Brooklyn just wouldn’t do. When it came time for orchestral indie-pop group Clare and the Reasons to write and record their third album of highly textured, cabaret-ready mini-symphonies, titled KR-51, they moved from New York to a place that is known for inspiring highly textured mini-symphonies: Berlin. Once frontwoman Clare Manchon arrived, she began examining a wide variety of music that came from the same place. “As cliché as it may be, I was listening to Bowie’s Berlin albums,” she says. “Also, Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill and [classical composer] Shostakovich.” While she also mentions Pink Floyd, Deerhoof and Harry Nilsson as influences, the thread that connects all of these artists, and especially Clare and the Reasons, is a duality between dark and light. It’s what comes through most on KR-51.
“As the years pass, and I go through more hardship, I’m just drawn to the darker side of music — not the depressing side, but the heavier, more muddy side,” she explains. “There is always room for the sun to peek through, though.” The ratio between sunlight and twilight on KR-51 is what makes it captivating. To achieve this, they enlisted members of the Orchestre de Paris for support, recorded in a small German village and soaked in both the good and bad things Berlin had to offer. Manchon explains how it all came together here.
Why did you move to Berlin to write this album?
It has endless historical intrigue as well as a very high quality of life for a very low cost of living. They also have the best orchestra in the world, which can only be a very good sign for the cultural relevance of the city.
One song that stands out is “The Mauerpark.” Given the history of the park, which was heavily guarded when the Berlin Wall existed, what inspired you to write it?
Yes, the park itself has a tragic past, but it’s given way to quite a nice park, with people acting quite joyously in it. There is a flea market there every Sunday, hipsters doing karaoke, robots being built, people selling bikes. It also backs up to one of my favorite DDR [East German] buildings, the old DDR stadium, pictured on the album cover. You can see the stadium lights towering over the Berlin Wall, which still lines the park. It’s a place I’m very drawn to. There are so many juxtapositions. It’s a reminder that time moves on and the same geographical place can mean many different things to different generations. “The Mauerpark” itself is not really about the park; it’s about little experiences that happened to me all near Mauerpark, so that was the reference point. It is not one story, but stories of pain that several of my friends, and maybe even myself were going through, authored into one. Pain can all be one story.
Watch the video for “Make Them Laugh” here:
One song that builds emotionally is “Colder.”
That song is near and dear to me; maybe my favorite. This song poured out of me after going to a photo exhibition of work by Fritz Eschen. He was a Jewish photographer who had survived the war to document Berlin in the last days of the war and beyond leading up to the Russian occupation. I was struck by so many of the photos — showing that somehow, with rubble and decay all around them, one still puts on her finest wool suit, lipstick, does her hair, and goes along with her day … with rubble surrounding her. The photographs were almost surreal to me. One in particular really burned my mind: It was a large crowd, thousands of people in a town square in Charlottenburg. It was a protest, just before the occupation. People looked nearly dead and wasted from life, rags for clothes on many and all at once so much, and total voids in their faces. This is the photo that “Colder” is born from.
You named your album after the model of the moped on the cover. What are some of the adventures you had, driving around on it?
Her name is Annette, she is still waiting for us in Berlin. She’s a 1968 Simson Schwalbe. We had many adventures, only adventures. The best were in the nighttime: coming home from the Philharmonie [orchestra]. Such a perfect mode of transportation in that size city. Mostly, she never broke down. Simson was a German-Jewish company that used to make Luger guns and cars, until they were seized by the Nazis. It was under Soviet control that they were renamed Simson and told to make mopeds, they did so with great success.
Finally, the members of the Orchestra de Paris who played on KR-51 add a noticeable tension to the songs. How did you come to work with them?
We are very good friends with their French horn soloist Benoit de Barsony. He breaks the mold of so many classical musicians. We played a show with him in Paris, then Barcelona, then Amsterdam. Each time, he would put together an astonishing brass section. Playing our music was something different for him, a different kind of challenge. He offered to put together an orchestra for the recording in Paris and our jaws dropped. My favorite orchestral moments on the album are on “Westward,” “Colder,” and “The Mauerpark.” In all of those songs, they fill the space with such depth and richness.
We recorded the orchestrations live with everyone in the room in Paris in a great old movie theater that had been converted to a studio. We had a gigantic party after and, man, French classical musicians can really drink me way under the table. Especially the brass section!
KR-51 is out July 10 on Frog Stand Records. Stream the entire album below:
KR-51 by clareandthereasons