Published on November 20th, 2012 | by PRESENCE0
Without Veil Or Vanity
Over email before our interview, Claire Duncan told me to look out for a scowling person with unwashed hair. I was mildly disappointed when neither turned up.
Duncan was onto her second ramekin of olives for the day by the time we sat down. The woman behind Dear Time’s Waste is a self-prescribed textbook artist, accused of being wanky – she refuses to say by which journo. Her nine-to-five workday is spent at Auckland’s Time Out Bookstore, and despite claiming to be the slowest reader ever, she says she enjoys selling books to the “older, rich, bored people of Mount Eden”. Perhaps she picks up on “top tips and rules for the everyday alternative artist” in between selling yet another copy of waffle-waffle or fluffy marshmallow for the masses.
Without veil or vanity, Duncan describes her music as the marriage of free-floating strands, aural and otherwise, which enable the body of her work to function as a whole.
In hindsight, less wine and more philosophy probably would have been a better option before meeting Duncan. Drawn to things she can’t figure out, we spend the next ninety minutes defining unfathomable ideas, and how it really is possible to convey abstract concepts in a concrete and somewhat structured way. She’s adamant that her album, Some Kind of Eden, seeks to capture such wisdom and question reality. I can’t argue with that.
Duncan says she has no real interest in playing the tall poppy trick in the industry arena and maintains the market is far too small for the snobbery and one-upmanship that readily occurs. Her drive lies in a long-term music career that is sustainable, both mentally and emotionally, which she somewhat fondly describes as “playing the Me game”.
Her lyrics soak up her spoken intellect seamlessly and it’s easy to get selfish, as the tracks come across as though they’ve been written just for you. For those unfamiliar or obsessed with pigeonholing into genres, her music is a blend of folk and alternative rock, which she masters delightfully with a touch of honey and chalk.
Overall, the 10 tracks on Some Kind of Eden are short in length, yet appropriately so. The Eden Terrace artist sings with eloquence and depth on ‘Heavy/High’. Mulling over notable experiences, the listener is led down the garden path and into Duncan’s world. The electronic beats create a healthy contrast to the vocals and pull you out of your daydream.
Bruised heart aside, ‘Fortune’ just makes you swoon for the sake of swooning. With buttery goodness, you melt into Duncan’s superbly hollow, somewhat haunting vocals that linger on all the right notes. This music lends itself to a very mellow live performance, but nonetheless delightful and welcoming of a heavy-lidded sway.
I could write on and on about Some Kind of Eden. Bugger it: just buy the album and support the artist. It’s brilliant.
Duncan spent last summer holed up in a makeshift studio on Queen Street producing Some Kind of Eden. While she says little about the actual recording and her process, she theatrically describes the old caretaker in the building who kept mistaking her for a squatter. A warm soul, Duncan enjoys sharing her stories – both on and off the record.
Literature plays a significant role in Duncan’s musical journey, and her website quotes the following:
The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.
– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The future is often unknown, but some things are certain – yes, music will be the main driver in Claire Duncan’s life. But in the meantime, Ponsonby Food Court is beckoning.
Article by Olivia Young
Photography by Lia Kent Mackillop