According to Mess and Noise, Claire Birchall is “a genuinely brilliant songwriter who should be lauded more frequently”. She has so far released four incredibly diverse albums, including one by her full-tilt rock band Paper Planes (2008 ‘Paper Planes’). A talented multi-instrumentalist and DIY enthusiast, Claire self-records, mixes, and plays the majority of the instruments on all of her solo albums. She is now set to release her fourth, titled ‘Electricity’, due out this May.
Claire’s 4track recording obsession began when she was a teenager in the ‘90s. To this day she continues to record all of her solo releases as such, with no plans of “going digital”. Due to the many years of developing her recording craft she is capable of creating lush sounding albums that are far from “lo-fi”. Her first solo album, 'This Gallery of Mine' (1999) was a cassette only release that circulated throughout the Geelong underground, gaining her some local cred, gigs and Geelong radio spots. Her follow up, 2001’s ‘Captain Captain’, became a Melbourne community radio favourite, scoring a spot in Triple R’s Soundscape Top 10. It’s intricately layered instrumentation and sweet vocal harmonies captured widespread interest and a host of fans. 'Gallery' and 'Captain' were belatedly officially released in 2013.
Greatly admiring chameleon artists such as Neil Young and Beck, Claire likewise carries a minor aversion to sticking to the one sound for too long. Although she loved fronting Paper Planes, whose successes included the critically acclaimed self-titled album (“Words fail me. Perfect.” – M&N), when they suddenly disbanded, she seized the opportunity to take a new path. As Claire told an interviewer in 2013, “I'd been doing the Paper Planes indie rock thing for a long time [and] you start getting in a bit of a box in terms of what songs you can do. I had been really neglecting my home-recording stuff too.” For the next few months she chronicled a new collection of songs with the help of her Casio keyboard, guitars, and army of effects pedals. What resulted was the album ‘PP’, “an extraordinary mélange of basic beats, distorted keyboard and guitar, and pop songs of exceptional resilience” (M&N), worthy of being “a serious contender for the best of 2012” (Lorraine Crescent). Her cover of The Bangles ‘Manic Monday’ was a Triple R Breakfasters staple for endless weeks.
With her 4tracking fixation reignited by ‘PP’, Claire instantly moved on to recording new songs. Two years later, ‘Electricity’, was finally complete. In the artist’s words, “I’ve got finicky with this new album ... every time I record a new song, I think ‘Oh, that’s actually better than one I thought was good enough.’... I’ve been using my loop pedal a bit, I’ve mixed things up … between loops – fuzzy guitar – but it’s also got a bit of a country vibe. It’s different from PP; not as much drums”. An incredible amount of instrumental tracking was done for record, producing a dramatic wall of sound. As for the mood, Greg Wadley, who mastered the album, said it “sounds like Coburg”. Most would likely place the album under the indie-rock banner, but from the country stylings of ‘Maryjane’ to the self-proclaiming ‘Rock and Roll Girl’, gloomy ‘80s pop inspired ‘Lucky Charm’, and noise guitar driven ‘Magnetic Field’, ‘Electricity’ proves that Claire is an artist that can cross a variety of genres with ease.
In mid-2014 Claire put together a new band, Claire Birchall & the Phantom Hitchhikers, featuring Bec Birchall (Paper Planes) on keys/vocals, Pete Azzopardi (The Coves/The Happy Lonesome) on bass/vocals, Jarrod Brown (The Coves) on drums, and Matthew Green (The Happy Lonesome) on harmonica. Birchall & the Hitchhikers have been lurking around the last few months playing songs from ‘Electricity’ and Claire’s previous work in preparation for the album release. They’ve found an immediate chemistry, and all agree this is a band that was meant to play together.