Piercing The Enigma: Clara La San In Conversation

“I feel like I’ve taken the isolated side of myself and kept that forever…”

When we last caught up with Clara La San in 2018, she was music’s best kept secret. A bedroom producer who’d just released her debut mixtape ‘Good Mourning’ following collaborations with Missingno and Scratcha DVA, she was seen as something of a recluse – a reputation which only increased when she later deleted “Good Mourning” from streaming sites.

Six years later, her debut album – the aptly titled ‘Made Mistakes’ – feels like something of a take two. A well-honed collection of intimate late-night electro, brought to life by La San’s yearningly lovely vocals, it’s earned the singer/songwriter/producer a flurry of positive reviews and reassurance that it was all worth the wait.

In the wake of its release, we spoke to Clara La San about her inspirations, the journey she’s been on, and what she has planned for the future.

Your first album is out, and it’s called ‘Made Mistakes’. It’s been quite a long journey – what was that journey like for you?

I feel like I’ve had a good amount of time to write what I want to, and not have any pressure – for it to feel very authentic. I’ve basically been living, doing normal things, but writing music as I go.

When did you decide that you wanted to start on this project?

Well, some of these songs are from five, six years ago, and some of them are more recent. I had these ideas, these songs, and I was a little bit stuck in terms of finishing them, because I’d heard them so many times. It’s difficult to get them to the final stage. I think when I started working with Yves Rothman [the co-producer], that’s when the album really came together and we had a finished body of work. That’s when I was like: this feels like an album, it makes sense.

You’ve said ‘Good Mourning’ felt like an unfinished project on reflection. How do you know when something is finished?

It’s been a learning curve in terms of being really patient and not rushing the process. With all these songs on the album, I sat with them for a long time – especially through the mixing and mastering stage – in order to get them to where I needed them to be. When you’re collaborating with someone as well, like Yves, you both signal to each other – you both know when something is finished.

You’ve had a reputation as quite an isolated artist – what do you feel like the differences are between working on your own and working in partnership?

I love collaborating with artists, especially if I’m writing. It’s a freeing experience, where you can disattach yourself as an artist – like, I can write something that maybe I wouldn’t ever use myself. But the most important thing to me is writing my own music and expressing myself.

This is quite a personal record for you, isn’t it? What kind of personal experiences did you draw on when writing these songs?

I always take past experiences, I take present ones, and I take future ones – so sometimes I’ll imagine things. If things were to happen in the future that haven’t yet, how would I feel? I also like people to listen to the music and be able to put their own personal experiences to it. I feel that happens a lot with my music. It’s easy to relate to.

That’s interesting – because a lot of your music has become well known through social media, and people talk about having an intimate connection with your music. What’s the balance there between writing for yourself and making music for fans?

The main reason I write music is for myself. And it’s been great to share that, but to also know that people connect with it. I don’t feel any pressure on what I write or why. It just kind of happens, and I’m happy sharing it with people.

Are there ever situations where you write music for yourself that feels right for you, but maybe doesn’t fit into a project like this album?

All the time! You save them, and the sound starts coming together maybe for a future project. I’ve always got songs saved, and usually what I find happens is I’ll write something later down the line that falls into that same world. So you just… put them in the same folder, and gatekeep them. I listen to so much music, as well. You get inspired by so many different things, so your sound does naturally change.

Who do you think you’ve been inspired by the most?

I love rap that has a lot of synth melodies in there, sampling old 70s synths and stuff. I’ve always been really inspired by synths: that’s how I started production, using synth pads. I’m not always inspired by newer stuff. I’ll just be listening to an album from… I don’t know, the 70s or the 80s, and it’ll just keep going around in my head, and I’ll end up starting to create certain stuff that sounds similar.

You mentioned synth pads. I think I read somewhere that you were still using the same microphone that you’d had since you were a teenager – is that still the case?

I have it, but I don’t use it anymore! I have a Neumann – a U87, actually – and an Apollo soundcard, and my laptop. And that’s it, really: wherever I am, the studio is. It’s an easy set-up. I use Apple earphones a lot because it’s so easy if I’m recording vocal ideas or melody ideas – just singing into your phone when you’re on the go.

I’m picturing you in a random public place, just suddenly singing. Do you ever get inspiration in completely random places?

Yeah – I love being in different environments. I love staying in AirBNBs all over Europe: I just love how environments can really change your mood. Because when I’m writing music, it’s all based off moods, and what emotion I’m feeling that determines the sound and the style of music that comes out.

Coming back to the album, were there any tracks which you found were particularly difficult to create?

