Lay Back, Letting Go, and Looking Forward: A Conversation with CLAVVS

CLAVVS © 2018
CLAVVS © 2018
Enchanting alt-pop duo CLAVVS discuss the growth & meaning behind their new music, their move to Brooklyn, and how 2019 will be their best year yet!

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When you’re in the eye of the storm, you just get lost in it!

For Amber Renee and Graham Marsh, their musical project CLAVVS feels as fresh today as it did three and a half years ago. Over this time, the alt-pop duo have released two full-length albums, seen numerous songs garner millions of plays globally, and last February they left their homes in Atlanta, Georgia to resettle in Brooklyn, New York.

“It’s wild that we did it,” remarks Marsh, a four-time Grammy-winning producer whose previous work includes Gnarls Barkley, Kid Cudi, and T.I. “We’ve been wanting to get out of Atlanta for awhile, and every time we would do shows in New York, we’d always say we want to move to New York! It was either New York or LA, and I’m glad we chose New York.”

The end of 2018 saw CLAVVS making some of their most creative and engaging music yet, kicking off their new lives in the Big Apple with singles “Lay Back,” “Slow Dive,” and “Echo.” Radiating the youthful exuberance of a band on their debut, Renee and Marsh are adamant that this next chapter is their best one yet. This confidence already shines through in their latest songs, which are as enchanting and ethereal as they are embedded with emotion and grounded in humanity. Recently repackaged as a teaser for what’s to come, the trio of “Lay Back,” “Slow Dive” and “Echo” serve to reinforce CLAVVS’ burgeoning artistry, and bolster their claim that 2019 will, in fact, be their best year yet.

Atwood Magazine spoke to CLAVVS about the growth and meaning behind their new music, the impact of their move to Brooklyn, and what’s to come from the dynamic couple in 2019!

“Lay Back // Slow Dive // Echo” – CLAVVS


Atwood Magazine:You repackaged the three songs “Lay Back,” “Slow Dive,” and “Echo” together as one unit. What is it, for you, that connects these three songs?

Amber Renee: These three songs are connected in the sense that when we first moved to Brooklyn, they were the three that we were working on or had finished in the moving process. There’s a lot of connection between our time in Atlanta and our time in Brooklyn. Sonically too, I think there’s a lot of overlap in where we were creatively. In putting out these three songs first, I think we really wanted to introduce this sort of new sound, that just seems to really perfectly sum up where we were physically and sonically.

Graham Marsh: “Lay Back” was the first one we put out, and it’s a little bit of a departure for us, I think, in terms of the sound. It still feels like CLAVVS, but it’s definitely a different sonic “palette,” if you will, than we were using there. “Echo” was the last one released, and that got a really good sync – it’s the theme song to the Nike podcast called The Fenom Effect

Renee: – Which is so perfect, because it highlights women and their achievements in athletics. That song is just perfect for it; it felt like a really good fit!

Marsh: The podcast is really good; it focuses on women in the top of their game in skateboarding, basketball, fencing, and it goes through the adversity that they have had to face and overcome to be as successful as they are.

Renee: Yeah, it’s super inspiring!

CLAVVS © Ari Fouriezos
CLAVVS © Ari Fouriezos

That’s so cool, and it’s awesome that they chose your music! You talk about having this departure in sound; can you pinpoint the changes?

Renee: I think, in terms of what we wanted to do… In my writing, I wanted to write from a little bit more of a realistic place. I spend a lot of time using metaphors, just because that’s the way I had been comfortable communicating about myself and my feelings – but for the new songs, I really wanted to bring a little bit more realism to them, and be a little bit more honest with what I was feeling and how to express it. The songs are a little bit more straightforward; there’s less that I’m hiding behind, I guess you could say. And sonically, Graham I’ll let you speak for a bit.

Marsh: Yeah, just support and always do justice to Amber’s beautiful songs. Moving here, having a fresh new start definitely influenced my production and sounds, and a lot of choices I was making. For “Lay Back,” for instance, Amber sang that to me, and I had been wanting to experiment with orchestral sounds in the realm of kind of what we do, but with more of a world element. So she sang that song to me, and – this doesn’t happen like this all the time, but that production, exactly how it is, popped in my brain. I knew exactly what to do, and I went and made that super quickly – even the little melody at the beginning of the song, after the chorus; it just came to me! I felt like that was a good stretch for me, production wise; it was something different than what I normally do. With “Echo” and “Slow Dive,” I was able to have those moments, and I can attribute a lot of that to being in New York, having this move, and maybe having a fresh perspective on things.

Renee: Totally; I feel that as well, lyrically and melodically. It was just such an exciting moment! There was – and there is still, constantly, so much that I am inspired by! That is just another connection to other humans and their lives… there’s never a time that I don’t feel inspired. At that time in particular, it was just such a new, fresh excitement. “Lay Back” was actually the first song that I wrote right after we moved here. “Slow Dive” and “Echo,” I had written while we were in Atlanta, and we finished them when we were here in Brooklyn – but “Lay Back” was the first song that I, from scratch, wrote when we were here. It really sprung out of a place of finding my footing in New York. I was struggling with anxiety and imposter syndrome, which I struggle with a lot. I wanted to write a song that would help me remember to be grounded, and to remember who I was. That’s where “Lay Back” came from; it was just an effort to remind myself to take the time I need, when I need it; to do good things for myself, and take care of myself, really.

