Clare and the Reasons

Playing With Time

Jan 22, 2010 Web Exclusive
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"We're a bunch of idiots! We definitely mix that into what we do because that's who we are," confesses Clare and the Reasons' frontwoman Clare Muldaur. "We take the music we do very very, very seriously, but we don't take ourselves that seriously." It's that sense of professional whimsy that leads Clare and the Reasons to some interesting placesincluding shows in bright red jumpsuits, haiku recording diaries, and absurdist takes on 1980s classics.

Making music that floats like a summer breeze and evokes a bittersweet nostalgia; Clare and the Reasons' musical roots were sewn early in Muldaur's childhood. "My first musical, head-over-heels falling in love was with Bessie Smith when I was like, eight. I grew up listening to almost exclusively black music from the '20s, '30s, and '40s," she explains. 

A storyteller at heart, Muldaur's literary lyricism is likewise rooted in art from before her time. Muldaur waxes poetic when discussing film. "Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, for sure...400 Blows...I love a lot of French cinema actually." On her home soil, Muldaur also has a clear favoritethe musical. "My favorite musical would probably be Singing in the Rain, when music used to be good music," she says. "It's kind of gone off the deep end for me now...I don't know why they can't just do good musicals, why it has to be bad. It's almost like a rule of thumb now...or just really cheesy."

That marriage of Gallic storytelling and non-cheesy American theatrics played heavily into the recording of Clare and the Reasons' sophomore album Arrows. "The more I write, the more I get excited about not writing in a journalistic way," explains Muldaur. "I'm not really too interested in singing about me every night. I think there are so many other things to sing about that people can relate to. So I really enjoy little narratives where you have characters and scenarios and kind of approach it like that." Based on everything from her grandmother's courtship ("You Getting Me") to an imagined restaurant conversation ("Ooh you Hurt Me So"), Muldaur sees a common thread to her narratives. "I've been thinking a lotmaybe this happens to everybodyjust about time and speed and slowing down. A lot of different things that time can mean, or time passing or time spent," she explains. 

Time, however, is something the band didn't have in abundance while recording their follow-up to debut The Movie. Muldaur recounts their compacted schedule. "In late January we went to Japan. And right when we got back we started recording.... So we were really strapped for time. But I think ultimately it was a good thing in this situation. We actually recorded most of the album across the street from our house in our engineer's apartment. So it was like a lot of pajama-running across the street moments. We actually even built our own sound booth in his second bedroom.... So really it was a very organic experience in that way. Being in his home, and sort of moving drums all around the room, on top of the bed. 'This pillow sounds better than this pillow underneath it.' You know, a lot of weird quirky things that wind up happening in the apartment."

Muldaur is quick to point out that these challenges helped shaped her band's evolving sound. "I feel like Arrow [when compared to The Movie] is a little bit less over-the-top, orchestrated with a hundred tracks on each song. I feel like when we could have put more we often didn't on Arroweven though it might not sound that way.... I think that's a learning thing for me and sort of the desire to have more space for breath and time to relax in between things, rather than having every moment filled."

One thing Clare and the Reasons are comfortable filling their albums with are high-profile collaborators. Having previously worked with family friend Van Dyke Parks ("He's terminally unique!" she says), and Sufjan Stevens on their debut, Muldaur has her sights set on future collaborationsincluding Liam Finn, Daniel Johnston ("but who wouldn't?" she muses), and Loney Dear. "His records for me are just little masterpieces," she says of Loney Dear. However, Muldaur's favorite collaborator is husband and fellow "Reason," Olivier Manchon. "Definitely, he is a co-collaborator on Clare and the Reasons," she laughs. "He tells everybody it's his band.... He absolutely brings deep, deep classical and orchestral knowledge and roots into the group. And his sensibilities are an interesting merge with mineI'm more from the American Song tradition." Her voice drops to a conspiratorial stage whisper. "You know, his writing is amazing. I really respect him...but don't tell him that!"

The married songwriters take time out from their duties to have a bit fun, dipping into a shared love of 1980s coversa live staple that crossed into recording with Arrows' inclusion of Genesis' song "That's All." "I just remember, when I was like four, feeling like such a rebel dancing around my living room to that song," Muldaur recounts. "Because in my house we really only listened to black music-'30s, '40s that era. And listening to this white British band was almost like 'Whoa! Crazy girl!' So it was my way of rebelling as a little kid, which is very strange." Another cover, Tears For Fears' classic "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," came about while goofing off during rehearsal. "Olivier did that whole arrangement with the intro.... People in a live setting were very, very shocked that we were doing it. Because we're not the kind of band you'd expect to be doing a song like that!" Muldaur explains, pleased. When suggested that they'll have to add another 1980s cover to their repertoire, she lights up, her interest in the absurd clearly peaked. "We could be that band!" she laughs. (


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