Learning and looping with Claudio

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Learning and looping with Claudio

Words by Pablo Francois

We sat down with multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Claudio to chat about her inspirations, studio workflow and the recent educational tour she embarked upon across Western Australia.

Tell us a bit about yourself! Can you please briefly describe your musical journey to this point?

I’ve had this relentless desire to make music ever since I can remember. I don’t know what my path would have been if there wasn’t a piano in the house I grew up in. I just spent hours and hours at a time experimenting with harmony and patterns from the age of six. The piano is the great love of my life. It’s the foundation of everything I do. Even when I’m singing, all I see are colours and the notes of a piano. 

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I started writing and performing around the age of 12. Always with the vocal arrangements and layers… except in those days it was all about over-dubbing cassette tapes. It is the most amazing gift to experience the journey and progression of technology through time. 

Tell us a little bit about the tour you embarked on recently in partnership with Ableton, visiting schools across Perth. 

I had just finished writing a talk on creativity in children vs adults  that I could not deliver (due to COVID!) at Disrupted Festival in Perth, when it came to light that Ableton was looking to do a school tour through Drew Mayhills, who’s a certified trainer and incredibly forward-thinking high school teacher. The synchronicity was impeccable.

I’m at a point, especially as a parent, where I see the need for education reform being a matter of utmost urgency. As Ken Robinson said in his famous TED talk, “Our education system is built on an economic model that no longer exists”

As AI begins to take over not just the menial tasks, but also the jobs that may have once even held prestige – like those of doctors and lawyers – to be a part of the human economy will require people to be able to truly think creatively and critically. 

The thing is – humans naturally think creatively and critically. So the question is, “How do we facilitate an environment that preserves their innate intelligence rather than one that extinguishes it?”

You do it through authentic connection. And truly understanding what their biological human development is driving them to do. You throw the outdated standards out the window and engage them there where they want to be met. Admittedly, it helps a lot if they think you make sick beats.

Your TedX talk ‘How to translate feeling into sound’ has racked up a whopping 2 million views on youtube. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about and how the success of your TED talk has influenced and altered your career trajectory?

The most beautiful thing about TED talks, as opposed to the lifespan of an album of today, is that they are timeless. It’s such a sweet contrast. The curators first asked me in 2015 after I had had a few videos go viral… it all unfolded in divine timing.  It was the most equally terrifying and satisfying experience of my life. 

People still find me via the TED talk all the time. A TED talk is pretty amazing for instant credibility, obviously. But what I love most about it is that I was forced to distil everything that means anything to me about music into the space of 15 minutes and then it was delivered to the world. When people find me via that talk, it automatically means they resonate there too. So it’s that kinda endless residuum around the human aspect of it that I enjoy the most.  

As someone who exists at the exact intersection between traditional chops and modern, electronic workflows, how do you find these two worlds co-exist in your own creative output ?

There’s at least one moment, every time I sit down and start making music, where I just shake my head at what is possible. The flow I dreamed of as a kid is right here under my fingertips, right now, I am so blown away. I love how they inform each other. For example – while auto-tune gets a bad rap for masking what one singer’s inadequacies might be, it raises the bar of what accurate pitching is for another who can actually sing. The standard of people who can actually sing has never been higher.

There are so many more examples. Another being a vocal like Billie Eilish’s (which I find just exquisite) would never have existed without the compressors and limiters of today, which gives her AMSR-level vocal a presence in her headphones that she would not have been able to perceive and therefore perfect 30 years ago. Especially where it’s used creatively or skilfully, I just love seeing the influence of tech on humans and vice versa. 

What is your standard music production workflow? Which part of your setup is most integral to your sound and workflow?

Ableton Live (saving grace of my life!) APC 40 (for midi-mapped no-scroll knobs and all-important faders for live-arranging), Arturia Keylab MKII, Apollo Twin and of course, the plugs & VSTs. 

Which of the equipment you work with has most informed what you refer to as the creation of your ‘language of sound’?

Hmmm.. I would say the combined total of Ableton and Arturia, Soundtoys & XLN Audio (as in, every plug from each of the last three) I’m forever looking to translate a feeling. These tools offer me the possibility of creating worlds in minutes, exactly the way I want to feel them. They deserve every bit of the hype.

What is your DAW of choice? 

It’s probably clear by now that I’m a devoted Ableton user from way back. I’ve had to work on Protools and Logic in various studios around the world. Nothing supports my flow like Ableton Live. And it only gets better and deeper with time. 

As a talented vocalist, do you have a particular mic or vocal effect that is integral to your vocal sound? 

No, I don’t. I’m still on the hunt for the “perfect” mic. I love detail but not bright, like fluorescent lights. I don’t love a lot of the great famed mics on my voice. I have very hard high mids and a feathery low end. I am so committed to the vibe that facilitates the best of me to the point where if you check out any of my recent videos, I’m using an SM58 without headphones … It is not a brilliant vocal sound. But I believe I’m singing the best I ever have. So therefore, it is the “best vocal sound” I’ve ever had. 

It can’t be overlooked, however,  that the plugs are doing some real heavy lifting. 

I am an absolute sucker for all things Manley. The VoxBox and the VariMu are a sparkly miracle spray to me. Very few things make me feel the way they do. I would also lay down my life for EMT140 ‘verv the Neve 1073 pre. And Soundtoys Echoboy, all the way. 

But really, and this is really the most important tip for any vocal producer – get your monitoring as amazing as possible for the singer. The singer has to be able to really get off on their sound while singing. Go the extra mile to support them psychologically and technically. A vibe in a studio will carry a performance a hundred times further than any vocal mic ever will. 

What has been the most rewarding part of your educational tour? 

I received the most moving personal message from a student from one of the schools. The line that got me was “I’m not afraid anymore because of you”. Had me teary. 

It was this moment where I remembered that number one, we really have the choice and opportunity to reach people, and number two, that being fearlessly truthful about who you are is the quickest way to help others unlock their own freedom. The power of being committed to that choice must not be understated. 

Perth has always been something of an enigma when it comes to its musical output, with a whole host of interesting and unique artists. What is it about Perth’s artistic community that separates it from the rest of the country?

I sometimes wonder if it’s a strange phenomenon where we’re so isolated and removed that we fully “pedestalise” what others are doing in the big cities to the point where we hold ourselves to a standard that maybe doesn’t exist. No one in their musical development is not comparing and referencing. It’s one of the rites of passage of an artist. “Start by trying to be someone else”. Perhaps it’s a case of poor emulation that accidentally passes off as original – like Rick Rubin said, “They weren’t trying to do the Beatles, they were trying to do Motown” 

What’s on the horizon for you both musically and in the education sector? What can we look forward to?

Right now, I’m feeling film-score stuff with deep grooves & experimental elements. I like making whatever my heart agrees with in any one period. It gives me the best chance of reaching anyone else at all. I’ll definitely put out a record or two by the end of the year. 

I’ve been doing some writing with Rico Love, who’s written for all of the global superstars –  everyone from Beyoncé to Usher to Chris Brown. Most of what I’ve done has been relatively underground, so I’m welcoming the new energy and learning from this absolute G. 

I’m in the process of refining a concept that would make conversations like these accessible on a regular basis to kids who may not have the means or environment to otherwise participate. I definitely feel called to that. 

Ultimately, I’d like all of the years to come to bring different and new forms of creative fulfilment and connection with amazing people. Whatever that looks like, that’s what I’m doing. 

Check out more of Claudio’s work here.