Kristin McClement is a songwriter and singer, originally from South Africa, now living in Brighton. Having started out playing alongside members of Peggy Sue, she’s recently recorded an album of haunting folk tunes with help from The Leisure Society. Her debut album, ‘The Wild Grips’, was released last month on Willkommen Records.
How did you end up in Brighton?
I was born in a city called East London on the southeast coast of South Africa (potentially confusing I know!). We moved around a lot when I was young but eventually settled in a suburb north of Durban in SA. When I was thirteen my family and I made the biggest move yet to Kent in England. I came to university in Brighton and after some post-uni travelling I returned to Brighton to settle here.
When did you start playing music?
We had a vegetable patch next to our house when we lived near Durban, it was very neatly laid out in a gird formation with rows of carrots, beans, lettuce etc. I remember walking along the sunken pathways singing made-up songs to myself. I must have been seven or eight. I started learning the piano when I was ten, and I remember instinctively making up simple instrumental songs. It was a few years later, after moving to England, that I picked up my first guitar. I opted to learn blues, folk and jazz tunes which opened a whole new world of fingerpicking styles and chord progressions.
When did the songs for the new album start to emerge?
I self-released a home recorded EP in 2009. Three songs from the EP became part of the live show with my then bandmates and great friends – cellist Becca Mears and drummer Thomas Heather. The songs were originally quite simple recordings but were transformed when played with the band. At the time it made sense to re-record the songs with their new arrangements. I wrote the foundations for the other songs on the album as we continued to play together.
Some of the songs have been around for a while haven’t they? Which is the oldest song on the album?
We started recording in 2010, at the time the songs didn’t feel old, but they are now I guess. But perhaps only to the people who have heard of me… we didn’t expect such a long gestation period for the album! I have continued to write and play new songs live, the new album is the (belated) first chapter.
And which is the newest?
It’s hard to say. Let’s keep it a mystery.
It must be great being part of the Willkommen family, having all these awesome musicians to call upon. Who else is on the album?
The Willkommen Collective took me under it’s wing after I first started playing in Brighton. They are a great bunch of people and are a source of endless inspiration. Marcus Hamblett who runs Willkommen Records has been very supportive and helpful. It’s great to work with someone so genuinely passionate about music.
Who else is on the album: Becca Mears and Tom Heather (who now play in the excellent Eyes & No Eyes) – we met at art school and their unorthodox ideas and approaches are a core element of the album. Christian Hardy from The Leisure Society, who produced the album, also had a big influence on the sound. He and I both contributed piano parts, and he also played bass guitar and backing vocals, but the electronic sounds in particular add another dimension to the original song arrangements.
A host of musical friends can be heard on the record. From Christopher Cundy (Guillemots, Cold Specks), Emma Kraemer (The Mariner’s Children), Mike Siddell and Helen Whitaker (The Leisure Society) to Marcus Hamblett and Danny Green (Laish). They all added their own magic!
How has having Jools in the band affected your songwriting? Where did you two meet?
Marcus Hamblett had an idea for a compilation called ‘Foxswap’, where Willkommers covered each other’s songs. I decided to cover ‘Dust Disturbed’ by Eyes & No Eyes and was looking for a drummer for the recording. I remember seeing Jools around at gigs and when I asked him, he was happy to be involved. We realised that we shared many similar influences and got on very well – and from then on it felt right to keep working together. Jools is a great inspiration. It’s hard to put into words how he has affected my songwriting. Let’s just say that he’s opened many doors by offering his brilliant, textured drumming, harmonium and beautiful voice to my songs.
And Christian Hardy producing. How did that come about?
Again, through a cover! I recorded ‘A Fighting Chance’ for an album of The Leisure Society covers called “Willkommen Covers The Sleeper”. Myself, Tom and Becca met Christian in person soon after and I think we all felt that we wanted to work with each other. And I’m very glad we did! All the TLC he gave to us and the album is a great gift.
We want to ask you about the inspiration for your lyrics. They seem more like poetry than song.
This may be because I read more poems than novels. Ted Hughes, Pablo Neruda and more recently Mark Haddon are amongst some of my favourites. I’m aware that some of my words may seem abstract or loose in meaning. So much of my writing stems from my subconscious, expressed in such a personal way that it may take time to decipher, just like a poem. You don’t always understand a poem the first time you read it.
So what’s next for Kristin McClement?
I’ve just played two album launch shows, in Brighton and in London, both in churches. I look forward to welcoming spring with open arms now, changing my guitar strings, touring the UK and Europe with Jools, drinking more tea and philosophising about the complex world we live in and how we can help those in need, eating less sugar, worrying about climate change, starting to record album no. 2!
‘The Wild Grips’ is available from Willkommen Records.
Interview and photo by Jon Southcoasting