Cloves Is Keeping It Super Real
This Melbourne-based surfer girl is making waves thanks to poised love songs that belie her 19 years, and strike a balance between Lana and Bon Iver.
For hopeless romantics and fans of depressingly beautiful music (like myself), Cloves is the answer to my prayers for a female Bon Iver. The way this Melbourne surfer girl emotes on her recent singles “Don’t You Wait” and “Frail Love," cuts like a knife. Born Kaity Dunstan, there's a lovelorn timelessness to her voice that belies her 19 years—no doubt amplified by working with producer Justin Parker, best known for this work with Lana Del Rey and Banks. Earlier this week, Cloves released new track, “Everybody’s Son,” from her forthcoming debut EP XIII (due November 23). If we’re lucky, we’ll be getting a gorgeously melancholuc debut album in 2016, but in the meantime you can even catch her opening for James Bay on the road in the States this month. We caught up the singer to talk forgiveness, her boyish style, and the impact of Amy Winehouse.
Noisey: Your voice is really captivating, and once "Don’t You Wait" and "Frail Love" came out, they blew me away. How long have you been singing? Was the goal always to be a musician?
Cloves: I was always writing songs, but I don’t think I was trying to be a musician. I think I always enjoyed it and wanted to make an album. I don’t think I ever saw myself being a huge pop star or anything. It’s not my thing to do that side of it. I always wrote songs and played in bands. I’m now in the process of writing an album.
"What’s the inspiration behind your songwriting?
I think they’re in and out of being autobiographical and being around a few different things. For me, I always write from the perspective of other people as well. The last track on the EP, I was watching a super dorky TV show about this psychic woman who told this story of how she was going to marry this man. They met three weeks beforehand, fell in love, got engaged and then he died a couple of weeks before the wedding and was on her own. It’s that stuff that really gets me. Sometimes it’s autobiographical, and sometimes it’s through stories I hear.
Frail Love" is one of the most gorgeous, simple love songs I’ve ever heard. Was that a difficult song to write?
It’s kind of open for interpretation. It can be about anything forgiveness-wise. It’s really about forgiveness—it can be a friend, relationship, not putting the toilet seat down or it can be something really scarring. It’s about forgiveness in general.
You’ve been working with Justin Parker—most famous for working with Lana and Banks. Have you met those artists too? Would you want to collaborate with the other artists he’s produced?
I haven’t met with any of them, but I think they’re all super talented. Justin is next-level talented: he’s such an excellent writer and has a great ear for chords and melodies. He’s real with everything. We sit down and write songs and tell each other exactly what we like and don’t like. He keeps it super real and honest, and I think that’s how we come up with songs that feel real and honest. For us, it’s like, let’s just say it in a way we can make people connect to it, I think.
It’s a standard question, but who have you been influenced by?
My number one is Amy Winehouse. I love Etta James, Fiona Apple, and Paolo Nutini. I loved the last Alabama Shakes record. I love Ben Howard and Mazzy Star. It’s ups and downs, but I feel like my number one girl is Amy.
Did you see the documentary Amy?
Yes, I did. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
After seeing the documentary, do you have any reservations about a rise to fame in the music industry?
My goal overall isn’t really a “rise to fame.” My first set goal I have in my mind is to make a really amazing album. I do think it does depend on the people you have around you. My management and family are really, really amazing so I think that will help in moving forward. Keeping everything super real and not getting ahead of yourself is really important. It’s definitely a massive lesson when you watch it—seeing people not really say or do anything is really upsetting. It does bring you back to earth a bit.
You have a great look. What is your go-to style?
I think my style is super mood-dependent. I’m never like, “Oh my God this is my one style.” If I’m having a super happy day, I’ll be wearing some really interesting stuff. I wish you were here because I’m wearing pineapple socks. There are sausage dogs in a hot dog buns all over the socks. If I’m having a moody day, I’ll be wearing a lot of boyish stuff. Stealing my boyfriend’s stuff is a great way to not have to buy clothes. I’ll have super girly days where I want to wear lots of florals or colors.
Since your look is so versatile, who are some of your style icons?
I love Alexa Chung—I think she’s beautiful. I do like a lot of boyish clothes, so I haven’t looked to many female style icons. I always walk to the boys’ section when I shop. They always have really sick t-shirts and stuff you can throw on and be done with for the day. I think as I go along I pick up little things.
What’s your favorite t-shirt that you own?
My favorite t-shirt is a really cool Levi’s one I own that just says “Levi’s” on it. My sister has an amazing t-shirt collection and is always wearing a giant panda on the front, minions or Star Wars on the front.