Clanton’s speakeasy pop’icana show is a celLO-bration of the unexpected.
Sarah Clanton is bringing people together and building a feel-good machine. The Nashville singer-songwriter, who has brought the classical and pop worlds together with her use of a cello, rather than a guitar, to front one of Music City’s most unique bands, has been on a feel-good mission since long before she plucked her way into town. But it’s never been more apparent than on her new album, Here We Are.
A classically-trained musician who began playing cello age 9, Clanton grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist household, where MTV and certain radio and tv shows were off-limits. Then, her life changed in college, when she discovered holistic alternatives to calm her life-long anxiety, and the new sounds of the Greenville, South Carolina open mic scene. “It opened up this whole world to me,” she said. It was a world which Clanton ultimately traveled to Bonaroo, where in 2008, she saw someone doing something unheard of: “I saw this guy plucking cello and playing Fiona Apple and Gnarles Barkley, and I was like, ‘Oh my God’… I’d never thought about singing and playing cello at the same time.”
Things moved quickly from there. She attended The Swannanoa Gathering, a folk music and songwriting workshop near Asheville, NC, where she was taught how to strum chords on a cello and hone her songwriting. She found herself performing more frequently, and even organizing a couple festivals of her own like Music in the Woods - a weekly solar powered festival at Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, South Carolina.. And by the time she left Greenville for Music City in 2014, she had already recorded her first album, and was doing 200 dates a year, playing bars, weddings, “Anything I could do,” she says.
Here We Are may be a solo album, but Clanton says it could not have been made without others — from co-producer Eric Loomis, to a group of top Nashville session musicians and many more. But mostly, she says, the album was made for others. She jokes that the uplifting, “big and awesome” pop album is a “feel-good machine,” built to bring people together in these difficult and divisive times. “We’re not going to make any progress being divided,” she says. “If I can get some of that mindfulness out there to negate some of the hate, that would be so great.”
With flashes of the classically-trained pop sensibility of Regina Spektor, and the sultry jazzitude of Amy Winehouse, Clanton finds herself in good company on Here We Are— while still “cello-brating,” she says, her one-of-a-kind musical approach. And this uniqueness hasn’t gone unnoticed. In the Spring of 2017, Sarah was selected as an Official Showcase Artist at the South Eastern Regional Folk Alliance in Montreat, North Carolina. Then, in late 2017, No Depression and Elmore Magazine premiered her single “Silver Lining” (co-written with Mary Bragg), the first single from Here We Are.
Like “Silver Lining,” which Clanton says is about “championing constructive conversation,” all the songs on Here We Are were written with what she says is a certain “mindfulness” that they could make people’s lives better. “Slow it Down,” she says, is about “living in the moment.” “We Belong” delivers the message that, “Wherever you are, you’re ok… we’re all just here, and we’re all in it together.” (It’s a message similar to that of the #metoo movement, which Clanton was interviewed about by National Public Radio in March 2018.)
Clanton has even stepped outside of her own music to help others, teaching young women the craft of songwriting, as a mentor for Nashville’s Girls Write Nashville program. Because it wasn’t that long ago Clanton was a young musician herself, trying to find her way personally, and professionally. But now, she’s got a feel-good machine, and she’s going to use it. “I kinda have this theory that if we don’t feel good individually, we aren’t going to be good for everybody.”
Catch all the behind the scenes and sneak peaks by becoming a Cellobrator @ patreon.com/sarahclanton