15 Aug 2020
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Miriam Clancy - Interview with Miriam Clancy

08 Dec 2019 // An interview by Mike Alexander

Miriam Clancy arrived unannounced with two startling albums, Lucky One and Magnetic, which were greeted with critical acclaim. Then she 'disappeared' off the musical radar for almost a decade before returning home with a new album, Astronomy, and a welcome back home tour that placed her firmly back among the stars. Mike Alexander caught up with her in this interview for Muzic.net.nz 

Welcome home. What have you missed most about New Zealand?

Thanks! I have missed the space, general room to move, all things Maori, the down to earth good nature of Kiwi's plus the epic dry sense of humour here. And pies pies pies. Ohh, and Tui birds - they sing me happy with their dawn chorale. 

Do you have any other plans or anything scheduled while you are here aside from the concert tour?

Just hanging out with my mum, some mates and a bit of fave swimming holes around the country. I came back courtesy of Air NZ as my aunt Marie was a stewardess on the Erebus plane so there was quite a bit of interviews and meetings on the topic from the moment I got off the plane. 

You have a brand new album, Astronomy.  It’s been a while in the making.  Was the creative process difficult or did life just get in the way?

Yes, I do! It was quite some time in the making so already that hindered any quick turnaround after Magnetic. Also moving to NYC from NZ was an overwhelming undertaking with 4 kids so bouncing back from was an elongated slice of lonely hell. We just hunkered down trying to figure it all out, worked hard and it took longer than I ever thought it would take, putting this thing out. In hindsight I was a bit burnt out and motivation was at an all-time low. But got the job done and the motivation came back like a tidal wave once I started again. I forgot how alive I feel when I sing. Life begets life, funny that.

What made you choose the title Astronomy and does it have any particular significance to the rest of the album?

I love the magic of the stars - where they are placed and how they stay there, and how the night sky hangs from one person's viewpoint in the world is totally different from someone else's viewpoint. I guess that sums up the album and the way I think - we come into this world alone with the greatest majestic cosmos already in place and we go alone with that same cosmos still there. But what we do in between changes everything from our viewpoint and I would like to think that love is the only thing that remains - maybe adds a star in the place of us no matter who you are and what you've been through, perhaps that even makes your star a bit brighter.

I gather that while the album was recorded in New York you found inspiration for many of the songs while “living” on Great Barrier Island.  Can you tell us more about that and how the process unfolded?

I found quite a strong link between Great Barrier Island and New York City although seemingly polar opposites. The isolation you can feel on an island that time forgot can be the same feeling to standing on a busy city street with no interaction with other humans although they are all around you. You take what goes on inside into each different place... so, I wrote a few songs at the barrier, demo'd and they sounded the same in the Lower East Side at a grungy old studio, same me I guess. I would send files through to Chris and we'd discuss the shape or the arrangement and add, subtract or ditch. I love being in that space - brings out the massive nerd in me, in service of the song.

One of the things those familiar with your previous albums Lucky One and Magnetic will notice is that Astronomy is very heavily synthesiser influenced.  I’m reminded of some obvious reference points such as This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins but also in some of its 'prettier' moments Enya.  Did you have a particular 'sound' in mind that you wanted to capture?

Oh I love all those bands you just mentioned there - yeah we were kind of aiming in that direction and it was a conscious decision to change the territory/genre which I found myself in my default, felt the need to stretch my arms and extend my reach although realizing for some it may be a tough transition. I do think that to be an authentic artist means you gotta shake the tree and see what falls out - keep forging till you find a thread and I know I need a wider canvas to speak of bigger things, then I can bring it back down once I know how tall I can stand. The dreamy soundscape - the ability to fall into a journeying state and allow yourself to feel is what I wanted to happen with this album, to give room for the truth, the grief and disappointment that may be lying in wait as it's hard to move forward when we don't address that stuff.

How did you connect with producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Beach House)?

We went through his manager at the time who turned out to be Debbi Gibbs from NZ although she was based in NYC. It took some time, sending files back and forth and booking different studios. He was crazy in demand but was keen to do this album but somehow we made it work.

The video for The Bells is a “full immersion experience”, so to speak, as it shows you initially floating in water, alongside your guitar, in a white dress (maybe signifying purity and rebirth).  What did you have in mind and I hope you didn’t catch cold during the process?

Ha yes it was full immersion. The great thing is that American summers are so hot I didn't suffer much making that video although it WAS kind of freaky having such a volumous dress in deep water. The song itself has one foot in the grave already clutching at hope for a last minute stay - not the happiest song in the world but surprisingly it's the one that has stood out and resonated with people. I am a Jeffrey Eugenides fan, so a bit of Virgin Suicides has snuck in there - as did some My Bloody Valentine sonically speaking.

There’s a lyrical theme that runs through Astronomy that suggests it was a cathartic process?

Yes indeed, I felt like I died a thousand deaths making this - we had a baby whilst making the album so that in itself is a cathartic process, maybe one of the biggest. But def had a dark night of the soul, an existential crisis of sorts. The trick is to keep it moving and not getting stuck.

After your New Zealand tour, where to then?

Back to the US - a show in Chicago, then a couple of Manhattan dates and a few around the Philadelphia area where we will be staying for a bit longer. Till the next thing, it's a big year and am quietly excited about it all.

Will we have to wait another decade for a follow-up to Astronomy  

Nope! In fact, next one is in the works and will be out within a year if Astronomy's release. Woo!

 

About Miriam Clancy

"With just eleven songs on Lucky One, her stunning debut album, Auckland’s Miriam Clancy has immediately claimed her place in the long Kiwi tradition of great singer-songwriters.

Inspired by the likes of Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Bob Seger and Sheryl Crow, this feisty young woman has delivered an album that impresses for its lyrical maturity, sophisticated songcraft, her commanding and distinctive voice, and the raw emotions on display.

Lucky One springs out of the speakers on catchy pop-rock tracks such as Don’t Let It Get You Down, seduces with melodic subtlety on heartfelt ballads like Giving Up the Day and Dry Your Eyes, and reaches for those deep unspoken parts of the soul with songs of sorrow and loss like the very personal And So It Begins and The Game.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Miriam Clancy

Releases

Astronomy
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Magnetic
Year: 2009
Type: Album
Lucky One
Year: 2006
Type: Album

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