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Callan Alexander, professionally known as cln, released his latest single, “Breathe,” this past Friday on NEST, offering a raw and emotional experience thanks to a convergence of tranquil chords and Callan’s own impassioned vocals. Everything on “Breathe” was made from scratch — no presets or samples — which allowed the indie-leaning record to expose the most personal corners of cln’s creativity.

The new single is the first from cln in 2017, as Callan spent the latter half of 2016 writing music with Australian singer/songwriter Katie Noonan for a string of six sold-out performances with the Queensland Ballet in his hometown of Brisbane — a feat which he describes as “the coolest thing [he’s] ever done.” Now, Callan is back to the cln project with refocused fervor this year, as “Breathe” leads the way for more music and, potentially, a full album down the line.

With “Breathe” now out everywhere, we caught up with Callan on Skype about a range of topics, from his musical upbringing (he used to make “really bad dubstep”), to the vulnerability of singing on his own productions, to his plans and goals for the rest of this year.

Read on for the chat below, and give “Breathe” a listen while you’re at it.

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On musical upbringing…

So I lived in South Africa until 2009, at that point I had just started high school. And the music scene back there, at least when I was there, the cool music was house music. Everyone loved this African-influenced house music, so that’s what got me into electronic music in general. And when I was 13, I bought Demon Days by Gorillaz, the Deadmau5 album, the early Skrillex album…and I really wanted to make stuff like that, so I figured out what programs they used and I just slowly started chipping away at it. And I’ve done piano lessons from an early age so I’ve always been musically inclined I guess.

On finding the cln sound…

I made house music for quite a while, and then I made some really bad dubstep for a little while. And then I started listening to people like Flying Lotus and SBTRKT – that weirder electronic vibe – and I started changing my sound to reflect what I was listening to. That’s when I started this project like three years ago or so.

On working with the Queensland Ballet…

So I’m friends with Katie Noonan. People in the US might not be super familiar with her, but in Australia she’s an icon. She’s considered one of Australia’s best voices. She’s multi-award winning. I did some remix work for her a while back, and then she got on to me about doing this ballet project with her. And it’s pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever done because I got to be as expressive as I liked. I got to make this really insane and weird music with the incredible voice of Katie on top of that. And these awesome ballerinas and choreographers made this really cool dance to it. So it was a 25-minute epic with crazy electronic music and incredible vocals and ballet, it was great. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done, no question.

I’d never done anything like that before. So I was really out of my comfort zone, but that was good. It grew me as an artist and was a really interesting project to work on. You’re working with all of these really professional people who know what they’re doing and have been doing it for years. Then there’s me with my laptop, not really knowing what I’m doing. But it turned out really well I was happy with it. I performed it live with them too. It was a great opportunity.

On the Brisbane scene…

Brisbane’s really weird, we’re a little bit quieter than Sydney and Melbourne. We have a much smaller population, but there are a few little scenes and some great musicians popping out like Feki, UV Boi, Young Franco, Golden Vessel. So there’s a small, tight knit community of musicians. There’s a scene but it’s developing at this point.

On how “Breathe” came together…

I started the idea for “Breathe” when I was preparing for my US tour last year. It was really late at night and I was probably pretty out of it. And I always start with a basic chord progression, so I sat on that chord progression for ages and then, when I was supposed to be studying for Uni exams, I procrastinated and made that track instead. And it just grew from there I guess. I worked on it for like six months. Sometimes I bash things out in like a day or two, but “Breathe” had a slow add-on every now and then sort of process.

On enjoying singing on cln songs…

Yes and no. Singing is super personal, so when you put out a song that has your voice on it, it’s a lot scarier I think than putting out something that doesn’t have your voice on it. So I tend to keep it fairly quiet that it’s my own voice, I don’t say, “Hey guys, look at my track that I sang on.” So ya, it’s definitely scarier but I enjoy doing it.

On singing on future cln songs…

I’m not sure, I don’t really want to put myself in a box of “I have to sing on every track,” or “I have to be a vocalist.” I’d like to do whatever I want, really, and if I want to sing on a track, I will, and if I don’t, then I won’t. There are so many other great singers if I want to get someone else, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain sound. I’d like to be as diverse as possible.

On goals and plans for 2017…

I’d love to do an album. I’ve had albums ready heaps of times but it just hasn’t worked out because of labels or it wasn’t the right time or I stopped liking the music. An album is something I’d love to do and I think maybe after this record we might do that.

I’m just an album guy. When I listen to music, I like listening to the whole album in one go. I feel like the music industry is moving away from that which is a little bit sad. Everyone wants singles and EPs, and often albums get lost. But for me, personally, doing an album would be cool because it’s a whole work, start to finish, and I think it’d be a fun thing to do, even if it doesn’t do so well.

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Stream “Breathe” via Soundcloud, add it to your playlists on Spotify, and find cln on his social links below.

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