The singer-songwriter explores the first stage of grief for her latest single.
Laying her soul bare and delivering a powerful vocal performance is singer-songwriter Saint Clair, with her latest single “goddess”. Coinciding with the announcement of her new visual EP “in the violet hour”, which is set for release in November, “goddess” dives into the different stages of grief, navigating heartbreak and loss while basking in modern grooves and rolling piano lines. Collaborating with director and sister Tamsin Topolski, the distinctive video delves in the first stage of grief: denial, as we see Saint Clair battle with her inner demons while coming to terms with the loss of her father.
Having started her musical journey as a jazz singer and sessioning with multi-instrumentalists such as Laura Marling and Dua Lipa, the extraordinary singer has gone to release two stellar EPs and join Bombay Bicycle Club as their new singer. We caught up with the singer talking the new EP, addressing grief in music, and what’s next.
Check out the interview below…
Hi there, how has lockdown been for you? How have you stayed creative?
Lockdown has been a microcosm of every human experience and emotion I can think of; A total rollercoaster of enjoying the novelty and appreciating the slower pace and then frustration at the repetition and lack of structure or purpose. Luckily, I’ve been house-sitting with my boyfriend who is an amazing musician and my sister who directed my new visual EP in the violet hour, so we’ve had a very productive (and literal) in-house set up where we’ve written music, shot live videos, done photoshoots… I’ve also been doing a few remote sessions for various people and lots and lots of bass scales.
Who did you grow up listening to? Who and what are you inspired by?
I grew up listening to Supertramp and The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Jeff Buckley. I then went through a big garage phase, punctuated by quarterly nights out at Bagleys, followed by singing a lot of jazz whilst letting off steam at emo/post-punk gigs at the Mean Fiddler. I still love all of that music but would add that I’m now very inspired by Frank Ocean, James Blake, OutKast, The Blaze, Bon Iver, Tame Impala to name a few. Also Carl Sagan, freethought, conversation, reading, eating, my friends and The Sopranos.
You started as a jazz singer and session musician – how did that experience feed into your sound?
Jazz taught me the importance of delivering a narrative with sincerity and heart, putting the lyrics front and centre. The ballads also have a languid approach to melody and focus heavily on tone both of which I think I adopt in my music. I’m not sure the session work has particularly fed into my sound but I learned a lot about touring, performing and learned a few new instruments along the way too!
Why the name Saint Clair?
Saint Clair was inspired by both my Mum’s Scottish ancestry in Sinclair Bay and my French upbringing (‘clair’ means light in French). Saint Clair felt like a nice fusion of the two.
Congratulations on your EP “in the violet hour” – what does the name mean?
Thank you – it’s been an incredible journey! I first came across the phrase “at the violet hour” in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ and loved the mood it created. It’s that time of the afternoon when the sun is setting and purple light refracts across the sky. It’s a very reflective atmosphere and despite it being beautiful, it always feels like something is fading away forever. I decided to use it to represent grief; each of the 4 songs on the EP have accompanying visuals which explore that feeling.
I read it was inspired by the loss of your father – how did you go about channelling your grief into a body of music?
The music and the videos are inextricably linked; I knew I wanted to transport people on a journey through grief and loss and release the songs with their accompanying visuals in chapters but hadn’t worked out exactly how to tell that story or how personal to make it. I asked my sister Tam who is an actor, director, photographer, all-round brilliant creative with the most reliable eye if she’d be up for collaborating and fortunately for me, she co-created the concept and directed all 4 videos. Working together was a really special experience and ended up being quite cathartic in spite of the heaviness; I also loved being able to include Dad in the process and felt grateful to connect with him again.
What made you decide to bring it to life with this cinematic visual aspect?
I had a load of songs I’d written at various moments after losing Dad and when I listened back, I realised that many of them were tackling my feelings at different stages of the grieving process. Once I’d put them into a collection, I knew I wanted to create a different video for each, to explore those concepts visually too and present a truly immersive experience.
“goddess” is beautiful and so eerie- how did you come up with the concept for the video?
“goddess” is only the first chapter of a four-part visual EP, so the protagonist we meet here is keeping up appearances and battling through stage one: denial. Tam wanted our character to be majestic and dignified, almost stately, the brief was “exquisite funeral attire reminiscent of haute couture”. Then gradually start to malfunction, eventually succumbing to her grief and descending into a primal metamorphosis. What better way to demonstrate that then by baking a cake?
Love your work with Bombay Bicycle club – how do you keep your work and artistry separate?
I joined them just before COVID hit so we were only a few shows in before all our touring was sadly postponed. With any luck, we’ll be able to start rescheduling stuff for next year.
I’ve always been drawn to having multiple projects on the go; I find it inspiring and challenging and seem to work better when I’m busy. It can definitely be tricky to juggle everything and find time to be creative and pour the same amount of love and attention into my own pursuits but “in the violet hour” has given me a real focus and drive in a way I’ve rarely been able to capture before.
What’s next for you? What are you excited about in 2020?
The plan is to host a screening and an immersive live show to accompany the release of the full film in November but we’ll have to wait and see what COVID is up to by then! Might have to do it remotely. Other than that, I’m very excited to share the next chapter, violet hour on 13th August.