After she spent nearly a decade touring, the songwriting process changed out of necessity for Portland musician Kathryn Claire. With limited time to herself, the only way she could work was to collect snippets of her experience and notes on her phone or in her journal, fleshing them out into songs only when she could. “My time for writing, it had to happen in these fits and starts,” Claire says.
A lot of the songs from that time feel like collages, inspired by being away from home and but also returning to the familiar. She’s collected the material in Eastern Bound for Glory, Claire’s fifth solo record. She comes to Eugene supporting her new release Feb. 15 at Tsunami Books.
After catching her breath at home in Portland, Claire turned to producer Steven Lee Tracy to mold her music into what it is: rooted in folk and acoustic styles and belonging beside songwriters like Suzanne Vega and Liz Phair.
Born and raised in Eugene, Claire built her reputation primarily as a side person, playing traditional Irish, folk and Americana music. More than anything, Claire’s latest release shows how much she’s come into her own as a songwriter. “It’s been a big step forward to lean into my own music at this point in my life,” Claire says.
Accompanying Claire on the album are Allen Hunter on bass, Eugene native Sid Ditson on violin, Micah Kassell on drums and Don Henson on piano.
Claire grew up in a musical family, starting violin around age 7 and, later, teaching herself to play guitar. It wasn’t long before she was writing and performing her own songs, which was like a form of journaling for Claire. “I can sing a lot of the songs that I wrote at 19 or 20. I find them endearing,” she says, though some of the melodies are lost.
After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in visual art, Claire pursued music full-time. “This path has just unfolded,” she says.
In addition to the influence of contemporary indie songwriters, Tracy encouraged Claire to bring forth a cinematic quality in Eastern Bound. “He wanted to lean in a bit to this sort of vibey, Spaghetti Western sound,” she says, “which was surprising to me.” She trusted her gut and it paid off.
The theme of travel is best encapsulated by a song sharing the same name as the album. Inspired by driving through eastern Oregon, the song is a meditation on letting go of the past. Claire calls it the fulcrum of the entire work. Elsewhere, “Will of the Flower” touches on themes of depression and Claire’s past struggle with drugs and alcohol.
“I kept finding myself in darkness after many years of traveling and performing and using drugs and alcohol,” Claire says. “I do truly believe that there is this seed that wants to bloom. The last two years for me personally have been about finding ways to let that growth happen again and become healthy and lighter.”
Kathryn Claire celebrates the release of Eastern Bound for Glory 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 15, at Tsunami Books; $15 to $20 sliding scale, all-ages.