Claire Grayson On The Madness, Artistic Vision, and Musical Influences

The songstress discusses her past, her new image, and the future.

By Richard Provost

Claire Grayson is a genuine person. As a young musician, she has talent and insight beyond her years. Currently residing in Seattle, Washington after an extended stay in Provo, we were able to snag a few minutes with her to discuss her recent release and her plans for the future.

I’m so stoked to be able to talk with you. I love following your music and your progress. Thanks for letting me interview you!

Thank you for the interview. I really shouldn’t have done this so late. I might feel differently about my answers in the morning. I hope it all sounds good. If you need to edit, that’s fine. 

[Laughs] No worries. We got you. So, tell me a little about your musical history. I want to know. When did you first learn to play the guitar? What inspired you to start writing?

I started writing around the third grade maybe? I wrote poetry and short stories. I loved words and I still do. I am honestly not all that good at sticking to things. Somehow when I first got my guitar, it stuck. I’d play every day. I’d play until my fingers bled and my voice was hoarse. Writing and playing meant everything to me. They became my strongest coping mechanism for my mental illness. I was so young, I just didn’t understand what was happening in my mind and why I felt so much pain and misplaced confusion. There really wasn’t one moment that I remember deciding to write a song. I have memories of making up songs in the car when I was five. That might be a everyone thing though. I don’t know. This is the first question and I think I’ve already let it get away from me.

“Maybe our individual madness is what unites us all,” says Claire Grayson.

You mentioned you had a mental illness. If you feel comfortable sharing, what is it that you have? How has it influenced your music?

I am officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It would be impossible for it not to influence my life. My life is influenced by who I am and it is definitely a major aspect of who I am. It has influenced my music because the music comes from me, and I am bipolar. That was not very eloquently put.

[Laughs] No, it was great! Who are your musical influences?

Everyone. Seriously. Everyone and everything. I love walking through the city and hearing various sounds. I create this whole arrangement in my head. It’s like some weird August Rush spin off is always happening in my mind. I’m sure if I were to actually bring it to life it would make your ears bleed, but it’s a nice inspiration to have for myself. Artists I really admire can range anywhere from The Mamas & the Papas to Herman’s Hermits. I love Brandon Flowers or Marina and the Diamonds. King Krule is a ride or die for sure, and I’m always down for Bleachers or Nate Ruess. I will forever have a special place in my musical selection for Imagine Dragons because they were such a beacon for me. “It’s Time” just felt different. It made a deep impression on me and pulled me away from my own mental darkness so many times, and it still does. The Struts are full of so much beautiful attitude and Melanie Martinez is a lyrical master. It’s literally an impossible question for me to answer because I will always feel like I’m leaving someone out. My musical friends all inspire and amaze me, local music drives me, fellow street performers constantly leave me dumbfounded and rejuvenated. My music influences are just yes. Can I just say yes?

[Laughs] Why yes you can! You’ve got a killer list of influences. So In October 2014 you successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the distribution of your Low Ceilings EP and a mini tour in Idaho and Utah. What was that experience like? What did you learn from the process, and how has it influenced who you are as a musician now?

Claire during the Low Ceilings era.

It was overall a really good experience. I’d never done a week of shows like that, so at the time that was a bit overwhelming for me. I also loved every moment and made sure to let it sink into my skin. In terms of Kickstarter, I really didn’t love doing both of the ones I’ve done. Because the only way for them to be successfull is to throw it in everyone and their dog’s face, on every platform. It’s just uncomfortable. That being said, I’m incredibly thankful for both of the Kickstarter campaigns I did and the massive support I received.  But, hopefully I won’t have to do one again – ever. I think every experience teaches me so much. Because I am such an emotional human with such a strong personality, I experience things in a different way. I take things very personally. This can be very very bad. But I wouldn’t change it because of the good that comes along. So it has influenced me in countless ways. It was such a rapid experience with a lot to take in. Essentially, I love my friends and family and none of that would have happened without them. I will never be able to say enough thanks.

That’s great. So since the Low Ceilings EP I’ve noticed a style change. You’ve rebranded. Once Claire Elise, a cute, soulful acoustic folk singer who wore her heart on her sleeve, you are now Claire Grayson – a darker, more mysterious indie pop singer who seems a little more guarded and reserved lyrically. Would you agree with that description? What’s the reason for the style change?

