video premiere: watch clare maguire perform a powerful live rendition of ‘elizabeth taylor’
The British singer returns from dark days to share her journey to self-acceptance and creative freedom.
Clare Maguire settles into a chair at London's XXVII Studios in striped silk pajama-ish separates. She pours a glass of Pellegrino and shifts slightly in her seat to make the mini dachshund nestling in her lap feel comfortable. Had you only seen the British songwriter on her debut album's cover — upon which she appears with glossy raven hair, painted red lips, and enough charred eye shadow to make the record's title, Light After Dark, start to feel literal — you'd have sworn you were looking at a different person. And, in many ways, you'd be right.
Light After Dark, Maguire's only full-length studio release, arrived in 2011, riding the synthpop wave. Though it charted at number seven in the UK, the record received less than stellar reviews — critics recognized the pure power of Maguire's voice, but chided the record's lack of solid vision and direction. "The album's fundamental fault is that none of it feels like it is coming from the girl herself," Drowned in Sound surmised. These polished electro-soaked power ballads were not the songs Clare was supposed to be making; she'd grown up watching Dolly Parton belt country classics on TV before becoming captivated by American gospel and blues artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Light After Dark was never released in the United States, and its poor performance drove Clare to drink — heavily. Ultimately, she made the brave decision to walk out on the major label deal that was trying to box her into an image and sound, and checked herself into rehab after her doctor warned she'd have only three weeks to live.
Over the past five years, Clare's been uploading new tracks to SoundCloud, and getting back to the styles that first captured her ear as a teen in Birmingham. Last year, she performed a raucously soulful rendition of George Harrison's 1970 classic "My Sweet Lord" live at Burberry's fall/winter 15 show, where Naomi Campbell sang her praises. It's all been leading up to the release of Stranger Things Have Happened, Clare's full-length follow-up due for release on May 27 — the first LP she's created since getting sober. The Suki Waterhouse-directed music video for its lead single, "Elizabeth Taylor," arrived in late March. Today, we're pleased to premiere a new live performance of the track — mini dachshund and all. Press play and meet Clare Maguire.
Tell us about the earlier days of your journey.
I was always a very manic person who was extremely addictive and suffered with depression. I was very young at the time and I guess I hadn't figured myself out yet. To make a record with this state of mind is incredibly difficult. I was totally lost.
What motivated you to walk away from your record deal?
I was going into a downward spiral when the record came out; I could feel myself getting increasingly more ill. It got to a point where I told the label I needed to come off the record.
What are some things you've learned through these ups and downs, or that you'd wish you'd known from the outset?
Shortly after I came off the record, I visited the doctor who gave me a few weeks to live and sent me straight into a rehab. From there, life changed drastically. Not just through getting sober, but by learning how to work with my personality — how to react to things. I'm still learning every day and it's tough. I think back now and, sure, I wish I was more stable as a teen and young woman, but I also know that going through that terrible time has lead me to where I am today. I do sometimes mourn the girl I lost in that big sleep, but that was yesterday; I need to focus on today.
Tell us about your forthcoming album in May. What were some of your starting points for this record? What sorts of sounds should we expect to hear?
I'm really proud of this album. It's the first full body of work I've made since being sober. The first song I wrote for it was "Swimming," which I wrote shortly after rehab. In fact, I was laying in bed singing that vocal because I was in a bad place and couldn't get out of bed. All the songs on my record talk about my life, addictions, sex, love, loss, relationships. I wanted it to sound quite dreamy, but flawed and truthful. I always like to think about the music feeling like it's lost in space, which probably makes absolutely no sense. On my next record, I'd like to explore that further.
Let's talk about this track in particular. What makes Elizabeth Taylor such an inspiration?
It's her strength. She went through such struggles in her life, yet she remained strong always. She is a true legend. I wanted to write a song based on her for a while, then late one night writing in a hotel room in Penarth, Wales, it all came together.
Generally, where do you draw inspiration from?
I get inspired for intense periods by many different things. At the moment I'm obsessing over the TV show Vinyl, Kanye's Twitter, some cool pages on Instagram, "The Last War" by DaVinche ft. Jammer, and pink lighting. Right now those are my obsessions, but they change almost weekly.
Recently, many female artists have spoken out about difficult contract negotiations — Brandy and Kesha, for example. What advice would you give younger female artists trying to navigate institutional powers in the music industry?
I feel very strongly about how young girls get treated in this industry and how we need to be far more sensitive to the difficulties they face. The cases of both Kesha and Brandy are sickening. When I was unwell, the treatment I received from certain people was pretty outrageous. If I was going to give advice I would say that you've got yourself to where you are based on your talent. Be true to yourself and make the record you want to make.
What do you hope people take from this record?
My only hope is that people can see that I have taken back control of my life and I am ready to share my experiences.
Text Emily Manning
Photography courtesy Jessie Lily Adams