Clara Venice is having a lot of fun these days. The busy Canadian singer/songwriter recently released an EP, Love Riddle, and will kick off a tour with the Barenaked Ladies in January. Did I mention she also plays the theremin? (and ukulele, and guitar, and omnichord, and electric violin)
Like Clara herself, Love Riddle is a fun mix of surprises. Each track on the album makes use of the theremin differently. On the title track, for example, she plays two theremin parts; one with a gated effect using Ableton Live's auto pan, and a second that serves as a pad, thickened up with reverb and delay. My personal favorite is track 4, Confetti, in which Clara combines her breathy vocals (which are just as easily imaginable in a smoky jazz club in France) with three layered theremins and a string section. It's just a beautiful song. "I tried to use it as a magical second voice", she told me, and she's succeeded.
Love Riddle is available as a digital download or as a wearable USB thumb drive. The USB version also contains art by Nathan Jurevicius (creator of Scarygirl), Alex McLeod, Ken Ogawa, and Luke Painter, each inspired by a different track on the EP.
Visit ClaraVenice.com to hear her music, find tour dates, and more.
Clara graciously took some time from her busy schedule recently to talk to us a bit about her music, her style, the theremin, and what's next.
TW: How did you choose the theremin?
CV: I don't feel that I chose the theremin so much as the theremin chose me. For some reason I just felt like I could play it, that somehow I understood it. My friend told me that they had one on display at the Moog store here in Toronto, so the next day I went in and asked whether I could try it to out see if it was "intuitive" to me. The guys who worked there all laughed since it isn't very intuitive to most people, but as soon as I turned it on I was already able to play scales! So I took it home, and we've been together ever since.
Also, since Clara Rockmore is Queen of theremin, being named Clara as well maybe it's fate? Like her, I also trained classically on the violin since I was a child.
TW: When did you first start playing the theremin?
CV: I started playing the theremin in 2008.
TW: Many musicians simply use the theremin as a novelty, whereas you have chosen to make it a key part of your melodies. How has it helped shape your musical identity?
CV: As a life-long vocalist and violinist, melody has always been key to my life as a musician. Not coincidentally, my training in classical voice and violin both prepared me for the theremin, as techniques from both can be applied to the theremin in order to treat it as a real instrument rather than an atmospheric or sound effect.
The theremin is my second voice, it's my partner on stage and in the studio. But because the theremin does not sing in words, it expresses itself instead through melody and tone, and it is extremely versatile in terms of how it can be used. I tend to put it through a lot of different effects in order to achieve many moods and that variation really enables me to use it in pretty much all my songs in very different ways. By varying its expressions, colours and sounds, I can use it as a guitar solo, a horn sound, a keyboard, a voice, etc. and it remains fresh and interesting. The theremin is of course also a very challenging instrument to play, and I love that it keeps me on my toes.
The other aspect to being a performing thereminist is the way that audiences respond both to the instrument itself, and to me playing the instrument. At first glance, playing the theremin is a beautiful act, it's like a haunting dance which is quite electrifying and unusual. But also, I often feel that these days, living in a fact-based world where we can find explanations for everything, that when people encounter the theremin at one of my shows it's like this magical thing that is just endlessly fascinating. When I start to play it, people crowd around and try to figure out how that sound is being produced and where it is coming from - often they think that it's a trick, or that it's an illusion. I think that a little bit of mystery is important in life, and I love how the theremin is able to communicate that. Even though I've been playing it for five years and have even built one, I'm constantly amazed and awed by how truly unbelievable it is to make music out of thin air.
Ultimately, I make pop music, and my goal for the theremin is to really bring it into the mainstream and introduce it to new audiences not as a relic of the past, but as what to this day is the most beautiful and exciting musical instrument ever invented. I'd like to be the first theremin pop star.
TW: You have a quirky/fun sense of style. Does the theremin enhance that or take away from it?
CV: Yes, I love playing with my style - it's almost as fun as playing with my theremin! That's an interesting question, I've never really thought about it. I guess that my style makes me stand out, and the theremin makes me stand out even more, so maybe it enhances it in that way. Also, I like the fact that a lot of people have never heard of the theremin since it still feels like I'm doing something pretty new and unique, but sometimes when people are unfamiliar with it, the theremin sounds a little strange. So I think that combining it with a playful sense of style helps draw in some fans that might be intimidated by the theremin itself. So I think those two aspects of my project really work together.
TW: Have you tried any other theremin models? What's your favorite and why?
CV: Yes, I've tried several theremin models. I started out with a Moog Etherwave, and was in Berlin to do a concert with it a few years ago but had the wrong adapter and it blew up (!) so I had to scramble to replace it before my show. I ended up with three different theremins, two of which were home made and the other was a European model (can't remember the name) - but I didn't like any of them nearly as much as the Moog. I also recently built a very cute mini theremin (the video is up on my website) which was very fun to make but sounds like a crying baby! Now I play the Moog Etherwave Plus which I LOVE since it has two separate audio outputs that I can use for monitoring on stage, as well as some cool gate functions that you can use to control other instruments. It's also really solid and travels well, it's easy to tune and the sound is really consistent. My dream is to get my hands on a TVox Tour, but seems like they're super rare.
TW: Does the world need more theremin players?
CV: I don't think we need more players using it as a sound effect because the instrument has the potential to do so much more - but yes, wouldn't it be great to see theremin lessons in conservatories, as an option to piano or violin lessons?! In the mean time, I'd say that what the world really needs is more theremin fans.
TW: You're currently a one-person show. Have you considered collaborating with other musicians? Would you continue using the theremin in that setting?
CV: Well the process of doing the EP has been really wonderful for me as I've gotten the opportunity to have so many talented musicians collaborate with me on the tracks in the studio. Now that I've had that experience, I'd definitely like to bring some of that energy to some live shows in the future. There are also a lot of artists and bands that I would love to collaborate with - my dream would be to play theremin for Bjork or Radiohead or David Bowie, who are my huge musical inspirations for me. And YES, I will always continue to use the theremin, it has really become a part of me and my act and we're deeply committed to one another for life.
TW: What's next for you?
CV: Now that I've released my first EP I'm incredibly excited for my first tour - beginning January 15th I will be opening across Canada for the Barenaked Ladies! They've never had a thereminist open for them before, so I'm really proud to be the first. And I am incredibly lucky to be playing in some of the most beautiful venues in the country, supporting such an iconic musical act - this really is a dream come true. After touring I can't wait to get back into the studio and record some more. I've written dozens more songs that I would have loved to put on the EP, it was so hard to choose only four! So my next goal is to make a full-length album, do a video or two, collaborate with more musicians and artists, and continue to perform at every chance I get.