Clara Engel’s Songs For Another

Taking the life and work of another and interpreting it isn’t an easy feat, but it’s a challenge that Clara Engel took on for their latest Songs for Leonora Carrington. An interesting concept, we talked about that as well as where they’re  at in their head when they step on stage, and their plans as far as 2018 is concerned.

Kendra: With your latest album being based on artist Leonora Carrington, it made me wonder if you were ever into that part of the art world yourself? Did you paint or sculpt?

Clara Engel: I draw – I do most of my own album art, and have just started doing a bit of album art for other musicians. I’ve never been part of any art world, in a formal sense. This particular album was originally released on a label called Wist Rec, a boutique record label based in Dublin. It’s part of a series — they ask musicians to pick an artist working in any medium and write a series of songs based on their life and work. I had just discovered Leonora Carrington’s work, I can’t even remember how at this point, but it seemed like a great challenge to choose her. I also didn’t want to pick someone in music or film, I wanted to pick something more removed from the aural realm.

Kendra: Reading up on her, I was fascinated by her approach to sexuality, especially coming from a female perspective. Was that the part of Leonora’s work stuck out for you?

Clara Engel: For me the sexuality in her work is part of a much bigger whole. Not omitting sexuality, and not twisting it into a contorted caricature of what we’ve decided is acceptably “feminine” could be seen as a radical gesture, I suppose. I think what really arrested me at first were images of her sculptures – “The Palmist” is one that I find particularly powerful, and it’s what gave rise to the song “Birdheaded Queen.” I love how Leonora Carrington rejected the idea of women as muses. I think it is a completely bogus idea, and it robs women of their humanity and of their voices while purporting to worship them. I see it as misogyny masquerading as reverence.

Kendra: Onto your sound. You have this very ominous, haunting quality to your voice. Are you pulling from a somber place when you perform at all?

Clara Engel: I have trouble answering that, because I’m so focused on putting the songs across that my main mood is one of deep concentration, and trying stay present in my body. I want to draw from the well of feeling that encompasses heavier emotions like despair and sorrow, but also humour and joy. I think I might have a higher tolerance for difficult emotions than the average person, or that’s the impression I get from how my work is perceived. I feel exhilarated by singing, even if the subject matter could be seen as dark.

Kendra: Speaking of performing, you have a few dates coming up. All up in Canada. Any chance you’ll hit the US in the new year?

Clara Engel: I would love to play in the States again – I used to play in NYC and Massachusetts pretty often, but the expense of touring as a completely independent artist became too much. My priority right now is recording a new album. I’ve been playing with a new ensemble: drums, viola da gamba, and synth, and it’s sounding really good. If things change somehow, I would really like to tour more. But Europe is where I really want to play next, I’ve never been.

Kendra; Say Leonora hadn’t passed six years ago and was still alive. Say you were going to have a dinner party with her, what five songs would be on your mixtape for said party?

Clara Engel:
Huun‐Huur‐Tu – “Kongurei
Cibo Matto – “Artichoke
Exuma – “Baäl
John Zorn – “Prelude 1: the Middle Pillar
Willie Dixon – “Weak Brain and a Narrow Mind


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