Wisconsin native Claire Wellin of NYC's Youth In A Roman Field
New York City’s YOUTH IN A ROMAN FIELD has a very Wisconsin connection with its front woman Claire Wellin. While she was raised in Wausau, she’s spent time all over the Midwest and landed in NYC where this talented multi-instrumentalist has put together a band that mixes up folk and jazz, as instantly likable for Indie Folk fans as those who enjoy spinning some of that Great American Songbook. Claire is playing a solo show at The Frequency on Tuesday January 9th and we spoke to her to preview the night.
MI: What got you into music in the first place?
CW: Well, I started playing violin at 5 and honestly I don’t remember what made me want to start. The story goes that I cried about wanting to play from age 3. My parents set me up with a tissue-box violin (they were music teachers and apparently that’s the move with kid violinists) which somehow sent me into a tantrum that involved stomping on the box. So they waited until my first day of school to actually start me, and I played through high school, when I started listening to JONI MITCHELL and NICK DRAKE and decided I needed to learn the guitar.
MI: Who are the bands that form the connective tissue of your band?
CW: ANDREW BIRD is pretty much the reason I picked up my violin again in my 20s after quitting to focus on theatre in college. I had started writing music, using guitar as a writing instrument, and it had never occurred to me that I could use the violin to do that. He really changed the game for me. Other bands that have influenced me hugely are RADIOHEAD and PUNCH BROTHERS. LAURA MARLING is my touchstone singer-songwriter.
MI: What’s the song people should listen to first?
CW: Well we’ve just released the single “Town Hall” from our upcoming record. It’s my favorite recording from the album and a song we never, ever get sick of playing. I just love it.
MI: What inspired that song and why do you think it’s perfect for people to listen to for their first experience?
CW: That song, lyrically speaking, was 100% born out of exploring how to express / address my depression as it relates to the cyclical feelings of hopelessness I’ve had in relationships and about love. Musically, the song has a sort of ‘second half’ which I associate with acceptance and transformation. Music has always been a place I can disappear into, escape, use as a positive outlet and this song really captures what that means to me. I’ve always loved Samuel Beckett, and and I recently read in this great book called Daily Rituals that in coming to terms with his depression, he once wrote In accepting it, I will make it work for me.” It’s a perfect expression of how I feel about my own, and what I was exploring in “Town Hall”.
MI: What does your band name mean?
CW: I studied abroad in Rome at the end of college, and being in Italy was the first place I felt a weight lifted. I have always found joy and peace in traveling, and that was the first time that feeling really hit me. It was the first time I really remember starting to love myself, finding things to love about myself. I was walking home from class and I saw this young girl twirling around in a field and she just reminded me of myself as a kid, and embodied this joy I really wanted to find. Playing music helps me tap into that feeling and gives me a place to explore it.
MI: You guys just are just about to release a new album called Storm Conductor, are there any themes that tie it together?
CW Yes yes. The ‘thesis question’ I used in making it was ”Am I alone?” The record in general is meant to raise questions about existence, love, and faith. It addresses my feelings of existential loneliness and the cyclical nature of my experiences with my depression, anxiety, and in relationships. It also has a supernatural element to it that’s related to feeling haunted by the past and people / experiences from the past.
MI: You moved from Wausau to Chicago and then to NYC - what are the biggest difference in the audiences, you think?
CW: Well my trajectory looked more like Wausau—-> Bismarck, ND—-> Mankato, MN—-> Chicago—-> LA—-> NYC. But I’ve performed all over the country and mostly find similarities as opposed to differences. Music really speaks to people. It’s a language all its own and I find that wherever I go, it offers comfort and joy.
MI: What’s gonna happen at The Frequency show?
CW: I once saw a friend perform completely naked. It was a thing he was doing as part of his tour to explore total vulnerability. It was awesome. I will not be doing that.
MI: How many sound guys give you grief when they see a bunch of stringed instruments coming onto the stage?
CW: HA good question. Some but not most 😊
MI: Anything you wanna say to your new Madison fans?
CW: Come to the show! And check out the single on our Soundcloud & YouTube channels. Also, be kind and listen to each other.
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Youth In A Roman Field
CD: Storm Conductor Record Label: Self Released