Clairo is having trouble finding a good meme. She’s sitting next to me on a couch inside The FADER office, her electric blue-shadowed eyes looking down while her finger rapidly scrolls through her phone. “I definitely have something saved,” the 19-year-old says confidently, though she ultimately abandons the task. She can only find dog pictures.
The only meme she can remember right now is a bad one. “Gru from Despicable Me says ‘girl’ as ‘gorl’ so people have been putting Gru's face on my face, and saying ‘Pretty Gorl,’” she explains. “And it's really making me sad. I haven't liked anyone's post because I don't want anyone to know I've acknowledged this and I'm processing it.” She laughs as she explains this, but I can tell she feels a type of way about it.
Late in 2017, after years of uploading rickety cover songs and home-recorded originals to SoundCloud and YouTube, Clairo, who grew up outside Boston as Claire Cottrill, was unexpectedly rocketed to internet fame thanks to a lo-fi pop song called "Pretty Girl". Talking with her now, it's clear that she is still trying to digest the weird little quirks that come with sudden attention.
Claire had recently wrapped up her first year at Syracuse University when we meet to discuss her upcoming debut EP, diary 001, a project that mixes her trademark drowsy pop with glossier love songs. (Full disclosure: the project will be released via FADER Label.) On songs like the sweet “B.O.M.D” (short for “boy of my dreams”), which finds Claire singing with dreamy anticipation, and the groovy "4EVER", the video for which features her and some smiley school pals romping around campus — her voice sounds crystal clear, no muffledness at all.
The new sheen may come as a surprise to the dedicated base of listeners who’ve gotten used to hearing her behind layers of fuzz. It also may inspire more discussion about the authenticity of her come-up, which has been scrutinized online. But for Claire's part, she hopes diary 001 will mark the end of her “bedroom pop” phase, a label that has become somewhat awkward to work around. She is thankful for the community that tag has helped create, but now, she tells me, she’s ready to “make music that’s meant to be heard.”
Was there a moment growing up where you were listening to something and realized you would like to make music?
I remember the first album I really completely geeked out over was The Shins’ Wincing The Night Away. That album was everything to me. And I remember, in all of my journals I would dedicate a page to the lead singer's signature, in case I ever ran into him, as if that would ever happen to me. I would draw the album cover all the time. I would put the CD on in my boom box in my room, and I would just lay on the floor and listen to it. It was very different than [the music] both my parents had ever shown me. And that's where everything kinda clicked for me where I was like, Woah. This is a mixture of so many things and, I can do this! I would really love to do this. This was around the time I was listening to "E-Pro" by Beck. I was like this weird, edgy 10-year-old. I was figuring out who I was, obviously at the worst time. I had braces and bangs and it was a nightmare.
What were the next steps for you?
I was like, Oh my god, it would be so cool if i got to do this for a living. But when you talk about it, everyone reminds you how slim your chances are. So, when I started making music, I kind of did whatever I wanted because I was like, It's not gonna happen to me. Because that's just not how life works. But I guess I really underestimated the internet. I really underestimated what it can really do and who it actually reaches and that it's not just this weird box in your room. It's a portal into this whole world.
How were you recording music at the beginning?
I bought this Oxygen midi synth from a flea market in Boston for $10. And then I found a cord in my house that fit it, and so I just started using that to do synth stuff in GarageBand. And then, we have this old Yamaha giant keyboard that has drum machines in it. So that's when I started using drum machines and started finding random cables in my room and connecting them to my computer and making this weird contraption where it all worked somehow. I felt like I was MacGyver. I'd just go home and work on it for hours and then I made a SoundCloud account and just started posting stuff.
“People expected me to be this lo-fi girl in my bedroom forever. She has to go, she has to get outta there, she’s gotta leave.”
Your sound has been labeled "bedroom pop" by so many people. How do you feel about that? I feel like that label comes with a certain aesthetic and connotation…
It's really weird being placed into something like that because it was never an intention to make bedroom pop. I was just making music. All the people that have that genre placed on them are not the first people to have a home studio and and post it on the internet. I kind of feel like it can be limiting because I want to progress and I want to make things that are higher quality. I wanna make music that's meant to be heard.
That’s an interesting point you make, that any artist basically starts off as making “bedroom pop,” but most don’t get that label, and you do.