If I were to pinpoint one in particular that I found hard to finish, I’d definitely say “Solo”. I mean, “Solo” was the oldest track on the album. That’s got to be more than six years old: I was still living with my mum. And I had the dreamy synth, and all the melodies, and I loved it… but I just didn’t know what to do with it. I had that for years and years.

Are you happy with how it turned out in the end?

Definitely! I’ve heard a lot of people recently saying that ‘Solo’ is one of their favourites. I remember when we finished ‘Solo’ and I was listening back, and I just… I couldn’t stop listening to it. That feeling disappears a little bit, but it comes back when you start performing live.

You’ve historically had a reputation as a bit of a recluse. Do you think this album’s going to change that?

I don’t think so. I think I’m just a private person, day to day. And I feel like the way I like to express myself is through the music. I like talking a bit about it in person, but my main enjoyment comes from letting the music do the talking. You know what I mean?

Yeah – I think that’s challenging. People are expected to have their whole personalities constantly on social media. Have you felt any pressure to do that yourself?

I have always been, and am now, in control of what content I want to put out – which I feel is a fortunate position to be in. If I don’t want to do something, I just won’t do it. And I also shaped it in that way. I say fortunate, but I made it: that’s how I knew what was important for me as an artist. Everything that I do put out, I’ll make the final decisions.

When I’ve interviewed other women in music, there are different challenges in keeping that ownership over your career. Have you noticed that in your own journey as a musician?

I personally haven’t. And I think that’s because I do write alone a lot. If I’m in a studio, it’s people that I trust, or I feel there’s just mutual respect there. You have to feel it out – you have to just go with your gut sometimes, and I wouldn’t just jump into something. But there’s also the fact that it’s important for me to record my own vocals: there’s no need to be in the studio to do that.

It’s extraordinary when somebody is able not only to create these sounds and write these songs, but also to sing beautiful vocals over the top of them. Do you see yourself as more of a singer, or a songwriter, or a producer?

I feel like it’s an equal amount of everything.

And what comes first? How do you begin that process?

Usually, it’s when I’ve experienced a feeling or a situation that opens me up, making me want to write. But I’d probably say a sound. Like, I’ll do a chord progression or something, or a melody, and just go from there. There have been times in the past when I was into making a song just with vocals, but I stopped doing that. I don’t know – maybe I’ll revisit it. It’s there somewhere: it should probably come out at some time.

It’d be really interesting to hear that! I was wondering if you’ve got other creative outlets?

I think just doing the same thing as everyone else. Navigating through life, and trying to make sense of things. Spending a lot of time outside. Going for walks helps me to clear my mind.

Did you grow up in the city or in the countryside?

In the countryside – just a small town in the middle of the country. It was very peaceful and quiet. I feel like I’ve taken the isolated side of myself and kept that forever, from how I grew up. Being in the city gives me the confidence I have in releasing music, but I still like to isolate myself. I was inspired a lot when I first moved to London: that definitely opened up my production, hearing different music that I probably wouldn’t have heard if I stayed where I grew up.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?

Well, I learned classical piano when I was younger, and that was obviously the start of everything. But I’ve always loved music. It’s just always been a thing.

What were your first delves into electronic music?

When I went to college. I started on Logic, and started to produce and then record myself, and just kept going with it really.

Do you ever listen back to those tracks?

I have my very first Mac, and it still works! I have the very first song that I made on Logic on there. But no, because it’s so slow: I have to wait for ages for the computer to work. I have heard stuff back before, and it’s interesting, but I don’t know if I really like to do that. I throws me off a little bit: I like to be in the moment.

You’ve talked about past, present and future experiences going into this album. What do you think is next for you?

I’m just taking everything as it comes. Obviously, my emotions and the way I feel determine the sound of my music a lot, so I’m looking forward to more self-discovery in that respect. And you know… just having time and patience to write whatever I feel like writing and sharing with the world. It’s always good to take time to reflect: to disengage to then re-engage. It’s really helpful.

The name of the album is ‘Made Mistakes’. Do you feel like there were mistakes that you made on the way to releasing the album?

I think the name comes from a place where you have doubts in your mind, and regrets, and mistakes, but you’re coming to terms with them. You’re not afraid of mistakes that you’ve made. And not all mistakes are bad: they help personal growth. It’s about moving on. Being ready to start a new chapter, and putting things in the past.

‘Made Mistakes’ is out now. Tickets for her November tour dates in Los Angeles, New York and London are on sale now.

Words: Tom Kingsley

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