Rock n’ Recipes: Chloe Alison Escott

This Friday you’ll all be treated to Stars Under Contract, the brand new LP from Chloe Alison Escott. A lot of you might recognize Chloe as part of Tasmanian duo Native Cats, but the songs on this LP are too moving to skip over. I remember listening to the record and writing these questions and it was just so easy to come up with ideas…such is the contemplative nature of the album. Stick around for Chloe’s quick pasta recipe with all the fixins (as we like to say here in Texas).

Thanks to Guy and Ben at Chapter Music for helping Chloe and I get in contact.

ATH: It’s said that this album is you returning, headstrong, to revisit the greatest hits of a fictional band you’ve fronted, but as a solo artist. I have to know, what is the name of this fictional band?

Chloe: Oh gosh, I hadn’t even thought about it until now! I should say, it’s not a “concept album” sort of concept, it’s just the spirit in which I approached the recording – solo piano songs that have already been recorded with a band never sound quite like any other solo piano songs. But I’ll never turn down a chance to spin a fictional conceit, so, since you’ve asked: we were called Hearts in Counsel, we all met at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music in our late teens. One of the first songs we ever wrote ended up sound tracking a wedding on an Australian soap opera and we spent the next few years being embarrassingly antagonistic towards the fanbase this gave us. In our mid-20s we opened for someone we really admired, she saw how aloof and entitled we were acting and advised us, with the greatest of respect, to – I’m struggling to think of an equivalent American expression – pull our heads in. We took it to heart, gracefully accepted the fickle nature of our success, and when the soap opera couple awoke from their comas, regained their memories of each other and held a ceremony to renew their vows, we were there, playing their song live as they walked up the aisle, with new, personalized lyrics. How’s that?

ATH: And, there’s an allusion to a six piece band with a full string section…any part of you tempted to go back and see that version come to fruition now that you have this solo version completed?

Chloe: No temptation at all. My work on these songs is finished, there’s nothing more for me to do. Don’t waste time doing a crime if it’s already been done, as somebody once said. I’d love to see these songs covered, though, by anybody who wants to. The same goes for anything I’ve ever released, but this album in particular, I feel like these songs should have other lives and I feel like I shouldn’t have any control or ownership over that.

ATH: For Native Cats fans, the bare nature of the songs on Stars Under Contract might be a striking result. But, keys are keys, so how different was the songwriting process for this album in comparison to your other work?

Chloe: Something I realized a little while ago is that my solo songwriting process is pretty much the exact reverse of how it’s always been in the Native Cats. Usually a Native Cats song starts with Julian writing a bass part to a beat one of us has made, then I’ll listen to it for a while and figure out the structure and the melody and the meter of my vocal, then I’ll write words to fit that. Whereas most of my solo songs start with a line or two that I’ll write down, then I’ll find a way to sing it, then work out what I could play while I’m singing. Then I play the piano part over and over again for a while until I lose focus and play it wrong, and then that becomes part of the song too. The system works!

ATH: We’re also told this entire LP was recorded in one day? Were you able to complete the task in one take?

Chloe: Every song, I did the piano and vocal in one take. It’s much harder to sing at a level I’m satisfied with that way, but there was never any question that that was the way it had to be done. It’s always so funny to me how video-game-like it is to play and sing a whole song in one take; it really is just like playing the same level over and over, staying focused enough that you remember when the bit you always die on is coming up.

ATH: Along those same lines, was the purpose in recording it in one day tied into your aim to recreate something akin to Fragments of a Rainy Season, albeit in a “long, lonely night.”

Chloe: That was primarily for practical reasons – I had to take a couple of days off work and fly to Melbourne so I could record with my friend Evelyn Ida Morris (their self-titled album from a couple of years ago was also piano and vocal only, and it was a major inspiration on Stars Under Contract). But recording the whole thing in such a short space of time helped give it the energy I wanted. The songs come from so many different times – I wrote “Pour Vos Amants Inaccessibles” and “There’s Money in the Basement” a few weeks before the recording, but “Back Behind the Eyes Again” is from 2009, and all the instrumental pieces are from 2005 and 2006 – but I really like knowing that the recordings were in many cases only minutes apart.

