Interview: Clara Engel

Clara Engel is an independent Toronto-based singer-songwriter and her songs are filled with gothic poetry and beautifully accomplished vocal performances.
This is my debut as an interviewer so I hope you like it. Any feedback is welcome. 

Clara, it was a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you for your time and your insightful responses. Looking forward to listen to your upcoming album.

Everything is useless: How would you introduce yourself as an artist to someone you've just met?
Clara Engel: Someone once called my music "minimalist holy blues from another galaxy," and that's quite nice. I'd be happiest if I never had to describe my work, or spend time convincing anyone of its value ever again, and just focus on the actual work-making part.

EIU: I must say I was quite impressed by your powerful lyrics which somehow evoke Edgar Allan Poe's dark atmospheres. Is he an influence? What are your literary influences?
CE: That's a lovely compliment, thank you. I love Edgar Allan Poe, and his poetry was some of the first I ever read. I read a lot of poetry and some poetically-inclined literature. I love Paul Celan, Vasko Popa, Essex Hemphill, Rainer Maria Rilke, Helene Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Theodore Roethke, Anne Carson. Right now I'm reading Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson, and it's wonderful.

EIU: Your first release dates back to 2004 and since then you've been quite active. How hard is it to be recording regularly as an independent artist?

CE: It's difficult. I used to spend all my money on recording. Now I budget it so that I can live and support myself properly. I perennially have a lot of unrecorded material. I prefer to work with an engineer rather than record myself, because I have no gear, and I can really hear the difference. I also enjoy the recording ritual. There are no models or templates for making a living as an independent artist, and I've stumbled around a lot and made many stabs in the dark. I'm really grateful to the artists who are open and transparent about the ways they have found of making it work for them -- Zoe Keating immediately springs to mind. I learn from reading and from trying things out. The simplest part of what I do is the actual creative part, I write songs because it is my way of being in the world, I couldn't stop that part if I tried.

EIU: Your latest release, The Lovebird’s Throat (2012), starts off with Not Knowing which seems to be a song of endearment for someone who left, a song filled with hope. However it closes with Lovebirds, a much heavier song. Is this last song the climax of a learning process in which this character realises that no matter how hard he/she tries to bury his/her demons they will ever come back to haunt him/her?

CE: Those two songs aren’t related at all, except for the fact that I wrote them both. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m just writing one long song that keeps morphing as I age. You’re the first person who has found any hope in the album, which pleases me, because I like to leave room for hope. Lovebirds is a bit of an open-ended song, it could be about giving up, but that can also give way to growth sometimes. I don’t really like beginnings and endings or linear trajectories in general, they don't scratch any of my itches the right way.

EIU: You decided to use crowdfunding to support your upcoming album, Ashes and Tangerines, and, if I’m not mistaken, you already used it before. What are your thoughts on the subject? Can it be a game changer within the music industry allowing artists to be free from record labels’ pressures?

CE: I used it before, and it did help a lot with my album Secret Beasts. Calling it a game-changer is a bit too optimistic... though it can be, potentially. I don't think it really is unless you are quite a savvy business person, which I am not. It certainly helps, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has contributed and pre-ordered the album.

(Visit  to support Clara Engel's upcoming release.)

EIU: As far as I know you already recorded some material for your upcoming album which is due to be released sometime in the late 2013’s spring through Talking Skull. Is there anything about this album you would like to share with us?

CE: It’s all recorded. I just need to mix and master it, and I’ll be doing that in February with my friend Mitchell Girio, with whom I've worked many times over the last seven years or so. It was tracked live in a couple of days, just before the end of 2011, with James Anderson engineering. It sounds live and dynamic, and there are songs on there that I really want people to be able to listen to, that I've been playing live for several years now, like my song "Heaven and Hell." It's dark and sparse, with my voice at the centre, and has a kind of fire and brimstone, crimson and tarnished gold type of vibe.

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