“Lower case 'i' dot. Lower case 'e' dot. Space. Lower case 'crazy'. That’s how you spell my name...It's something I take great pleasure in, telling people that they've written it wrong.”
Claire Duncan, the powerhouse behind the goth, folk, pop persona that is i.e. crazy literally spells out the name of her artistic alter ego. She tells Yadana Saw about this identity through which she promotes and performs her brand of annoying and surprising.
I don’t want to tell Claire that her new album Non Compos Mentis has failed to incite annoyance in me, although I may have told her she writes a gnarly pop hook. Instead, the album is an intriguing and strong realisation of her aim to present an “electronic folklore” where she assumes the darker, marginalised and feminine characters of New Zealand society. The album is her way of remaining true to the spirit of folk music, which she reckons distills the hopes, failures, hurt and mythology of normal people into song. The album is twisting, dramatic, and gripping; I want to know why annoyance and surprise are motivations for an artist.
“Don’t you wanna be surprised?” She sharply quizzes back.
Informed by the “let’s piss off mum and dad” ethos of punk and rock 'n' roll back in the day, Claire says she's trying to present something that is different to what people expect.
“Especially of me, after Dear Time’s Waste (her critically-praised previous musical identity) which was glacial, precise, pristine; this very careful aesthetic that was quite feminine and going from that to something that is more harsh, grating and not providing a sense of soft entertainment. I think that is really important to me especially as a woman...there is a real trope for audiences that women, especially women who are confident to stand on a stage and shout at people. For some folks that is the most annoying thing in the world and I’m just very willingly going there, trying to agitate and pick at that scab.”
At first take Claire’s reasoning may be construed as adolescent. But that would be an arrogant oversight of her work and how deeply she considers what she does and what she experiences.
Last year, she directed and wrote, Land of the Long White Stain. A music documentary or “love letter” to the music and the musicians on the margins, the artists who have chosen to eschew commercial success for the sake of art. When asked if the film is a manifesto on how she approaches art and music, she laughs and reckons there’s a strong degree of fiction in that film.
The constructed nature of performance is an important question for Claire. Recent i.e. crazy performances have attempted to play with, and collapse, the social contract and conventions of a live gig. Her shows have been interactive affairs, a recent Basement Theatre performance invited the audience to pelt her onstage with cabbage leaves as canned laughter played through the PA. Although sometimes she likes to do the regular way “and just get up, play and sing.”
It’s not that crazy when you think about it like that, but when you call yourself i.e. crazy and your latest album is Non Compos Mentis (the Latin and legal term for someone of unsound mind), surely the crazy is front and centre:
“Mental health is always personal and it is for me...This whole project was born out at a time when I was very mentally unwell, and it was a cathartic process. It was a way of doing something so physical and ritualistic - just the act of making something - that did actually help me get better."
We talk about her nervous breakdown, and that medication is a necessary aid for her to function in the world. But she is also wary of the “wellness industrial complex”. Her frustration particularly squares on the burden of mental health being placed on the individual, overlooking the socio-economic and structural aspects of people’s mental health problems, and placing all hope in “one pill”. Thus i.e.crazy serves an important role in Claire’s health,
“It’s like homeopathy or ‘hair of the dog’, treat the illness with the problem. [That’s] how it works for me. This is music way more enjoyable and fun to perform than I’ve ever experienced before.”
Non Compos Mentis is released on Friday 21st April on Muzai Records
Song: Praying Mantis, You're A Stranger To Me Now, An Incident on The Edge of Town, A Welcoming Thing
Composer: Claire Duncan
Album: Non Compos Mentis