More than two decades before “Let It Go” (2013), the lead track of the Frozen OST, became a mega viral hit, there was an equally compelling Let It Go (1989) that captured the imagination of vinyl record collectors in many parts of the globe. Indeed, it was one recording that demonstrated that the warmth, breadth and depth of a sonic experience provided by vinyl records is unrivaled. The latter, of course, referred to the title of the debut studio album as well as one of the album tracks written by Berklee-trained Clair Marlo, singer-songwriter, composer, producer, arranger and film scorer. Marlo is aptly described by one Amazon customer record reviewer as an earth angel. “Till They Take My Heart Away” which was the carrier single of Let It Go more than reinforced such a glowing accolade. It eventually became Marlo’s signature hit – a staple in the playlists of CityLite 88.3, Joey 92.3 and 105.1 Crossover in the Philippines and in countless FM stations around the globe. Recorded and mixed direct to a 2-track tape by multi-Grammy awardee Bill Schnee, Let It Go was mastered by the legendary Doug Sax who recently passed away. Sax mastered 3 of The Doors albums and 6 of Pink Floyd’s studio albums, among others. A moving tribute to honor his legacy as a master engineer was recently penned by Stereophile editor and recent Manila visitor Michael Fremer.
One proof of how highly regarded this recording is could be found in a thread entitled Records and Recordings. Moderated by lifelong vinyl collector Philip Chua since 2004, Records and Recordings is quite possibly one of the longest-running and most widely-followed threads in Wired State – the biggest online forum for analog enthusiasts in the Philippines with over 6,000 members to date. In 2006, Chua cited Let It Go as “a favorite of many wives. In fact, most audiophiles in this forum tell me they buy this for their wives. It’s not hard to see why. Excellent music, nice vocals by Clair, with a really great band backing her up. It’s a pity this was done when Sheffield stopped recording direct to disc, I believe due to the attendant high cost. Nevertheless, it’s still a good recording.”
In 2009, even the husbands who comprised a big percentage of the membership at Wired State apparently also got so enamored of the said album that they used Let It Go as a reference recording in a public seminar. More precisely, Marlo’s debut studio album was used to demonstrate the sonic difference between a Rega P1 and a Rega P3 24. Aptly dubbed Analog 101, the said seminar was organized by the leading lights of Wired State led by Philippine Star columnist Val Villanueva, then banker Buboy Sarte and insurance professional Jen Dones, among others. Chua was among the key presenters at Analog 101.
In 2012, Chua once again cited Let It Go in his long-running thread focusing this time on why the album continues to be a sought-after vinyl record among audiophiles around the globe. HIs answer reminds me of Ockham’s razor. Straightforward and to the point. “To me, the answer is because the album is very enjoyable, no need for thinking caps. Soft/mellow pop/rock, vocal/instrumental, and it even has Sheffield main man Lincoln Mayorga on synthesizer! In addition, he did vocal orchestration on one track. The music in the album was mostly composed by Clair herself, music and lyrics, and even arrangements. It boasts of great session artists like Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Abraham Laboriel, and Pat Coil, plus the men behind the technical production are Doug Sax and Bill Schnee, who if I’m not mistaken was nominated for a Grammy for his past works. And last but not the least, Clair herself put her entire commitment to the project, even signing on as one of the executive producers for this album.” Not to forget, other top-notch session musicians featured here also include Dean Parks on electric guitar (i.e., a regular Steely Dan and Michael Jackson sideman), Leland Sklar on bass (i.e., a regular Phil Collins bassist and recent Toto alumnus) and Luis Conte on percussion (i.e., long-time Jackson Browne collaborator.)
When Wired State moderator Jen Dones broke the news that Marlo herself shared that she might perform in Manila, I wasted no time to ask if I could interview her for my blog. To my delight and surprise, she agreed to the idea. Read on and find out why, notwithstanding the fact that it’s been 26 years since Let It Go, it would still be difficult to let go of the music of Clair Marlo.
