Why We Can’t Let Go of Clair Marlo

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The 2013 mega viral hit was popularized by this film.

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.

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The Singer-Songwriter as Earth Angel

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.”

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An Audiophile Must Have

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.

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Master Engineer Doug Sax

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Music Producer Bill Schnee

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.)

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Records and Recordings Moderator Philip Chua

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.

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Jeff Porcaro of Toto

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Axeman Dean Parks

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Leland Sklar on bass

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Percussionist Luis Conte

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.

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The Cisco reissue featured 3 new tracks.

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.

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Her sophomore album

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.

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An album you can’t let go of

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.

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Clair Marlo circa 2015

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.

One Route to the NYC Marathon

Sharing a variant of my September blog which was featured in Takbo.PH. This was originally posted in this blog site  as “Dreaming Big.” To be sure, it is by no means the only route to the New York City Marathon. But it sure is something one can concretely work towards eventually achieving.

http://www.takbo.ph/2015/09/how-to-join-the-new-york-city-marathon/

My thanks to Que Aspan-Sullano for the  privilege and opportunity. Takbo.PH proved to be a helpful resource when I first started out running. It still is for anything related to running in the Philippines.

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Dreaming Big

“Ah, but a man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what is a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

Growing up, I would often hear my elders say, “Mangangarap ka na rin lang, taasan mo na.” (i.e., if you’re going to dream, might as well dream big.”) It is by no means original as there are variants of this compelling advice  in Norman Vincent Peale’s “Shoot for the moon. If you miss it, you will still land among the stars.” Back in the 70s, I remember being fascinated by the implication of that iconic Air Force bumper sticker  that read: “Aim High.”

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The ultimate blessing a runner could ever ask for

For most Filipinos who get hooked by the sport of running, the preceding easily translates to completing one’s first 5km race and ultimately, one’s first 42.195 km full marathon. Beyond these exhilarating milestones, the proverbial prospect of completing more marathons within one’s lifetime beckons. In this regard, an avid runner could not ask for a better benediction than classic rocker Neil Young’s “Long may you run.”  Of course, there is always the triathlon for those who are intrigued to find out how far the endurance that marathons facilitate could take them. Further beyond lies the ultramarathon. But what is perhaps in the bucket list of most Filipino runners who have completed their share of marathons locally would be the prospect of finishing the 6 World Marathons: Berlin, London, Tokyo, Boston, Chicago, and New York.

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Bucket List Classic (Photo courtesy of the NYRR)

The New York City  Marathon is quite possibly the most popular and the biggest international marathon event today. Organized by the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and sponsored by the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), The New York City Marathon is more accurately known globally as the TCS New York City Marathon. Until 2014, it used to be known as the ING New York City Marathon. This annual marathon event which passes through the five boroughs of New York City currently attracts over 50,000 runners every year. It is precisely due to its popularity that participation is largely determined by a lottery system.

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Our local version of the NYC Marathon (Photo owned by Condura Skyway Marathon)

It is interesting to note that locally, this event was what gave birth to the now-famous Condura Skyway Marathon. Life-long marathoner and Condura Skyway organizer Patrick Concepcion shares that “I remember being so overwhelmed with pride and joy, a feeling that I wanted to share with people back home. Telling them about my experience was not good enough; they had to experience it for themselves. So on that cold autumn afternoon in Central Park I got the idea to have a Philippine version of the New York Marathon and thus was born the Condura Run.” (“Run, Tycoon, Run” by Tanya T. Lara, Philippine Star, March 29, 2009)

Thanks to the global phenomenon of budget fares, flying to the different parts of the globe is no longer beyond the reach of average Filipinos. Various budget fare promos by local airlines now allow middle-class Pinoys to save up for travel to North America and Europe, New York City included.

In the main, the more challenging part of getting into the New York City Marathon is the lottery system. How exactly does one join this lottery given that one is based in the Philippines? Further compounding the problem is the question: what are the chances of actually winning a slot in the NYC Marathon?

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Athletes’ Journey call to action

Thankfully, there is a company called Athletes’ Journey which could solve this problem for local Filipino marathoners aspiring to join the NYC Marathon. Founded by marathoner, Iron Man triathlete and sports and life coach David Tay of Singapore who is ably assisted by his business partner Sven Hobbie, Athletes’ Journey specializes in facilitating guaranteed entry into the NYC Marathon. More to the point, this company actually provides a complete tour package as an official International Tour Partner (ITP) of the NYC Marathon. The tour package comes “complete with the race entry, accommodation, marathon eve pasta dinner, transport to the start line and on-site host(s) to advise and guide you on all matters with regard to the marathon.”

