What makes Clea so mesmerising as an artist, is her authentic unwillingness to be boxed into a single concept.
One-part pop star and two parts folk-rock, Clea‘s sound is ever-evolving, yet unified under a single ideal – her desire to remain authentic to her multi-varied musical talents. However, her latest single, Limelight, marks a new beginning for her flawless genre-hopping.
Happy had the chance to catch up with Clea to chat about new beginnings, life’s many ups and downs, and Clea’s big plans for her self-sustaining future.
HAPPY: How’ve you been? How’re you finding Sydney?
CLEA: It’s good! Sydney’s been nice, very good weather. I haven’t been here since COVID began, but I used to come to Sydney a lot, so it felt nice to come back.
HAPPY: Yeah, I hate to ask this question, but how was COVID?
CLEA: Nah nah it’s relevant. I was fine, and me and my partner, we work together, and we were very fortunate to have a studio, so we were able to record my second album. So, there wasn’t much interruption, if anything, it allowed us more time to give the music. So, it’s been fine – obviously the only downfall was just the lack of gigs. But also, having a break from that has been nice too because touring can be quite intense! And so, knowing that there wasn’t any pressure to tour during peak COVID was actually a nice breather.
HAPPY: Well, it’s funny cause I feel like touring’s really interesting because artists have such an interesting relationship with it. Why is intense, why is it enjoyable, and where do you find that meeting in the middle?
CLEA: I think, so, you have to tour in order to find that medium. When you first start touring, it’s going to be difficult, but necessary. I think about my first tour, and at the time I was self-managing and just organising everything, and I got really, really sick when my first EP was released. For the first show in Melbourne, I lost my voice, and it was really bad. The band wasn’t happy, and I’d done just a pretty basic job of organising. But, it was like the number one lesson. So, I learned everything not to do on that first tour, and so it’s all about overpreparing, over organising, just spending a little bit extra to not be taking ridiculously early flights just helps the whole morale of the tour – health is important too! I’m sure it’s different for people. So, just all those little things that help you the next day to keep moving, and you just have to really keep that momentum up, and understanding what’s happening next.
HAPPY: Do you get stage freight?
CLEA: I don’t get stage freight, but I do get very nervous, because I always want to give it my all and everything builds up. With recent shows, I have been getting more nervous because it’s such a break in between. When you do so many shows you get into a groove, and it being so broken up, it’s interesting going back into the gig world and getting back into that state again, because you have to get back into it. Performing can be so different every time, and for me it depends purely on how I pull myself together beforehand, and if I give myself enough space to make sure the show is well-planned and well thought out.
As opposed to thinking it’s gonna be alright and not practising enough, but then you can never truly pinpoint the actual energy of it, so you always have to move with that once you’re in it! That’s why it’s been interesting having people sitting down at the shows recently, and having to adapt to that energy of stillness. Now, I really have to concentrate on faces and try to look at people, and give them as much of my energy as possible. It’s not like they’re enjoying it any less… but it is different. It’s a different thing when you’re moving to and frow with people, and you get that sweaty fun energy! This is very civil, just sitting down, enjoying the music, which for my music is generally good because I don’t necessarily write dance tunes. It’s different for different people. There were some shows where it’s been good, but there are others where I wish they were moving.
HAPPY: Yeah! I guess with your music and with Limelight, it’s so gorgeous and so diverse, but there’s something that unites all of it. But I can’t put my finger on it?
CLEA: Thank you! That’s such a really interesting question! I think it’s because I always write from authenticity. I’m always trying to produce what is wanting to jump out of me. My voice, definitely, and the tonality I use for storytelling. I’ve definitely connected with a lot of artists who have a unique way of telling a story, all the emotion. That’s really nice though, because I can’t pinpoint myself into a genre and find it hard when people ask what genre of music I make. But it’s just whatever I’m feeling, and think it’s authenticity to that feeling, and that’s what unites it all is that I’m wanting to write for this one feeling – instead of actually hearing it musically.
HAPPY: There’s so much earthiness, ya know? It’s something that really comes forward on Limelight, which sonically, sounds different to other things you’ve made. How’ve you cultivated this sound, and what inspired that change?
CLEA: Definitely! When I first put out music, I very much had folk roots – it was just me and my guitar starting out. And then I met Allie, who is my partner in crime and my creative partner, and we were able to produce the music. After that, it was very much about me slowly entering that world and then realising what I actually wanted from it, because I didn’t have as much knowledge about how to produce music and add the certain instrumentation that I wanted. So now, it’s very much about me taking control of the sounds that I would like to have in the end result. And also for me, once I had attention on my music, I was, in a way, writing music for that instead of writing music for myself. I think a lot of young artists can get trapped in that, where it’s like ‘oh ok, people are paying attention, so I need to write for them, or for the radio station,’ but actually, it’s still just about doing what worked first – writing music that was authentic to you. It’s been a big process of me coming back to that, and me really not thinking about what the outcome of the song is, and just doing what I want to in that moment.