Honestly, this question is why I’ve kind of avoided this interview for a week or so. It was difficult for me to read, for several reasons. I have changed, and that’s a bummer because I miss the ease of being Claire Elise. In terms of writing, performing, even promoting, it was more simple. I also miss playing certain Claire Elise songs that would never convert into my new style, and I wouldn’t really want them to regardless. Your description of me as Claire Grayson made me feel a little disappointed and nervous. I felt like with The Madness I was completely honest and vulnerable. I put everything out there. So to hear that maybe I’m coming across as more reserved is a little bit painful. I tried so hard to be open. The lyrics are not necessarily darker, but more obviously dark. The style change came with different inspirations. Mostly I just felt like I was too comfortable. I’ve never thrived in comfortable, nor would I want to. I’d started writing some things differently and hearing them different as well. I’m happy with this new direction, but it’s also a major learning curve in all aspects.

What was your inspiration behind The Madness EP?

Everyone is mad. There are various varieties of madness. The message I really wanted to convey in “The Madness” is the idea that maybe our individual madness is what unites us all. Aside from that main idea, there are several inspirations. “Nobody Wants Me” is what I meant by feeling extremely vulnerable and honest. It’s very, very personal. It’s not the favorite track on the record, but it is most important to me. It isn’t even necessarily pertaining to feeling unwanted by potential partners, but people in general. Friends,  family, humans. In the moment I wrote it I felt so isolated and I just wanted to deliver an outlet for others feeling alone. “Hold Your Fire” is a track that pulls from so many different experiences and ideas. It’s a song that a lot of people took to and have put their own meaning into, and I think I like it that way.

Album art for The Madness.

Where was it recorded? Who did you work with?

Eric Robertson of Pleasant Pictures produced and mixed the tracks. Catherine Leavy also assisted in producing. Chris Burton did an incredible job mastering all of the tracks. It was rad to work with Eric. He was able to take the tracks to places I never would have expected and he had so much patience with me. He’s really, truly, a genius. Catherine was a key factor in everything coming about the way it did and I love her dearly. She’s been a massive influence, never-ending mentor, and constant friend.

The two videos that were released for this EP – “Hold Your Fire” and “Nobody Wants Me” – are very artsy and intense, with both being beautiful in entirely different ways. What was it that you hoped to get across with these videos? Will there be a third one for “The Madness?”

I think we just wanted them to portray the songs correctly, and I feel like they definitely did. I’m such a visual person. It was really important to me to create a visual for the songs on the EP. There may be a video coming for “The Madness” and there may not be. That’s not even some cheeky answer. I’m not sure if I’m ready to continue on or not. I don’t know if I’m done with  exploring and portraying this EP yet.

The videos were directed by Milan Cook. How did you first get in contact with her? What was it like working with her?

It is unobtainable to get on her level. She’s just that cool. I’ve known her for a while through mutual friends. She’s worked on some great projects for other local artists. She’s really professional, but not confined to her own vision. Her mind works in mysterious ways. I just kind of sat back and marveled at her most of the time. She flew out to Seattle to shoot both videos and she problem solved every obstacle. I’m so glad she agreed to get on board with this project. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to bring these particular songs to life like she did.

I know you’re not sure if you’re ready to move on or not, but I’ll ask anyway. What can we expect moving forward?

I don’t know. Again, not a cheeky answer. I’m obviously writing. Always. I am working on getting some musicians together to start playing shows out here in Seattle. It’s a different scene. Just like my new sound, it’s a learning curve. I’m not just twiddling my thumbs though. There are some definite things set in stone that will be announced soon, but really I’m just trying to cultivate my art. I want to be proud of what I put out next. The Madness was such a leap forward from my past releases, but I still listen to it with regret. That might just be a personal thing that I’ve got to get over, but I know that I have not put out my personal best yet. It’s a new year.

You can follow Claire on Instagram at @clairegraysonmusic. You can listen to her new EP, The Madness, on Spotify here, or download it from iTunes here. Check out the music video for “Nobody Wants Me” below.


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