Claude is the dream pop project of Chicago singer-songwriter Claudia Ferme, who released her first EP, Enactor, last year. Although the focus of her songwriting has since become more introspective, the collection offered a glimpse into the existentialist bent and evocative character of her music, which has only grown more dynamic and versatile on her debut LP, a lot’s gonna change, out today on American Dreams Records. Bolstered by Michael Mac’s artfully delicate, stirring production, the album foregrounds Ferme’s bracingly honest lyrics, which have a fascinating way of twisting and unfolding to the rhythm of a song: listen to the way she weaves an intricate string of words on ‘roses’, or how loneliness breeds overthinking on the ethereal ‘turn’. There may not be much space for hope in the dark corners of a lot’s gonna change, but Ferme strikes you as the kind of uniquely self-aware and personable writer who’s constantly looking for a new outlet for her overwhelming concerns: casually anxious, bleakly relatable, and ultimately, pretty damn defiant.
We caught up with Claude for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about being a twenty-something, her songwriting approach, a lot’s gonna change, and more.
The title of the album, a lot’s gonna change, is something you might say when you’re at the cusp of a big transition, when you sort of see a storm coming and you don’t know what it’s going to bring. At the same time, you often don’t realize how much change is already going on in the background. Did you find yourself in this kind of situation around the making of the album?
Actually, there’s a Weyes Blood song called ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’, I took inspiration from that. [laughs] Even with that song, it felt really nostalgic, and it feels like a phrase that can encompass positive changes but also negative changes – it can mean a lot of different things, good or bad. When I was writing the songs, it was definitely a big period of growth in my early to mid-20s, getting into situations that felt like patterns – you know, you go through situations and realize that, like, Oh my dod, what’s wrong with me that I keep ending up in this situation? Definitely figuring out who I was, learning a lot from mistakes or from situations I was in.
But it’s funny, I keep thinking about how, even in the past three years, I feel like I’ve gone through things that are even more crazy than when I wrote the album, so it’s interesting to look back on that time. When you’re in it, things feel so hard and they matter so much, and then you get older and you look back and you’re like, Why was I so worried about that? Especially with my songwriting, because I feel sometimes maybe I’m a little bit too honest and too open, it’s funny listening back to things that I write about and then being like, “Maybe I don’t feel that way anymore.”
On ‘twenty something’ from this album, for example, you talk about it feeling like “the ending of something I never had.” It reminded me of ‘Everything’s Great’ from your Enactor EP, where you sing about the world coming to an end. This line has a different weight to it, though, and it feels more personal.
In general, I feel like the EP was a lot more reflecting on the outside world and how I related to it and it related to me, whereas this album feels way more personal. That line was more in regards to, like, relationships you have. But then again, if I think about that song, you can even think about it in terms of being being a twenty something in general – I felt like a lot of my 20s were robbed from me because of COVID; time was robbed from us in the last couple of years. [laughs] It’s funny listening back to certain songs of mine and being like, “This has more weight to it now than I felt like it did when I wrote the songs.”
What weight did ‘twenty something’ hold originally?
This is not very deep at all, but I was, like, in a situationship. It was something that lasted a month. And it’s, again, feeling like when you’re in your 20s, you let people treat you the same way or you go through the same situations. And that situation, it wasn’t even a relationship, so it felt like something I never had. I guess you can apply it to different things relating to my 20s, because you’re also trying out new things – just going through situations that you keep going through because you don’t learn from them, or you’re still trying to figure yourself out, or you want to feel like you have hope in people but you keep getting let down.
Is hard to write about these situations, when you’re still in the process of figuring it out and you don’t have the full picture of what it could be?
I’m not very good at expressing myself through words [laughs], so writing has always been a really good tool of being able to put things down on a page in a concise way that feels me and that feels like I’m describing it in a way that makes sense to me, and to other people, I guess, if they hear it. Every time I write about something, it helps me process, and I feel like sometimes you don’t even realize what’s happening until you write it down and you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s what was happening.” I don’t I don’t think I find it hard to write about, I find it really therapeutic and helpful.
When did you realize that writing had that effect on you?
Since I was a kid, I always loved reading and writing. I had a diary, and I remember writing silly songs when I was a kid here and there. But I started officially writing songs when I was in high school. Even the nature of having a diary as a kid, I think a lot and I always have stuff going on in my brain, so it’s nice to have a time when you can let it out in a way that makes sense and you can visualise, and to make something that’s completely yours and uniquely yours and that shows your point of view in a way that’s specific to you. I’ve always found those kinds of escapes, like reading and writing, really helpful. I’m also a more introverted person and a more quiet person, so any escape like that where I can go into a different world or go into my own world has always been helpful.
Do you have any early musical memories that you can share?