Marsh: I don’t think you can really ever describe our music as “fun,” per se,but the melody and the lyrics, it was… I wanted to convey that message, production-wise, too. If we got anywhere close to a fun-sounding song, “Lay Back” does that – which is a different moment for CLAVVS, because our stuff tends to be pretty dark, you know?

I find it ironic that the first song you wrote in New York is called “Lay Back,” but I get it. As you said, you’re trying to step out of the everyday – especially in a city like this, where it’s really hard: There’s always so much to do, so many people to see… You can lose yourself so quickly. I think the song captures that depth! I think it’s cool that “Lay Back” was the first song released after your move, as well.

 Marsh: We’ve been so fiercely independent too, as artists. Now, this is our first time working with a real team and having other opinions. We have a lot of music that’s recorded, that we’ll be releasing – we have a lot of stuff happening in 2019! And this has been the first time that there are other people we are bouncing stuff off.

Renee: It was nice to have some other opinions besides just mine and Graham’s, because we get so close to these things; it’s our music and we care so much! I think when you get so close, it’s hard to see it and to hear it like someone else would. Having other opinions definitely played a part in that song being the first single, and I’m so glad that it turned out that way; I think it was the right choice.

Let’s talk about “Slow Dive” and “Echo” then!

Renee: “Slow Dive” is probably my personal favorite of the three – just because of the emotional connection I have to that song. In a sense, I think all of these songs are about letting go, but this one in particular is about letting go even when you don’t want to. It seems so fitting, because I wrote it right as we were leaving Atlanta. It was probably the last song that we finished while we were there; I remember packing up my clothes and stuff before we were moving, and some of the lyrics just came to my head. I was typing it out on my notes in my phone, like I always do… I think my own feelings about leaving the place where I was born and raised, and leaving behind all of my friends and my family, and the people that I love so much, really got tied up into that song. In a way, it’s about leaving things behind that you wish so badly you could take with you.

I think I understand “Slow Dive” a lot better now! For me, I like that “Echo” has a similar repetitious quality; it’s a soothing ending to those three. How did that song come about?

Renee: I had written that one in the Fall of last year, maybe even before we knew we were moving. It’s just sort of about this idea that things that have happened to you in the past, or people that have happened to you in the past, they can stay with you – and sometimes they haunt you in a way that echoes. Really, the concept is that memories are echoing on, and you can’t get them to stop. They’re in your dreams; they’re in your waking life – and it’s about wanting to be able to move on from them, but feeling caught in the past. I think a lot of what I write about sometimes has to do with that feeling, caught in the past. “Echo” is a really straightforward metaphor about what that feels like.

It’s so interesting that all three of these songs are about movement and change, in one way or another

Marsh: – which, you know, goes back with the massive change of movement, physically moving to this new place! New York is just tied into the DNA of all of this new music.

Renee: There are other songs, too – we can’t say much about them right now, but when they do come out, I think it’ll tie together even more!

2018 was a year of change and transition, and it's been a relatively quiet year externally, if not internally. Can we understand this three-song package as a glimpse of what's to come; as a tasting, now that you've had some time to settle and get back on your feet?

Marsh: Yeah, absolutely. It was quiet in terms of us releasing things. The previous stuff we had done, we always felt the pressure to constantly release stuff – we need to keep releasing stuff and keep momentum moving. After our album World Underwater, we really changed that process. We decided to really take our time, and just write, write, write. We took the most time, between the two, to start releasing stuff. I mean, we took almost a year or more! We wrote a lot and scrapped a lot; we wanted to take our time, and go over things. We wanted to give it the time that it needed. We didn’t want to rush anything; we really wanted to know that what we were putting out was the best that we could do. That’s definitely what 2018 was, and 2019… These are just the teasers of a lot of stuff to come in 2019!

Renee: I think part of it, too, is that New York is an artist haven! There are so many incredible people and incredible artist here. I think we realy wanted to push ourselves to our own limits, and push the boundaries of what we could make, and what we wanted to make, and make sure it was the best possible thing in the moment! I feel very strongly that we’ve done that, and I’m so excited for our fans to hear what it is we’ve been working on so diligently this past year.

CLAVVS © Ari Fouriezos
CLAVVS © Ari Fouriezos

It feels like an evolution of sorts - and I can't put my finger on it, but these songs get me really excited. It's different, and yet it's still you.

Marsh: Thank you! I think it’s a confidence that can only come with putting in years of doing. Any band Jimmy Iovene would talk about when he was producing, he would always look at the band’s third album as “the one.” Springsteen, Petty… a lot of the bands he worked with, it was always their third record that would break them, you know? Because they put in the time… Rarely do new artists know who or what they are exactly; it takes time to hone that shit!

Renee: Absolutely, and I do feel… maybe the change that you’re speaking of has to do with that – of finally feeling a very clear sense of what we want to say, and how we want to say it. I’m excited about it! I’ve never felt more creatively full.

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art © Amber Renee

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