A new year means one thing. A new Claire Welles album. It’s about as obvious as the sun coming up each morning. Well, in Australia, at least…
Artistically, the past 12 months has seen the Liverpool singer make her greatest strides yet, and it all started on the back of last year’s fantastic February release, Dazed. Soon after, Welles appeared on Tim Burgess’ Tim’s Twitter Listening Party, which led to a support slot on The Charlatans frontman’s solo tour.
2022 has started in similar fashion, with Welles providing support for Jane Weaver on her Flock tour. 33 albums deep, it appears that Welles has finally broken through the fourth wall, and now we can add album number 34 to the pile: Othello.
While Dazed was undoubtedly Welles’ finest hour, Othello continues down a similar path. Unfurling her street-level cynicism whilst balancing the heavy (New Ice Age, Polyester, F A D E, Snooker) with humour (At War With the Under 35s, Split the Family In Two), Welles’ thinly barbed dispatches pierce through the walls of sound that have once again been refined at the mixing desk by Stephen Cole.
Alongside the a.P.A.t.T. leader, Welles seems to have found the perfect formula in this sound world, for Othello, both sonically and lyrically, is filled with immediate hooks. It’s starting to become a regular theme in the Claire Welles canon.
In conjunction with today’s release of Othello, Welles takes part in our inaugural Track by Track feature on Sun 13. Rather than try and dissect Othello ourselves, it’s time to let the artist in question take the reins.
Sun 13: Jealously seems to focus on self destruction. I think I read somewhere that you stopped drinking. Was this song inspired by that decision?
Claire Welles: “It’s about my general psyche throughout 2021, which was not particularly healthy or good. I quit drinking all the time but the longest I can manage is a few weeks here and there. I’m trying to get a bit more focused for 40, which is just around the corner, but old habits die hard. Jealousy is a reminder of what not to be. Deffo one of those ‘I’ve had a drink and now I’m having a think’ songs.”
S13: Othello Pt. 1 is a pop tune with the necessary Ste Cole fairy dust. Thematically it feels like you’re taking the approach of enjoying the things you love in life. A lot of people say they do this, but how hard is it to actually implement?
CW: “On this one I’m aiming for positivity through the madness and it almost feels like a manifesto of what I’m trying to convey as a writer, though I concede that ‘every now and then I think of ending it all’, which is a line you don’t often get in a pop song. It’s a very defiant song too and quite funny lyrically with the line about resorting to ‘plastic surgery at the eleventh hour’, which was recorded just before I had real life cosmetic surgery. I’m mostly taking the piss out of myself and my contemporaries in this song. Ste Cole’s mix on this sounds psychotic to me, in a good way of course!”
S13: Split the Family in Two seems like a the modern day kitchen sink drama played out on social media. How much inspiration do you get from other peoples’ behaviours on social media?
CW: “I mostly ignore other people’s internet habits and foibles, but this one is about how family relationships become strained through people having ridiculous stances, such as anti-vax sentiments, which have more recently morphed into pro-Russia/’fake war’ rhetoric.
“All this comes back to the far-right, which I wrote about previously on Yoga Nationalism, but this time it’s about how it’s increasingly reaching those closest to us and is closer to home, but it’s never the bright folk with engaging personalities who get sucked into all that, is it?”
S13: Unlike Othello Pt. 1, New Ice Age feels like the darkest tracks on the album, would you agree?
CW: “New Ice Age was recorded quite late in the album, last August near the first anniversary of my mum’s death. It’s about struggling to adapt to normal life after losing someone who I was obviously very close to. I don’t see it as a dark song, I think it’s beautiful and it helped me come to terms with a lot of the grief I was feeling. Ultimately you ’t allow yourself to be overcome by such things, you can’t let grief win.”
S13: Then there’s Like I’m Dead. Is the definition of being dead on your feet watching Sky Sports News on the loop?
CW: “More like a dead couch potato! I have a bad habit of watching far too much Sky Sports News, which my partner calls ‘The Toilet’ because it’s essentially the same old shite repeated on loop hour after hour. He thinks the song is about him and our relationship, but it’s not. It’s totally about me. I like the end part of this song after the guitar loops back on itself.”
