Claire de Lune on Tiny Deaths: I made songs I would listen to

Claire de Lune on Tiny Deaths: I made songs I would listen to
Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash

Claire de Lune first showed up on the local music radar as a vocalist in the soulful hip-hop trio the Chalice. Those vibrant ladies caught Twin Cities listeners' rapt attention as well as the top spot in our 2012 Picked to Click poll.

Claire has shifted her creative focus to an electro-pop group she formed with producer/musician Grant Cutler, called Tiny Deaths. The bands is set to release a self-titled EP sometime very soon, and poised to play a show at the 7th St. Entry on Friday night along with Glass Animals and Maids. Gimme Noise asked de Lune about how her new project came together, the current state of the Chalice, and the band she's assembled to help bring these songs to life now that Cutler has moved to New York.

Gimme Noise: What initially led you to start Tiny Deaths? Claire de Lune: Originally I wasn't even trying to start a band per se. Grant and I started working on some songs together right when the Chalice was at our busiest, so it was just that -- working on songs. I have always really loved this kind of music -- Phantogram and Beach House are some of my favorite bands. I really wanted to make songs I would listen to, even if just for me.

How did you and Grant begin working together, and what type of influence has he had on the sound and stylistic direction of the group as well as how you approach songwriting?

When I first approached Grant about working together, it was after seeing him do a Wolf Lords set with Aby Wolf at the Sound Gallery a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago now. I heard their music and it just resonated so deeply with me -- I felt like I had found a kindred musical spirit. I had always kind of known what sort of music I really wanted to make, I just didn't know there was anyone making it here.

At first we were just going to work on some songs for my next solo record. I had been working with a few other producers at the time too, but the more songs we made the more it just became abundantly clear that the collaboration between the two of us had its own sound and its own style, and was its own thing, worthy of its own name. So I kind of abandoned ship on the solo project and just ran with this project, because it felt right. Working with Grant is a dream. Everything came so naturally, and we just get along really well as people. I respect him so much as an artist, and it's icing on the cake that he's one of the coolest and most down to earth guys I know.

How did these songs take shape initially -- were they lyrical sketches or bits of melodies that you've had in your head for a while, or is this all new material that you started writing once the project started to coalesce?

Sometimes I'd have little lyrical ideas, phrases and stuff, that had been floating around in my head for a while. For the most part, though, I pretty much just wrote solely based on inspiration from Grant's work. He's really phenomenal, and he obviously has a gift for getting a really good performance out of a female singer counterpart -- as evidenced by his back catalog. Which I didn't listen to until after we had made an EP, by the way, on purpose. I love Lookbook now, I'm actually a huge fan. But I decided not to listen to it while we were making the songs, because I didn't want to get too in my head, or intimidated, or influenced. And I'm really glad I made that choice, because those are some of my favorite records now. And Tiny Deaths wound up sounding completely different, which is great.

You've been involved in a lot of various musical outlets with disparate styles and sounds -- what drew you toward the textured, electro-pop sound of Tiny Deaths?

This is just the kind of music I love. It's a lot of what I listen to, when left to my own devices. It's a really incredible and liberating feeling to just be making music you're proud of, and not be so caught up in what other people want from you or where it's going to take you. I made songs I would listen to. I flexed my songwriting muscles a little, pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and am working with some people I really respect and admire. And I'm really proud of what came out of it. As a musician, I think that's kind of the definition of a successful project. It is for me, anyway. If other people like it, too, then that's just a bonus.

What is the current status of the Chalice? Obviously, Lizzo and Sophia Eris are doing their thing right now -- but is that a project you can see all of you returning to at some point in the future?

The funny thing about the Chalice is it started as just a fun, carefree side project for the three of us. We just did it for our own amusement. As it turns out, we were filling a big void we didn't know existed -- this group of women having fun and dancing and being empowered. People were really craving that, I think, and as a result a lot of people responded to us. Which is amazing! And we all feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have had that response, and gotten to have such incredible experiences during it and because of it.

