Portland, Oregon’s Kathryn Claire is gearing up to celebrate the release of her fourth full-length album, Bones Will Last, a ten-track collection of chamber/folk music encompassing her classical music upbringing with her formative folk influences. With five instrumentals and five vocal tracks, Bones Will Last places Claire’s violin and voice at the forefront of the album.
Claire spent years cultivating her own style and approach to music as a violinist, guitarist, singer, and songwriter. The result is an album that features arrangements that are sparse, with the lyrics residing confidently in the music; the violin weaving seamlessly through the album, bringing the instrumental and lyrical compositions together.
When I decided to put instrumentals and lyrical songs on the album, I knew finding a cohesive sound could be problematic,” admits Claire. “That interweaving was so profound. I have played violin on many albums, and have worked as a side person with incredible performers. Each artist and genre I worked in taught me something. One of the most important gifts I learned as a side person was how to listen. When I made this album I applied that gift to myself. I wanted to capture what I heard in my head with the violin. I went deep within myself to find those melodic or lyrical lines that I kept hearing.”
Kathryn worked with Portland musicians Zak Borden (mandolin), Allen Hunter (upright bass), and Don Henson (piano) to create the album and has performed and toured extensively with all three artists. “It was empowering to work with such sensitive, talented and supportive musicians. They were patient and excited with the whole process. Each of them brought their own style to the album, and still helped me focus on the sound I was trying to create and compose.”
On the title track, Claire sings “Raise a glass, it’s all we have. For tonight has become tomorrow. Fear the flood, the rush of blood, we’ll be gone, but our bones will last,” speaking to the themes of the album: mortality, loss, love and transformation.
“I think about death often,” she says, discussing one of the album’s central themes. “It is not a preoccupation, but something I ponder regularly. In a literal sense, the title speaks to what we leave behind after we die; the remains of our body in the end are just our bones. But in a figurative sense, I wanted to consider the bones of our personality, of our creative work, of our heart: the essential things that last after everything else has died, decayed, and transformed. I like the idea that at the core each of us have this essence, and as an artist, there is a core voice or aesthetic. I sought the ‘bones’ of my creative being through the creation of this album. I wondered how I would feel if this was my last album, if this was the last musical thing I left behind. I needed to make sure that I said and expressed everything I wanted.”
Claire’s own vision changed while making the record. Realizing that she may have two records on her hands, she decided to hold back five songs, and re-work the direction of the album by incorporating the instrumental compositions.
“Generally I go into the studio with a collection of songs that are pretty much intact. I don’t do much editing in the studio because the songs feel complete,” she says of her process. “For this album, I had about ten songs that I had started working on over a two-year period. But it was clear that there were two different albums that wanted to be made. I had to choose the five songs that would work with the instrumentals. I had considered doing an entirely instrumental album and an entirely lyric-driven album, but I saw a way to put a handful of the songs together with the instrumentals. In the end, they informed one another and fit together beautifully. ”
“‘Sweet Chariot,’ ‘Never Be,’ and ‘Thaw’ were all complete and I did little editing on them. ‘Last Day’ definitely morphed from its original version (written in a hotel room in Montana). I credit Danny O’Hanlon at Bunglalo 9 who mixed the album. He helped me shape that song into a piece that fit with the rest of the songs. We took out an entire verse and most of the acoustic guitar part, and just left strings and bass to drive the song. The result is a powerful song about the loss of self and the ending of a relationship. Bones Will Last,’ the title track, was titled ‘Medicine’ for a couple of years. But it had the line ‘We’ll be gone, but our bones will last.’ I knew I wanted that to be the title of the album. But ‘Medicine’ didn’t fit. The energy of the song was cathartic and intense. One night I sat with my guitar and asked the song what it wanted. I learned the song was very tender and really a love song. Once I realized this, and wrote a new chorus, that song became the title track and one of my favorites. Sometimes we have to listen even harder to our own words and music because beneath the initial emotions or melodies is something different, something essential.”
The instrumental compositions on Bones Will Last are where Claire hears the clearest intersection between her classical and traditional music upbringing. The completed album surprised Claire when she realized how deeply her classical roots ran throughout it.
“Classical music is a part of my musical voice, but I haven’t really explored it for years. I was blessed to have a fantastic string/orchestra program in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. I grew up playing string quartets with my friends and playing some of the great symphonies with my peers. My parents, especially my mother, fostered a love of classical music, and I attended many classical music performances. I didn’t go on to study music in college or to play classical music professionally. I taught myself to play guitar in high school and started writing then. Later on, I fell in love with folk music and traditional fiddle music, and went down that path for many years. When everything got stripped down on this album and I started composing the string parts under the lyrical songs or putting harmony violin parts on the instrumentals, I was surprised by how connected to my classical roots I really am.”
Kathryn Claire has found the bones of her creative voice. It will be interesting to see where the process of making this album takes her in the future. Her honest and poetic writing and unique approach to the violin and songwriting will serve her well as she continues to evolve and explore new musical terrains, creating a sound both original and diverse.