It is noteworthy that the Philippines has no ITP for the NYC Marathon. Hence, Athletes’ Journey which services Singapore-based runners is allowed to market and sell their packages here given the growing demand from runners in the Philippines. They are also the official ITP in Singapore for the Berlin Marathon which has a 6-hour 30-minute finisher’s cut-off time and the Tokyo Marathon which has a 7- hour finisher’s cut-off time. The cut-off time for the NYC Marathon is 7 hours 30 minutes.

They recently flew in to Manila to meet their Filipino clients and they were gracious enough to accommodate this aspiring marathoner’s request for an interview. Highlights of the interview follow.

1. Why and when did you put up your company?

My partner Sven was the initiator of this concept as he noticed that there was no company in Singapore that was providing such a service (i.e., tour packages to the marathon majors overseas) for the runners here, so he approached me to see if I was keen on setting up a company with him to serve this niche market. Intuitively, I felt it was something I would love to do as I have always been keen on organizing trips and camps for people overseas. In fact, I was already arranging such trips for my friends and for the athletes I’m coaching. And since it felt right, I jumped in without hesitation.

We registered the company in June 2012, and applied for the travel agent license by the end of the year. From 2013 onwards we were operational as a legal entity for these customized tours.

We started small with a couple of marathon majors (i.e., Berlin and Chicago in 2013), and like most start-ups, we incurred losses with Chicago and hardly broke even with Berlin. However, we were determined to make it work even if we were doing this on the side as we have our other work commitments. We stayed focused, despite the challenges we faced.

2. How many NYC marathoners have you assisted thus far to complete their races internationally? How many from the Philippines?

Starting with our 2014 maiden journey to the NYC Marathon to date around 60 runners. Though the numbers may be smaller compared to the more established and larger companies in other bigger countries, we intend to grow over the years. In the meantime, our focus is to ensure our runners have a great time with us on these journeys, and at the same time, discover more of themselves and life through these experiences overseas.

Last year, we did not have any runners from the Philippines but this year there are about 10 of them going with us to New York City for the marathon.

The people in the photos I’m sharing with you are going to the Berlin Marathon while another group is going to the New York City Marathon. Note that not everyone who already confirmed are in the pictures.

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With some of their Manila-based clients

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Taken in late August 2015

3. What keeps you going? What drives your team?

I would say passion would be one of the key factors that keeps us going. We aspire not just to be another travel agency. Rather, we seek to be known as a team of individuals who share a similar interest in this sport (and other adventure races), fellow runners who are sincere about sharing such experiences with our clients. Personally, I have completed 27 full marathons including the 6 marathon majors in Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo. Sven has done more than 10 marathons himself. Also, meeting more people in the running community (regionally and internationally) and making new friends are definite pluses.

Besides the excitement and enjoyment that the runners will get from these experiences, we believe that these tours/trips are also learning journeys for them to discover more of themselves and life itself.

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Athletes’ Journey runners from the Philippines and Singapore at the Berlin Marathon

4. What are the usual challenges faced by those traveling to the NYC marathon for the first time? How does your company handle such?

For first-timers to the NYC Marathon, the key challenges are usually adapting to a different time zone and shaking off the jet lag after the long hours of travel – especially so for all our runners who live in Southeast Asia. The other factor is the weather as we come from a mostly tropical climate, and the NYC Marathon is held during autumn with a temperature range of 3-4 degrees Celsius to 12-15 degrees Celsius. Last year, the temperature dropped to about 1-2 degrees because of the cold winds at the start.

As we have done the NYC Marathon a few times, we are familiar with the weather conditions and though we can never be certain what the actual weather will be like, we spend the time with our runners prior to the trip to prepare them psychologically for the race. Also, the NYC Marathon race course is quite challenging due to the undulating terrain (i.e., bridges and hills.) So we will advise them to include runs on hills during their preparations.

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Ultimate Runner Destination (Photo courtesy of the NYRR)

These face-to-face briefings and gatherings are organized to give our runners a better feel of what to expect during the trip. Though we can always provide the information via emails, we feel that this way of doing it (i.e., being present and providing a face to all the correspondences and sales/marketing), makes the trip extra special for them as they will know that they will not be traveling with an unknown agent but with someone whom they can trust for advice and guidance during these trips.

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“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. New York, New York!” (Photo courtesy of the NYRR)

5. What is a realistic amount to save up for the whole experience inclusive of air fare? Is $ 3,000 an accurate figure?

For the NYC Marathon, we do not include flights as many of our runners prefer to choose their own airlines and travel according to their own schedule; the most basic package for a 4D3N for a runner is Sin$3,400/pax (single occupancy) and Sin$2,500/pax (twin share room – either with another runner or with a non-runner companion.) However, as NYC is quite a distance away and we will probably be on the plane for more than 22-24 hours, we would usually suggest that the runner give himself at least 3 nights prior to the marathon to adjust to the time zone and to shake off the jet lag. So for runners from Southeast Asia, I would say that the best option is the 5D4N or 6D5N packages.