Claire de Lune’s New Lion establishes her as more than just a “hook girl”
"My celebrity aspiration is to be Jay-Z," says R&B/soul singer Claire de Lune. "I don't dwell for better or for worse on any of the stuff that's happening right now, because it's still so far away from where I eventually want to be. I have a lot of work to do. There's years of work ahead of me."
Sitting with de Lune at the Hard Times over dollar coffee seems far removed from Shawn Carter's mogul-rapper status, but she's determined to expand behind her new solo record, New Lion. "I want to be selling out First Avenue-sized rooms within five years," the Minneapolis-based artist says. "The stuff that I've managed to make happen already was not terribly likely either, so whatever, fuck it."
It's funny to hear this from someone who seems genuinely humble and low-key, but de Lune takes her music incredibly seriously. As a five-year-old, she was surprised to find that other children didn't come home and write song after song. As she built the courage to show them to people, she eventually found her voice to be a tool along with her writing ability, and worked her way to auditioning for Perpich Arts High as a singer. As she began to gig at coffee shops and craft fairs at age 15, her guitarist cousin Daniel Kessler's career took off with Interpol. From then on, attaining a music career became firmly planted in de Lune's head.
One of her many early acoustic shows led to a continued friendship with MC TruthBeTold of the Tribe and Big Cats! Since then, she has landed vocal appearances on projects dating back to their breakout Let's Be Professional mixtape, and established herself as someone who could turn in quality hooks and background vocals. From there, she's made contributions to tracks by other area rappers like MaLLy and Wide Eyes, and began collaborating with Guante as part of his acoustic project A Loud Heart, which strips away the rapper's stark beats, and leaves only de Lune's voice and guitar-playing as a backing track. Her latest group project is with the Chalice, alongside hip-hop singers Lizzo and Sophia Eris, which recalls and often blurs lines between rap, funk, and soul much like like TLC, Missy Elliott, and Salt-n-Pepa.
"We pay close attention to making it a complete group effort. If anything, I'm totally the weak link; they both rap and sing," says de Lune of the Chalice's live performances. "I got really used to having my team up there with me, so it's kind of scary to be doing it by myself again. I'm a little out of practice. It's been a few years since I've put just my name on something [but] I am actually quite used to being the center of attention, being onstage by myself, because that's how I started playing music." De Lune's early stint as a self-described "girl with a guitar" didn't quite reflect her passion for hip hop and R&B, and gradually she utilized her connections with local producers to begin crafting New Lion.
"I feel like these [songs] were all collaborations. It was as much the people making the beats as it was me," says de Lune, who sings over primarily sample-free beats by Big Cats!, Mike Frey, O-D, Baby Gracious, DJ Name of Wide Eyes, and Julian Fairbanks of Audio Perm. "It was cool to see how enthusiastic a bunch of tough hip-hop guys were about making super-sexy music."
The lush sonic backdrop to de Lune's sinuous vocals forms a cohesive whole over the course of the record. The beatmakers involved prove themselves as adept at sultry sung tracks as they are with their usual brand of bold rap bangers. The sense of collaboration between de Lune and her cadre of producers is evident throughout. Lead single "Save the Day," which boasts saxophone and heavy reverb as well as a guest rap from MaLLy and backing vocals from TruthBeTold, is somewhat reminiscent of Gayngs. De Lune steps comfortably into the lead position, providing a seductive songbird performance that sheds the label of "hook girl" as she steps into the limelight alongside her usual cast of characters.
As it stands, de Lune's live show consists of herself center stage and Big Cats! DJing behind her, but she says she'd love to play with a full band someday, and the music certainly warrants live instrumentation. Still, this early period in her turn as solo R&B songstress might be prime time to see her. Holding down the stage with little else but her beats behind her will be Claire de Lune's defining moment.
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