S13: The Twenties has a real surrealistic vibe to it which I’ve never associated with your music. How did this track come about?
CW: “This was the very first song I recorded for the album, so I (wrongly) assumed that the rest of the album would be heavily guitar-orientated. Ste flipped the drums onto the backbeat, so it’s more danceable than my original.
“Lyrically, it’s inspired by a day in 1996 aged 13 where I was kicked out of home for playing football indoors and smashing the house up by accident, after which I went missing for about 12 hours in the farmer’s fields of Hale Village, falling into a lake or bog in the pitch black. I tied that experience and memory in with how shit it is to be around now in the 2020s. Musically it’s a deliberate throwback to the sound I used to have in my music in the ’90s.”
S13: Polyester is one of the tracks on the album that has some interesting layers to it, and could be interpreted a few different ways. Can you tell us the inspiration behind this one?
CW: “[It] was written on the same day as the United States Capitol attack by the far-right and Qanoners, in which at the time I decided to wash my hands of America and American culture in general. A bit harsh perhaps but I really don’t care, a lot of the problems we have now in this country stem from the American far-right and anyone who subscribes to that is a bad melt in my eyes.
“My partner was watching one of the insane extreme right wing channels as it was happening and they were trying to blag their viewers that nothing was really happening and it seems like a lot of idiots lapped that up. What’s more concerning is that sort of weaponised stupidity has been replicated here to the point that a Yoga Nationalist I used to be in a band with has serious doubts that there really is a war in Ukraine right now. Nice pop tune, though. I asked Ste for a spacious pop mix and as always he delivered.”
S13: There’s some brilliant wordplay on At War With the Under 35s. In many ways it’s you at your provocative best…
CW: “I was excited by this track when I first wrote it last summer, then I hated it after recording it and very nearly dumped it off the album. Then after hearing it a few more times I decided it’s one of the best on this album and I can’t wait for people to hear. Lyrically it’s about Gen Zers who have seemingly picked up the baton of being demonised by the media, in the same way Millennials were during the last decade and a bit.
“As someone whose on the fence of neither being young or particularly old, by the middle section of the song I’m fully on board with the younger generation. Like most of the album, it was originally written on an acoustic guitar, then layered and buried by the other instruments. With that said, anyone who uses the acoustic guitar as a lead instrument in the twenty-first century needs their hard drive checked, forensically.”
S13: Tells us about Snooker. And also, tough question perhaps, name your five favourite snookers players of all time.
CW: “Snooker is actually about my neighbourhood and the problems it faces; specifically heroin, alcohol and anti-social behaviour. The snooker just so happened to be on the telly when I wrote it and I love the commentary during the song.
“I’m old school so my top five players are as follows: Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Jimmy White and number one has to be Alex Higgins for making snooker exciting and sexy, something severely lacking in the modern game.”
S13: It feels like F A D E takes its cue from Like I’m Dead. Can you tell us about this one?
CW: “F A D E was actually done previously for the Blush album in 2018, but I decided to re-do it, add better vocals and have Ste add live drums. It’s about the change of seasons from summer to autumn, though I really can’t go into much detail as it was written years ago and I’ve since done a lot of albums so I’ve forgotten the intention of the song, but it’s a good song which deserves a re-working and to be heard again, hopefully by more people.”
S13: I like that Othello Pt. 2 closes the album. Did this opportunity present itself quite early during the recordings?
CW: “[It] was actually the final thing I recorded for the album last September, it’s more of a pallet-cleanser than a song, though the original version had a lot more music in it and was a lot longer. Ste stripped back a lot of the music and exaggerated the rhythmic elements. It’s an appropriate ‘tie up’ for what is quite a dark and scary album.
“In a way the album reminds me of a scarier Scary Monsters, which wasn’t deliberate but that’s how it feels to me. I’m currently eight songs into recording the next album and it’s very different to this one, as Othello is a very different album to my previous one, Dazed. That’s how I feel music should be: taking risks and trying out different styles and themes on each album. It would be very boring for me to move in a straight line.”
Othello is out now. Purchase from Bandcamp.