After more than 20 years as a dancer, Clare Byrne is making the leap into music. Her first full album – Celestials – will be released on Saturday, June 15 just nine years after she first picked up a guitar.
Byrne made her first guitar as a prop for a dance performance. Her dance persona – White Witch – had a fake guitar.
“It felt like White Witch was telling me to play,” Byrne said. “I tried to resist it, but I’m an artist,” Byrne said throwing her hands up in the air. “You have to do the thing that you have to do. It was an imperative.”
The past two years have been a time of transition, a time of figuring out who she is beyond a dancer. In her forties, Byrne left a life as a highly-regarded choreographer and professor of dance at the University of Vermont.
“It felt like an awkward coming out when I would tell other dancers I think I want to be a musician,” Byrne said.
Between 2010 and the Spring of 2018, Byrne taught at the University of Vermont, but she spent all of her spare time playing guitar and singing. She taught herself with a book recommended by her brother-in-law and a lot of patience.
“Strings are a really hard thing to pick up later in life,” Byrne said. “But all I wanted to do was play guitar, sing and write songs. It was like a dam had been broken, there were some days when I wrote eight songs.”
The first song Byrne ever wrote was called Cold, Cold Gin Makes You Feel Like Sin – classic bluegrass. Since then, her style has expanded and progressed to a astro-acoustic-electric-folk feel as she describes it. Her songs are deeply personal, reflecting the pain and loss mixed with tantalizing excitement these two years of transition.
In September, Byrne moved from Vermont to New Haven leaving a 20-year relationship and stable job to pursue music with teachers at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven and with the Elm City Ramblers, a blue grass band that welcomed her in.
When pressed, Byrne describes Celestials as intimate, but spacious. The songs are deeply personal, but she expects listeners bring their own meaning to her music.
“I recorded this in the hardest year of my life and did not go with any of the short versions of songs. I kept in all the vulnerable and pretty raw parts,” Byrne said.
There was one song that Byrne did leave off the album, however. The song that would’ve summed up all the others. It was called I Could’ve.
“If I put that song on the album it would have said everything that I needed to say with all the others,” Byrne said.
Byrne’s first album is a double album — 16 songs sold only on vinyl or as a digital download — a project that took over 18 months to record, mix and produce, and which features 13 different musicians including Ted Looby, Rodrigo Alonzo, Amy Larimer and Nicholas Leichter. The last two were dance partners of Byrne’s during her days in New York City.
“It was dreamy to have dance friends in it,” Byrne said. “To feel that connection with people, friends you met when you were young, it was amazing to work with them again.”
Although Byrne has high hopes for the album and would love people to buy it, she says as a first timer there is less pressure.
“The stakes are pretty low,” Byrne said. “I feel like a total, ignorant beginner in so many ways. But in some ways, that’s nice, I don’t have to follow all the rules because I don’t know them.”
More information about Byrne and her upcoming album as well as tickets to the launch party at Best Video in Hamden on June 15 are available on her website.