The Next Steps: An Interview With Clairo

Clairo speaks on 'diary 001,' learning to play live, and the decision to pursue music full-time.

clairo diary
Direct from Artist
clairo diary

When conversations started about a followup to P&P's original Clairo interview, her debut EP was finally about to go wide. Years of Bandcamp and SoundCloud demos had been stripped away, and the 19-year-old's proper introduction to the music industry stands at just six songs long.

It started in earnest on May 25, when Clairo's diary001 dropped. It was the first cohesive look at new Clairo music since her viral moment with "Pretty Girl," and the EP contained a couple of surprises. She didn't play it safe, charging out of the bedroom artist shell with a slinky Rejjie Snow collaboration ("Hello?") before showing off power-pop chops on "B.O.M.D." On the latter, Clairo sounded like a PC Music vet over futuristic, toothy-grinned Danny L. Harle production before returning to form with "Pretty Girl" on the next track. Her range was becoming apparent, and Clairo stretched the outer limits again last month with "Better," an adrenal SG Lewis collab in which Clairo asks a direct question: "I'm moving closer baby / Why don't you seem to care?"

The last few months have been full of firsts: Clairo played her first shows with a band, her first international dates as the opening act for Dua Lipa's summer 2018 tour, and is now in the midst of her first headlining tour. The artist is branching out in exciting new directions, and has finally cleared away other obligations to focus on music: after spending a transformative first year at Syracuse University, Clairo decided to take time off from school to pursue music.

It's a bittersweet decision, one that means leaving behind all the friends featured prominently in the "4EVER" video. "I’m feeling more like I can express myself fully as an artist because I have friends that are there," she said. "There was no friendship barrier I had to break [at Syracuse]. I had moved around my whole life, that was the one thing that was always so hard. [But] when everyone goes to college, everyone is the new kid."

It's been an exhilarating year, one that has left Clairo with a range of musical options. When the summer ends, she'll have gone from a novice onstage to a tour veteran. She'll have met even more incredible artists, and experienced life as a professional musician. The bedroom pop artist label can be discarded—and whatever comes next will be on her terms.  

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When you started posting these bedroom covers to SoundCloud and Youtube, who was getting you into music at that point?

Just my friends. All my friends were making music and posting things to Bandcamp. I just wanted to try it out because I had always been interested in making music, but I didn’t know how. Seeing what my friends were doing and bouncing off of them was it for me. It just spiraled from there.

I read that Ableton was a big moment for you. Is that what you’re still using for production these days?

I only use Garageband and Ableton for my own production. When I first learned how to do the basics on Ableton I was like, “Oh my god. This is a whole new world of shit I need to learn.”

Now that I have a band and now that I have other people in the process with me, and it’s not just me. Learning that Ableton is the live software—and learning about what needs to be done to make a successful live show—has been so eye-opening to me because I had zero idea before. Everyone around me is so educated about it, it’s really cool to learn.

What’s something that surprised you about that process?

I knew that a lot went into it. Everyone in my band is around the same age as me, so it’s cool to see how much they know about their specific thing. My drummer is insanely talented and knows every single thing about drums there is to know, and everything that comes along with it. It’s so cool to see someone's passion come out.

Are you mostly rehearsing previously written stuff at this point?

We’re doing a little bit of everything. We decided to do a lot of older stuff and do better renditions of them, a lot of the new EP, some covers which is cool. We’re doing a Hiatus Kaiyote cover.

So where have you played so far? What’s your live show experience been like?

It’s been awful. My live show experience has not been good. It’s just because I haven’t had a band or anything. I played a show in Santa Ana that I’m just not proud of at all. It came out of the blue and I kind of freaked out and took the opportunity because it was the biggest thing I’ve ever been offered. It was really cool, I got to meet a lot of great people, but I just wasn’t ready. I’ve been working really hard with the band and really going into logistics about things I need to do and practicing and making sure it’s the best it can be for everyone who comes. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed. I don’t want to be disappointed.

It’s so important to have one bad show, though.

Yeah. It’s important to fail miserably before things get better.

Speaking of failing, congratulations on finishing finals. What’s Syracuse like, one year in?

I love Syracuse, I love my school. I wish I was still going, honestly. I’m taking some time off to do [music], which I’m really excited about because it’s been hard to balance both. But I met all my best friends there. I met all my mentors there, and every person that has helped me get through this weird process is there. It’s a blessed place for me. It’s a second home, for sure.


Was there a specific moment where you realized you had to take a step away and concentrate on music full-time?

Things started to kick off with “Pretty Girl” right when I got to school. Nothing had really been happening. I went to school for music business because I was afraid that if music didn’t work out, then I could at least be in the industry and work at a label or just figure it out.

