The morning Gigwise spoke to Clare Maguire was no ordinary day for this Birmingham-born singer songwriter. Despite all the distractions of her latest single, ‘The Last Dance’, storming up the mid-week charts and the imminent release of her debut album Light After Dark, Clare was jubilant to have met Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams on BBC Breakfast.
“My fans tweeted me saying I looked really nervous”, explains the fifth ranked artist in the BBC’s Sound Of 2011. “I wasn’t really.”
Certainly this chanteuse, who was snapped up at the tender age of 18 by Universal Music, showed no signs of shyness in her chat with Gigwise. Putting up an excitably enthusiastic front Clare discussed her obsessive army of fans, the time she met Jay-Z and why she opens her live set with a dubstep remix.
A few days ago you tweeted “3 years ago I was working in Topshop dreaming, today my 1st single is out”. Life must be pretty good for you right now?
That was because I went to the Topshop show at London’s Fashion Week and it was just really weird because I used to work in a Topshop. Now I am really busy doing what I want to which is cool.
It is been well established that ‘The Last Dance’ was inspired by snide remarks you read on the internet Michael Jackson’s death. Do you channel criticism aimed at you in the same way?
Well I don’t really read anything about myself online. I try to stay away from it. Sometimes my friends or family will call and say “Have you read this or that?” I just try and ignore it though, I understand that everyone has an opinion.
Your song titles are extremely theatrical statements - ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘Last Dance’. Are you a dramatic person in general?
I think I am a passionate person but I am not a drama school student. I am quite relaxed as a person it is just when I do have those kind of feelings I channel them into my performance.
It must be good to have that outlet for creative release?
It is good especially as it allows me to get involved the videos and artwork as well. With the video for ‘Last Dance’ I spent a day with the directors [Alex Large and Liane Sommers] just talking about what we wanted to do. I wanted all the different themes and characters to be very diverse so I didn’t segregate anyone as the song can affect different people in different ways.
You’ve cited Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an influence. She had deeply personal struggle to get her music heard. You must have sympathised with this as a school kid in Birmingham?
I think the influence of her is that I remember sitting down and watching her on YouTube and just being completely blown away. Obviously in terms of personal struggle, I am nowhere near what she’s been through.
I just love blues singers anyway and the fact that they wear their hearts on their sleeve during their performances. I think that’s what really appealed to me about her and Howlin’ Wolf as well. The pain and struggle in the performances.
You said you have “spent 23 years building up to Light After Dark”. Do you believe this is what you were destined to do?
I think you create your own destiny. I just had this tunnel vision where I couldn’t see anything else and thought, “That’s all I can do with my life. That’s all I am going to do.”
I think anybody can do what they want to do if they just have confidence and don’t see any other option.
You’ve also mentioned you started songwriting at seven. What’s the oldest song on the album and when was it written?
I wrote all of these songs after I got signed. The first one which I wrote was 'Break These Chains', which I did almost a year ago. I did think I should have put some of the songs I wrote years ago. Recently I listened to one of the tracks I did when I was 19 and I really liked it but I am going to keep putting out music for free through Twitter and other ways. For me it is more about the live shows, if you keep giving away music you can keep incorporating it into your live shows.
With a lot of artists who get talked up at the beginning of the year there is a sense they don’t have much control over their direction. It seems like you’ve taken every step possible to ensure this isn’t the case by picking your producers and writing your own material?
I really have made a conscious effort to keep in control. I think it is about creating music that people can believe in. Even things like the artwork, if you don’t think it is a true representation of you then there’s no point in trying to make people believe it. That’s why I’ve always been really hands on with all the videos, all the artwork and the production because they all mean so much to me.
The release of 'Light After Dark' means the end of your new artist status. Do you get frustrated how your back story gets stripped back to once having drinks with Jay-Z and meeting Rick Rubin?
I think people must think that I am a name-dropper and I am not at all. It is frustrating because it is in my bio and I remember talking about how people would perceive me if I said, “Yeah I went around doing this with Jay-Z.”
Clare Maguire - 'The Last Dance'
You’ve done quite a lot of collaborations The Streets and Chase & Status, what did that process bring to 'Light After Dark'?
It does influence me, all of my remixes influence me musically but that’s just because I have a really eclectic music taste. There’s nothing that I really don’t like. I am going to go into the studio with Chase & Status really soon to do a track I’ve been wanting to do for ages. They’ve written the music to it which I really like and I am going to go over there and record it.
What are your ambitions for the rest of the year?
I am going on tour with Hurts again in Europe and then I am going to do my own headline tour around March. That’s going to be around 200-300 capacity venues around the UK. I really want to just concentrate on the UK to be honest. I just want to be around here, record around here. I think that’s it really important to get that foundation to feel really confident.
You seem to use Twitter a lot to keep in touch with them?
Yeah I talk to them all the time. When I’ve done the show, I’ll know who the fans are because I recognise them from the pictures. I’ll come up and say hi to them after the gig and stuff.
Have you got any super-infatuated fans?
They’re all cool but there are some cool obsessives. With fan sites and stuff like that they’ll message me and say, “We’re the official site”. I’m like, “Okay... [laughs nervously]”.
There was this one guy who’s 15 and he made me a Valentines card and brought it to my gig with his little twin brother. It was so sweet and really strange because, I remember being massive fans of people and being, “Oh my god, its them.” When people do that to you it is just crazy.
Are you doing any festivals this year?
Bestival, Camp Bestival and I think I am doing Glastonbury which I am really, really excited about. I love performing in general and it is going to be great to be around so much music. I’d never even been to a festival until I went to perform at one. When I was at school nobody even went to them.
Do you pull out any special tricks for your live shows?
I am doing G-A-Y on Friday and I’ve got dancers for that and I do get really involved in what everybody wears and what happens and the breakdowns in the music. I try and make it sound as live as possible and not just track, and also try to incorporate many different types of song in there. I open it with Breakage’s dubstep remix of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ actually. I think sometimes you just need to push it a bit.
How does that go down with the crowds?
People really like it because, so far, I’ve been a support act and they people aren’t expecting it. I have to play a song if I think it is really exciting.