I think a lot of artists that are known as bedroom pop are in the very first phase of being musicians. I think a lot of musicians start out making really shitty demos and putting them online and later when they figure out what they want to do they delete all of it, and then make music that they like. So I feel like these kids posted something on the internet and they got discovered in this phase where they're not entirely sure what their sound is. So it's confusing and weird and they're almost treated as musicians that have been doing it for years. There's an expectation that these artists are supposed to know what they wanna do. A lot of people that I talk to are in the same boat as me. I have zero idea what I'm supposed to do at this point.
Tell me a bit about the new EP.
So it comes out May 25. It's called diary 001. It kind of relates back to what we were talking about earlier, journaling, because it does feel like each song is a different entry in a diary from different times in my life. I wouldn't say it flows necessarily as well as an album that's a concept; it's very all over the place. It does show the progression of time; I'm figuring it out, making music and growing. There are songs that are really high-quality and really out-there. I just want people to see the growth and understand it, to see the EP as, like, different times of my life.
Are there any cool sounds or vibes you would want to experiment with in the future?
Last night, we were in an Electric Lady studio. I was working on this song for a film that I got asked to do a song for, and the song is a vibe that I haven't necessarily explored very much. It sounds as if I took one of my old songs and re-did it where I am now. We used a drum machine, we used a funk bass. It kinda sounds like a Tame Impala slow jam. I produced the whole thing in three hours and we just did it. There wasn't a little mouse in my ear yelling at me, "That's not bedroom pop."
As I keep going, I want to have a diary 002 EP. I want it to be a series, almost. [And] I want to work with Sassy 009 — they're a crazy, cool trio that produces their own stuff that's like dance music, but crazy. I wanna work with Jae5 who produces for J Hus and Burna Boy. There's so many different realms that I'm so excited to explore.
Do you have any new wishlist synths or electronic instruments that you wanna get?
Oh my gosh! Yes. The Kimball Organ I worked with last night, the drum machines on that are so clean and so pretty. I produced a whole song on it. And then, a [Yamaha] DX7, I'd be an 80s queen with that synth, just like sunglasses on stage. And then, [Roland] Juno-60, that one's cool. And then Op-1. They're real expensive though. I don't have money to spend on these things yet, so that is the wishlist. Hopefully I have an apartment soon to put all my synths in. I'll sleep in the bathroom.
What is it like having your normal human social media accounts become what’s essentially business accounts? Do you feel like you have expectations to fulfill when you post content? Like, now you have to think about all these random strangers following you?
Yeah, that's something I had to recently think about. [Laughs] God there was one time, I guess I had just been excessively tweeting one day and I was being really annoying and someone replied to me like, "Ok Claire. I follow you to stay updated on your career, can you please stop tweeting so much?" They were like, "I'm trying to follow you to get music updates, like shut up." [Laughs] I was like, Oh my god! I had no idea; it's so hard to understand that people really read what you're saying, even if you're just tweeting about Grimes and Elon Musk dating. I realized there's so many people paying attention. It doesn't alter what I post though. I'm still posting random stupid stuff all the time — but people can just unfollow me, I don't care.
“Hopefully I have an apartment soon to put all my synths in. I’ll sleep in the bathroom.”
I wanted to ask you about your "Flaming Hot Cheetos" video and how you felt about it, because it's got a lot higher production value than stuff you'd been putting out before.
Yeah, I mean, Matt Dillon Cohen who did the video is incredible. He's so talented, he's one of my good friends. It was fun, doing a high-quality, high-budget music video. It was silly, and we spent the budget on a cool car and cheetos costumes. It was funny what we did, and I think a lot of people didn't see the humor in it. I think a lot of people hated it because they expected me to be this lo-fi girl in my bedroom forever. She has to go, she has to get outta there, she's gotta leave. It was fun, but I think I'm probably gonna stick with directing my own stuff.
Your "4EVER" video was great.
Yeah, that video was all my best friends. It was really real; I was barely in it because I just wanted it to be about my life and what I see. I think a lot of what people like from me is the authenticity part. I'm gonna just continue doing things from my eyes and keep in control. I think, for a while, I was worried that I [was going to] have to let go of some of the control. But at the end of the day I don't have to. I just have to continue what I'm doing.