Claire Gohst Tells How Music Saved Her Life
Hailing from Singapore, LA-based pop rock artist and front runner of Paper Citizen Claire Gohst(she/they) has always kept her head up even in the darkest of times. After having to leave home at 17 for coming out as queer to her parents, Claire quickly traveled to the states to discover their love of music and create a sense of community. As an upcoming POC queer artist, Claire shares her story of where she came from and where she’s meant to go in her musical journey.
Q. What is your story with music? How has music helped you throughout your life?
A. I grew up in a very religious family. I didn’t know how religious it was at the time. They placed a lot of emphasis on church, academics, and music, so I started classical music and played violin and piano when I was a little kid. When I eventually became a teenager I realized I was queer and my parents didn’t like that a lot. I ended up having to leave home at 17 and pretty much dropped out of school. I found a community in musicians who played at bars and clubs and I found myself playing music and really enjoying it. I was playing a lot of American covers for locals and tourists at multiple bars and clubs all around Singapore. We took a lot of song requests spanning over many genres. Music pretty much saved my life and gave me a purpose. I reevaluated everything I knew, my whole worth, my identity and I found that music was a safe space to channel my energy and express myself.
Q. What made you want to pursue a more alt pop rock sound in a business where rock is dying and pop and rap are encouraged.
A. That’s interesting, I feel like there are these pockets of genres. Like what’s on mainstream radio right now has a lot to do with funding. I know that rock is not dead. I feel like many people wanna hear rock they’re craving it. A part of it has to do with the pandemic, and the accessibility to connect over computers, as fewer people are able to get together and rock out all the time. If you’re making tracks or producing you can do that by yourself on your laptop. But my heart does live with rock! My friends and I still actively listen to a lot of rock.
A. “Heart On Fire” is a very layered song lyrically and musically. Describe the process of making this work of art.
Q. This actually started as an experiment on my computer. Traditionally I’ll start with guitar or piano and I’ll start there but I’ve been trying to challenge myself to work in a more modern workflow. I want to create something entirely on the computer. But I was kind of lost. I didn’t even know where to start. I had to learn to kind of pause and take a step back and sit there and process like what am I thinking what am I feeling as opposed to you know sometimes you grab an instrument and you kind of start noodling and see where it takes you. This was kind of ok, what am I feeling and how do I want to portray that. I started to think of some harmonies that I used to listen to in songs from the 90s grunge era. I would start singing these melodies with bands that I’d worked with through the years. I had to hear it in my head and then program it all out on the computer. Then I brought it to a band and the more we played it the more it came together. It was really an experiment and a combination of things that influenced me. I wanted it to be nostalgic and modern at the same time. Lyrically I wanted it to be a little bit political. I’m originally from Singapore and I love all the people and my friends there but the government can be pretty restrictive. It kind of gave me that sinister feeling like a big bro watching you but underneath that there’s a lot of love and care, just delivered in a controlling manner. Can the government trust the people to make decisions that are for the good of the nation? I did find a lot of community from when I lived in Singapore. We share the same sentiment on dismantling those barriers that our society has put between us. At least that’s what I was trying to portray lyrically.
Q. Talk about how Covid-19 has affected your ability to tour and connect with fans especially someone who is so immersed in the music scene.
A. Well I think for most of us Covid put a halt on gigging for two years straight. Especially as indie artists, we got hit the hardest, so that was tough. A lot of us went back to the drawing board. We were writing a lot of new songs and finding new and creative ways to continue producing music. We explored ideas on zoom and managed to collaborate. A lot of it was just observing what we’ve already done and trying to improve on that, as opposed to the outreach from shows that we used to have. I did do a couple of streaming shows. It’s cool but it’s not the same. Even as an artist you know there’s people typing in the chat but you have to read it and respond to a quiet room. It’s a bit different. I think we got creative in looking for other means of work. Studio work, workshops, teaching, production… I think many of us went online.
Q. You’ve been on your own pursuing music since you were 17. What were some things you wish you knew then? How have you grown as an artist?
A. I did my best with what I knew then! If I could go back and teach my past self something it would be that I wish I was easier and kinder to myself. For many reasons, I was really upset and angry at the time. I think that fueled a lot of the drive for a career in music, but I wasn’t taking great care of myself. I wish I had a little more compassion for my younger self. I’ve grown a lot musically and spiritually, and continue to feel like there’s so much more room for improvement. I have learned to let go of hard expectations on what my life should look like. It’s so much easier said than done. I try to practice that every day.
Q. Describe your experience as an LGBTQ+ and POC singer.
AThe climate for POC, queer, people in any kind of industry was a little different 10 years ago. In the last decade, things have changed so much. Back then, I felt like people were a little less open minded in general, but when you are unafraid to be yourself, others who are like you will gravitate to you. I am grateful for how supportive the queer community has always been. By focusing on those who showed up and believed in the music I was making, helped me to grow as an artist. Over the years, I worked hard to accept and love the parts of myself that made me odd and different. I didn’t understand the privilege I had when I lived in Singapore as a majority, but I started to see that when I moved to America as a minority. I noticed the difference in the number of interactions and the way people talk to you and open up to you. I like that here in the US I can relate to someone who looks like me or identifies like me and sees me and is able to realize that there are artists out there that are like them too. It’s shaped the way I’ve written music and really has shifted my perspective on what privilege means. Learning how western culture differs from eastern culture has been very eye-opening for me.
Q. What are some of your favorite genres? Inspirations?
A. Oh I love pop rock! Everything too from jazz to funk. I have a long history of classical influence. I’m a fan of a lot of American styles. Lately, I’ve been getting into the blues. I’m a little late on the game for that but I feel like it’s a resurgence and I’m in the mood for the blues now. It’s emo but sultry. I feel like that’s what the blues is but definitely a lot of rock. There is a lot of alternative rock and pop music especially here in LA. These days I’m listening to a lot of Donna Missal. She’s amazing. Of course, I love Hayley Williams. Lately, I’ve been getting into Fletcher too! Then I have Ariana Grande and Doja Cat on heavy rotation. Those are kind of my guilty pleasures (laughs). I am a big fan of these super powerful front women. Of course, I want to shout out local artists too! A lot of times the people who inspire you are the people who are around you. I feel like a lot of my inspirations come from the musicians I have played and play with.
Q. What advice do you have for young aspiring musicians, especially ones that are facing similar situations that you did?
A. Write them songs! Start out collaborating with others. Go see your local musicians. Learn how to use a digital audio workstation, even if it’s Garageband. Find a community! It’s probably been tough since the pandemic but when you can, find those little pockets of queer artists and BIPOC singer/songwriters. Whatever genre it is there’s always going to be a small niche community of people who showcase their songs. An open mic is a great example to practice getting your song out there, see how people respond. Even if you’re too shy, look at other artists who are trying to start out. It’ll always give you inspiration. Sometimes looking at someone like Hayley Williams when you’re trying to start out might be overwhelming like damn how am I gonna be like her but she also started somewhere she worked her butt off. Just take it day by day and be kind to yourself and your music. I remember when I started out I was like ugh this sucks but it’s a process.
Listen to Paper Citizen’s new single “Heart On Fire”!
Also available on Youtube, Spotify, and Apple Music!