"Built an empire from a pile of sticks, sticks and stones, sticks and stones. Foundations made of broken hearts, broken hearts and broken bones." The opening lines of Clairity's new song D.N.A. (below) read like an epitaph, as if she's already lived a long, happy and vibrant life grounded in art, fashion and a love of music. The 18-year-old, now signed to Republic Records, dropped her debut EP called Alienation last month, and it came about from a burning desire to share a potent, universal message. "'You are not alone.' It’s cheesy, and a little silly, but it’s so important to me that everyone who listens to 'Alienation' feels the embrace of mutual weirdness; you don't have to feel alienated because everyone feels alienated," she shares in an exclusive Popdust interview, of the overall tone of the record. "Normal doesn’t exist, and if it did, feeling like an outsider would be normal! Ha! It took me a while to learn that growing up. It’s so liberating once you realize that being yourself is actually easier than stifling the part of you that other people think is odd. I’m so motivated to share that message with other people now."
The building blocks of her career, too, bleed over from her personal experience into her penetrating art. It took her a while, but what people will discover with Alienation is that we are all human, ebbing and flowing with the same emotions, just under varied circumstances. "I’ve always felt very compelled to express certain themes and emotions through my records; in a lot of ways it’s shaped my writing and my perspective as a creative," she says. "'Alienation' is probably the first real linear example of that. It’s my first project, and I’m very proud of the tone and the lyrical content. It was written based on a really tough time in my life, and I wanted to use each song as an opportunity to validate other kids who share those experiences."
But through her experiences, she has come out a strong, young woman—independently (and comfortably) settled into her own skin. Being a female in this industry also presents a unique set of obstacles, but Clairity uses her bold fashion choices to her advantage. "Aesthetically, I’m very into menswear and any bold colors or cuts. As a young female artist in a male dominated industry, it’s important that I have a strong presence when I walk into a room; I’m 5’9 and I still wear platform heels!" she says. As you can see on the project's cover art (above), she's not afraid to make quirky but commanding selections. "I’m obsessed with Stevie Knicks, Annie Lennox, Imogen Heap and Lorde. They’re all strong iconic forces, and I definitely aspire to curate a similarly iconic world for myself visually."
Clairity's retro-chic look, accented by black frames, is a physical manifestation of her personality. She explains, "I’m kind of a goofball so in a way my style is silly and quirky. I love rocking menswear, bow ties, and crazy hair (which is honestly not on purpose my hair is naturally insane). I’m also an introvert, and I can get kind of intense and moody. I overthink a lot. As a result, I probably overthink my clothes a lot too. I occasionally find myself caught in a 'temporary goth phase.' I’ll just wear black or colors on the darker end of the spectrum just because it’s what I feel like wearing. I’m sort of a mood ring stylistically, and while overall my image is pretty consistent, I mostly just wear what I feel in the moment."
Tracks like Scarecrow and Exorcism are declarations of her confidence, which, she says, "is knowing your strengths and having a healthy relationship with your insecurities. I still wake up some mornings and feel like I’m not happy in my skin, and that’s completely normal. I try not to let those moments define me, and I’m a better person for it." Empowerment, a potion concocted through a mixture of self-examination and the wider human existence, can often find its way into our lives through the beauty around us, often delivered in music. "Music empowered me personally in so many ways growing up. I remember being particularly inspired after watching recorded live Coldplay performances on YouTube," she says. "I was totally enraptured by the way Chris Martin performs. His art consumes him, and it’s incredible to see an artist so moved by his music. That was a defining moment for me as a creative, on all levels, and certainly made me want to pursue my own artistry. Music is medicine, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the same person without it."
Speaking of Coldplay, Clairity recalls one of the band's career-defining albums that has had the greatest impact on her dramatic exploration. "I would have to say 'A Rush of Blood to The Head.' It’s one of my favorites. I remember coming home from school as a kid and blaring it in the speakers in my room. I would lie on the carpet and just drift off into another world. I have a lot of memories attached to those records."
Digging into her own music, she points to a specific lyric from D.N.A. which speaks louder than all the rest. Like a paintbrush to a blank canvas, the words create a vivid and powerful watercolor of the world. "There’s a lyric in [that song that goes], 'Hate is such an ancient game.' I think it really speaks to the over-all message of [the record]. Negativity serves no purpose in our relationships; whether it’s in the context of bullying, self-harm, verbal abuse, or even war. I believe very strongly that we only ever make our decisions out of fear or out of love and in a broad sense that’s what 'D.N.A' is about. Taking the negative, turning it into something positive, and remembering that it’s always better to be motivated by love; even when it’s scary and vulnerable."
Elsewhere, on a dance-pop track called Velcro, she champions the underdog and rings a bell of (inward) acceptance. "[That song is] a metaphor for rocking your eccentricities, and it wasn't really based on any particular accessory I own. I bought some sick orthopedic white Velcro shoes at Goodwill a month after we finished writing the record, and I wear them at shows from time to time. They’re comfy, they’re silly, and they have character. I think I look pretty damn good in them."
While Alienation is an authoritative and compelling record, it is also a rather revolutionary moment, signaling a deeper and well-rooted personal evolution. "My perspective and even a lot of my song-writing method has evolved over the years, and I think it’s safe to say it will continue to change. I’m an artist. I’m constantly absorbing inspiration, learning new things, and making new music," she says. "I can only hope that I maintain some type of creative inertia or momentum. Monotony is so uninspiring as a writer. Ha!"
