Clare Maguire: Defining the Sound of 2011

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For most girls living in Birmingham, England, becoming an international recording artist requires a lifetime of experience, serious industry connections, and an insane amount of luck. But most girls are not Clare Maguire. Over the past three years, Clare has gone from Topshop employee to Myspace music celebrity, and now the 22-year-old is tipped to be the BBC’s Sound of 2011. With a powerhouse voice and lyrics that reveal her old soul, this fetching songstress is not your average Britpop heatseeker. Her new album, “Light After Dark,” comes out in the new year, and will give American audiences their first taste of Clare’s unique sound. We caught up with Clare to discuss her transition into the music industry, the icons that inspire her, and our shared love for Jack Nicholson.

You first became noticed because of your Myspace profile. Why did you decide to put yourself out there and how did it become so popular? I always wanted to be a musician and I was very passionate and ambitious. I was working in a shop during the day and at night I was putting demos on Myspace and creating a fan base. I have an extreme personality so I was kind of obsessive about it and I didn’t sleep, I would stay up all night and I wanted to connect with somebody who could help me, someone from London because I was from the middle of England and there wasn’t anybody around there. So then I began connecting with people and that’s how I started commuting to London to write and get the opportunity to be a artist.

How did you get started as a performer? I remember singing before I remember talking. It’s always been a release for me, it’s the thing I feel most comfortable with as a person.When I used to sing at school as a child, I didn’t really think about it but all the parents would get angry because I was louder than the other children. I started to just mime all the time because I was embarrassed. I never wanted to show off, it was just happiness for me. I always wrote stories from a young age and had a wild imagination. I wrote my first song when I was about seven, and found the ability to put a story into your singing, which is very exciting for me.

Did you grow up doing theater? I always liked performing and I loved acting. Still do. My school was quite academic, it wasn’t a theater school, so I was very different and artistic. It’s kind of surreal for a lot of people who didn’t quite understand it. I kind of liked being the odd one out.

So is performing your favorite thing about being an artist, even more than recording and writing? I think all of it is amazing. Writing a song is an incredible thing, sitting there and not really knowing what’s going to come, then hearing it through the speakers for the first time and thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.” It’s like a part of your imagination just coming through the speakers. So that’s amazing, but it’s different than being able to walk onto the stage and really being something that you always want to be but can’t be in your everyday life.

What was it like when record labels first started contacting you? I’m sure it was thrilling but was it frightening as well? I never get frightened. Someone asked me if I felt a lot of pressure, but I don’t feel that way at all. It’s an art form, you spend time on it, you spend effort on it, and you really want people to believe in it. When people believe in you it’s a great thing, especially as a writer. And you’d know as a journalist, you have to spend so much time in this isolated seclusion of writing, you feel that you’re putting so much into it and it’s a lengthy process, but if people then come to you and say they believe in it or they really liked it, it’s amazing.

Especially when there are so many people vying for what you are doing. I’m lucky to be in this position, but you can’t allow yourself to be put off or frightened or pressured.

What was your first big performance? The first time I was actually shocked was when I walked onto the stage at the Brixton Academy in London when I was supporting this massive artist in England. The Brixton is like 5,000 capacity and I remember walking on the soundcheck and being like, “This is what it’s about.”

So what inspired this album and what does the title mean exactly? The title is “Light After Dark.” I went into the studio and things that were happening in my life just came into the songs. I think the title was perfect because a lot of the songs were done in kind of a dark, secluded time in my life and a some of them were in a happier, lighter place. One of the songs “Last Dance,” which is my next single, was triggered by the death of Michael Jackson. I was a huge, huge, huge fan of his.

Are there any other musicians that you saw when you were younger and thought, This is what I want to be like, this is what I have to do? This is going to sound really pretentious but, as a child, I never wanted to be like anybody else, I was just going to be me. I love all music, I love all genres, there’s nobody I really dislike. But my favorite artists have to be Michael Jackson, Prince, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Daft Punk, Mozart, it just goes on and on.

Are there books or movies or anything other than music that inspire what you write? The writing can be inspired by a conversation I hear in a pub or on a bus from everyday people. When I’m writing I have images – I think of it like a film. It’s a very visual process and fashion very much inspires me. Film too, like Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, The Godfather, and Scarface. I am a huge fan of movies and I have always been obsessed with Marilyn. I think that my most ideal men in the world would be Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.

Yes, he certainly is. I just saw Something’s Gotta Give the other night. Diane Keaton was so beautiful in that and so nice and I don’t usually like chick flicks but that was amazing and he was so handsome, I was like, I would marry him tomorrow.

I agree. Nancy Meyers wrote that and she always writes great movies, like The Holiday. It’s a perfect Christmas movie and Kate Winslet is just wonderful in everything. She’s a perfect actress, a modern day classic actress.

She can do every genre too. Yes but my favorite actress is Meryl Streep.

You should see the other Nancy Meyers movie that she was just in, It’s Complicated. It was amazing! She’s so beautiful, I love her, she is the most perfect woman ever, I want to be her. The thing is, my main favorite is Marilyn, but my favorite actress right now is Meryl, I think she is the most beautiful woman alive. I want to be her friend.

Who inspires you in terms of fashion? You seem to have a lot of ’70s looks. It’s ’70s but it’s also quite diva. My inspiration for fashion would have to come from a little bit of everybody: Marilyn, Edie Sedgwick, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Nicks, Cher, Madonna, even Jesus is fashion inspiration. I love just walking down the street and seeing an average person and sometimes they have something on and you’re like, “What the hell, where did this come from?” Then you take the look for yourself.

For your music videos, do you come up with the general concept and aesthetic look, or is it something that the director helps you with? I’ve done one so far and in that one I came up with the idea but he took it and created it from what I gave him. The rest of my album is kind of disco pop so it’s going to be very different and the next song “Last Dance,” the one that was triggered by the death of Michael Jackson, this one I am really involved with it and the directors speak with me everyday and we’re really trying to nail down exactly what we want. In this video, it’s more about my movement and my body than it is about the clothes which is quite strange but we wanted to do that for this one because that is more integral to the song.

Are there any other young female artists in your genre you really like? I’ve heard you compared to everyone from Amy Winehouse to Stevie Nicks. Oh my god, everyone. Lady Gaga is the most amazing woman in the world, Beyonce, Britney obviously, Amy Winehouse is perfect. I really hope Amy comes back with an incredible album, I really want her to because I really love her. Adele is amazing, Marina and the Diamonds, she’s really talented. I love La Roux, she is a big fan as well. She texted me and told me she loved “Last Dance,” which was really cool.

So what do you have planned next besides working on another video? Well I’m supporting Hurts again around Europe and I think I’m going to be playing Coachella.

So you’ll be coming to the States? Yeah, I’m going to be coming there in the spring. I really want to go there now though but my music is quite more slow burn and it’s more about the gradual process so that’s the way it’s going to have to be but I want to go to America as soon as possible because I really love it.

You were just tipped as the BBC’s Sound of 2011. That’s a big deal! It’s so exciting. I’m really confident in the album and in myself and in the music and in the videos, so I think it’s worthy of being talked about right now. If there’s any negativity I’m fine with it because I’m like, “It’s all good.”