Many lifetimes ago I lived in Dallas, and I loved it. The city shaped me into who I am today, yet I've not returned since I left. For those counting at home, I was there before the prevalence of the internet and cell phones. Don't tell anyone! And while I've wanted to get back, I got busy living life, and experiencing other places in this big world. Now it seems I have a reason to return, and that's to see Claire Morales and her band perform.
Since Claire introduced me to her band in a succinct and polite email a good while back, I've been fascinated by the compelling stories her dynamic voice brings to life. Not to mention a seemingly effortless ability to shift styles. Recently, I spoke to Claire about the band, DFW, art, their 2nd LP, musical blindspots, and making the leap to a full-time musician. Here's what she had to say.
(AS) When did you start playing music and how would you describe it?
(CM) I started out playing music solo on acoustic guitar when I was 13. In the last couple years, I switched to electric and formed a full band. I have a hard time pinning down a genre for the music we make, so I usually say it's dreamy, melodic, lyrically obsessed mermaid rock n roll. Or something.
(AS) What artists influenced the band's sound?
(CM) Influences include Angel Olsen, Leonard Cohen, Nancy Sinatra, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Sibyelle Baier. We've released one album so far in February of 2015, a full length called Amaranthine and have since played shows and festivals in and around Texas. I've also done a series of collaborative covers with friends and a full length album last fall with Daniel Markham.
(AS) Who is in the band?
(CM) The band is Ryan Williams on bass, Russ Connell on drums and Alex Hastings on lead guitar. We've been playing together in the current lineup for a little over a year now, and it came together really naturally.
(AS) How did y'all come together?
(CM) Ryan plays bass in a billion bands (Baptist Generals, Boxcar Bandits, and Bludded Head to name a few recent ones) and I had seen him playing around town for years. I just sent him a message one day asking if he would play with me, and he said yes. I felt super lucky since he plays with some really amazing groups from pretty much every genre you can think of. The band started out as a three piece with our pal Jesse playing drums, but we ended up parting ways amicably and he recommended Russ who plays drums with us now. Russ had played with Alex in another band (The Demigs) and thought he would be a good fit. We didn't have anyone playing lead guitar for us yet, so the timing was great.
(AS) What did you bond over?
(CM) Russ is a stellar drummer and he's also a metal worker, so we bond over artsy stuff sometimes. We all like donuts and greek food and a lot of the same music and sometimes long boarding and and we have similar senses of humor. Sometimes it's weird being the only girl (I've been looking for a keys/synth girl to sing harmonies with for ages) but the guys are awesome. They have such great ideas for the songs and are willing to come to practice every week and play shows and travel and work hard. It's nice to play with such stellar musicians / people.
(AS) When did you start making music? Early influences/supporters?
(CM) I've always loved making music. I was kind of a ham as a child and would jump up on the fire place and sing songs during family gatherings. I also just loved hearing music. My dad would play songs on guitar for my sister and I before we went to bed. He played some really great stuff: the Beatles, Elvis, Roy Orbison, Bob Marley, songs with really amazing lyrics and melodies. I would just lay there and sometimes cry a little and listen to the songs and pretend to fall asleep. My dad helped me to learn guitar and gave me instruments and my mom would convince coffee shops to let me play when I was 13 and just starting to do shows. They've always been super supportive and helpful, I'm really lucky to have that. There have been music teachers too, like the only voice teacher I've ever had, Amy Searcy (my elementary school music teacher goddess). We're friends today and she's still just so encouraging and awesome. I recently quit my full time design job to pursue music and freelance more seriously, and she and my parents were all for it. Music is a hard thing. It requires a lot of time and money and energy. You don't see a whole lot of concrete payoff and it's hard to do with a normal 9-5 job. It's really great to have people cheering you on and telling you you don't suck and buying you instruments when you are a little kid, annoying everyone with your singing while they try and eat family dinner in peace.
(AS) What's the best and worst thing about the DFW music scene?
(CM) The best thing is the music. There are great new bands happening all the time and I find it to be really inspiring. The worst thing is having to drive to Dallas to play shows.
(AS) You've mentioned work beginning on a 2nd LP, how is that coming along?
(CM) Yes! It's going really well. We have our songs picked out and have been demo-ing them in the studio our guitarist partially runs. It has been really great getting to demo the tracks before we go in for a week of recording at the Echo Lab next month. It's really giving us a chance to fine tune our songs and nail down tempos and arrangements and such beforehand. It's exciting and agonizing to think about releasing something new. Mostly exciting.
(AS) Some of your collaborations and an early track ('Wildest Dreams') from the 2nd LP seem like a departure musically from your debut LP, Amaranthine. What do you attribute the shift to?
