Chantal Claret: On Fear, Power, and Creation
I had the pleasure of having a little chat with Chantal Claret, ex-frontwoman of early 2000’s band Morningwood, current solo artist, and actress from Love on Netflix. We dove into her experience as a woman in the entertainment industry, talked about how fear mixes with creativity, and touched base on why supporting Planned Parenthood is important to her.
Uma: Before Morningwood, had you always planned on going into music professionally?
Chantal: Before Morningwood, I was in film school at School of Visual Arts in NYC with my heart set on directing. Joining a band came very unexpectedly into my life. I had always sang for fun or written music to be creative for myself but never considered that being the front person of a band was something I could do, because I had never seen anyone who looked like me doing it.
Was it difficult getting started and getting your foot in the door in the music industry?
I wasn’t really thinking about the industry when I started, I was just having a good time and expressing myself creatively with people I thought were cool and had good taste.
I never had an easy time in the industry because of the way I looked, which wasn’t too out of the norm in my opinion, but just enough to be considered different or ‘other’ from what people were used to seeing. At a time when that wasn’t considered a good thing, we were hard for a lot of people to grasp. We were always the underdog, which is where I am used to being, I like it, though, when people have low expectations it is easy to blow them away.
I think the biggest difference now is that when I started, women were being marketed to men. Even if you were empowering and women loved you, if you weren’t considered traditionally ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ then there was no way to market you. I have never been traditionally anything and I wasn’t really singing to men, I was singing to other girls. But now I think music that is made for women by women is marketed to women and diversity in musical styles and people is also encouraged, which is wonderful.
You mention your appearance being a barrier for you in the industry. Do you think women like you would have the same issues now, or do you think that things have changed since then?
Of course women still have the same barriers in music, but not just music— every industry, most definitely in all of entertainment. Until rich white men are no longer the middle men, gatekeepers, and head honchos of most big business, it will be a problem. But there is a glorious cultural shift. The industry is always slow to catch on, but I see a lot of diversity in everything from musical style, gender, size, race, and everything in between, which is fantastic. When the industry (any industry, music included) realizes it can start making money from something, it changes.
You’re very vocal about women’s rights on all of your platforms and you chose Planned Parenthood as the charity you want to endorse. Tell me a little about Planned Parenthood; what do you like about the organization?
I’ve always supported and as well been supported by Planned Parenthood. I used to go to them as a teen in New York. I had an abortion when I was a teenager, and while I didn’t use PP, I advocate for that right for all women. As well as the right to safe medical care beyond abortions. We are living in a time when that right is in jeopardy and
now more than ever it is important to support those causes because they can very quickly disappear. Not allowing women to decide what happens to their own bodies is meant to control them. We have to be vigilant about protecting the institutions that are important to us and Planned Parenthood is one of the most important institutions for underprivileged women in the United States.
One of the messages you send through your music is female empowerment and loving women of all kinds. Is writing and performing your music therapeutic to you in the sense that it empowers you just as much as you would hope it does its listeners?
Honestly, I think my music probably empowers me more than it does other people. I just realized yesterday actually that writing, producing and performing music has given me so much confidence. When I am singing to girls/women in my songs, I am usually singing to myself— things I should remember. I am beyond empowered when I get to make or perform my music and a lot of times I don’t even realize how cathartic the music I am making is until way later.
That’s wonderful. You’ve dabbled in many things other than music— most recently you were part of Love on Netflix! You went to film school and are a fan of comedy. What was it like being on the show?
I am possibly a bigger fan of comedy, movies, and TV than music if that is possible. So getting to be a part of a really funny, cool show with such an amazingly talented cast and crew was beyond a dream come true. It is something I had never even imagined for myself and I had the best time ever. It took me a while to get comfortable and over the initial fear. I had that fear with music too, so I knew that it would take some time for me to to get over my nerves, but I feel like by the last season I got into a groove and was really happy with my work.
I hope I get to do more acting and comedy, but if I don’t I feel beyond lucky that I got to be a part of something so awesome. I didn’t move to Los Angeles with the hopes of becoming an actress, so the fact that I got to do something so unexpected was really such a wonderful treat. I like being an ‘accidental actor’.
Was there a particular reason you did move to Los Angeles?
I got gentrified out of NYC and couldn’t afford to live there anymore so rather than move to a suburb I moved to Los Angeles. Plus my mom had passed away and NY was kind of dead to me; my brother had recently moved to LA and the lighthouse that had once been NYC had shut down and it was a bit of a ghost town. I also really wanted to go swimming. I love swimming in pools. Haha.
I feel like I’ve seen a whole lot of pictures of you and pools, haha. Since Morningwood, you’ve worked on various things with your husband, James, who is also a musician. Do you help each other grow creatively?
I really do love swimming, it is very meditative to me. I think any relationship, good or bad, helps you grow creatively. All interactions fill the recipe box that we pull from as artists. I could be looking at the leaf of a plant, talking to my dog, or having an in depth conversation with a close friend and that can spark something that informs my creativity. So yes, James and I both spark each other creatively.
We both really respect one another’s taste, so we trust each other’s opinions. We both like to make our work better and do well with constructive criticism (as long as it is constructive). Artists with ‘artistic temperaments’ that don’t consider other people’s suggestions let their work suffer from their artist’s ego getting in the way.
There are few things I value more than a good collaboration, even if that means someone having an idea to make something I’m doing better or vice versa. Ideas are meant to be shared and while it is good to protect good ideas, I find that the more ideas you give away, the more ideas come to you. The well doesn’t run dry like people fear. Sorry, I sort of got sidetracked, what was this question about? Haha.
Talking about nerves, how did you deal with the initial fear and anxiety of starting something new?
I have tremendous amount of anxiety in my personal life, I always have, I just didn’t really recognize what it was. I’ve spent the past few years really diving in and focusing on how to properly manage it because my old ways of coping were not working for me anymore. I work very hard to manage it with meditation, therapy, and exercise. When I’m doing all of those things diligently I feel so much better. That is easier said than done, though.
Because being anxious tends to be my baseline, I know that doing new things will make it flare up so I now to be on the lookout for that. I also know that the only way to get through my fear is literally that, to go through it. I do not let my fear stop me from doing things I want to do because otherwise I would never do anything since I am always afraid. So I am kind of grateful for my anxiety, it forced me to conquer my fears because I have so many of them and if I didn’t I would never leave my house.
At this point in your life, you’ve been through and experienced a lot. What would you have to say to any young creative mind out there trying to find their place in the world?
To quote Pena Chodron, “fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth”. So my advice is to walk through your fear. Everyone is scared of being vulnerable and “sucking” at some point, especially when beginning. It is your vulnerability that will allow you to create great art, and ultimately will be your biggest strength. And it doesn’t even have to be great. Just create. Creating doesn’t have to be for other people or to make you rich, famous, or popular. It doesn’t even have to be good, you have to be willing to suck in order to get to something good. Most never even get to that point, and that’s okay too. Everyone sucks at some point or another, don’t let that stop you from creating; the act of creating is the greatest contribution to the world you can make even if it is only to make you a more content person. It doesn’t have to be for anyone but yourself.