In Conversation With: Saint Clair
Musician Emma Topolski has been on the music circuit for some time now first by loaning vocals and her bass guitar skills to prominent bands Bombay Bicycle Club and CHILDCARE. The London-based chanteuse goes by the name of Saint Clair and received acclaim for visuals to her songs Human Touch and I'll Stay. The powerful visuals for I'll Stay sees the musician struggle with her inner demons and follows her battling with her colleagues in the workplace and has been described as "American Psycho meets Fight Club".
Saint Clair returns with EP in the violet hour releasing single goddess to open the project that encapsulates the singer's grief following the loss of her father. The EP visualiser will have 4 chapters that flow together to complete a short film which was a collaboration with her actor-director sister Tamsin Topolski to represent each stage of the grieving process.
We chat to Saint Clair to discuss what life has been like during the lockdown, how she has been helping her community in light of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement and of course her release of in the violet hour.
Hi Saint Clair, it's been said in the music circuit that you ditch 'genre conventions' by your unique blending of genres, how would you describe your sound?
Hey Vingt Sept - hope you’re keeping well. That’s a notoriously tricky question… I use lots of layered vocals, synths, samples and programmed drums alongside real instruments like guitars and pianos and always aim to create something catchy and memorable. I love classic, quite direct pop melody writing infused with more electronic-leaning production and unusual harmony and textures.
Where did the name Saint Clair come from?
Saint Clair was inspired by both my mum’s Scottish ancestry in Sinclair Bay and my French upbringing (‘Clair’ means light in French). Saint Clair felt like a nice fusion of the two.
As a singer, songwriter, and bassist you've been on the scene for quite a while, starting as a backing vocalist (alongside your sister) for Laura Marling, now joining Bombay Bicycle Club (as their new singer), and playing bass for CHILDCARE. How do you manage to fit all of this into your busy life whilst managing your own music career?
Pre-lockdown this was definitely a challenge! But I’m now incredibly grateful to have so many creative outlets keeping me inspired and excited. Practically-speaking, my life as a freelancer has always demanded a certain amount of flexibility to ensure my survival but I think I’ve always been drawn to having multiple projects on the go to flourish creatively too. There will no doubt come a time when everything falls apart!
You were supposed to be touring the USA with Bombay Bicycle Club and releasing your own music earlier than anticipated, however, COVID-19 has pushed everything back, what are the challenges as a musician right now during this pandemic?
On the one hand, it’s been a colossal adjustment but on the other, working from home and trying to motivate myself and structure my days is all too familiar. It’s very disappointing to have exciting plans and opportunities cancelled, especially when building momentum and creating new music can be such hard work. But everyone is in the same boat and despite the tragedy, it’s also a remarkable time of reflection and reprioritising and taking stock of our relationships and common humanity. I just hope the arts don’t collapse under the weight of the crisis and that support is coming our way soon because it’s becoming financially impossible for the industry to stay afloat.
You're returning with EP in the violet hour can you talk us through the process of making the EP and describe what your fans should expect to hear from this project?
in the violet hour is a 4-track visual EP about grief and loss directed by my sister Tam following the loss of our Dad. We’ve been working on the concept for the past year and shot it completely independently in our family home alongside some truly extraordinary creatives. Each of the 4 videos journey through the different stages of the grieving process and those moods and feelings are reflected in the music, like a score.
You seem to take control of the visuals that compliment your music, what involvement do you have in the creative process of your music videos?
As an independent artist, I’ve always been very hands-on, and I find visuals one of the more captivating and expressive ways of communicating my music. With in the violet hour, I knew I wanted to make something with a narrative arc where the visuals take the listener on some kind of journey. My sister - and all-round creative mastermind - Tam and I then developed the treatment together and co-produced the whole project
What advice can you offer on the peaks and pits of the music industry for young aspiring musicians?
The lack of structure and the absence of steady work or income can be very difficult and anxiety-inducing for some people. Not to mention the relentless creative self-doubt and rejection! However, most of us started this career because of a deep, unequivocal passion for music and the community of exceptional people that comes with it and somehow you just make it work. It’s also important to remember that there’s such a variety of work out there from launching a solo project or forming a band, to touring with other artists as a session musician, songwriting, producing, arranging, composing library music or creating sync for ads, playing in function bands or in West End shows etc. I would just get out there and say yes to as much as possible, meet your peers, learn from your mistakes and essentially just keep going.
What is your earliest memory of music and why is it important?
Alternating between my Breakfast in America and Shanks and Bigfoot cassettes which probably signalled the start of my eclectic taste…
You're releasing single goddess this month accompanied by the first chapter visualised, what can fans expect to see?
goddess is chapter 01 of 04 from in the violet hour and presents our character in her grief for the first time. I won’t reveal too much but I will say there’s a metamorphosis and a very, very, very large cake.
You've been very active in your community in light of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, what advice can you offer to those who don't know where to start when trying to help in their own communities?
I set up a mutual aid group in my local borough when the outbreak first began and was amazed to see such an unshakeable community spirit. People came together and sacrificed a lot to support their neighbours in a way I’ve never really seen or felt in London before. Same goes for the solidarity and passion shown globally in the pursuit of racial justice and equality. My advice would be to find grassroots initiatives in your area and to contact them directly; there are so many brilliant organisations and charities doing great work and who need engagement at a local level
goddess is out now
in the violet hour is out later this year
Photography by Sorrel Higgins
Words by Jheanelle Feanny