So that was going well but then everything just kind of blew up. Everyone in my program was like, “Wait what are you doing? What’s happening on the internet?” I couldn’t answer the question but things just got crazier. It’s still getting crazier.


The only reason I was so scared about balancing both was because I was afraid my parents wouldn’t be okay with me experimenting, and doing it on my own and trying to branch out and make it a career, but they’re okay with it.

Have they always been supportive of your music?

They’ve always known that I’m into music. From a young age they’ve seen me experiment and figure it out on my own but they’ve never put pressure on me. They’ve always just been parents, honestly. It’s all I could really ask for. They care more than anyone.

I haven’t let them come to any of my shows because I want it to be perfect. My mom only saw me perform one time at a college. I’m waiting until I have a band… I think everyone’s coming to Lollapalooza. That’s the day where I’m letting all my friends come and see me, because I’ve been so freaked out. I want it to be perfect for them.

Your mom has no home videos of  vintage Clairo performances? 

There are some videos. There’s a really good one of me singing the Pledge of Allegiance. I had a fat lisp too. It was not good. There’s a video of my dad saying, “Claire Cottrill in concert!” And I’m singing with this flower mic. I’m singing “Your Mother Should Know” by the Beatles. That’s the only video I’ve watched recently where I was like, “That’s weird.” I don’t know. No one could plan this.

But you have this contingency plan, in that you're studying music business at Syracuse. What stands out from that first year?

When I wanted to go the business route I wanted to do A&R. Everyone wants to do A&R, that’s what I’ve learned. I’ve always been interested in finding new music and supporting small acts and making sure that they’re heard—supporting my friends if they make music, that’s always been my thing. If I’m going into the business that’s what I would do.

Once a week we’d have people from the business come talk to us and answer our questions. I’d ask them, “How do you know when you’re supposed to do something? How do you know if something’s going to be successful?” Every single person said, “You don’t. It just happens.” It’s all unpredictable.

As someone whose success was sparked in part by a digital following, do you have any advice for other artists who are creating online? 

I definitely think that there are a million other artists on the internet that are amazing. As crazy and negative as it can be, it’s such a great place to find new music and has shown me so much. I’m very lucky that it’s happened to me this way, and that it’s become a career for me.

I only see it happening for more and more people. I think as we all change our lives to adapt with the internet, more people are going to come out of the woodwork. When people post on the internet, they’re comfortable in their own space. It’s not like they’re trying out for something. That’s really them. I think finding that on the internet is really special. It can definitely happen. It should happen.


I was really excited to see you working with Danny L Harle on “Blue Angel.” How’d you guys link up?

I’ve been a die hard PC music fan since my sophomore year of high school. I love them. I think they’re so cool, smart, and forward. They know how to do it right. I’ve always been a fan of A.G. Cook’s production and Hannah Diamond, and LIZ.

I saw that Charli XCX was getting involved with them—that was so cool. That was a crossover I didn’t even expect to happen because I’ve loved both of them for so long. It was cool to watch that happen right before my eyes. I was like, "I wanna be a PC Music girl!" [Laughs].

We met up in New York. [Harle] played me a few songs that he had, and I just fell in love with all of them. He’s just so talented and really good and making almost anti-pop. Taking all the aspects of radio pop and morphing them into something really cool and new. I haven’t seen people do that in a long time. It’s an honor to work with him. They’re all just visionaries.

I also loved your cover of Brockhampton’s “Waste.” Have you met them at all?

They were at that Santa Ana show so I got to meet them. I’m good friends with Ciaran, Bearface. They’re really sweet. They’re just people. I was super nervous to meet them, because I’m a big fan, but they’re so calm.

Why “Waste” of all the Brockhampton songs?

I think it’s easiest to cover with a guitar. I remember where I was when I listened to SATURATION I freaked out. I was in Cape Cod with my family, I was alone and listening to this like “Oh my God, what is this?” It was a moment for me. I’ve only had a handful of those.

"Waste" was just one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It was my first glimpse into what Brockhampton actually is. They’re so versatile. They can make rap but also be vulnerable at the same time. It’s so genuine and so cool. I’m about it.

Back to your music. Do you say "diary zero zero one," or...

I’m going to say “diary one.” I feel like it might be confusing if it’s “zero zero one,” I think that was just me trying to be cool.

You kept a lot of the SoundCloud classics on there, but the other songs are a new direction.

"4EVER" is on there, "Flamin Hot Cheetos," and "Pretty Girl." There’s a new one with Danny L Harle. Rejjie Snow is on one. I took one off of SoundCloud from a long time ago. I deleted it off Soundcloud, then we got it mastered and mixed.