Let It Go is widely regarded as an audiophile collectors’ item in many countries. A near mint vinyl copy easily commands a 214 dollar price tag among record collectors. At Discogs.com the average price of a near mint copy ranges from 275 to 377 euros excluding shipping and custom duties. How do you respond to the niche that many audiophiles assign to your debut album across various parts of the globe?
First, I wish I had more copies of the original LP! 🙂 Then I am in shock that it has become such a collector’s item. But then, the musicianship on that LP is so amazing. The players in that room are/were the best of the best. I wish for everything that we had videotaped the sessions. The feeling in the room was something that spoiled me forever for wanting to make live recordings. So, maybe that’s what the audiophiles are responding to. It’s not a bad record I think.
I understand that you will be reissuing the album soon. How different or similar is the upcoming vinyl reissue of Let It Go? Which studio is involved? Who are the studio engineers who will work on the vinyl reissue? To what extent will it be faithful to the iconic Sheffield release or the well-received Cisco release? Or will the next reissue be an even superior audio experience the way Jennifer Warnes and her team reworked the Famous Blue Raincoat for the 20th anniversary box set edition? When can we look forward to its availability?
I’m not sure on any of that right now because I was going to do it with Doug Sax and unfortunately he passed before we could do it. But I will likely work with his protege, Eric Boulanger, who was to work closely with Doug on the reissue. I’m also planning on issuing my third release on heavy vinyl, and I’ve asked Eric to work on it with me. Doug loved and respected Eric very much and I trust his amazing talents. I would like to, for the reissue, add notes about the sessions.
Let It Go was released in 1989 while Behaviour Self came out in 1995. Cisco did release Let It Go in 2003 with 3 additional tracks not found in the 1989 first release. If Trinity, the current working title of your third studio album does come out – and we, your fans would really want to have it come out – in 2015 that’s an average of 8 years between each studio album. May I ask why it takes such a long time for you to release a studio album?
Well, one of the drawbacks of being a working composer/producer is that there are lots of projects to do that aren’t necessarily my personal artist projects. I love writing and producing and I love making my records, but sometimes my record has to wait in line behind other projects that pay the bills! I’m not like many artists in that I don’t tour often, I’m much more of a studio rat. But the good news is that I plan on recording more now that I have a new production company to write and produce some of the television and film music I’ve been doing in the last years. I’ve written over 3,000 pieces that are in use all over the world in some way, either radio or TV or film… That’s a lot of music I’ve done. I haven’t been lazy that’s for sure! I plan on releasing more instrumental music recordings as well. I hope my fans are interested in hearing what I have to say musically, because I truly feel like my best work is coming.
How different is your upcoming album Trinity from Behaviour Self and Let It Go? Does it have an overarching theme? When can we expect its release? How many tracks does it consist of?
Trinity is more like Let it Go than Behaviour Self was. I really like the songs on it and the sound of the recording is warmer than Behaviour Self. It’s between 12-14 songs at this point.
In your official website, your credentials also include various projects as producer, composer, arranger and guest musician, which of your non-solo album projects has been most rewarding and fulfilling over the years and why?
My most rewarding non-solo album project was the Michael Ruff project. I was a fan for many years before I brought him to Sheffield Lab and the musicianship on that CD is astounding. It was really a labor of love and I was very happy to bring him to a new audience.
How would you characterize the music industry in 2015 compared to the time when you recorded and released Let It Go in 1989 and Behaviour Self in 1995. What has changed most significantly? What has remained the same? Would you agree that musicians in 2015 are in a much better place compared to where they were in 1989? One indie musician points out that in the 21st century and as portrayed by the character played by Keira Knightley in Begin Again, it’s much easier for musicians today to record and publish their work.
