An only child, and a shy one at that, Claire Willis grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, England within a musical family. Her biological father worked in a charity shop and used to sit Claire down to sing nursery rhymes. “I actually have a few recordings of me fluently singing the lyrics at age 2 or 3,” said a laughing Claire. “You can actually hear that now signature little wobbly-bit in my voice back then!” She also remembers sitting in her “singing swing” in the backyard with all her teddy bears lined up as an audience and sing to them for hours on end. “My neighbors could hear and would always say what a lovely voice I had.”
When she was in school, Claire started to realize for herself that she could sing. “I started to concentrate and figure out how to sing the female parts of some songs.” But, it wasn’t until Claire was 24, and dating her soon to be husband, that she was finally convinced to do something with her talent. “I was in the bathroom one day, and I thought he was out of the house,” remembered a laughing Claire. “I was singing pretty loud, and he popped his head in and asked, ‘Is that you singing?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to do something with that voice!’ So, before you knew it, we were both looking in the want ads for bands needing singers.”
“I went for a few auditions,” recalled Claire. “I didn’t get the first one because I was so nervous! I landed the next one and sang with the band for about a year, but we weren’t that good and weren’t getting paid. It did us some good, though! We got a few gigs and got us out there, and I was able to work with some other bands.” Still struggling with her shyness, Claire remembers a show where the lead singer was a no-show, and the bass player asked if she knew the material. “I said, ‘Yeah, I know it but I can’t do it!’ After some persuading and singing with them, they actually said that I was better than her!”
A good confidence builder indeed, however, Claire wanted more with her music. “I didn’t know where I was going with my music at the time,” Claire admitted. The guitarist in her band mentioned that he was entering Northumbria University to obtain his degree in music and asked Claire if she wanted to come along and audition as a vocalist. “I said, ‘Why not?’ I went in and sang them a song, and they immediately said, ‘You’re in!’ So, I started my degree, and I enjoyed it very much.”
Collaborating with different musicians every month, Claire began to learn the styles of singing that would broaden her vocal range. “I was interested in Soul, but they would put us with musicians that were in Punk and Death Metal bands so we would all have to learn to play and sing all those different genres together. It made everyone stronger!”
Claire’s singing performances came easy, but it was Music Theory that she struggled with. “It’s like Maths,” Claire admitted. “I’m a singer. I can do that, but I can’t visualize an instrument like a guitarist or a pianist can, and I told my lecturer, ‘I can’t do this’ and almost gave it up.” Luckily for Claire, and the rest of the world, her instructor sat her down and explained that while she (instructor) could play varying instruments, she didn’t have the talent that Claire possessed. After a little nudging, and with overall high marks in her courses, Claire graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary Music with honors.
While at the university, Claire donated her voice to the technology students who were looking for a vocalist for their funky House music project they were working on. But, this was different in that she would have to write the lyrics to the track. Not knowing what to write about, she laid some very vague lyrics down about her son. “I sang that song, and they liked it,” Claire remembered. That first song led to her beginning to work with some Trance producers.
The break she received was from her work with producer, Chris Turner. “It was through Facebook when I started to receive messages from people telling me how much they liked the song,” Claire smilingly said. “From there, people just started asking me to participate on their tracks.” With her knowledge of pro tools gained from attending college, and her studio already set up, this was a no-brainer decision. “I had an old stage microphone back then,” said Claire. “I go back and listen to some of my old recordings now, and I think, ‘eww,’ but it worked at the time!”
Now, years and many tracks later, Claire admits that working with some producers can prove difficult with their willingness to accept advice from a vocalist. “I’ve been to the university, and have a good knowledge of music,” Claire modestly said. “When I hear a chord progression that’s wrong from a track I’m singing on, I’ll let the producer know that it’s not right.” Sometimes the input is appreciated, but other times it’s the equivalent of a sous chef telling an executive chef what to put in their food. But, isn’t that what a collaboration should be, two people working together to achieve the same goal? “If a producer isn’t happy with my work, I’d rather them tell me straight away,” Claire proclaimed. “I’ve got thick skin, I can handle it.”