It shows the different ways I can approach music. I produced the song for Rejjie Snow, and it’s kind of like a trap beat, but then we did a radio hit with Danny L Harle, then there’s "4EVER," which is kind of funk, and then my old stuff which is moody. All of these things have really shaped me as an artist so it’s cool to show all the different moods and approaches. I don’t want to be stuck to one genre. I don’t want to be placed in a box where I can’t get out. Being able to experiment and do whatever I want and still have it be good is my only goal. 


Have you been surprised at anyone’s response to your music? Where did the Brazil fandom come from?

Okay! I don’t know what’s going on in Brazil. Hi Brazil! It’s incredible. The internet is so strange to me. Sometimes it’s really overwhelming and I just don’t think about it. Most of the time I don’t think about it. If I did, I would freak out about all of the people that know my music, and listen to it, and interact with it.. It’s really weird to think about.

I’m so blessed and thankful that people do. I definitely am surprised at how many people listen to it and connect with it. But I’m glad they do. And it’s been cool, when I put out “4EVER” that was something completely new for me. Everyone was like, “Get in the studio, this would sound so great in the studio.” So I was like, “Fuck you! I’m gonna get in the studio!” Then I went in the studio and did it and people were like, “Oh this is way overproduced!” I can’t give them exactly what they want, but I’m growing. The fact that people still love it while I’m making these huge jumps is the only thing I could ask for.


And now you’re directing music videos, was "4EVER" your first?

For my own music, it was the first thing I directed. I have some videos on YouTube that I made to songs I liked. It’s always been a side thing for me. I use the camera that my parents filmed me on. I film over one tape each time. I wanted something to embody Syracuse and my year there and all my friends.

Every single person in the “4EVER” video is my best friend in real life, completely. I think they had a lot of fun being the stars, and it being about them. I was barely in it, which was what I wanted. I didn’t really want to be in it, because I made the song. That should be enough. It’s about them and my experience there and the people I met. You can see it through my eyes, rather than it being all about me.

That's a direct contrast to that early YouTube stuff, like the "Pretty Girl" video.

With “Pretty Girl” it was like it’s all about me, you’re looking at me, and I sort of want to move from the Photo Booth stuff and show the world that I see things a little differently. And getting in the studio.

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So what else is on the horizon for you in 2018 and beyond? 

I’m trying to move to New York! I love New York. I do. I’m looking to move here. Which is scary, because I’m turning 20 this summer and I probably shouldn’t be living on my own but it happens. I’m going on tour with Dua Lipa, which is insane. She’s an angel. Lots of people were surprised by me opening up for her. I honestly think it’s really cool that she’s letting someone who’s really left-field, at least for her, to open up for her. I’ve been practicing a lot so hopefully it works out well. That’s what I’m really excited for this summer. I’m looking to do my own tour and just keep it going. I’ve never toured in my life.

What are you going to put in your rider?

Goldfish. I have chips and salsa there already. My rider is not very long, but I feel like I should put a baby animal in there, like a hamster. My mom gave my hamster away! I’m a little heated by that. 

While you were at school?


Without informing you?

Mhmm. Scout is now gone. It's fine. I’m over it. I’ve gotten over it. The little girl that has Scout now can’t say Scout so his name is now Scott. Which is okay. Scott the Hamster. I’m happy she’s happy.

You grew up near Boston, was there a lot of music around while you were growing up?

I’m actually from Carlisle, Massachusetts. I moved there in third grade. I say Boston in interviews because my parents told me that I’d get killed if i said Carlisle, so I said Boston to make it a little more vague. My mom is the driving force behind the Boston, Massachusetts thing. But my parents are moving so she said I can say Carlisle now.

It's a very small town. No stoplight. 5,000 people. It’s a cool place to grow up because there’s so much nature around me. It was really great for me to think and write music and kind of get into my zone artistically. But making friends is hard. Being weird and experimenting with clothes and art in general is not frowned upon, but way harder than it is to do than in a city. There aren’t kids around me really doing the same thing. Maybe a little bit, but it’s never enough where I feel like I’m completely comfortable to do it on my own. I would find other kids that would do other music, but it just didn’t really work. I wouldn’t gel with people.


When I got to school, and there were a bunch of kids from all over, I immediately was so at home. Because no one was at home. There was no friendship barrier I had to break. I had moved around my whole life, that was the one thing that was always so hard. When everyone goes to college everyone is the new kid.

So it was so nice to finally meet other people that were confused their whole childhood. It’s a great place to start music. My friends now lift me up in a way where they’re like, “No no, that weird idea is actually super cool. You should run with it!” Instead of me just being like “I’m just gonna do this and see how it goes.” I’m feeling more like I can express myself fully as an artist because I have friends that are there.