Claire Cottrill is a 16 (going on 17)-year-old singer and songwriter who makes intimate, indie pop jams about her feelings. From her bedroom in a small town near Boston, Massachusetts, Claire regularly updates her SoundCloud account with covers and original songs, accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar she taught herself to play. Last month, she released her self-titled EP Claire Cottrill, and on this new track, which she’s premiering for us exclusively, she reflects on her experience dating a slightly older guy:
After school, Claire and I spoke about the merits of challenging yourself, and finding your voice in relationships while figuring yourself out in the process. Plus, we had a little geek out about the band Animal Collective for good measure.
NILINA MASON-CAMPBELL: You make a lot of music, how much of a role does school play in your life?
CLAIRE COTTRILL: School is important to me because if music doesn’t work out I’d want to pursue writing or something like that. I definitely value my education a lot, but music takes up most of my life, which is really nice.
What kind of writing would you pursue if you weren’t doing music?
Maybe poetry? Poetry’s really similar to songwriting, so that’d be good for me. I was really interested in journalism: I wanted to work for Rolling Stone magazine for a long time. Interview people, write about bands—basically what you do! That was definitely something I had in mind.
You should totally still do that! How did you start getting into music?
A really long time ago I fell in love with singing. A lot. Ever since I was really little, I’ve loved music, and that has been one of the constants throughout my life. Then, maybe four years ago, I decided I wanted to start playing guitar because I wanted to be able to perform my music, and have something to make music with.
I taught myself guitar and started posting videos on YouTube, and my town, my community, was supportive. That’s what started my actual coming out as a musician and being comfortable with my own words and writing—posting videos and putting myself out there, which is hard to do, but worth it.
What pushed you to put yourself out there?
I didn’t live in Boston my whole life. I’ve lived in Seattle, and before that I lived in Atlanta. Every single place had different aspects to it, and I gained a lot of experience from each place. But I was very different from the people who I went to school with in middle school. A lot of them had been born in the town that they went to school in; they’d known the same kids their whole life. I didn’t have that. I didn’t connect with them about certain things. I was very different from everybody, so that was a struggle. But music was really important to me, and I guess I just wanted to make it a really important part of my life. I wanted to express myself.
I put my music on YouTube, and the first video I put up when I was 13 years old—I was singing a Maroon 5 song. It took me hours to figure out if I wanted to post it on Facebook, or not to even tell my friends that I’d made it. I was so nervous about it! I just closed my eyes and did it, and then I closed my computer and tried to not think about it. I didn’t know if I was going to get good reactions or not, but my friends were supportive, so that really helped.
When did you realize that your audience was growing beyond your friends?
When I was 14, one of my videos caught some attention at MTV. They were talking about how a lot of talent nowadays don’t go on The X Factor, they go and make videos and post them on the internet, and someone showed them my videos. I have a page on MTV, and I went to New York to record, so that was like my first big thing.
People in my town started taking my music seriously. People from towns that I didn’t know were checking it out, and then it sort of just became this big chain reaction. I don’t really know exactly how, but the internet is so powerful! Most of my audience has found me [through the internet], I can’t imagine how I’d ever even get further than my town without it.
What did that kind of acknowledgement mean to you?
I felt like my music was going somewhere. I finally got the acknowledgement and the recognition that I had been wanting. And I felt like I had earned it—I could say that I was a musician. I was proud that I had got myself there. It was like a checkpoint in my music career because I gained the respect of my peers. It felt good to accomplish something that I’d been working on for years. It felt good to finally be acknowledged as a musician.
In terms of your songs, what experiences do you find yourself writing and singing about?
Definitely relationships. I don’t know how to be in relationships! I know I’m only 16, but they’re really difficult. One of the ways I cope with understanding people, and understanding my feelings, and understanding how the other person feels in a relationship is to write about it. [Writing] sort of spreads everything out for me and it helps me understand what I did wrong, or what I could’ve done differently. Relationships are interesting to me because you like someone for so many reasons, but then you can also stop liking someone for the same reasons. I think when you let someone in it makes you feel vulnerable and super sensitive, and I’m a sensitive person to begin with, so I just find myself writing about my relationships all the time, months after they happened.
Do you ever have realizations as you’re writing that you’re then able to apply to your life?
Yeah, definitely. I tend to trust people really easily, or I give myself, or I work really hard to make other people happy before [considering] my own happiness, and I really didn’t understand that I did that until it came out in song. It took me a long time to realize some of the things I need to fix internally. It’s definitely helped me a lot, I love it.