My dad plays guitar, and so I grew up around music. I started playing piano when I was a kid and was in choir in school. I remember seeing – I think I was a sophomore in high school – seeing the movie about the Runaways, the one with Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. I don’t think I had ever seen a band of all women – I didn’t know that existed. I didn’t know it was possible – obviously, I knew about pop stars, but that was me seeing women playing instruments, and they were so young, too, and writing their own songs. And they just looked so cool; the outfits, the makeup.
And then I joined, there’s this thing called School of Rock in Chicago, it’s like a chain of music schools. You can take music lessons, and they also have this program where every three months they do different themed shows. You could sign up for whatever part you played and you would have rehearsals like you were in a band, but there were way more people and then you would perform at venues in Chicago at the end of that. That was my first experience playing a live show. Around that same time, I started writing my own songs on SoundCloud. It’s funny because I’m a really anxious person and performing live terrifies me, but I’ve always been really into fashion and clothing and makeup. And it was this thing of: I can put my own world together. Not necessarily like a persona, but it just felt like something that was very me that I had control over and that I could express myself in a way that was fully on my terms, the way that I envisioned it. It was just always something that brought me a lot of joy.
You’ve said that your songwriting process is pretty intuitive. Can you describe what that feels like or looks like for you in practice?
There have been a couple of songs, like ‘roses’ and ‘Enactor’ from my EP, where I read books and was really inspired by a line in the book or a concept in the book. Both of those are based on things I read, so sometimes it’s that. Sometimes it’s an experience that I had, like the song ‘claustrophobia’ on the album. I lived in this apartment with three other people, and this was like the summer of 2018 or 2019. We had a party at our house and it was like the hottest day of the summer, and I wrote that song while there was a party happening – I locked myself in my room and I was like, “This is too much.” [laughs] And that song is literally about that. So sometimes it’s like that, where something’s happening to me and I need to get it out. Sometimes I’ll be walking or doing something and a line pops into my head.
It’s really hard for me to be like, “Today I’m gonna write a song,” and sit down and write something. It has to be sparked by something. Which, I don’t know if it’s the best way to go, because lately, it’s been really hard to make things for some reason. I know a lot of a lot of songwriters, they make it a point to have a time during the day where they write or get things out. But so far, for me, that’s been my process – it’s more intuitive.
One of my favorite songs on the album is ‘Meet Me’, and I love the dynamic between the verses and the chorus. Can you tell me about coming up with that one?
For that song – I can’t remember what happened around that time that was making me think of this, but I was just thinking about the fact that, even with the people closest to you in your life, like your family members or your closest friends, even though you think you fully know them, you don’t, really. Because when they go off and, like, go to work or you’re not seeing them when they’re interacting with other people that aren’t you or when they’re in situations where you’re not there – you’re not seeing who they are or the things that they’re doing. So, in a way, you just can’t fully know a person. For some reason, I was really taken and obsessed with that idea, and relating it to myself, too; I feel like you can even see it internally when you’re interacting with different people – sometimes you act different ways with different people. And you make yourself small in certain situations, some people make you feel super confident – just that duality of what it’s like to be human and have relationships and the complexities of that. When you’re with a person, that time is completely yours and theirs; when you’re with your friends or whatever, that time is completely with you and them.
What do you mean by that?
I guess that those are the moments where you do know who they are because you’re there and you’re experiencing it. But when they go off, there’s this little part that you’re unaware of. Maybe this says more about me than it says about other people [laughs], but I feel like you’re never really sharing 100% of yourself, because obviously you can’t be that way with everyone that you interact with – you’re holding parts of yourself. But those moments are yours, and that’s the part of the person that you do know.
Can you give me an example of a time where you felt that way, where there wasn’t really any doubt behind that?
I just think about myself when I’m in certain spaces – and again, I guess that’s just the nature of being a human and navigating the world – but just thinking about myself and the way that I interact, even being back in school and, like, not knowing anyone. The fact that I just walk through campus and go to class and sit there and interact that way, but then when I’m with my family, I’m a lot more open and warm. You’re not seeing the way that people move through the world all the time, and there could be things that like you don’t know about. I don’t know if any of this makes sense.
I’m an introvert too, and I feel like for some people, that’s actually pretty comforting, the fact that you can move through the world without people knowing your full self the whole time. But if you’re someone whose internal world seems to take up a lot more space, you can go about these everyday situations and feel like it’s not matching with what’s happening on the outside. It’s not necessarily that you don’t want to be around people, but that you wish that the people you’re around could be their full internal selves more of the time.
Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of that too. And I feel like there are a lot of feelings in that song, too, of not being fully seen or fully understood by people. Because if you can’t be your full self, and if you can’t share the full spectrum of yourself with people, then how are they really going to understand – fully understand who you are? So yeah, there’s definitely a lot of that too. [laughs] You know, just classic overthinking.
I know, it’s getting pretty existential. I don’t know if you can see, but it’s getting dark here too.
Yeah, it’s raining today – well, actually, it was really gloomy and rainy earlier, but now the sun’s coming out, so that’s weird that it’s like the opposite.
