Claire de Lune has experienced a considerable amount of heartbreak over the past year. Rather than floundering unproductively in her sorrow, the lead singer of tiny deaths instead turned that anguish into an inspired, emotional new EP, Night Flowers. De Lune has once again partnered with producer and electronic maestro Grant Cutler for a deeply moving collection of songs that not only highlight Cutler’s elegant beats, but also de Lune’s assured, entrancing vocals.
“That was the space I was in, so I embraced that emotional vulnerability.” She channeled her grief into a batch of unguarded, heartfelt tunes that proved to be quite cathartic for her, and a way of finding her way through the despair while ultimately making something poignant out of the rough ordeal. (Listen to her conversation with Andrea Swensson on the O.K. Show.)
With Cutler residing in New York, the pair spent the past year exchanging creative ideas and song fragments back and forth, with Cutler’s beats and sonic sketches inspiring de Lune both lyrically and artistically. “I get so inspired by Grant’s beats,” de Lune rhapsodizes. “He paints such a clear picture, and creates such a mood with each song, instrumentally, that I don’t think I really could cut and paste a song onto what he does. I get inspired by what he creates, and then write the songs around that. So it really is collaborative, in that sense.”
After establishing a fruitful partnership on the group’s self-titled debut EP – and loosely defining the group’s diaphanous musical boundaries in the process – this time out it was easy for the duo to openly refine their sound and stylistic direction.
“There’s something to be said for just blindly feeling around in the dark for ideas – which is what we did the first time – because that creates something really interesting, with no pressure,” de Lune explains of the group’s spontaneous, free-form origins. “But I think it’s really cool to be able to say now, ‘This is our sound, and this is where we exist.’ How can we be true to that, but also expand it and grow with it, and push its boundaries and see how far we can take it. That was the experiment with ‘The Gardener’: how much we can take away and still sound like us?”
The result is a minimal but vibrant pop song stripped of much of the dreamy electronic gauze that envelops much of tiny deaths earlier material. The pulsating track delves into the thematic idea of relationships being something one can cultivate like flora and fauna, despite the subject of the song lacking the green thumb and wisdom necessary for the delicate flower of love to fully blossom. “I was joking with my mom about how I can’t even keep a cactus alive half the time,” de Lune jests. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like me and relationships, too.’”
Night Flowers’ lead single, “Ever,” features a staccato guitar riff over a simmering rhythm, with de Lune’s penetrating vocals floating resonantly within the mix. The song examines a relationship that’s ultimately doomed to fail, but both people are powerless to resist the allure of each other and the personal connection they have together. For even if you’re left with a broken heart as a result of a break-up, you’ve still felt love deeply and experienced a divine awakening in your soul – topics that de Lune expresses eloquently within her music, and knows of first-hand.
“I get inspired by relationships. I used to judge myself for that,” de Lune admits. “I write love – or lack thereof – songs, and I had this epiphany last year that caused me to embrace the love song. Love, and being in love, and feeling love, is the closest that a non-spiritual leader gets to absolute truth. It’s a completely spiritual experience, and what’s more profound than that? So, I stopped judging myself for writing about that because that’s the most spiritually profound thing that happens in any layman’s life.”
Tiny deaths songs undergo an interesting transformation from the studio to the stage, with de Lune assembling a cracking live band (minus Cutler). Drummer Jared Isabella and guitarist Aaron Baum (from Night Moves) join Votel bassist Ben Clark to form a dynamic complement to the ethereal, electropop soundscapes of the recorded material. It’s an additional collaborative arrangement that helps the songs take on added layers in a live setting, while also staying true to the throbbing creative heart of the original work.
With tiny deaths’ new tunes mostly in place, de Lune was searching for a fitting title for the collection. While out for a run one evening, the name of the new EP came to de Lune serendipitously. “It was right at dusk, and I saw the way that the moonlight was hitting these flowers, and I thought it was so beautiful. I was like, oh – Night Flowers,” recalls de Lune. “I didn’t even know what it meant, the phrase just came into my head. Then I did research, and I found out that there’s this whole class of flowers that are called ‘night flowers’ that literally bloom in darkness. That’s the perfect metaphor for a breakup record.”
While the melancholy shadows of heartache color the entire EP, the collection ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “Backwards,” a soaring, synth-laden jam that finds de Lune assertively looking ahead to what the future will bring after learning tough lessons from mistakes made in the past. “Things are doomed sometimes, and things are dark sometimes,” de Lune explains. “But, as long as you can come out of that with love for yourself, and having maybe learned something, having assurance that you know what you’ll accept and what you won’t – that’s a positive thing, ultimately.”
Erik Thompson is the clubs editor at City Pages, and a freelance music writer in the Twin Cities.