CLOVES is only 22, but she can already tell you a lot about ennui. In her new single "Wasted Time," the Australian singer-songwriter's haunting voice curls itself around some deeply probing questions — the kind many of us avoid thinking about for too long, because the answers might scald us. "I'm wasted time," she sings. "Why do you waste your time?"
In actuality, CLOVES — born Kaity Dunstan — hasn't wasted her time. She's known she wanted to be a singer since the age of five. After years performing in Melbourne, a 16-year-old CLOVES auditioned for season 2 of The Voice Australia. Her rendition of "Brand New Key" by Melanie turned all four judges' chairs. Since that breakthrough day, she's rebranded to CLOVES, released an EP, and spent three years recording her first album, One Big Nothing, forthcoming later this year.
We spoke to CLOVES about social anxiety, finding her voice (literally), and why she gave her homemade music vide an undeniable '90s vibe.
Refinery29: You’ve said that “Wasted Time” is your favorite song to date. How come?
"I wrote half of the album, and then got stuck. I was putting so much pressure on myself. I told myself, 'Every song you write has got to be amazing. Every song you write has to be the one that will make the album, has to be one you’ll be proud of.' It became a crippling thing for me. I ended up not being able to write anything. 'Wasted Time' came along when I was feeling super anxious, super self-doubtful. I’d have conversations with people and think, ‘Maybe they hate me. Maybe they don’t like me. Maybe I’m boring. Maybe this isn’t an interesting thing to say.’
"I came into the studio and I sat down and that was the subconscious topic that came out. After 'Wasted Time,' I started to find my feet a little bit more. I felt a little more encouraged. It’s one of my favorite records. It’s a good indication of the rest of the album. It’s cool as fuck. I’m super proud of it. It’s got such a nostalgia feel."
It’s funny that you bring up nostalgia. The video itself has such a vintage feel. What kind of mood were you aiming for with the video's washed-out images and the VHS typescript running in the bottom?
"I’m massively inspired by ‘90s music in general. I love Mazzy Star, I love Fiona Apple. I really wanted to bring that ‘90s Mazzy Star feel [to the video] because that’s the world I love to live.
"I actually edited the video together myself on iMovie on my laptop. I took footage that we shot at South by Southwest, made the lighting really interesting, way overexposed it, way oversaturated it, ran it through a couple of apps on my iPhone 5, did some weird chopping and cutting. That’s how the video came out."
When did you know you had a special voice? When did you realize singing and music were what you wanted to do?
"I’m not that confident in my vocal. In high school, my music teacher didn’t like me. She’d always mark me down and say I didn’t sing the way the song was written. I always found that really frustrating — I couldn’t sing it like that.
"I’m getting more comfortable that I have a vocal that’s really different. When I first started singing I didn’t understand why all these other people could sing Whitney Houston, and my singing is more tone-based and phrasing — there's not massive power. It took me a while to feel that was good enough, and that I could use it to my advantage. Over time, as I’ve started to get better in my songwriting, I’ve become aware of my own voice. I’ve decided to make changes in my melodies to fit my voice, rather [than] changes in my voice to fit my melodies. It was more an evolution in myself."
In the song “Wasted Time,” you ask the listener a pointed question: "Why do you waste your time?" What do you hope this song inspires in listeners?
"I want people to listen and go, ‘Oh yeah. I think like that all the time.’ It’s one of those internal conversations you have with yourself that you think is fucking crazy. You think no one else must feel like this. No one else must feel like they’re sitting at a table and feeling super anxious about everybody around you. I just hope that the words in this song can tell people don’t worry, I feel like that too. It’s a universal feeling to feel like you’re not good enough. Strive to start liking yourself. If you can take baby steps, then confidence will actually sick around. It won’t be this fake confidence that comes crashing down. It’ll be something that stays with you and evolves."
You can really navigate through a romantic relationship using music — so many songs are love songs. There are far fewer songs about social anxiety.
"In the second half of my record, I talk about [social anxiety] as well. It took three years to make the album. The first half of the record, I was in a relationship with a boyfriend I’d had since I was 16. I was a different person then. I was breaking up with someone. The section half of the record became like, 'Who am I? What do I want? How do I feel about myself? Why do I feel this about myself?'"
This is a breakup journey album, too.
"It was for the first year of making the album. It’s one of those things where you have such a constant in your life for so long, you can rely on that. Then you get too comfortable, and you stop feeling like you. You have to crawl back."
So in the album, we’ll hear you crawl back.
"Yes. Even though the album is called One Big Nothing, it is, in the end, a positive thing."