But we all had passion projects we were neglecting, things we really wanted to be our full-time musical jobs, so to speak. Lizzo has always really wanted to do her solo thing, and now she has time for that, and is doing so, so well at it. I have been working on Tiny Deaths forever, and now I finally get to give it the attention I feel it deserves. We were on a treadmill going full speed with the Chalice, just trying not to fall off. And we're so young! I think it's really important at this stage so early in our careers to follow our hearts. We're currently on hiatus -- I don't think another Chalice record is on any of our radars at the moment, but it's definitely not something we've ruled out, either. Some of the most fun I've ever had on stage was with the Chalice. Never say never!   You're in the process of readying your debut EP for release -- how is that process coming along, and when can we expect to hear the finished results?

The EP is done. It's been done for a while. We're going to put out one more single, and then release it. I feel like I've been waiting a million years to put it out! It hasn't been that long, realistically. I've just been so excited about it for so long, and my mom has all the songs memorized already. Haha. I can't wait for people to hear it. I feel like half of being a musician is impatiently waiting for people to hear or see things. That's how it's been for me, anyway. Where and when did you record the EP?

It was recorded over a span of time between last spring and fall at the Hideaway in northeast Minneapolis. We had to take some breaks in recording for a while because Grant moved to New York, and I felt pretty strongly that I wanted it to just be me and him for the recording process. So that's what it was -- just me and Grant in a room. He engineered the whole thing. It was super intimate, and I felt really safe. It's so important when you're recording vocal takes to feel safe to fuck up. That to me is the most important factor in the recording process. It's vital.

While Grant worked with you on these studio versions of these songs, he's not playing with you in a live setting, correct? How did your talented live band come together, and how have they helped transform your material?

Well, the idea of a live band came to be because with Grant in New York it wasn't really feasible to play shows together, and the idea of just me and a laptop and a vocal pedal sounded incredibly boring and one-dimensional. The cool thing about the songs is, like you said earlier, how textured and full they are. So I really wanted to make that happen live. I just kind of wrestled with the idea of, "How do you make electronic music compelling in a live setting?" And while light shows and stuff are cool, and I love that sort of thing, I think what makes live music compelling is people playing instruments. I'm just kind of old-school like that I guess. So I knew I wanted to play the material with a live band.

As far as how I met these amazing dudes, we met doing improv. Which is really the most magical and essential way to find synchronicity with other musicians. Zach and Adam from Solid Gold had an electro-based improv night at the Belmore for a while a year or so ago called "Year of the Horse," and I started sitting in with them on that. They kind of had a rotating cast of characters -- Jared would play drums sometimes, and Aaron would often play keys or guitar, and Ben played bass occasionally. Solid Gold went on tour with Marijuana Deathsquads for a month and they needed someone to babysit the residency, so the four of us wound up playing together every week. It went so well and was so much fun that I just told myself, whatever my next project is, I want this to be my band. So when I needed a live band for Tiny Deaths, it was a no-brainer. And luckily for me, they were into it.

Do these songs transition easily for you from the studio to the stage, or has it been challenging to recreate those ethereal sonic textures in a live setting?

It can be challenging, especially vocally. Because Grant did these amazing things with my voice, and I'm recreating them on my own. It's still a work in progress, but I feel really, really good about where it's sitting right now. I feel like we get better with every show. The live versions of the songs are totally their own thing, which is really cool to watch evolve. I kind of stopped trying to "recreate" anything from the record and started letting them blossom into their own things. The beats are still the foundation, so they're not disparate. But they're unique.

Do you and Grant -- and the band -- have plans to continue to write and record together for an eventual Tiny Deaths full-length?

Yes and yes! Tiny Deaths play the 7th St. Entry on Friday, July 11, along with Glass Animals and Maids. Tickets.

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