Hi Claire, thanks for taking some time to talk with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an artist and scholar. Mostly I’ve written songs and poems, but I also have a memoir about my obsession with the horror genre coming out next year. I have an MFA and a PhD and most of my employment has been as a teacher. I was born in Los Angeles in 1985.
Earlier this year, your second release Big Dread Moon came out on Orindal Records. When did you start writing music and what inspired you to do so?
I started playing guitar when I was four years old because my dad pushed me into it, which was both good and bad. I wanted to play the flute or harp but he thought guitar was more practical and had secret ambitions that I would become a rock star. I wrote my first song in first grade (it was about an angry dog) and have been doing it since then. I self-released a lot of CD-Rs and tapes in high school and my early twenties. My first label release was a record called Came Down a Storm that Ba Da Bing put out in 2016. It was a collaboration with John Dieterich, though it’s listed as a “Claire Cronin” album. Big Dread Moon was my first label LP that was wholly my own work.
Big Dread Moon, by Claire Cronin. Available on Orindal Records.
Aside from music, you are also a published author. Can we talk a bit about that?
Sure. I see songwriting, poetry writing, and prose writing as interrelated, because I have only one mind and the things I read, watch, and listen to get filtered through my experiences and abilities. I’m not even sure I can articulate the differences between these forms anymore because I feel like I’m exploring the same emotions and arguments in all of them. I just know that there are times when I’m unable to write poems and so I write songs or times when all I can write is expository prose.
I’ve published two poetry chapbooks and, as I mentioned, have my debut full-length book coming out soon from Repeater Books. That book is a true hybrid: part critical theory, part personal narrative. It also includes lists and my hand-drawn illustrations.
What would you consider the biggest influences on your work, and how have you seen these evolve over time?
I think I’m influenced the way most people are. The work comes out of my emotional life. So: personal struggles, family history, religious and cultural experiences, communities I’ve lived in. Those things determine the content of the work.
In terms of style, I’m more indebted to specific artists and writers, but it’s interesting to think of style as coming from mood, biography, landscape, and inter-generational history.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time listening to folk music and early rock and Americana stuff, probably because of my guitar teacher and my dad. I also read a lot, painted, and watched huge amounts of TV.
Claire Cronin, photo by Anne Cronin.
Do you feel that you approach music and writing in a similar fashion, or how does your artistic process vary between the two?
I’m unable to approach songwriting as anything but an intuitive, irrational act, except when making final decisions about lyrics or a musical arrangement. I can consciously think through the writing of poetry and prose and layer in different levels of meaning, but the more I try to control a song, the more I seem to scare it away.
Can you give us some examples of your creative work that you are particularly fond of, or have any interesting stories about?
There is imagery in a couple of songs on Came Down a Storm about death in a field or at sea. That came to me intuitively; I wasn’t sure why I wrote about it. Shortly after the songs were finished, a relative died in a tragic accident that held eerie similarities to what I’d described in the songs.
You also recently completed your PhD in English from the University of Georgia Athens! What was the focus of your research and what inspired you?
Yes, and I miss being there so much! I went to UGA because they had a creative writing program within an English PhD, so my dissertation was a book of creative non-fiction and poetry, though all the other requirements were the same. My research areas were 20th century American poetry (mostly post-war avant-garde movements), occult and visionary poetry (from William Blake to Jack Spicer), and visual studies (with an emphasis on death, horror, and spectrality in moving image media). I find that my creative work is always strengthened by theoretical inquiry, so it was a dream to be in a PhD program that upheld that.
So, you’ve lived in Los Angeles, Athens, and are now based in Northern California. What do you see as the similarities in these regions, as well as the differences?
Wow, I don’t know. I don’t think I should make any generalizations. LA will always feel like home, Athens was a wonderful place to be for four years, and I’m still figuring out the Bay Area. Most of my childhood was in Connecticut, actually, so I’ve experienced the East Coast too.
Certain parts of my self-presentation probably change to fit the place where I’m living, either to blend in or rebel against the norms. Usually this happens unconsciously and then I realize it later. For example, when I lived in Athens, I tried to become more interested in college football and ended up becoming obsessed with lifting weights. When I was in LA and renting an apartment at the base of the Hollywood sign, near the Scientology celebrity center, I was convinced my room was haunted and spent way too much money on psychic healers and green juice.
How do you feel the different environments have affected your work?
I don’t have a sense that they have affected my work, but I could be wrong. I read once that many writers can’t write about a place they’ve lived until they leave it: one has to be in exile to reflect on an environment that used to be mundane.
What are you currently working on?
I’m making final revisions on my book, writing new songs, and planning some short tours. I also need to finish writing an essay about the trope of the academic in horror narratives for a conference I’m attending later this fall.
Any plans to tour?
Yes. I’m going on a very mini tour of the West Coast with my friend Alex Dupree next month, planning a solo tour of the Southwest in December, and hoping to take part in an Orindal-themed tour in March.
Claire Cronin and Ezra Buchla performing on Audiotree Live
What are you listening to these days?
I’ve been listening to Townes Van Zandt again and religious music, like “holy minimalism,” Arvo Part, singing in Latin... I don’t know much about it.
Ok, it’s coffee time. Do you like that stuff?
What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
I like it to be mellow and not overly bitter, though that seems against trend.
How do you make coffee at home?
I did pour-over for years but didn’t pack my carafe on our cross-country move so I’ve been using a french press. It’s not great. I think I’m drinking a huge amount of coffee grounds each day— kind of “cowboy coffee” style. I need an upgrade.
A French press, which Claire does not think is great.
If you are grabbing a coffee at a cafe, what is your go-to?
Usually that means it’s later in the day, so I go for a cold brew.
Are there coffees from particular regions that you are particularly fond of?
No… I’ve been to many fancy coffee shops that tell me the regions that my beans came from, but I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned.
How do you feel that coffee intersects with your creativity?
The first half to three-fourths of the day are motored by coffee. Wine is the coffee of night, but that’s dangerous and I don’t do good work while drinking. Coffee brings me into reality and keeps my mind sharp.
Thanks so much, Claire. Lastly, have you heard any good jokes lately?
Dang, no I haven’t. But my dogs often make me laugh.
Claire Cronin - "Saint's Lake"
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