Claire Stahlecker
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Claire Stahlecker

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By Andy Downing
August 28, 2009

Video store shelves are lined with movies depicting the mind-numbing tedium that can accompany life in the suburbs: “The Ice Storm,” “Revolutionary Road,” “The Burbs.” It’s a boredom that inspired then-teenager Claire Stahlecker to finally pick up a guitar just weeks after her family relocated from the Lincoln Park neighborhood to Woodstock, Ill.

“I couldn’t drive, and I didn’t know anybody out there,” says Stahlecker, now a senior at Columbia College. “I had this guitar in my closet that I got for Christmas in 6th grade and had never really played. I wanted to do something productive, so I picked it up and started strumming.”

Soon after, she began taking weekly lessons at Player’s Bench Music in Crystal Lake, learning songs by the likes of Michelle Branch, Green Day and John Mayer (a strong early influence with his guitar phrasings and soft-soul vocals). Before long, Stahlecker was writing her own material, even performing a song she wrote, “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” for nearly 700 people at a schoolwide talent show at Marian Central Catholic High School.

Even then, the singer-songwriter can’t recall struggling with nerves – thanks in large part to her background in theater. Stahlecker’s stage debut came years before, when she took on the role of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” in an 8th-grade play.

And she says music had been an important part of her life as far back as she can remember. Before she started playing the guitar, a 13-year-old Stahlecker filled shoe boxes with lyrics to her own doe-eyed love songs.

“I can still remember all the melodies I had for them,” adds the singer with a laugh. “I’ve always been able to use music to help me in places like school. I would take the vocabulary words for a test and put them to a song and memorize it that way. Music always came a little easier to me.”

As confident as she sounds at times, Stahlecker still struggles with one aspect of writing and performing: sharing intimate feelings with an audience of strangers. Indeed, Stahlecker describes the process of standing at a microphone, guitar in hand, by using similar language as a professor instructing a medical student: “You open your chest up and expose your heart.”

“It’s very scary at first,” continues the singer, whose songs are based on her personal experiences. “But once I get past that initial fear, I’m really at ease. It helps knowing that I’m not the only one that has felt heartache.” - Chicago Tribune


Claire Stahlecker’s music is similar to a breezy romantic comedy, one that’s pleasant enough to take in for an hour and a half, and not a piece that will torture you for days afterward. The Chicago singer-songwriter, still unsigned, makes a convincing blend of pop and folk; her songs stir with the honesty and emotional wisdom of a late-night troubadour, but she’s also not afraid of writing a hummable hook. On Friday at Martyrs, Stahlecker releases her first EP, titled “A Little Piece of Heaven,” and it seems like this is just the beginning for the young artist.

“The only thing that really motivated me to practice was to learn some of my favorite artists’ songs,” she says of the time she was learning to play. “I had been writing for a long time too. When I was a kid I used to write songs without an instrument, just lyrics. It’s weird to think about now. I never thought it would be a career.”

Stahlecker grew up in Lincoln Park, then relocated to Woodstock, Illinois, when her parents moved, but since has found her way back to Chicago. Only 22, she’s still learning, but she also says she’s at a disadvantage being female in a male-dominated genre.

“It’s a tough road for women,” Stahlecker says, “especially instrumentalists. Being a guitar player I get a lot of funny looks when I say I play guitar. There are not many well-known, phenomenal female guitar players. Because of that stereotype, people don’t take me seriously until I pick up a guitar and play. I’ll walk into Guitar Center, and all the guys will be like, ‘Hey, are you in a band’ or ‘Hey, what do you play?’ ‘I play guitar.’ ‘Oh, really cooool.’ I can see the sarcasm before it happens.”

Stahlecker, who studies music at Columbia College, says that the main challenge she faces now is the unpredictability of her songwriting. “I’ve never been able to tell myself I’m gonna write one,” she says. “I’ll get inspired from one thing and write a song five minutes later. I don’t really start a song and continue writing it over the span of months or anything like that. The songs that are really great tend to come out super fast.” (Tom Lynch)

Claire Stahlecker plays August 28 Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln, (773)404-9494, at 10pm. $8. - NewCity Music Chicago


Lincoln Park native Claire Stahlecker isn’t shy
about her former middle school devotion to pop
sensation ’N Sync. Specifically, to one JC Chasez.
Stahlecker, however, has a better validation of her
tween attraction than most 12-year-old crushers:
“He had the warmest voice,” she says. “Te most
R&B-ish.” Te musical prodigy would also
chop up tapes of her favorite songs on B96 (“I
would always wait for the ‘nine most wanted’ to
come on,” she says) and make deejay-style mixes.
Stahlecker, who moved to Woodstock, Illinois at
age 15, first picked up the guitar in high school.
Now, back in the city as a senior and music major
at Columbia, her sweet mix of pop and folk,
heavy on the love ballads, is turning heads with
songs like “Never Stop Lovin’ You,” featured on
Chompilation and also on her first EP, out on
iTunes this month. Stahlecker has opened for
Tyrone Wells, played at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion
and—fingers crossed—is hoping for a set at
Schubas one day soon. But it was her stint as a
beauty queen contestant in high school that really
prepped her for the performing life. “Nothing
will ever be as terrifying as doing that!” she says.

clairestahlecker.com. - Chicago Social Magazine


Discography

"A Lilttle Piece Of Heaven" 4-song EP now out!

Photos

Bio

You may hear familiar elements in newcomer Claire Stahlecker’s music, but it doesn’t take long to realize the music is hers alone. The Chicago singer/songwriter’s audience is growing quickly as she hits a sweet spot with her soul-infused urban folk tales of life and love.
Beginning with a thoughtful acoustic guitar canvas, Claire writes and delivers her songs like a seasoned old soul, embodying the spirit of classic blues and jazz artists while incorporating the influence of contemporaries like India Arie, Sara Bareilles and Dave Barnes.

At age 21 she may still have a lot to learn, but there’s a confidence—and irreverence—that radiates from the young woman and her songs that leaves you convinced she’s lived and learned from a few lifetimes already.

As a child growing up on the North Side of Chicago, she loved the freedom and diversity of the big city. However, at age 15 her life changed drastically when her parents moved her to a remote suburb and enrolled her in a private Catholic high school. The summer before her freshman year she found herself twiddling her thumbs in boredom. “With no friends, no drivers license and no job I figured I might as well spend my time doing something productive.” So she dusted off the electric guitar abandoned in her closet since sixth grade and begged her parents to pay for lessons.

“I took lessons for two years without singing a peep until words starting forming on my lips and melodies began dancing through my head,” she says. She began writing songs vigorously, but remained self-conscious about her voice, refusing to sing for anyone “…except Franklin, Mary, Pepé and Louis, otherwise known as the four walls of my bedroom!” After some encouragement from her mentor and guitar instructor Roger Adler, Claire was finally convinced to sign up for a high school talent show her junior year. “I played a song called ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath.’ When I heard the roar of applause afterward I knew there was no turning back.”

Claire continues to write and is currently finishing up her music degree at Columbia College Chicago.

For more information or booking requests contact Gabe Anello at gabe@banditproductions.com