Anne-Claire Niver on grief, dreams, new album
Anne-Claire Niver doesn’t think she is a “big-voiced chanteuse,” a phrase repeated in ads and articles since a 2014 review called her that. The Durham-born singer-songwriter, whose second album I Still Look for You was released this month, laughed when I quoted it.
“It sounds like I’m in some French salon,” she said while taking a break from packing for her upcoming move to Carrboro. “People may think they know what I sound like when they see that word, and it’s just so not that. But I’m sure happy to have my name in print.”
Suspecting she might be tired of talking about how she used to sing for goats, a past job mentioned in several articles, I asked about more recent events. She said that, over the four years since she worked at Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, “I started feeling very liberated as an artist and became brave enough to call myself one.” However, she’d never imagined sharing her work beyond a close circle of friends until one of them, her future producer Alex Bingham, encouraged her to do so.
“It never occurred to me that I could collaborate with other musicians or have a band,” said Niver, who received her degree in Musical Performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she said she was “always singing someone else’s music.” Realizing she could sing her own, she started “writing like crazy.” Soon after, she moved from Raleigh to Greensboro, where she polished her songs with what she called “a very big band” composed mostly of UNCG jazz majors.
Her Kickstarter-funded first album, Anne-Claire Niver and the Wild Mystics, came out in 2015. “I made it with Kris Hilbert at Legitimate Business in Greensboro. It was a good jumping off point for me. I was slowly figuring out what I wanted and what I didn’t want.”
She kept writing and then, in May of 2016, her maternal grandmother died.
“She’d gone swimming that morning, and basically had a heart attack.” Niver’s family, which she described as “small and close” and as “expecting to have her around for at least another 10 years,” were devastated. “Some people can lose a grandparent and not be impacted all that much, but my sister and I were the only grandchildren, and it hit us hard.”
Niver used a Biblical phrase to describe the siblings’ relationship with their “mee-maw,” Willa Rae Bullock, whom she memorializes in a moving song on her new album. “I like to say we were fearfully and wonderfully loved.” Niver compared her grief to “looking at the sun,” explaining the simile with “I couldn’t do it all at once, and it physically hurt.”
Then other family members started talking about their dreams of being visited by Willa. “They’d say she told them everything was going to be okay,’ and I couldn’t wait to have a dream of my own.”
Niver eventually did, but according to a story she’s told at all her shows since her grandmother’s death, the dream wasn’t what she’d expected.
“She came in the room all in white and said my name, and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. As she approached my bed, I felt myself physically moving in my sleep toward her, and I told her I’d been waiting for her and asked where she’d been.”
In the dream, Niver’s grandmother “opened her mouth, but my voice came out and said ‘I just can’t stop crying.’ I woke up disappointed because I wanted a message, but what I got [was] like a reflection of my own grief and I didn’t know what to do with that.”
She eventually composed the song “Second Time” about it. The day before she was scheduled to record it, Niver’s grandfather died. Her producer told her she didn’t need to come into the studio, as they could track the instrumental parts without her and record her vocals later. “But I thought ‘both of them would want me to do this,’ so I went and did it and pulled through. It was the last thing we did that day, and became a gateway to the rest of the record.”
That album, I Still Look For You was released on July 31 and can be purchased at www.anneclairemusic.com. On Aug. 31, the release will be celebrated at the Crown in the Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre at 310 Green St. Guitarist, bassist and singer-songwriter Sam Frazier and futuristic indy-pop band Blueberry will be performing with Anne-Claire Niver at this event. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased by calling (336) 333-2605 or, for an addition $3, at www.carolinatheatre.com
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.