CLAIRE‘s philosophy is simple: don’t over-think it, just do it. After a whirlwind record deal and a hit single, Games, the group is on a stellar ascent from a shared Munich studio to worldwide notoriety. They’ve been to festivals, they’ve been on adverts, and you’ll even see them embarking on their first U.S. tour after the release of their debut album, The Great Escape, on September the 27th. Now, members of CLAIRE are sticking with their philosophy of taking life as it comes – with certain caveats. In our talk with Nepomuk Heller, Florian Kiermaier, Fridolin (Fridl) Achten, Josie-Claire Bürkle and Matthias Hauck, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION got down to the nitty-gritty of getting cabin fever in the studio, being a pop act in an electro world, and bringing your friends with you all the way to the top.
Your first album is called The Great Escape. Do you see your music as an escape from the harsh realities of life?
N: It’s more like a fantasy world. There’s real life, which tends to get boring, just going to work, living your daily life… and then there’s music, where you can flee into a world where your imagination is what you experience. That’s what part of the ‘escape’ is: where you just close your eyes and you’re there.
You started out making a song for a friend’s film project. Does cinematography still play a part in how you write songs?
N: It’s very synaesthetic. Sometimes we have a clear vision of how it’s going to look, and then make the music, and sometimes it’s the other way round; we just have the basics of the track, and then start asking, “What are the colours? What’s the time of day? Would I want to listen to this on a Sunday, on an early evening’s drive?” and then the sounds, the voices, and the feeling of the track all come together. That’s also how we write lyrics. At first we have the instrumental and then we start –
J: Making a video in our heads.
N: Yeah, making a cinematic video in our heads and trying to write lyrics that fit the imagery. With our lyrics, we’ll often use tiny fragments and keep repeating them, but actually there’s a whole plot behind the song when we wrote it. Like, “she’s sitting there, he’s there…” (laughs) We couldn’t remember them right now, but when we’re composing, sometimes our minds flourish.
Do you have much input in your own music videos?
Flo: Videos and our visual appearance are very important to us. From the start of Claire onwards we had all our family members and close friends doing all the artwork and videos for us, and that means we have a huge influence on how our videos and our art work looks.
J: It’s really great working with friends because you can be more honest.
N: Yeah, they understand the vision behind our band, they’re with us directly from the start. They saw from the beginning how we developed and want stuff to look like; they share our vision.
CLAIRE: “We doubt ourselves every day”
It seems like you guys are quite a DIY project…
N: It’s really all family. I mean the graphics department, for example, is really Matthias’ brother, all his brothers are working on the websites, and childhood friends of Flo are making the videos…
Fr: My friends are doing nothing. (laughs)
J: You’ve got the friends who post everything on Facebook!
Fr: – And they buy everything! One friend of mine told me, “I bought your CD, I pre-ordered it on itunes, and I think I ordered the vinyl on amazon…”
Things have been taking off for you over the past few months. As the band gets bigger, do you see your friends and family staying involved?
J: That’s actually a major point for us. We really want things to stay as they are because Claire’s not just us, it’s all the people who helped us develop our image.
Flo: We want to give our friends and family everything we possibly can; they did such great work for us with such enthusiastic euphoria to help us and to let Claire grow.
J: Especially at the start, we had no money to pay them –
Flo: We still have barely no money to pay them, so we have to keep it that way, so we can be fair. If we have some sort of hype, we want to bring them with us. This is how we communicate with the label and other people, and until now, it’s worked out.
J: They’re doing really great work so I the label are like, “Okay”. They can’t complain!
Three of you guys – Florian, Matthais and Nepomuk – started out as producers. How do you slot in to the live set-up?
N: We play a lot of synths.
Flo: Actually, they play a lot of keyboards. Maybe this is the right word for it because they really press keys, they’re not just knob twiddling.
N: We’ve done that. I mean, we’re doing both. They are some parts where we want to make it sound really interesting so we have to use pre-recorded sounds but there are many parts where we actually play it, so in fact we’re playing like, five different instruments and adding one on each time. We using midi keys, we’re using tune machines, we have a lot of old analogue synths from 1983 – that is old, old gear!
Flo: It’s more like a rock show; not a DJ band with vocals, but a real band. In the beginning we sat in front of the production session and said, “Okay, wow. That’s a lot of channels. We need about thirty hands, or something like that. This is impossible” and then we tried to pick out the most important instruments, and –
N: And reduce it.
Flo: And figure out who was playing what. So, in the beginning, I was like, “I’m the only one who is able to play guitar, so I probably should do that” (laughs) And Josie’s the singer so she’ll sing, and Fridl is the drummer so he’ll play drums, and the rest is left for the guys. In fact, they are really the most busy ones on stage, they’re really stressed!
Any major disasters so far?
Fr: At one show, one of our monitors wasn’t working and I couldn’t hear anything – including my drums. I just heard the metronome in my ear and I was like, “Oh my god, it’s going to be awful” and then I looked at Flo and I just screamed at him, “My monitor’s not working, my monitor’s not working” and he was just like, “Hm. Keep playing.” (laughs) But it ended up okay.
A lot of artists struggle with doubts about their creative process, but it sounds like you work really well together.
N: Oh, we still have doubts.
Flo: We doubt ourselves every day.
Was it a struggle to finish the album as a group?
Flo: We took six months’ time to make our album, and after four months we had really huge downs, we were feeling really shit about everything.
J: “It’s not getting finished”.
Flo: “It’s not getting finished, it’s not getting better.” We fought every day, it was a really hard time for us. We wanted everything to be as good as possible, and we wanted to do it by ourselves. We recorded and produced the record, we mixed the record – there are only a few songs we didn’t mix ourselves. It was quite a fight, but it was really important to us to go from zero to finish alone.
N: The whole process was in our hands, so we were together 24/7. For the last few months, we didn’t leave the studio. We slept there, we had people coming to us bringing us food and fresh clothes and stuff like that. And there were naturally a lot of fights going on, because you’re doubting yourself and you’re doubting the others… I think the worst part was that we had too many ideas coming. There’s just thirteen tracks on the album but we had ideas for twenty five tracks, and, we had to decide, “Okay this one is just the vision of a track but it’s going to work better than the other one.”
How did you decide what made the final cut?
Flo: When we recorded the vocals, we could see what was working and what wasn’t working. We started with so many different instrumentals – from really heavy electronic stuff to hip hop to indie tracks – and we thought they would never work out in one style, but then we realised that Josie’s voice melds the songs together. But in the end, we figured out that songs which are finished with never be lost. We will release them anyway, if it’s a B-side or free download or whatever. The most important thing for us is to get them out so people can hear it, you know? In the end, that was something we could all agree on. These tracks come to our album, but the rest will be released anyway.