I think we are in a wonderful time and a terrible time. On one hand, it is easier and more fulfilling to be an artist and build your career on your own terms. You can really do what you feel without needing huge budgets to record your music or make your video or build your fan base. When I made Let it Go, it cost about $150,000 to make that record. I couldn’t have done it without the record company funding me. When I made Behaviour Self, I used the recording budget for musicians and for recording equipment and did some of it in my own recording studio and some at a commercial studio. With Trinity, I’ve built my studio out and it’s great to record there. It was made for way less and sounds great. That’s a great development. On the other hand, you have to have much more business savvy and understand marketing and branding and how the business works. You have to promote yourself and that takes time out of other things. And the business is changing so the rules are changing and it’s kind of like the wild west right now. Also, we are dealing with a whole generation of music lovers that believe that music should be free. But that’s not possible because how would we as musicians be able to survive without being supported by our art in some way? I think it will be something to see in the next years how it will shake out. I am hoping that people like music enough to pay for the art that is made. I still buy music all the time, because I like to be able to play the music I want to hear when I want to hear it.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? Could you kindly describe your turntable set-up? How many vinyl records comprise your collection?
I’m not a vinyl collector in the audiophile sense but I have a large vinyl collection of music that is kind of obscure and didn’t come out in any other format. I still love playing a record and hearing all the songs but most of my listening is done in the studio now and my turntable recently broke so I am without a turntable right now. I had some Infinity speakers set up in the house, but when I had kids everything had to be put away. So now I love my Genelecs in the studio and my records are packed away for the time being. But they will come out again – there are about 2,000 records as of now.
Could you kindly describe your songwriting process? Where do you draw inspiration? Or do you approach it like work where you sit it out and work hard at your craft instead of waiting for inspiration? How long does it typically take you to finish a composition?
My songwriting process is different depending on whether I’m writing for me or for someone else. If it is for a composing project, then I sit and write for that project and there’s a deadline and a direction and it’s me working at my job. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration, but instead I find that I can sort of tell my mind that I need to be thinking of a certain style or a certain emotion and it does it. Once I get started, it flows and I work on a certain amount of music every day. Maybe one entire song, or 2-3 minutes of a longer piece. When I am writing for myself, it is much more about what I am feeling or going through. Or it is about what I would like to say about myself, or about someone else that I have observed. It takes a little longer because I have to take it from inside myself and sometimes I am confusing to myself! It’s a time of being open and raw and sometimes that is difficult to go through, but I embrace those moments of raw honesty because that’s what people connect to. It’s about feelings and we all go through many of the same feelings. It’s good to connect to others who may be going through the same thing or feel the same way. So those songs can take weeks. I remember “Without Me” was a song about a relationship I left, that took me 7 years of thinking about, and when it finally came out of me, it was written in about 5 minutes top to bottom. But it simmered for 7 years.
Who would you consider as your key influences as a musician? How does the idea of doing a covers album of your key influences sound to you? Is doing a covers album to pay tribute to your musical heroes farfetched at this time?
I love Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Warnes, The O’Jays, Pink Floyd, Brian Ferry, Elton John. I actually did a cover of a song Elton John did (but he didn’t write it) on Trinity. It’s called “The Love Song” and one of my favorite songs. I would do Sting’s “Fragile.” I would do Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.” I would do Brian Ferry’s “Avalon.” I would do “Blackbird.” Yes, I would consider doing a covers album – I think it would be fun to find songs I love and do an album. Maybe that’s not a bad idea.
After Trinity, what would you consider as your next dream projects? Could you kindly give us an idea in broad strokes?
I would really like to do an album of instrumental music with vocals as an added instrument as opposed to a vocal album with lyrics. I’m really into world music and orchestral music and I love Chill and Trance as well. I’m not sure how it will all work just yet, as I am just starting to think about what I would like to do next. I’m planning more trips to Croatia, where I have family, and spending time there always influences me musically. I like bringing the European viewpoint into my music. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have a clue as to what it will be yet but it’s simmering.