You may already know musician Saint Clair – but not by this name. Perhaps you’d know her better as Emma Topolski, the bassist and vocalist in softcore psych quartet CHILDCARE, or as the new vocalist in esteemed indie-rock band Bombay Bicycle Club, or recognised her work as a session multi-instrumentalist for the likes of Laura Marling, Ghostpoet and Dua Lipa.
Today, she has released her first single as Saint Clair since 2018, along with the announcement of a new visual EP ‘in the violet hour’, set for release on 6th November. The first of four chapters, single ‘goddess’, releases today along with stunning accompanying visuals directed by her sister.
Following the loss of her father, rowing coach and Observer journalist Daniel Topolski, she and her sister created the EP project as a creative outlet through which to channel their grief. If this first single is anything to go by, the EP is sure to be a beautiful, raw journey through the stages of grief, from denial and anger to acceptance and growth. Her velvet-tinged vocals ring out beautifully over rolling piano lines and electronica-infused bass grooves.
Not wanting to limit ‘in the violet hour’ to just one medium, the EP is a cohesive mix of music, art, film and photography. Independently made, self-funded and shot in their family home, ‘in the violet hour’ seeks to address a pain we will all experience at some stage of our lives.
We spoke to the multi-talented artist about life in lockdown, vulnerability in songwriting and the stages of processing grief. Check out the first chapter of ‘in the violet hour’ out now below.
Firstly, how has quarantine been for you, and where are you quarantining?
Quarantine has been a microcosm of every human experience and emotion in existence. There were moments where I felt gratefully tranquil as the pace of life slowed, moments of total drunken hysteria and joy, deep sadness at missed opportunities, loss of identity and a lack of connection with the people I love the most and despondent days where I’d just sit in joggers drinking mugs of tea, chipping away at my 1000-piece puzzle. I’ve been house-sitting in London with my sister and our partners – none of us have ever lived together before so it’s make or break!
How, if at all, has the lockdown affected your creativity?
What started as a great effort ended up petering off. I mainly did lots of bass scales… Thankfully, I’ve been locked down with my sister who directed my upcoming visual EP so we spent time concocting new ideas to accompany the release and shot some live videos and photos – we’ve become a literal in-house team! My boyfriend is an amazing musician so we worked on some music together and I also did a bit of remote recording for Bombay Bicycle Club who I joined at the start of the year.
Congratulations on the new single goddess, it’s beautiful. Can you talk to me about the track’s inspiration?
Thanks so much. goddess is the first chapter in a 4-part visual EP called in the violet hour directed by my sister Tam, which journeys through the different stages of grief following the loss of our dad. Without wanting to influence the viewer too much, our goddess essentially represents denial.
Putting your own experiences – especially profound ones – into your music can be cathartic, distressing and distracting in equal measure.
Your latest EP explores your personal experience with grief. What was the process like writing, recording and visualising such a vulnerable topic?
Putting your own experiences – especially profound ones – into your music can be cathartic, distressing and distracting in equal measure. Writing the lyrics and trying to sing them in the studio is always the hardest part for me as I feel the most connected to the emotion in that moment and get quite choked up (not ideal for the old larynx). With the visuals, there are so many components to worry about on set that you can often forget about the content; you’re too busy focusing on the lighting or the choreography or, in my case, the tarantula to get upset. Throughout the development process, however, my sister and I had to do loads of research and digging in the crates which forced us to revisit our grief quite starkly – we unearthed some previously undiscovered gems like camcorder footage and old photographs; I extracted a lot of the audio from those home videos to score the interludes between chapters; we shot the whole film in our family home and included many of Dad’s possessions. Those experiences were definitely heavy but I also loved being able to include Dad in the process and felt grateful to connect with him again.
Where did the idea to release the EP in chapters come from?
Once I put the collection of songs together, I knew I wanted to create stand-alone videos that told their own story but that could also be woven into the fabric of a broader narrative. The idea was to transport people on a journey through grief and loss but it wasn’t until my sister came on board to direct, that we developed a proper through line and arc for our protagonist. The videos will be released online in chapters but we will be screening the full film alongside the release of the EP in November.
Those experiences were definitely heavy but I also loved being able to include Dad in the process and felt grateful to connect with him again.
What do you hope listeners will be able to take away from listening to the EP?
A big warm, emotional, cathartic cuddle. That feeling you get after an unexpected weep that goes on much longer than anticipated and you feel drained yet at peace.
At BRICKS we like to share the love – who are some emerging creatives in your field who you think are killing it?
My other band CHILDCARE of course. Also, Sampa the Great, Charlotte Adigery, Tirzah, Jain, Eliza Shaddad, Holly Walker, Little Simz, Sevdaliza, Kashu…
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