Clairo’s Heart of the Country
Her early success left her feeling adrift, so she headed to the Catskills.
It’s noon in the Catskills, and Claire Cottrill is thinking about buying a barn. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who performs as Clairo, recently purchased five acres in nearby Massachusetts, and she has big plans to build a well and churn butter. “There’s privacy that I’ve been craving for a long time,” she says. “I genuinely feel like I’m on a different planet.”
Cottrill got a taste of the country life back in the fall, when she spent a month here, at a studio in the mountains near Woodstock, recording her second album, Sling, with producer Jack Antonoff. It’s a cozy, introspective record — a snapshot of an artist entering adulthood, embracing domesticity, and retreating to the woods.
A few months after recording wrapped, Cottrill is sipping tea in the studio’s blue-tiled kitchen. “Everything’s clicking as to why I’m so happy here,” she adds, “and so unhappy in other places.”
Cottrill grew up in Carlisle, Massachusetts, a town a little over 40 minutes outside Boston with a population of about 5,000. She was 19 when her song “Pretty Girl” went viral on YouTube (the clip now has more than 74 million views); after her freshman year, Cottrill left college to open for Dua Lipa on tour.
Her 2019 debut, Immunity, struck a chord with millions of Gen Z fans with its low-key pop songs about depression and bisexuality. But the relentless touring schedule that followed nearly led Cottrill to quit the music business. “I was hanging by a thread, and I can say that in full honesty,” she says. “I was losing tons of weight. My hair was falling out.”
Cottrill felt instantly understood by Antonoff when she first hung out with the Bleachers frontman over ramen in Los Angeles in January 2020. “I was crying that entire lunch,” she says. “He confirmed things
“[There were] things I was feeling that I wasn’t telling anybody about: being depressed, even though I managed to have a music career.”
that I was feeling that I wasn’t telling anybody about: being depressed, even though I managed to have a music career.”
Antonoff, who has produced hits for Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and other top stars, also remembers that cathartic day. “I recognized something in her that I’ve felt,” he says. “When some of your dreams start coming true, it doesn’t make any of the bigger questions in life any easier.”
He offered to collaborate with Cottrill, and was surprised when she declined. “I can’t believe I said no!” she recalls with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I don’t think I am mentally prepared to do a record with you, sorry. Your albums are so huge that I’m petrified.’ ” She came around after writing the tender “Reaper,” a song she felt was good enough to bring to Antonoff.
Sling tackles domesticity and parenthood, subjects Cottrill began contemplating while in quarantine with her parents and older sister, in Atlanta, last year. She adopted a puppy, named her Joanie (after Joni Mitchell), and learned that caring for another living thing “made me feel like a person again.”
On the devastating single “Blouse,” Cottrill expresses her frustration with being sexualized in the industry. “Why do I tell you how I feel/When you’re just looking down my blouse?” she sings. “If touch could make them hear/Then touch me now.”
“That line is really important to me,” Cottrill says. “It’s a tale as old as time, the music industry and men. I was pissed off. You’re so desperate for someone to hear you out, that you just let them do it.”
“Blouse” is a bold move for the singer, who chose what she jokingly calls “the depressing acoustic ballad” as the album’s only prerelease single over other, lighter tracks. “It’s scary to come back with something vulnerable,” she says. “Like, ‘Hello, here are my darkest fears.’ . . . I’m coming out of my shell.”