Glowing Up With Claire Reneé
Foreword & Interview by The Elle
I’m sure we’ve all stumbled across a random independent artist on SoundCloud at some point. Being the extreme music aficionado that I am, this has happened to me more than a few times but from the very beginning of my discovery of her, I’ve always felt there was an authenticity to Claire Reneé that seems to be an anomaly amongst artists today. In the era of curating your coolness for Instagram likes and followers, Claire Reneé is a breath of fresh air. Her music (and most notably her most recent project Let Me Glo), speaks to a niche audience of hip hop heads and jazz lovers who swoon at ethereal vocals and melodies and meditate on thought-provoking lyricism. In this interview, Claire keeps the authenticity flowing with gems on overcoming creative ruts, staying true to herself and her personal and artistic journey that birthed Let Me Glo.
L: How many projects have you put out?
C: Four. Two of them were collab projects.
L: Breaking Codes was one.
C: Yea and my first one was Doubts, Dreams and Ambitions. That was literally doubting, dreaming and having some ambition and just putting something out there. I don't really count that one even though there are people who still fuck with me just from that project.
L: Do you feel like this project [Let Me Glo] is your most mature and official project?
C: I feel like this is me actually stepping into the artist I want to become and want to represent myself as. There is a maturity to it because there was a long stint after Breaking Codes where I was just like "nah".
L: But you were still making music during this time. You did FlyLo Thursdays, and Kanye Thursdays.
C: Yea, I did that to stay creative, motivated and inspired and I was just listening to a lot of old hip hop for a while.
L: This one seems a lot more jazz oriented than your previous projects. You definitely are a jazz vocalist but a lot of your previous projects had more of a hip hop feel to it. It’s always seemed that hip hop and jazz kind of have this strange relationship where they're like cousins or something.
C: Yea. A lot of our favorite hip hop songs probably have a jazz sample in them because they just go hand in hand. You have the soul of jazz and the grit of hip hop and it just creates this energy. It feeds me and I just kind of grew up on that.
L: Do you feel like this project is more jazz oriented because you're a jazz head or do you feel sonically that jazz was the type of sound that was going to get out what you needed to express the best?
C: Honestly, it just came out. I wasn't even really thinking about jazz so much, I was just interested in playing with sound and I think jazz is just a good basis for me. I went to school for jazz, I just can't help but be a jazz kid.
L: You went to school for jazz? High school or college?
C: College. High school was completely different, I went to school for dance.
L: How do you see yourself incorporating dance with the Let Me Glo project? With your visuals, with your performance?
C: I'm definitely working on building up my live show, in time and with growth and of course more spacious stages because you know sometimes they will give you a little bit of a platform and be like "shine bright" and all you can do is twirl. Definitely as things start to grow and change, I'm incorporating more dance in my live show and on stage. Visuals for sure, you're definitely going to be seeing classic technique trained Claire.
L: It goes with the music well.
C: I’m glad that you say that because I feel like a lot of people don't get that at all.
C: Any kind of weird juxtaposition of two things people are like "I don't know what to do! What is this?" When you can just let it be. I just happen to be classically trained and I make soulful music and the two can go hand in hand as long as you're being honest with your artistry and yourself and not trying to make something work.
L: Let’s get into the creative process of Let Me Glo, when did you start working on it? I know it’s hard to answer that question as an artist because you'll be thinking "what was the first track that I wrote? I don't really remember, I kind of just threw that on there."
C: This project is funny because I was in a rut. It was just a rough year. A lot of transition, a lot of change, a lot of strange things going on in terms of relationships and life. I spent a lot of time just focusing on my mental health and staying sane because people will drive you crazy if you let them. I was getting back to trusting myself and not second guessing everything I do. I wrote "Dear Me" a long time ago and hated it. I came back to it later and was like "oh!"
L: Did you rework it at all or did you keep it as is?
C: I reworked and rearranged some stuff, changed melodies here and there but for the most part the words were the same and the intent still felt the same. This project definitely came in pieces. I want to say “LOL”, “Love So Hard” and “Easy Come, Easy Go” all came when I moved to LA -- they all just kind of flowed
L: Since you moved from New York to LA, how has your creative process changed being in a different environment?
C:Moving allowed me to be not only in a different space physically but mentally. I felt cluttered in New York and was just ready to give up on everything. LA provided the space to just stretch out my mind, my body, my ideas and really just sit with things.
L: This project really has a healing component to it when you listen straight through. Would you say the title is making a play on glowing through finding light through the darkness?