Sometimes, though, the collaboration doesn’t work, and the track needs to be ditched. But, that doesn’t stop Claire from keeping all of her work for perhaps another time. “A few months ago I received a track from Kiran M. Sajeev and Soul Lifters,” Claire recalled. And, straight away, I remembered something I had written years ago that was in the same key, so I recorded it over their track, and they loved it!” That track has since been signed and will be released on Digital Society Recordings next month.
Claire gets her inspiration during random times in the most unusual places. “Sometimes I’ve written stuff in the supermarket,” Claire comically said. “I’ll be in the fruit aisle, and something will come into my head. I’ll write it down, record it really quickly and sometimes send it to a producer who I think could use it to build a track around. Most of the time, I have the music sent to me, but it works both ways!” The possibilities are endless in today’s Trance industry, but the selection is key.
In recent years, there have been numerous lesser-known artists having brilliant ideas with unique sounds competing against established artists whose tracks have become stagnant. However, what separates these tracks is the finished quality of the master recording. Today, Claire must be particular in who she works with because if the quality isn’t there, the recording labels, who are mainly run by the artists themselves, won’t sign the tracks. “It’s the harsh reality of the business,” Claire admitted. “You can have the best vocals and the best chords in the track, but if the quality isn’t good, they’ll just not sign it.”
Claire admits that after ten years of work her name is beginning to enter the conversation of some of the more established vocalists but stops short of calling herself an elite singer. “I’ll never be like Emma (Hewitt) or Christina (Novelli), but I do appreciate the new brands that are pushing artists and singers through.” One of the brands that Claire is excited for is her friend Emma Westlake’s association with Rich Miller’s Anomaly. “They’re doing it right by auditioning these young 16-18-year-old DJ’s in competition with the winner receiving a gig,” said a proud Claire. “Without things like this, we’re just seeing the same names over and over again, so I’m glad that they’re mixing it up a bit and I’m also pleased with how we (vocalists) are being presented.”
Recently, there has been a shift in the direction of how vocalists are actually labeled on the cover art of productions. Instead of the word “Featuring,” we’re starting to see “And” on the track title because it affects the rights to the song along with the royalties. According to a steadfast Claire, it again, is what makes the song a true collaboration. “I’m not denying a producer’s amount of time it takes to create a track, but we as vocalists have the same duty. We have to think for hours on end how we’re going to write the lyrics that will fit the song structure. In the end, I wrote that song.”
And, since Claire is a vocalist, the idea of singing her songs live has been tossed around a bit by herself and fellow singer/songwriter and friend, Sue McLaren. “Sue lives close by, so we’ll go have a drink and talk about doing a little set where a DJ will play some of her songs, and she’ll sing, and the same with mine. I mean, we’re live singers, we can do it, but it’s different because we wouldn’t have a band behind us and it would be weird with the monitor situation, but if we rehearsed, we girls could do it!”
Speaking of females in the industry, I asked Claire her opinion of how women are viewed and how it has become blatantly obvious whenever a photo of an attractive woman is posted on social media. “This is a prime example,” Claire said. “I posted a selfie a couple of weeks ago, and it got over a thousand likes. I then posted something about my music, and it received about 50. It’s infuriating, but everyone is doing it. Sometimes, as a woman, you’ve got to use what you have. Everyone is looking at other people’s likes, and they’re thinking, ‘I need more,’ so we’re constantly thinking of how to get more. Everyone is trying to build their brand however they can.”
When asked if there were tracks that she has collaborated on that sparked a special feeling of accomplishment, Claire was quick to say, “Who We Are” with Jak Aggas. “It was one of those tracks where we were both buzzing and just knew it was right from the get-go!” Claire excitedly said. Claire has also enjoyed working with Alex M.O.R.P.H. and would love to work with Photographer and Solarstone in the future.
In closing, Claire’s family has been very supportive of her career over the years and admits to spending less time in front of the computer. “I only spend 3-5 hours now instead of 7-8,” said a sly Claire. She also hopes to encourage her 21-year-old son into the business as well. “He’s quite musical,” said a proud Claire. “He enjoys Rap, and he’s quite good, actually and I’m dying to get him into the studio. You never know, he could be a future rapper!”
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