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Inspirations behind Clairo’s debut album Immunity
Courtesy of FADER Label

Six things that inspired Clairo’s debut album Immunity

The viral pop star reflects on the ways her mum, Lauryn Hill, and a Massachusetts train station influenced her triumphant first record

Listening to Clairo’s debut album, Immunity, it’s hard to believe that the singer is turning just 21 years old on Sunday (August 18). Claire Cottrill first shot to fame in 2017 with her viral hit, “Pretty Girl”, before releasing her first EP, the lo-fi diary 001, last year. On Immunity, the New York-based singer expands her bedroom pop sound with more refined production and considered songwriting as she ruminates on heartbreak, life-saving friendships, and her struggles with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, all over shimmering synths. It’s worlds away from the 18-year-old singing into a webcam that longtime fans will be familiar with. 

Traversing from teen angst in past tracks like “4EVER(“Am I gonna feel this way forever?”), Clairo illustrates her turbulent transition into adulthood on Immunity, particularly on opening track “Alewife” – named after a train station in her home state, Massachusetts – where the singer gently tells the story of how her friend saved her from suicide, singing: “Swear I could’ve done it / If you weren’t there when I hit the floor”. Writing about her bisexuality in her music for the first time, the album’s euphoric centrepiece, “Sofia”, builds on Clairo’s 2018 coming out (when she tweeted about her 2018 track “B.O.M.D.”, or “Boy of My Dreams”: “B.O.M.D. is also G.O.M.D. for ur information”), revealing that her first crushes on women included Sofia Coppola and Sofia Vergara. 

Escaping the online bubble of her vast fanbase, Clairo’s inspirations for Immunity – including her mum, album collaborators, and a Yamaha synthesiser – mostly live offline, reflecting her growth from viral star to IRL musical force. Here, the singer goes into detail about the six main things that impacted her debut.

ALEWIFE TRAIN STATION

Clairo: Alewife is the train station in Massachusetts that I spent quite a lot of time at (during high school). It’s really important to me because it almost felt like a portal into another world; in school I never felt like I totally fitted it, so I began to create a life for myself outside of the town I grew up in. Around the time I started taking music more seriously, I joined Facebook groups centered on playing house shows with other local bands, and ended up meeting a lot of kids through there.

Alewife is also significant to me because it’s the name of the first song on the album – an ode to both the train station and my best friend Alexa, who was (and still is) a huge part of my life. She was a very important part of my high school experience and I definitely couldn’t have survived without her.

EVERYONE WHO WORKED ON THE ALBUM

Clairo: Everyone who worked on this record is extremely important to me. The album is a collection of my bandmates, old friends, and people I’ve looked up to my whole life. The fact that each and every one of these people saw potential in me, and saw value in what I was working on means the world to me. 

Growing up, I listened to Rostam Batmanglij’s music, and Danielle Haim’s music (played drums on “Bags” and “Sofia”), songs Dave Fridmann, Tom Elmhirst, Peter Cottontale (co-produced “I Wouldn’t Ask You”), Shawn Everett, and Manny Marroquin worked on – the list goes on. I’m also extremely inspired by my friends the Burns Twins, and Hayley Briasco (both also co-produced “I Wouldn’t Ask You”), and many others. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m incredibly grateful for the people around me and I draw so much inspiration from everyone separately. 

“The fact that each and every one of these people saw potential in me, and saw value in what I was working on means the world to me” – Clairo

MIXTAPES

Clairo: Being able to give your friend a mixtape of all your favorite songs is one of the most precious gifts. It can be an assortment of all different kinds of artists, genres and moods, which is how I look at my music taste and my own music a lot of the time. One thing I wanted to capture with Immunity was to make it feel like a mixtape, like there’s a song for everyone. 

MY MOTHER

Clairo: My mom is my absolute best friend. She and I have been close my whole life and I couldn’t be more grateful to have a person like her in my life. 

She was the reason I put the children’s choir on the album (most notably on closing track “I Wouldn’t Ask You”). When I was younger I would vent to her about how I didn’t like myself and how I wish I was different, and after hearing all the negative comments, my mom told me something that became really important to me – she told me that if I were faced with the nine-year-old version of myself and told her all of that, I’d make her cry. It completely changed the way I felt about myself and even how I spoke about other people. 

I wanted to bring a bunch of nine year olds into the studio and hear them sing, not only to resemble the things my mom told me, but to express the helplessness I felt when dealing with arthritis, (and represent the) voices I wanted to hear when I was first feeling emotions for women.

YAMAHA DX7

Clairo: The Yamaha Dx7 was a really important discovery for me. I became obsessed with it when I first started listening to Brian Eno, and remember watching YouTube videos of tutorials in order to learn as much about it as possible. The first time I ever got to play one was through my friend Deaton Chris Anthony – someone who has shown me so much about production, and the history behind synths like the Dx7. I finally got one this year and it was one of the coolest feelings.

I think I chose this (as an inspiration) because I’ve learned so much about production through the internet and my friends. Throughout the process of making the album, people like Rostam, Deaton, Hayley, and the Burns Twins have taught me so much about what it takes to be a producer. 

LAURYN HILL’S THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL

Clairo: Going back to the children on the record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was also vital in my decision to include them. The way the children are placed in her album (a class of neighbourhood kids feature in “Intro” and at various intervals across the album) is probably one of the best things I’ve ever heard – it’s so casual and in the moment, it feels like you’re there with them. It doesn’t feel orchestrated, and it just has this natural approach that’s so positive and sweet it makes you smile without even noticing. Children are so special and are able to see the world in ways that we can’t, so to hear their perspective and let them have a voice was really important for me on Immunity.