Australian-born, Nashville-influenced… meet Clare Bowen, your new favorite singer-songwriter.
Through the turnstile doors, she breezes in. All sunlight and fresh air, layered with petals of fringe and fabric that dance against the be-ribboned tambourine clutched in her hand. The instrument is her near-constant companion and it’s as much a musical tool as it is her signature stage move. On gig nights, the tassels, ribbons, and what-not collected throughout her travels are thrown like parade candy to her adoring audience as she slams the contraption against her leg with wild abandon. The dedication to her music is evident in the bruises left behind. Yes, singer-songwriter Clare Bowen is as lovely as you’d expect her to be — lovelier even — but don’t let her laid-back exterior fool you. A powerful voice (and wry wit) lie broiling beneath, waiting to be set forth.
Raised in Australia, Clare spent her early years ensconced by her close-knit and equally musical family — which often included a menagerie of animals, wild and tame alike — as she migrated between her home and hospital. A survivor of childhood cancer, the vestiges of early days spent with wild things in a beautiful place are prevalent in her propensity towards barefootedness and calm demeanor. Her Instagram feed is as much devoted to life on the road as it is her beloved animal companions. On a day when anyone else would feel the crowded Manhattan streets closing in around them, Clare breezes through, cooly weaving between tourists and pushcarts, dodging taxis and bikes. Even in the fray she stands out, and it was here last month that I had the opportunity to catch up with the talented musician and all around good person, as she shared her inspirations and influences… Free People world, meet Clare Bowen:
Can you tell us a bit about where you were raised?
All over the place, but childhood happened mostly between Camperdown Children’s Hospital in Sydney, and the Southern coast of Australia. My family rolled to a gentle stop at the Minnamurra River, where it meets the ocean. Mumma sits on the wharf at the edge of the garden and attracts the sea life, she is a stingray and pelican magnet. Daddeh sails and paddle-boards and builds things. There have more often than not been more animals than people hanging around any of the places we have lived. Mum even snuck my pet mouse Albert, and a labrador named Ben into my hospital room once, because I was miserable without them. She is a determined person.
Living down the coast meant I spent a lot of time playing in the rainforest with my brother. I didn’t know many other children, and so was often comfortably alone in the trees, the creek, exploring abandoned train tunnels and swimming in rock pools. We loved being outside. I was always losing shoes, so eventually gave up on them and trying to get the leaves out of my hair. Mum and Dad eventually gave up on asking me to stop bringing home wildlife and the idea of me finding human friends.
I read that you began training in operetta as a very young child; was music a big part of your household growing up?
Music was everywhere, all of the time. From Vivaldi to Elvis, Mozart, The Gypsy Kings, Paul Simon, Gilbert and Sullivan, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Stephen Sondheim, The Rolling Stones, Dame Joan Sutherland… and everything else. It was an eclectic soundtrack to grow up to. I intend to inflict the same thing upon my own children, if they ever happen to me.
What were your favorite records as a kid?
First cassette was Paul Simon’s – I wore it out. First compact disk was either CATS, Les Miserables, or Priscilla Queen of the Desert… I tend not to have a favourite anything. There’s too much wonderful stuff in the world.
Your brother, Tim Bowen, is an accomplished musician as well, do you ever play music together?
We do! He had his Opry debut with me at the Ryman Auditorium for the biggest crowd he’d ever played for. He’s wonderful to sing and write with and seems to know what I’m thinking most of the time. When he visits Nashville, he plays at the Bluebird Cafe and invites me to come sing. Whenever I play the Opry, if he’s around, he’s up there with me. He would be coming to Nashville sooner if he hadn’t just been asked to open for The Milk Carton Kids Australian tour dates! I’m outrageously proud of him.
You also have a background in theatre; do you feel that early immersion in acting influenced the way you approach your music on-stage?
I am approximately 100 percent more theatre-trained than I am film-trained, and so grateful to have muscle memory forcing me to remember not to talk at the same speed of light in my ridiculous accent, be totally happy being stared at by thousands of dancing, wriggling, happy people (only onstage, offstage I am the Great Introvert), and remember to find my dang light. But mostly, it is about story telling, remembering where I came from and being eternally grateful for the stages I get to stand on now.
If you could share the stage with any other artist, who would it be?
Dolly Parton. I would die. Like literally fold into a neat little pile of awe, and then expire with a *poof.*
Do you feel as though the move from Australia to the US influenced your sound?
It opened up the world for me. The noise I make was always rattling around in there, but I’m so lucky to get to be in the same room with some fantastically kind, talented, creative people who believed in me, and taught me to believe in myself again after listening to too many judgmental people who thought art should be a competition. Everyone needs someone to believe in them. I love how willing Nashvillians in particular are to shout hooray for someone. You can be 93 and singing at the Opry, and all your friends and family are still side stage, cheering you on. It’s just beautiful.
What are some of your most listened to albums?
That changes all the time. Anything by Emmy Lou Harris, The Rolling Stones, Sam Smith, Annie Lennox, Johnny Cash, Beyoncé, Passenger, Alison Krauss, Sigur Rós and Dolly are in a bit of a cage match right now… but it’s always vinyl and it’s always on.
Finally, what does it mean to be ‘free’?
That’s a big question… To be ‘free’… comes from within. It is born of kindness and compassion. It is completely absent in cruelty. It is not at all about doing whatever you want…
No, to be free is unabashed, like singing and laughing and crying aloud about what moves you. It is brave, like running through fire to protect the one you love, even though you are terrified. It is honorable, like standing up for what you believe in to make the world a better place. It is loving yourself and all of your scars, wrinkles and wobbly bits, it is using your powers for good, it is forgiveness, it is education, it is equality, it is finding your true love. To be ‘free’ is knowing you have wings, allowing yourself to use them, and encouraging others to do the same.
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Thank you Clare!