Janelle Borg January 17, 2020
Singer-songwriter Claire Tonna pushes herself more than ever in 2020
Photographer: Kim Sammut
Claire Tonna‘s music definitely strikes an emotional chord with anyone who listens to it. After winning a prestigious songwriting competition in Italy, Tonna is gearing up to indulge in a year full of music and collaborations. Trackage Scheme caught up with the artist to discuss her inspirations, her music and her upcoming projects.
Growing up, who or what influenced your taste in music?
I grew up watching my own father playing the accordion and performing humbly on his own in his garage and on some occasions, with other musicians. This was definitely my first call to indulge in the expression of music. I remember doing pretend radio shows as a child, tape recording my self doing voices: being the presenter and the singer, and the advert voice.
I used the radio show as a way to make my brothers laugh and to play on my own and with my siblings. Since I come from a very working-class background, we never had CD players or any other outlet to play music except for the radio, and it was the era before the internet.
I have memories of listening to underground 80s music on different radio programmes which I loved and still find rooted in me. My taste in music evolved since then; the more I grew, the more I found myself drawn to less cliche music and rather dwelled more in the rawness and realness of songwriters and honest creators such as Nina Simone and Patti Smith, and all of those that say things because if not, they die or end up in a psychiatry ward (basically).
In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of being a solo artist?
God, I wished you asked me something more intimate! Hehe.
So…though I sing and perform my own experiences and expression, I really never deliver or share the songs and their process on my own or just ‘solo’. Some of my strongest songs are in fact collaborations with great writers, and I always compose the song arrangements with musicians that I perceive as organs inside my body.
I have a deep connection with the people I work with, so really, I never feel ‘single’ or ‘solo’ in this endeavour. I do what I do because of the message I need to hear and deliver, so it is a great luxury to have people in synch with the message and with me on board sharing it through emotion/sound.
The material I write and perform is a need – the most honest reflection of the deepest place in me and having people with the same depth collaborating with me and playing with me is indeed a rare perfection and an unshakable prestige. It’s perfection and luxury beyond pros and cons really; i work in this manner because it is my way of doing it best for the listeners and me. It’s like preparing a meal you want to taste and share and you get favourite people to prepare it with you since they happened to be passionate chefs too! Xi trid aktar!
How does travel influence your songwriting?
I write what I need to hear to have some peace in my head and with humanity in general, the experiences of unbearable situations and glory happen everywhere you live.
Though I lived in different countries around the globe, I’m a pretty much a reluctant traveller. I often stayed in the same place (be it a rooftop in Morocco or a forest in New Zealand), so travel in itself doesn’t really influence my songwriting.
The encounters and depth inspire me as well as the intimacy I experience with life and death wherever I am; be it a mental break down or an ecstatic experience that life brings. The chaos and the silence that accompany all of us in the world we live in and how we manage to live in harmony with them is what actually births the need for my songwriting, that is its inspiration and purpose.
You’ve recently won a songwriting competition in Italy, with a prize that includes a workshop at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. How did this opportunity come about, and what are your thoughts after winning such an award?
A couple of months ago, I saw an advert for the 12th edition of Tour Music Fest (an organisation that collaborates with Sony and Berklee college). It had some really good rewards for upcoming artists from all over the globe. 22,000 artists participated.
It was the first time I applied for this type of competition. After winning the final in Malta, I went to Rome in December for the European final. I found myself amongst other genuine artists and really authentic people. I was surprised with the whole experience performing in front of Mogol and Bonnie Hayes, who had produced Cher and Billy Idol, and other internationally-acclaimed producers and leading people in the music industry.
The musicians accompanying me did a fantastic job when it came to interpreting ‘Your Mother Said’, one of my earliest songs, which led me to win my category and the title of ‘Best European Singer-songwriter 2019’.
This has been an unexpected thrill really, and am so happy to have represented malta and won this prestigious award. In June, I’m off to Boston to collaborate with other songwriters and producers under the direction of Bonnie Hayes herself.
Are there any music-related plans in the pipeline?
Recording my long-awaited coming album…which holds the testament of what kept me alive in recent years. 2020 appears to be a blast.
I’ve got some performances abroad, more collaborations in the arts and of course Boston…with all of this, what can I say? The pipeline is more like a river, and I am grateful to be part of it with its awakening moving current ready to reach all its potential, where humanity is no longer scared to feel its mind and heart.