C: Pretty much. It's all internal. It's not about your highlighter being poppin, or what you got on. That's why I look so regular on the cover, I didn't want to be sitting in the sunlight with bronzer on in all gold everything -- that would've been expected. Glow up is growing up, it's letting go, it’s so many things that rhyme with glow. I had to let go of things to glow, I had to be willing to grow to glow.
L: You said you had a really hard time getting through recording your song “Love So Hard”.
C: That one was tough because it was one of those songs where I wrote it and I was like "ooh! I gotta record this immediately!” and I thought I would just knock it out but when those words are sung and you try to get them out, it's a different experience. It's like I wrote this and now I feel better.
L: It's like you're giving birth to it.
C: Yea and I’m facing it. When you say things out loud that really changes the game, even if you’re just speaking it but having to sing it really takes you there. I had to let the tears out. I tried 3 times and my voice was just breaking and cracking and I was like “alright, let me get this together” and after that I just had a good deep breath and a good take.
L: It's interesting because I feel like when you're an artist and you start to notice a theme you become more self-aware and in tune with what's going on with who you are.
C: Right, exactly. And that's why I like to physically write. Sometimes if it's super late at night and I'll think of something out of my sleep, I'll throw it in my phone but I always like to just literally write things down because then you go back and look at the way you were writing. My handwriting changes-- I can tell what kind of mood I was in based on my handwriting.
L: When you went through the rut and you just couldn't write, how did that make you feel? Some people can take a rut and be like "fuck it, I'm in a rut." and other people are like "OMG, I'm in a rut, I'll never create again".
C: I definitely had a dramatic like "oh! just fuck it all" moment but then I realized that if I was in a rut, I was in a rut for a reason and I just had to keep going through life, day by day but not forgetting what I'm here to do. So hey, it may not be good today, may not be good next week, may not be good three weeks from now. Every now and again when I was in the rut, I would try things out and even if I hated it, at least I tried. Some of the stuff I hated, I went back to and it's on the project. Like "Dear Me", when I came back to it I was like "what was I thinking? This is kind of dope!"
L: Sometimes it has to be that way. There's this idea that if you write a song in 20 minutes and it's great, people are like "wow! you're a genius!" you feel like you're a vessel and it just came out but then there's those times where it was really necessary for you to take your time. For example, “Cranes In The Sky” took Solange 8 years to write. We're in this era where everything is so instant and quick and people expect your project to be like a pop tart. It's like "Oh! You didn't put out a project last year, what are you doing?!"
C: "You're washed!"
L: So obviously you don't feel the need to keep up with that.
C: No. If you like pop tarts, you can eat pop tarts but I'm more of an apple turnover kind of girl. I take my time, gotta fold the dough, add the apples, get all the ingredients in there, a little sugar on top. Throw it in the oven, give it some time. But you if you like pop tarts, go head. Those are delicious in the clutch, if that's your thing. I don't think I ever felt that pressure. I've loved artists that have never felt that pressure and have been influenced by the Jill Scotts and Erykahs and the Maxwells. I'm gonna take my time and you're gonna wait because you're gonna love it.
L: What about community with artists -- a lot of people complain about that. We’re always hearing "People on the music scene here don't support each other -- or artists don't ever wanna give each other props."
C: It's true, community is important. I feel like people are so focused on trying to get on first or be on next that they miss the whole point of coming together. I think that's why the west and the south have been killing the game for years, I think people are okay with "Oh. I really like your stuff, whatever you need, I got you." because whether that person is on next or not, when you have a friend you have a friend. So who knows, if I am on next, I'm taking you with me. But if you were that person that just wanted to shit on me like "Oh no you can't be on my show." or "We can't collab." even if our music is similar or in the same realm, you were worried about being first.
I think that's the problem with community, everyone wants to be first when really there is no first because everything has been done already, in a weird way. I think it is important we support each other. It’s just love, we all need it and it's not easy being vulnerable. None of that stuff should matter, it's about the art, it’s going to speak for itself, that's as simple as it gets.
L: Last question. Going back to Claire when you decided to start creating music consistently... who you were then, where your mind was, what is one piece of advice you would give her that could also be helpful to another artist that's in that place now?
C:To anyone in a predicament where you feel like maybe you're not even sure what you want to do, don't let other people tell you what you should do and what would be good for you. Figure it out yourself. Always be your own compass, don't look for other people to be your compass whether it’s morally, emotionally or whatever. Just follow you, even if you get lost. It's alright to be lost, especially when you're young. Trust you, it sounds so cliché but it's true. When you let too many ingredients in the pot, it starts to taste like crap. Don't let it taste like crap
L: And be more of an apple turnover than a pop tart.
You can find Claire on social media at @ArtisteRenee. Check out her curated playlist and latest visual below