Defying stereotypes: Seattle folk singer Claire Michelle on life, music and not giving in to fear

Read the article on Seattle Gay News

by Sara Michelle Fetters SGN A&E Writer

Sitting down with Seattle singer-songwriter Claire Michelle one is immediately struck by her cheery lack of artifice. The 23-year-old musician is exactly who she appears to be, no more, and certainly no less, exuding a quiet, subtly enchanting confidence that’s moderately surprising. “I’ve never really been influenced by my parent’s generation of music,” she admits candidly. “There was just never anyone they were listening to that I responded to. I guess, in a way, that allowed me to forge my own path.”

A main stage performer during tonight’s Trans Pride event at Cal Anderson Park, I met up with the young singer earlier in the week at Pacific Place to talk about her music, her blossoming career and whatever else might be on her mind, other musicians that helped influence her Folk-Pop-Rock style just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. “Growing up, I never really found another artist that I liked, someone who spoke to me, but then my piano teacher told me that they thought I might like Coldplay,” Michelle muses. “I basically listened to them for like three years straight before I found other musicians and artists who I responded to.”

“I heard The Tallest Man on Earth and, I think, he might have been the person that made me realize that songwriting could happen for me. That I could write songs that meant something to me personally. The stuff he was writing about was just so personal to him and I responded to that. From there, I found another artist that I really, really admire, The Milk Carton Kids, and it was the same thing. Their music just felt so personal. Those were the two, though, that really helped me feel that, helped spur that songwriting instinct.”

“Not that I can say my songwriting is really influenced by anyone else,” she says with a merry, almost embarrassed chuckle. “My situation is a little bit unique, I think, after all. But, long story short, I was in college and my roommate at the time, who was a songwriter, actually started pushing me to write my own songs. After I brought one to him, he then told me to go out and perform it at a local open mic event. So I did. And I got good feedback. So I just kept writing and performing. And here we are now.”

All of which was positive, but none of which led Michelle to think what she was doing in her spare time had the potential to lead to a career. But somewhere along the way the worm turned “I realized what I was writing wasn’t terrible,” she says without artifice. “I think, as an artist, there is that moment where you realize what you’re creating has value. Where you realize that you can actually do this. That was an eye-opening moment.”

Not that it’s always been easy. “I get into ruts,” admits Michelle. “I know that happens to every artist, but those blocks can be pretty trying. I learned a trick, though. I went to Reddit and entered into some collaborations with some of the posters where I wrote the music to some of their poetry. Kind of meshed their words and my compositions together.”

“That actually opened up a whole slew of doors. I would take ideas from these poems and find myself inspired to write songs inspired by them that were based on my own experiences. I get into a rut or a get blocked, I find these other artists. What are they writing about? What are they singing about? I realize that I’ve had similar experiences and suddenly the ideas just start to flow.”

A student at Central Michigan University, Michelle made the decision to leave school and pursue her artistic passions, which go far beyond music and extend into the realmof photography and marketing, making the long trek to Seattle in October of 2014. Two months after arriving, she got word her father had passed away, and this forced the musician to take a long, hard look at her life. “That pushed me to get my emotions out,” she says, “and, obviously, the only way I know how to do that is through music. One of the things I realized was, when I was starting to transition, I felt like I was willing to give music up. My dad’s death, it pushed me to write again. I went and played an open mic with a friend and, once again, I had that realization that I could do this, that I didn’t need to be afraid of being who I am while also performing my music.”

“Granted, I moved to Seattle to be me. Maybe I shouldn’t have been fearful. One of the things I kept telling myself while I was driving here was that I was starting new. I told myself I could be anyone that I wanted. So, it is interesting that the fear, that I didn’t want to be seen as a novelty, did stick with me. But I’ve always been one who is willing to jump off the cliff. I push my fears aside and hope that it works. I guess that moment, going out to that open mic and performing as a Trans woman right after my father had died, was maybe the first time I did just that in such a big way. I mean, the things I do now are sometimes scary, but I don’t think I have anything that compares to stepping up on that stage right at that moment.”

“Maybe making the decision to drive cross-country to Seattle,” she says with a laugh. “That was a pretty big decision. Without knowing anybody or knowing what would happen? That’s pretty big, too.”

I ask Michelle about stereotypes, about whether she worries if she’ll fall into them or if others, both inside and outside of the Transgender community, judge her based on their perceptions of them. “I don’t worry about stereotypes,” she states unequivocally. “I was walking down the street today coming back from a coffee shop that I tend to frequent, and I felt more like a guy than I did a girl. But, then there are the other days where I feel very much Trans. And, of course, there are those other days where I feel very much feminine, just a regular girl out for a walk. I guess I don’t feel stereotyped, or that I have to live up to some stereotype, because I’m living how I want to. That’s all. That’s what matters.”

“I guess my goal with my music is to give people who are outside of the realm, who are maybe even outside of any LGBTQ issues, whatever that means, and have them relate to something inside of it. Hopefully, there is something inside of my music that clicks for them, something that gets them to think that this Trans person is singing about something they have experienced. I hate to say it this way but I honestly haven’t found a better way to say it, but I want to help Trans-identified people become a normal part of society. Free of those stereotypes. You’re normal. I’m normal. They’re normal. We’re not zoo animals. I feel like, through art, you can do a lot to erase those perceptions, and do hope my music can be a catalyst for that sort of change whether listeners are Gay, straight, Transgender or whatever, that people will hopefully appreciate the art without even knowing the person who is behind it.”

Claire Michelle’s latest EP “Out of the Shadows” is available for purchase online at the artist’s website www.clairemichellemusic.com. She’ll be having an album release party and performance at the Skylark at 3803 Delridge Way SW on July 2 at 9pm.