Breakout Toronto Bands: Clara Engel
Breakout Toronto Bands features local artists that we think you should give a listen to.
Given her output, it's somewhat odd to attach the "breakout" label to Clara Engel. She's a multifaceted musician who's collaborated in the realms of music, art, and film with people from all over the world. Aside from her impressive roster of joint-effort tracks, she has a diverse body of work as an independent singer-songwriter.
She's recorded and released nine albums, songs from which have been featured on Italian National Radio and the BBC Introducing show several times. She's taken her musical inclinations to scoring films, including "We Are Not Here," directed by Aaron Mirkin, which won best experimental short at TISFF, and will soon be screened at the Clermont-Ferrand Festival in France. Despite all of this success, she remains relatively unknown in her hometown.
WHO IS SHE?
Although she is based in Toronto, "it's just happened that European labels and listeners have shown more interest in [her] work." International record labels Vox Humana (UK) and Backwards Music (IT) have released some of Engel's work on vinyl, which are available for overseas shipping. In terms of facilitating these international connections, it wasn't any harder than surfing the net.
One of the collaborations that did a lot to peak interest in her sound was the recent track, "Already Drowning," with Aiden Baker (Berlin/Toronto), who was listed on our list of the top 10 albums of 2013.
"It [working with Aiden] was great, and very painless. I've recorded with him twice, I sang and played some guitar on his piece "Liminoid," which is a recording of a live performance at The Music Gallery. The second recording I did with him, "Already Drowning," was recorded in one take in a house/studio space. Aidan gave me the lyrics and instrumental track in advance and a rough idea of what he wanted, but I was given free reign over delivery and melody. I like that he has a strong aesthetic, but also leaves space for the unexpected."
WHAT DOES SHE SOUND LIKE?
On her most recent release, Ashes and Tangerines, Engel builds rich compositions using clean piano progressions and haunting melodies from her robust vocals. The overall feel is broody and mysterious, with a constant underlying glimmer of hope that acts to keep the record moving forward. Vocally, she's authoritative and unwavering, while conveying poetic stories through provocative and imaginative lyrics. To sum it up, "somebody called it [my music]: minimalist holy blues from another galaxy," she recalls. Quite accurate.
Her songwriting inspiration is simply gathered through capturing the sparks that fly whenever a mental lightbulb flicks on. "Ideas come to me at really ordinary and unromantic moments. For example, a line that became my song "The Beauty of Your Design" popped into my head when I was staring at a calculator. I steal lines from overheard conversations. I hate the idea of artists having to have lofty existences or go to rarefied places in order to produce work."
WHERE CAN YOU SEE / HEAR HER?
Clara will be playing Toronto's Feast in the East Festival on February 1st in the Gerrard Art Space. You can watch her, as well as Holiday Rambler (of Hooded Fang) and Moonwood, while you chow down on some vegan mac and cheese. Other upcoming shows include Van Gogh's Ear in Guelph on February 8th, an Artistic Anarchy Show on March 2nd, with a few NYC dates in between.
Click over to her Bandcamp for a listen of Ashes and Tangerines, as well as links to her previous releases from her lengthy discography. You can also find a variety of originals and covers on her YouTube channel. Keep an eye out for her involvement with the ambient collective Groundscraper Records, where she worked with three other artists to released a 7-song recording from what was deemed the Slaughterhouse 754 Sessions.
Lead photo by Ilyse Krivel