by Alex Teitz
Sydney Wayser evokes another reality with her music as Clara Nova. Her songs include “Echo” and “The Illusionist.” She has been working on a new EP The Iron Age with Shawn Everett. This French-American is influenced by her European roots and by the works of Gainsbourg & Brel, among others. This year she is playing at SXSW. Get a taste of her music with “The Illusionist” video:
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making your new EP?
SW: The last few years have been a bit of a whirlwind actually. Unfortunately, my story falls into the usual category of artists losing their music to record labels. I parted ways with a label and they took my masters leaving me with no work to show after 2 years of recording 2 full length albums for them that were never released. From there I reached out to my fans and supporters and hosted a Pledge Music campaign which allowed me to raise funds to re-record the music that the label took. I ended up surpassing my goal and am now on the other side about to release a piece of this music to the world! It’s funny how on this side of the journey I’m so thankful for the label implosion. I was able to separate from a company that was holding me back and now I’m in control of my music and can decided how and when to release it. I am forever grateful to my supporters who pledged and made all of this possible.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Shawn Everett. How did you meet? What made you decide to work with him on this project? What did he bring to it?
SW: Shawn Everett mixed my last Sydney Wayser record, Bell Choir Coast, that was released in 2012. We hit it off right away and have remained friends since. When I moved back to Los Angeles from NYC in 2013 I reached out to him about the new CLARA-NOVA music I had written and we decided to make a record right on the spot. We had kind of a kismet moment actually of running into each other in a random coffee shop and chatting about it. He mentioned he just moved into a new studio and once he finished setting that up he was booked with The Alabama Shakes (making what would be later released as Sound & Color) but that he was free whenever they were not in the studio. We started piecing sounds together and before we knew it we had finish 18 songs. He is one of the most inventive and experimental producers I’ve ever worked with and has an unmatched ability to coax the best out of everyone in the room. By the end of the record we were reading each other’s minds and playing what felt like musical Tetris of shifting pieces around until they found their right place.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about France. I understand you visited it when growing up. What is it about the culture and music that inspires you?
SW: Paris is my second home. My father is French and my mother is American. My parents met in Paris in their early 20s in what may be the most romantic story rivaled only by Amélie or some witty romantic comedy. As a child, we spent the school year in Los Angeles but holidays were spent in Paris. Growing up with a French family meant the culture and art seeped in without knowing it. Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel and Françoise Hardy were always playing on the record player. We’d go to the Louvre, L’orangerie, Centre Pompidou and small art galleries throughout the city. My grandparents were antique dealers and collected vintage gems. They loved showing us the beautiful and unique antiquity of Paris and of France. Paris has this magic sense about it that feels like we are living in parallel universes. I feel like it is 2018 and also 1918 at the same time.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
SW: Songs usually feel like they write themselves. I’ll throw a few ideas around and see what floats up to the top. Then I take those ideas and pull on them until they reveal verses and choruses. Eventually I end up with a song. I usually don’t sit down thinking “I’m gonna write a song about X”. I sit down and think “hmmmm… I like this image, what words would I use to describe it or that’s a cool melody. What happens if a flip it? What happens if I elongate it? etc”
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest impact on you? Why?
SW: I’m not sure I can pick one only song! I’d say the album Poses by Rufus Wainwright changed my life and musical thinking. I’ve listened to that record for 14 years or so. I go through periods where I listen to it on repeat for months without listening to anything else. The musical composition, lyrics, arrangements and performances are all brilliant. It hybridizes electronic and organic elements which I find beautiful and interesting while maintaining overflowing emotion and honesty.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
SW: I think every woman in the industry has been discriminated against at some point. These discriminatory incidences are not always intentional but happen in response to peoples own self doubt, insecurity and ego. This incredible movement is breaking down these barriers and pushing people to think before they act out and react in response to their own insecurities.
I had the great pleasure of singing in an all women choir supporting Shirley Manson of Garbage and Fiona Apple for Girlschool LA last month and am forever in awe of those women. They were open-hearted and inclusive, kind and appreciative of everyone in the room. I hope this movement creates more writing sessions, rehearsals and meeting that feel as great as those rehearsals and performances felt. We have everything to gain and I think we gain it but loving and respecting our collaborators and team members no matter their race, gender, sexual preference or social status.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to tour with, or collaborate with? Why?
SW: I’m a huge fan of Phoenix and would love to open up for them on tour. Maybe it’s the French connection or maybe it’s just that they’re music is so great but I’m a big fan of everything they put out in the world. Side note – Their Blogotheque video shot in Versailles is stunning as well!
Another person I’d love to collaborate or tour with is Karen O. I think she is just A+++. She’s fearless and vibrant. A strong voice for women and honestly she’s just such a badass!!
FEMMUSIC: What’s one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
SW: I wish A&R wasn’t a lost art form. I hope we can go back to a place where record labels love artists’ creativity first rather than their numbers. A place where labels truly help musicians find their voice and their sound. The industry moves so fast these days many artists get lost in mergers and are left with nothing.