ATH: Listening through the whole of the record, there’s this balance, at least to my ears between this certain elegance, matched by pain (or simply strong emotion). What two juxtaposed words come to your mind now that you can reflect upon the completion of the LP?

Chloe: Can I just agree with you and say elegance and pain? The former on this record is just as personal to me as the latter. There are a lot of thoughts and moments from my life represented in this album that hurt until I found the words and the song for them. Writing a song in which I’ve made my peace with it and moved on, and then listening back to it to make it come true.

ATH: As a Texan, I have to know…what is the meaning in the song “Hooks in Texas?”

Chloe: I’m so glad you asked, since that’s the song I have the best and longest answer for. Texas is one of those things that just keeps occurring in my life, more so than I expect it does for most Tasmanians: my brother has lived there for about 20 years, one of my closest and oldest friends grew up there, a lot of other smaller connections and coincidences. There’s a Texan political journalist I know through Twitter named Christopher Hooks, in my opinion one of the best and sharpest writers around when it comes to modern American politics. One day in 2017 the words “Hooks in Texas” had this peculiar resonance to them; I followed my instincts and this whole song spun out, all at once.

The line “I see hooks in Texas ascending”, that’s kind of my joke about the Texan secession movement, imagining the whole state being lifted skyward with fishing wire… but most of all the song is about the open horrors of the current political moment, and how – though this is a very, very small consolation – it turns attention towards journalists and artists and other public figures who already saw the world the way it’s been fully revealed to be. I had Twin Peaks season 3 on my mind as well, which had just aired – how it arrived right when the mood all around the world had very much drifted towards the tension and confusion and poisoning of nostalgia it was ready to give us.

And my old friend I mentioned earlier – Brooke Bolander, the author of, among many other things, a stunning novella called The Only Harmless Great Thing, though I’ve known her since all she wrote was unusually distinctive video game fanfiction – she grew up in Marshall, Texas, and I still remember her telling me, almost 20 years ago, about the city’s annual Fire Ant Festival. That’s in the song as well, though I’ve made it about political contrarianism.

Thank you for asking me about the only political song on the album. I like it sitting there right in the middle of the album as an outlier, and you’ll see in the last few songs I followed my own advice about “tidy endings”…

Recipe for Quick Easy Pasta

I’m not a confident cook and I find it almost impossible to put a decent dinner together without following a recipe absolutely to the letter. It’s not a good time! But I’m working on being more relaxed about it. So here’s a kind of anti-recipe recipe for a quick, easy pasta that can’t go wrong (it’s very nice that it can’t go wrong).

– Somewhere between 100g and 120g of pasta. Any one of the types! It’s fine! Boil it for a little longer than the amount of time it says on the pack. Flick some salt into the pot, find a real satisfying hand motion to do this with.

– One of the types of small tomatoes, to cut up. There’s cherry tomatoes, there’s Roma tomatoes, sometimes if you’re lucky you might even find a “tomato medley”. I’ve yet to notice any difference in taste between any of these, but the colours in the tomato medley in particular feel like you’re living your life right.

– Spinach leaves. You may like to rip ’em up like a letter or a photograph. Especially if this is something you would never have the opportunity to do because (1) you tend to stay on good terms with everyone who’s ever been close to you, and (2) a paper letter? a photograph you can hold in your hand??

– Baby capers. They’re in that little thin jar. The best way to get a bunch of them out at a time is to slide a knife inside the jar, tilt the jar in such a way that the capers go onto the knife, then pull the knife out. Another very satisfying hand motion.

– Olives. Never would have dreamed as a kid that I’d grow up to eat olives on purpose. Life is full of surprises.

– A tin of tuna. Don’t let the cats (my cats) get a sneaky bite or else they (specifically my cats) will get sick.

– Bocconcini. What can I say. It’s very, very good, my favourite and most necessary ingredient in this whole thing. There are seven bocconcini balls in the containers I get, and you’re supposed to use them within 72 hours of opening. Using all seven in that time period is another of life’s little victories.

– Have you considered… a nice sauce from a jar? Garlic, or, if you have some Requirements in common with me, a bottle of garlic-infused olive oil? A few hearty squeezes of lemon juice? Any or all of these things add flavour, which is what you want in this life, I find. Follow your heart! Don’t overthink it! I’m trying not to!

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