Interview: Clare Bowditch
Can you just "decide" to be happy? Through all the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life: work, family, health, money - is it possible to just make a conscious decision to remain happy despite whatever problems and burdens you may face? That was the question Clare Bowditch posed to herself and it's a question that ultimately inspired her new album, The Winter I Chose Happiness.
After spending time on an inspiring tour with Canadian music legend, Leonard Cohen, Bowditch embarked on a quest to discover what the true meaning of happiness was with help from friends and experts, and as well as a new perspective on life in general, emerged from her journey with a great new record in tow.
We caught up with Bowditch in the middle of her current national tour to talk about how that tour with Leonard Cohen affected her so deeply, what it's like to debut a song on a high rating TV show, and what it's like to crack into the pop charts this far on in her career.
Your tour with Leonard Cohen a couple of years ago had a big impact on you as an artist and as a person and how you went about making this new album. What can you tell me about that experience and how it affected you?
Well what it did was it was basically hanging out with him after for a month, so it was like seeing and being reminded of what is possible when you contribute your lifetime to creativity and to art and to excellence. You don’t neceesery follow popular trends you just keep contributing the best work that you can. But more than that it was more about the experience of seeing someone who has really sort his whole life for happiness and is finding it. His songs are in that vein, he was really someone who contributed and gave himself to his audience.
I still didn’t know at that stage though that the theme of the album would be happiness. That really only happened when I sat down on a piano stool next to my friend Wally, otherwise known as Gotye, and we started writing a song called are you ready yet. I sang the words, “Are you ready yet..” he sang the words, “… to be happy?” We had a conversation that morning about that very thing and then the theme became kind of apparent. At first I thought it was a little bit too soft – how can you actually create art if you’re not suffering. But I found a way.
How long have you been working on this latest album, The Winter I Chose Happiness?
And was that time writing and whittling down songs or did you spend a liot of time in the studio figuring things out? How did the process work?
The way my life normally works is that a key to continuing to create is continuing to be inspired and that often means opening yourself up to some risks and some influences. So I did quite a bit of co-writing this time with a whole gang of different friends – some famous people, some not famous people. It was just about getting in a room and trying new things. But I also like to do a lot of research on my “things.” In the past my “things” have been grief, and addiction for the last time, but for this one I ended up doing a lot of reading and a lot of research and a lot of interviewing people on the topic and the question of happiness and whether it was possible to choose and those people ranged from Stephanie Dowrick and Dr Robert Holden to books like The Brain That Changes Itself to neuroscience studies and also anything that people tipped me on to. So, all my friends were aware I was sort of on this quest to find out whether or not it was possible to choose happiness. The point is that was the first real journey and it kind of filtered out in its own way to the album. But this is certainly not a “self-help” album, it is an album that supports people and hopefully inspires them – but it’s also quite real.
The first single from the album, 'You Make Me Happy,' debuted on the show you appear on Offspring. What was it like to launch a single in that format? As a musician you’re probably more used to people gradually hearing your work through the radio or CD or the internet but in this case you had something like 800,000 people hear it all at once. Was it nerve racking delivering it in that way knowing you would get an instant response?
It was actually exciting to do it in that way because I’m not the kind of artist who’s ever had any relationship with commercial radio. I’ve had a lot of support from a lot of people over the years but to release to that many people was really fun. The song was written specifically for Offspring. I knew I was free to write a different kind of a song – possibly a more popular sounding kind of a song – because it’s more of my character, Rosanna’s journey. But ironically of course it meant that it was my highest ever charting single, which made it a pretty delightful way to release a single.
Was that a strange experience for you? You’ve had so many accolades, to finally crack the top 40, what was that experience like?
It was just more funny than anything. My last album we cracked the top 10 with Modern Day Addiction. I’m not the kind of artist that ever expected these things to be a part of my career but it’s always lovely because more people are getting to hear what you’re singing about which is important to me.
The video for 'You Make Me Happy' is out now too and it’s shot beautifully. What is the idea behind the concept of the video, it seems to suggest the character you play in it is part of a relationship that has ended or is sick of the situation they’re in. Can you elaborate on what the idea was behind that?
The last few years I’ve been working with a film maker named Kess Broekman-Dattner and we just discussed the themes of the song and his interpretation was that there was a bit of disturbed spirit in the house. The song itself talks about happiness but it’s actually quite a melancholy song. And strangely one of the houses that came up as a possible location was the house that Nina and Patrick lived in Offspring, so that ended up being where we shot the song because it was actually written about the characters.
You’re on the national tour now in support of the album, how is it to be playing live again?
It’s awesome! I’ve never stopped, actually, I’ve kind of toured constantly, but it’s nice to have a very, big chunk of touring – two months of weekends set aside, featuring this new band. It’s a really dynamic show; very humorous; a lot of connection with the audience. A lot of people come to my show and say they’ve never been to a show like it. I will be touring less in the future - next year I’m launching Big Hearted Business, which is basically an online creative business mentorship that discusses creative intelligence and how right brain thinkers can gain the skills that they need to have a long, rich, creative career in Australia, so I would say that this is one of the last opportunities for at least a year to see me with a big band.
Words: Nathan Wood
Clare Bowditch's new album The Winter I Chose Happiness is available now and you can currently see her on tour across Australia. For more details, head to her website, http://clarebowditch.com/