KLARA’s Songwriting Survival Kit
The Justin Vernon-approved Swedish singer-songwriter talks us through her essential gear, which includes an Omnichord and a good mic setting
Born in Lund, Sweden and based in London, singer-songwriter KLARA splits her time between her two home countries and Los Angeles, writing her own music and collaborating with the likes of Tim Myers, Jimmy Harry, Cajsa Siik and Annika Norlin. Since meeting Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon at Glastonbury 2015 and being invited to spend time with him and his musical cohorts at Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin, KLARA found a clear vision for her own music: mixing the subtleties of a traditional singer-songwriter with modern vocal production.
As KLARA released her new single Laura this week – taken from her eagerly anticipated debut album Blossom due in January 2020 – we invited the Swedish musician to show us the gear she simply can’t do without…
My songs often start on the guitar. I have a Taylor GS Mini mahogany that I love and that has been with me on many writing trips, from Sweden to California. I wrote and recorded Laura, my latest single on it. I usually start with fingerpicking a chord sequence on the Taylor and make up a melody to get started. I usually write the verse first and then the chorus. Then I sometimes get stuck for a bit lyrically before I write the second verse! Sometimes I leave a song for a week or a year to come back and finish it. I have understood my pattern which makes it easier to break it if I need to write with a deadline. When I wrote These Woods for the Volvo commercial I had eight days to write, record and mix it. I liked the pressure as it makes me more productive. When I recorded my album at Real World Studios, we had nine days to record the 12 songs. I didn’t sleep much but it was the most exciting and fulfilling musical moment of my life. Even if I use the Taylor mostly to write on, I play around with my other guitars and pedals, later on, to find a sound to best fit the song.
I have many old notebooks that I have written my lyrics in over the years and sometimes I take a few of them to a session to look back at ideas for inspiration. I like writing lyrics by hand in a book and it’s much less distraction to have no digital devices. When I quickly have to get an idea down I use voice memos on my phone where I can quickly write chords and lyrics too. At the later demo production stages, I organise my lyrics in Logic too as it gives a better overview, but for the earlier stages I prefer a notebook.
A NEW INSTRUMENT OR PEDAL
Sometimes I try a new instrument that I don’t know, like the accordion for example as it inspires me to go back to basics and provides a new soundscape too. It can also be a new effect pedal for my guitar that I plug my Omnichord into or a new synth in Logic that makes me feel a touch of magic to get started. The Omnichord is a new love of mine which takes away the focus from chords and playing technique and lets me focus on melodies and lyrics. My favourite pedal is my Big Sky reverb and I am very fond of a little simple tape delay too.
GOOD MIC SETTINGS FOR VOICE
To easily feel inspired I like to spend some time getting my vocal sound right i.e. certain EQ settings, a little reverb and preferably my voice out through my AER amp in the studio. When I am comfortable with how my vocal sounds, the ideas that come out makes me feel more confident and encourages my creativity. It’s just a feeling but it does make a difference for me.
I absolutely love harmonies so I have written a few songs with the TC Helicon that provides a wide range of different harmonies with different intervals. Even if I don’t use the Helicon in the end production, it’s a fun tool to use as I love the feeling of quickly hearing what harmonies on my melodies sound like. I have used it on some of my solo concerts too when I don’t have the pleasure to sing with my backing singers.
I bought this recording interface for a writing trip to LA last year. It’s truly a brilliant portable device that comes with some built-in plugins too. It is easy to set up and use plus the hardware makes the recordings sound great.
LAPTOP, MIDI KEYBOARD, MICROPHONES, HEADPHONES AND SPEAKERS
In my production studio here at Church Studios, I make demo recordings and prepare my music for the full studio sessions. I use my Mac laptop with a second screen to be able to see both mixer and recording windows in my Logic setup. I still use a simple Studio Project mic which I bought with my first proper music grant. I would like to get more sophisticated microphones and some racks of hardware including reverb and compressors etc soon but at the moment everything is done in the box. In my studio, I use Focal speakers, in my home studio I use a pair of KRKs. For listening, I use Bowers & Wilkins 603s and their PX headphones. When a song is mixed and mastered, I spend a lot of time listening on these various setups. I even nerd out and take it for a spin in the car too as music is even better with a view!
KLARA’s new single Laura is out now. Discover more at klaramusic.com