(CM) It's just a new phase in life and music. These songs were also written with the band in mind, more so than the last album, so that's made for music that is a lot more energetic and big and...band-y. This music is much more rock, it's heavy and epic and a little theatrical at times. I've been listening to a lot of really dramatic rock music from the 60s/70s and that's maybe had an effect. The whole album is about human desire, so part of the reason the music has changed tones is to compliment that theme. Change is good for an artist. I wouldn't want to make the same album again and again. I recently watched Five Years, a documentary about David Bowie and found it to be really inspiring. He was always changing genres and aesthetics and playing with new people and trying out new things. It's made me a lot more comfortable with change and it's made me eager to work with as many different artists as I can.
(AS) The decision to take the leap to a full time musician couldn't have been easy. How long had you considered it?
(CM) I've been at my current job for almost four years, I've been thinking I needed to do this since I started, basically. It was a nice job with salary and vacation and all that, and my boss was really great. But I was commuting 2 hours a day and working 50 hours a week on top of that and I was going kinda crazy. It was a tiny design shop, just me doing all the design work and my boss doing all the business stuff. I felt like I didn't have any time to do things like write songs or have human relationships. Taking large chunks of time off to tour or record was just out of the question, so changing my work situation just seemed like something that had to happen. I'm the kind of person who likes to work hard and not sleep and handle things, so it took me a while to really admit that I needed to quit. I dig design, and I'm still freelancing. My goal is to eventually just do music branding. I love branding of all kinds, but designing posters, tshirts, album art, tapes...that stuff is really special. It's such an honor to put a face onto someone's art and I would love for that to be my specialty.
(AS) Family and friends are great at encouraging, but not quite as good for criticism. Who do you go to when you need an honest assessment of what you're doing?
(CM) My mom is actually pretty good with criticism! She's very supportive, but she's an artist herself, so she understands that feedback helps you grow. Sometimes she'll tell me that a song I'm playing isn't really working or that my voice didn't sound as good as it usually does or that the sound guy didn't know what he was doing. She's a really honest person and it's good to hear what she has to say (usually). I'm also lucky to have a bunch of musician friends, including my roommate Roy Robertson of Denton band Pageantry. I actually just showed him this folksy song for the new album because I knew he'd tell me if it sucked. He's that kind of pal. It's the same way with the band. I'll bring them songs and be like "Is this right? Is this good? Should we keep pursuing it?" I try to create an environment where criticism isn't a personal attack but just a necessary part of the process.
I also think it's important as an artist to be able to self-criticize and filter. You will get a million different and conflicting opinions from the people you know. You can't rely on outside feedback. You have to have a core that you can trust and just believe that what you're doing is good and do it. I'm not afraid to throw songs away or rework them once they've been figured out, but I also try to leave well enough alone and not be too finicky. It's better to just keep working and get better with experience.
(AS) On that, have you ever tossed out a song everyone else liked, but you didn't?
(CM) Yep! There's one I can think of that never got recorded from around Amaranthine times. Just didn't feel like it needed to be on the album, even though the band and friends I played it for liked it. More often than not though, if I don't like a song, nobody hears it to begin with. I just like to edit.
(AS) Many artists talk about musical inspirations, as you have, but what other forms of art inform your music?
(CM) I love that question. Literature is super inspiring to me. I love a good story. Lately I've been really into short stories by Karen Russell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, magical realism is so groovy. I also just read the Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry, I love how southern and desolate and existential it is. I think a lot of my songs feel that way, lately. Perma-inspirations are T.S. Eliot and Camus. I grew up around a lot of modern art too and I read a lot of Greek myths as a child, I'm still writing about Picasso and Diana, goddess of the hunt. Those things really stick with me. My dad is an amazing artist too, I'm very inspired by his work ethic as much as his art. He always had a day job and then came home and worked until 3 in the morning on circuit bent pieces, sculptures, mini bikes and more.
(AS) When you covered Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne', I called Cohen a musical blindspot, an influential artist for some reason I'd not listened to for whatever reason. I can think of a few others I've not consumed myself with, the list is massive. Who are your musical blindspots?
(CM) Oh, I have so many! It was really only last year that I really got into a lot of the music I think of as essential now: Patsy Cline, David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers, Brian Eno, Nancy Sinatra, so many others that I should have really been familiar with way sooner. It's like it suddenly occurred to me that I ought to listen to them all, like really listen to them and get to know their work beyond the hits. I started exploring more and actively trying to find new (old) music to hear and be influenced by.
(AS) What's coming up next? Releases/gigs/fests/collaborations. Any news to report?
(CM) Jena (of Sundae Crush / Layer Cake) and I are working on a sad girl themed EP right now. I would say it's 70% done, there's been some back and forth on the tracks since she lives in Seattle and I live in Denton, but it's been such a fun process. I can't wait to share what we've been doing, it's super gloomy and girly and teen. I also have a couple of new cover collaborations in the work, look for those in the next few months. I try and keep busy. I love making music and it's great to have more time to do it more recently.
Members: Claire Morales - Guitar and Vocals, Ryan Williams - Bass, Russ Connell - Drums, and Alex Hastings - Lead Guitar.
For more information on Claire Morales: