, this was the kind of place where it’s encouraged to draw attention to your short and flashy cocktail dress.
One of the reasons Pancakes & Whiskey is sitting in one of New York’s nicer steak joints is to sit down and talk with Canadian-born/New York native alternative pop singer/songwriter Clair Reilly-Roe. She was at this restaurant for the night to play a smaller, more intimate acoustic set in promotion of the release of her upcoming EP release.To be honest I wasn’t quite ready for the evening. It had been a long week full of artist interviews, 11 o’clock East Village dinners followed by concerts that go well into the night. You know, the typical life of a broke music journalist. While I’m still trying to get used to the trendier atmosphere, Clair brings be right back to reality with a simple “What are ya drinking? It’s on me”. Ah, now we’re talking.
One thing I quickly noticed about Clair is that she had such a calm and relaxed vibe to her personality. It might have had something to do with the fact that she had just gotten back from the more relaxed confines of Los Angeles. It also may have to do with a little thing called confidence, and she was full of it. Not in a snobby or unattractive way, but rather just coming off as someone who doesn’t let too much get to them- unfazed by typical challenges active musicians face on a daily basis like travel schedules and deadlines.
As we initially sit down, there is no talk about performances, music videos, careers, or music at all for that matter. We begin with the age-old debate of which is the better city, New York or L.A. Amongst other topics were how big of a pain in the ass it can be to get a passport these days, and what songs would be popular to sing for an audience like this.
“We get back from L.A. and we have to spend time learning these covers for this gig. Charlie claims I don’t know the lyrics. Bullshit, I’ve b
een doing wedding singing for years. I know my standards, all the jazz shit, all the kinds of songs I need to know for this crowd. In my defense I know it, I just never sing it, so I don’t retain the lyrics.”
A scotch and a salad later we’re right in the heat of what I really wanted to talk to her about – her music. She just recently released the music video of ‘Knocked Down’, the second single off her upcoming EP, #CuddleBear. The release is set to hit the digital shelves on June 3, and Clair hopes for it to be a successful follow up to her full-length 2011 beach-themed pop album, Island in the City. While the single has been getting some airplay and attention from CBC Radio and Celebrity Café, the focus seemed to be more on the night’s performance rather than the stress of the impending release. Once again another way Clair is able to stay in the moment, rather than getting caught up in the hoopla of any type of diva lifestyle.
The video for ‘Knocked Down’ showcased Clair’s current home city, as it was shot entirely at Coney Island’s famous boardwalk.
“Yeah we shot that in October, on the very last weekend that Coney Island was open. I rented this huge bear that I found in a prop house. Initially I didn’t know I big it was, and it was HUGE. Thank God I borrowed a friends car because I initially wanted to bring it on the subway. I’ll be renting it again for the EP release show!
The release show will be at the famous Bitter End in New York’s NYU area of Greenwich Village. It will hopefully be a night for Clair to step back and really enjoy what her music is giving her listeners. With her busy and hectic schedule it’s surprising she’s able to enjoy anything. Even the making of the album seemed to be more of a focus on the time allotted.
“Everything was one take in the studio, which was at this place where you’d never think could produce a decent acoustic sound. It just happened to be where our drummer kept his equipment. It was a really easy, chilled out session- there were two days of tracking for bass and drums, t
hen our producer and I did the pianos, guitar, and vocals at both of our apartments. It was really nice to organically make it on one take and just say okay that’s it lets move on.”
Clair seemed to thrive on the tight production schedule. Maybe it was her calm and confident attitude, or maybe it’s her ability to go into a session and pump out songs like a baker who takes too many food orders, only to surprise himself with his best creations yet. Although if there was anything she was disappointed over and regretted from #CuddleBear’s recording process, it wasn’t what she was able to record, but rather what she couldn’t.
“It seemed like there were one hundred songs we left off the album, but of course you have a budget and a timeline. I want to keep making new records, which is why we’re recording again next week because I keep writing and I can’t keep up.”
When it comes to her ability to write and perform, Clair doesn’t rely on any musical training or schooling, mostly because she didn’t have any, but like most great performers their past and current influences tend to be more relied to help provide creative sparks.
“My mom used to play Carole King’s Tapestry on repeat. She literally played that like every day for my entire childhood. My dad’s into classical music as well as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones because he’s British. So because my mom liked the hippie stuff, and my dad liking classical stuff, I was exposed to so much musical diversity. Of course I developed my own musical favorites as well, I think all that combined resulted in making it easy to discover melodies today.”
Some of Clair’s personal favorites included Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Beck (her current favorite.
“We were trying to prepare production techniques for the recording we’re doing now and my main goal going in was ‘think Beck’. He’s got so much creativity in his music. All my entire life people have been telling me I have to choose on the style of music I have to do for the sake of my career, and every time I’ll tell them no I don’t, Beck fucking does that shit left, right, and center, and no one told him what to do, so fuck you!”
Clair’s ability to market herself and her music goes well beyond traditional style music promotion. Instead she looks to her second passion in life- fashion. Obsessed with all things vintage when it comes to clothing, her upcoming tour will be featuring performances at vintage clothing stores across the U.S. and Europe.
“I was so frustrated with trying to book shows at places where people don’t know who I am, so I thought about what I love, so I started reaching out to vintage clothing stores and promoting the idea of an in-store shopping special. We did a preview for it at SXSW
this year with this place called Co-Star in Austin, and we’re trying to set it up in Europe come the fall in cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, London, and just tour vintage stores. It almost feels like more of a passion project than my actual career. We’ve played a few fashion week events and parties in the past and it just seems like something that fits in so perfectly with my music.”
So where does Clair want this album to take her? Music has already given her the opportunity to perform across the country, take her act overseas, merge her music with her other passions, and perform after having dinner at one of New York’s finer dining establishments. At this point it’s about what she wants her fans to take out of her music. So when I asked her what she wants the listeners to take away from #CuddleBear once it’s released, she quickly and casually spit out the answer she already had in mind.
“I want girls to make out to it, I want lovers to cuddle to it, and I want best friends to dance to it”.
What more do you need?
Article by: Tom Shackleford