As a stage performer, too, Clairity has found that bringing her stories into a live setting is "so much fun," she says. "It took us a little while to sort out the stems, and prerecorded samples since the records are so electronic, but the on-stage energy is magnetic; it’s incredible. I’d never really fronted a band until SXSW last March so there was a bit of a learning curve, but I’ve found that performing in that capacity is something I enjoy more than I expected. I used to just accompany myself on keys but it’s so liberating to be out from behind the piano. I feel like moving around on stage helps me captivate my audience in a way that I never experienced until I played with a full band."
In many ways, her assorted and makeshift patchwork quilt is similar to one mainstream artist: Kesha (with whom Charity had a chance to write). "Kesha is a fantastic human. I love her and her mom, Pebe [Sebert], so much. I only ever wrote with [Kesha] once via speaker phone while she was on the train to New York," she recalls. "Pebe and I were in the studio in Los Angeles, and she was hiding out singing melodies in the bathroom and it was awesome. I think being exposed to such strong spiritual women very early on in my career was a great thing. It changed the way I look at pop songwriting, and I’m positive I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren’t for all their love and support."
Sebert, known for writing Dolly Parton's Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You (originally recorded by Joe Sun in 1978) with her then-husband Hugh Moffatt, co-wrote Clairity's D.N.A. Taking a leap of faith, Clairity sent over a link of her EP to the pop hit-maker, with no expectations or attachments whatsoever. "I never expected [Kesha] to tweet about it. It was so sweet, and honestly I’m just happy she liked it. I always value the opinion of other creatives; I have a lot of respect for her. For Kesha to like it enough to tweet about it was incredibly validating and surreal."
In the era of digital downloads, social media and transparency, the singer finds celebrity endorsements, when done right, could be the new gateway to discovery. "I think if it’s genuine, which fortunately in my case it has been, endorsements have the potential to be very advantageous. Personally, it means more to me to hear positive feedback from established artists who have already seen success. That sense of being on the right track is so rewarding. Obviously from the angle of expanding my fan base it definitely doesn't hurt to be exposed to a new audience! It’s been overwhelmingly positive so far."
But, of course, music-making is only one small facet of Clairity's engaging and expressive nature. She's also an avid fan of Nintendo and Devian art, among other things. "It’s really important to me that I’m well-rounded, and have a life outside of my artistry," she says. "As much as I love making music, it’s also my career so it’s good to have other things I enjoy outside of what I sometimes consider 'work.' I like to draw, I spend quite a bit of time on Tumblr and dA; I play video games way more than I’m comfortable admitting to the outside world. I also still love going out with my friends and having really awkward and memorable experiences as a normal angst-y 18-year-old. You can’t create without inspiration and you can’t be inspired unless you live your life fully. That balance between the two worlds is vital."
Now, if she were no long able to create music, what art form would she pursue full-time? "I’d have to say it’s a two way tie between film and art. I’m not the most prolific artist but I love to doodle and paint; I make little drawings in my notebook for each record as I’m writing to help gain a better visual perspective. That being said, I’m also fascinated by screenplay writing and possibly even directing. Conveying emotion is such a direct way is so compelling to me, and I hope to eventually delve into one or both of those worlds later in my career." She adds, noting one current visual artist with whom she's obsessed, "I’m totally enamored with Michael DeForge’s artwork at the moment. He has his own graphic novels, but he also storyboards for Adventure Time and he’s fantastic. I recently read one of his novels called 'First Year Healthy' and I just fell in love with the way he interprets people and animals and really everything. haha The story is amazing too; I’m a huge fan. I stalk him on social media so hard."
For the rest of the year, Clairity is "so excited to see where opportunity and hard work takes me. I’m writing music almost every day. It’s likely that I’ll start playing more shows which I’m super pumped about. I feel very passionately that the universe will guide me where I need to go. Whatever is meant to be will be. I’m so ready to put out new music, and build my brand as an artist. I’m still experiencing so much for the first time, so these moments are crucial for me. I can really expand creatively and be inspired. I’m looking forward to being a sponge, learning new facets of my industry, and having a more evolved, ambitious perspective on art."
With Alienation now in her rearview mirror, she mulls over the possibility of a full-length in the near future. "It’s so weird because I just turned 18 in July and I feel like I’m evolving artistically at such a ridiculous rate. I’m all about moving straight into an LP, but I’m thinking there might be some other single releases beforehand," she teases, but making sure not to let any specific details slip. "There’s so much unreleased content prepared for the album, but it’s very important to me that it’s all linear and consistent. In order to satisfy that sort of artistic prosody I’m thinking that putting out some music to separate the EP from the LP is crucial. I want to show fans how my brain is turning, and when I’m inspired as it’s happening ; I want my fans to be a huge part of my art in the beginning, and in order to do that I’d like for them to follow my evolution as it’s taking place. Overall, I think an album will happen soon, though. I’ve been writing quite a bit, and it’s all coming together pretty quickly."
Make sure you grab a copy of Clairity's Alienation EP on Apple Music now!
[PHOTO CREDIT: Meredith Truax]