Miss "Missing": A Sophomore EP by Claire Conway
Written By Shank Wilson
Photography By Micah Nazarino
Her story sounds like it could be the plot of this year’s hottest indie film. A girl moves to a foreign country all alone. She doesn’t know the language. She struggles. She eventually makes friends. She falls in love. She experiences heartbreak. She returns home better off for having had the experience.
19-year-old Charleston-based singer/songwriter, Claire Conway, graduated from high school, packed up, and moved to Belgium by herself to learn the French language. She describes a situation there that almost sounds like a comedic set-up: “I moved there for 11 months and I had never taken a French class in my life.” She happily emphasizes, “I only knew how to say, ‘Hi, my name is Claire, I’m 19, and American.’” Conway took part in the Rotary Exchange Program that set her up with a Belgian family and a school to attend. “I had already graduated, but I was actually in high school there. It didn’t count. I just went to school and listened to teachers talk all day long in French,” she laughs.
One can imagine that there would be a strong undercurrent of excitement and romance in being fresh out of high school and alone in a foreign country. However, Conway admits her experience was a little light on the glamour at first.
“When I got on a bus, I didn’t know where I was going or where anything around me was and I couldn’t ask for help. It was super-exhausting. I cried now and then, but it was something I always wanted to do. So, when I was miserable, it was ok because at least I’m doing it.”
Conway’s persistence eventually paid off. “I would say by month 5 I was really able to start communicating with people. It was so rewarding. Now, I love it! I’d love to move back to Europe.” From a songwriting standpoint, the signature event was falling in and out of love with a boyfriend she met there. “It ended badly,” she says candidly. “I was really grieving this time in my life, so the songs were a way for me to process all of that.”
The creative process was a globe-spanning affair with two songs being written in Belgium and one in Seattle. The recording was done partly in Denver with 17-year old prodigal producer, Noah Taylor, and partly at Fairweather Studios on Folly Beach. Conway enlisted Brennan Clark of Charleston-based band Whitehall to play bass and Drew Lewis from SondorBlue on drums. Together, the songs will comprise a 3-song EP set for release in March entitled Missing.
The songs on Missing possess the kind of emotional vulnerability that makes me feel as if I’m listening in on a conversation I’m not meant to hear. The title track is centered around the anguished inevitability of leaving Belgium and thus ending her relationship. She sings to her boyfriend that she is “mourning the loss of what I’ve got before it’s gone” and how “you’ll be just one more thing missing from me.” On the track, “No Saints,” Conway uses imagery and fond moments of their relationship to convince him, and maybe herself as well, to continue the relationship anyway. She asks, “All along have I been mistaken in all that we are? Don’t say it was only a vision I had in the dark.”
“If I’m Honest” is the song she wrote after she returned to America. On this song, Conway revisits her effortlessly smooth falsetto vocal flips that she used often on her previous EP, Ocean’s Edge. This song has perhaps the most chill-inducing line on the EP in, “If you’d like to fake apathy, I can pretend. If I’m honest, I’d rather you kill me than call me a friend.”
Conway credits her lyrical potency to becoming an avid reader at the age of 7. “Growing up, I spent a lot of time on my own reading, writing, and drawing,” she reflects. “My parents didn’t let me have a phone until I was 13, so I relied on myself for entertainment.” Her passion for reading even carried over into the school day, “I’d get in trouble for reading in class because I would be so completely absorbed in my story that I wouldn’t hear or notice anything going on around me. I was a quiet, unobtrusive kid, but I’d get in trouble for tuning everything out.”
It's no surprise then, that she would eventually want to become a writer herself. She says earnestly, “Writing and poetry have always been my passion, and music has always been a vessel for my writing.” It was when Conway turned 8 years old that she began playing piano. This set her in motion through a revolving door of expressiveness through writing, music, and visual arts. “I’ve always been back and forth between them,” she says, “and right now I’m focusing really hard on music.”
“If I’m Honest” was written while attending her first semester at Seattle Pacific University. Seemingly a second new beginning in as many years, she is now studying graphic design at the small 3000 student university. Without knowing anyone in the Seattle music scene, she volunteered for the pop-up event company Sofar Sounds. “I’m just helping to run shows, post social media, take photos, and design posters.” She played her first show with Sofar on January 10th. Before that, Conway had only played a couple shows, but it was those shows that motivated her to record. She ardently recalls, “You feel it when people connect to what you’ve written. There’s this exchange of energy and I missed it so much. I realize I wasn’t the same without the presence of music in my life.”
During the entire conversation, there is an outpouring of pleasant giggles in-between well-composed thoughts about herself. Clearly intelligent, she is also wise enough to find humor in the struggles of the past year. “It was a really crazy experience. I had a great year, but I didn’t focus on music as much because I was worried about things like--you know, basic communication,” she says, failing to hold back a belly laugh.
Despite the sadness in her music, Conway is clearly a happy person. “Being able to express what I’m feeling makes me happy.” She continues, “I write almost because I need to. If there’s something that I have to say, it ends up coming out whether I want it to or not.” She alludes to the Belgium trip, the boyfriend, the songwriting, and the Missing EP all representing “a snapshot of a moment in time.” Imagining herself in the future she says, “That’s the work that I did at that point in my life. At the time it was maybe the best I could do.” And right now, in the present? “It’s a story that I am kind of still living. I’ve suffered, but I’ve made this thing.”
Find her music on her website below.
Spotify: Claire Conway