The songs I released during COVID last year (Sugar and Soft Blow To The Head), they’re very much a representation of that – everything that I’m feeling. Yeah, Limelight has a very electronic pop-sound, and then Soft Blow To The Head is very rock, but it’s still very much me. And, were finalising the album now which has none of the songs that we released, so it’s all new! So, it’s gonna be very interesting when it comes out and I’m very excited because it’s such a massive collection of all the emotions I’ve gone through in the last two to three years, and the real ups and down of moving through your 20’s. I’m 25 now, and it’s about when you become an adult, but then figure out how to move as an adult and fit in with the different nooks in like (laughs). It’s been intense, and I’ve captured a lot of pain and love in this album, which is hopefully… coming out soon! I can’t give you any kind of date, but I’m excited.
HAPPY: I know you can’t give too much away, but you’ve got a genre-bending sound, so where have you leant into with this?
CLEA: Nah every song is definitely different! To me though, someone could listen to it and think ‘every son sounds the same’, but I don’t think so, they are quite different. I have a feeling they’re quite different – there’s some serious pop tunes, and then there’s some folk, and there’s some rock, and then in-between, there’s a little bit of weird synth that comes out of nowhere.
HAPPY: Are you gonna keep going down this ambient path that you’ve carved out with your production?
CLEA: Definitely, that’s something that’s just happened with time – creating more space within the music to let it breathe, not to have it fill every gap, and just trusting in it. I’ll always have my self-doubts and self-preservations, so I’ve gotta just trust in myself that what I’m doing is relating, and if I keep doing that it’ll sustain a long-lasting career.
HAPPY: Yeah, can I ask about your activism for a moment and your interest in fashion – it’s something that clearly comes out in your work as an artist.
CLEA: I very much love to advocate for everything that is sustainable, and that will only help a small group of people at a time. But, for me, it’s comforting for me to be able to know where my food is from, and where my clothes are from. As we move further and further away from nature, I want to further into it. It’s about finding that balance, because I want to be in the ‘busy society world’ where we still have to catch planes and be in cities and all that stuff, but generally, it’s important to be aware and conscious of the little impacts we have as humans. It all takes everybody doing a little bit to make a difference, because it can be overwhelming at times so, it’s just about doing the things you can to help mother nature.
HAPPY: You’re so openly earnest in your music and your public presence, and we live in such a ‘post-ironic time’. Do you ever feel vulnerable being authentic in that sense?
CLEA: Yes! Even you asking me that question I get like that little pang of ‘oh, I’ve gotta say this right, because if I’m pigeonholed into being an ‘earthy-girl’ but then there’s a picture of me with a plastic bottle, then I’ll be shunned out of the world’ (laughs). It’s not productive to have any real kind of negative thoughts about yourself, because it creates a very particular identity that you have to be all-in, or nothing. People call me a ‘tree-hugger’, but we’re literally from nature, and it’s so weird that we live in a time where you can be ‘called out’ for caring. It’s strange and as basic as it sounds, you’ve gotta push through it and not care about what other people think, because there are gonna be people out there who do relate to what you’re saying.
HAPPY: Yeah, who are you listening to right now, and who were you listening to while you’ve been creating this new album?
CLEA: I’ve been listening to Bones by Telenova. I consistently listen to Grizzly Bear, they’re still one of my favourite bands, I can’t… (laughs). I think it’s attached to the feelings of when I was a teenage as well, it’s forever evolving but giving me exactly what I need.
HAPPY: It’s weird how music from your teens is so influential in how you perceive the world.
CLEA: Oh my god, it is! Unless you totally had a full flip in personality, and you were maybe listening to songs you thought you should be listening to as a teenager, music from your teens sets you up for life. So, I think when I have kids, I’m gonna be listening very closely to what they’re getting into – and sliding them suggestions as a ‘cool mum’. You’ve gotta do it, but you’d have to let them evolve themselves, or otherwise they’ll resent you!
HAPPY: Wouldn’t it suck if your kids had shit music taste?
CLEA: Yes! It would suck but I’d try not to judge them. I’d do little subtle things like ‘oh, maybe you should try this’ (laughs). I don’t know, what will my kids think is cool in 2050 as teenagers. Is that long, how long away is that? How many years is it till 2050? Quick math!
HAPPY: Ohhhh it’s 29 years?
CLEA: 29 years. Alrighty I’ll be 54!
HAPPY: Where do you see yourself at 54?
CLEA: Hopefully in a self-sustaining bungalow, surrounded by rescue animals, and a fully self-sustaining garden. I’d just make and create my own food, and lots of pickled onions – everything fermented!
HAPPY: That’s gorgeous, that’s cottage-core to a T. That wraps up all my questions, is there anything you wanna add-in that I haven’t touched upon?
CLEA: Nah! I think we covered a lot!
HAPPY: Well, thank you so much!
CLEA: Thank you!
Limelight is out and available now!
Interview by Mike Hitch
Photos by Four Minutes To Midnight