I’m just thinking of this in relation to what we were talking about before, in terms of like, going through phases of asking yourself, “Who am I?” I feel like when you’re in your 20s, or for some people it might be at a different stage, but at some point you start taking others more into consideration. So the question becomes, “Who am I to you – with you?” Or just, “Who are you?” And maybe that reckoning becomes less about what your identity is than when you feel more like yourself, and around what kind of people.
Totally, yeah. And I feel like that was a lot of the growth that I went through, too, during that time. Just figuring out exactly who I felt comfortable around, the people that were really bringing out my full self; it doesn’t necessarily always have to be your best self, because I feel like you should be able to be the full spectrum of yourself around people that really care about you. As someone who’s more introverted, I think I’m definitely more guarded, but I sometimes am too honest, and just realizing that you can’t share that much or you can’t be that fully open with people, because not everyone is going to take it in your best interest.
You can kind of get away with that in music, though, right?
Yeah. [laughs] It’s funny, I was cat sitting for a friend of mine, and he had this quote – he also writes music and loves reading – an he had this quote on his wall that was like, “Only write about things that you wouldn’t share with anyone.” It’s like, that’s the way that I write, for sure. [laughs] I feel like there’s the barrier of the fact that, first of all, that you’re putting music to it – you can write a song that’s super dark, but depending on the instrumentation, you can make it deceptively be like a really happy song depending on what you put behind it. But then there’s also the layer of, like, when you put out music. And it’s weird, because I didn’t feel this way with the EP, but I definitely it with the first two singles that I put out. It was almost like post-partum depression. It’s like I’m putting out these things that I worked so hard on, that literally came from inside of me and that I created, and now it’s not mine anymore. So there’s that layer, when you’re releasing music, that it’s almost not yours anymore.
When it comes to this album, there’s a lushness to the production that really enhances that feeling. Were there any reference points sonically that you kept coming back to with your producer, Michael Mac?
Again, even that process felt really intuitive. Basically all of my songs I start out with me on guitar and vocals, so for a lot of the songs on the album that are more produced, it was a lot of back and forth on what feels right. And most of that is thanks to Michael, because he’s incredible. One of my favourite artists right now is Okay Kaya. The production on her songs is really simple, but it holds up the lyrics, because her music is really lyric-based. And my lyrics are some of the most important things on the album, so I always want instrumentation that holds up the lyrics, I don’t ever want it to cloud the lyrics. I want the lyrics to be at the front and centre. I don’t think any of my production sounds like hers, but I’m just really inspired by people like that who are able to have interesting and cool production that’s dynamic, but that also holds up the lyrics.
You said that since you’ve finished writing the album, you feel like there’s a lot more change that has happened in your life. Could you talk about how you feel you’ve grown since then?
Um… [laughs] I was gonna say, I feel like I’ve been hardened by the world. The world feels like a really scary place right now, so it’s been hard to find – sorry if this sounds really dark, but yeah, it’s just been hard to find hope and to find inspiration. I think I’m trying to remember that I’m one person and I can only do so much in my life, and I can only control the way that I interact with people and the way that I interact with the world. I’m trying to remember that the weight of what’s happening around me is not all on my shoulders. [laughs] Which is sometimes hard not to be overwhelmed by.
But I guess I’ve learned that I’m more resilient than I think I am, because obviously, going through those things gives you a new awareness. Even with relationships – like I said, I went through a really bad relationship a couple years back. We were talking about being really cautious about the people that I choose to spend my time with – realizing that our time is really, really valuable, and I only want to spend my time doing things that I feel good about and that I want to do, and spending it with people who I really care about and who deserve my time and attention.
I think feeling hardened by the world is totally normal. I was going to ask you about that part in ‘Everything’s Great’ where you sing about losing the fire, losing the desire, but judging from our conversation and listening to this album, it doesn’t seem like that passion has gone away, which is important.
I’m glad that comes across. [laughs] Because honestly, even just making music in general is really hard. It’s a lot of work, and you need help – it’s a very collaborative process, unless you know how to do everything yourself. And obviously, we don’t really get paid. I think being a creative in general, it’s a really hard thing to go into. But then, as I’m rolling out stuff for the album, I was having a similar conversation with a friend of mine about how doing music feels really hard, and she was giving advice for the album listening party that I have on Friday. And as we were talking, she was like, “Well, as we’re talking, you seem really excited about this.” And I was like, “Yeah.” All of these things still bring me a lot of joy: the creative process of music, bringing people together with these events. I haven’t played a show in a really long time, so practicing with people again, even though it’s really hard, it feels really good. And it feels exciting.
So I’m trying to take in these good moments and remind myself that it’s not all difficult. It can be fun, and it can be exciting. Hopefully, I can apply that, because like I said, I barely practice anymore, I barely write. I’m just trying to remind myself that it doesn’t always have to be this serious thing. That’s why I started making music: because it was a fun thing that I enjoy doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.