Today, we are thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with Chloe Matharu, an extraordinary singer-songwriter hailing from the enchanting West Coast of Scotland. Chloe’s music is a testament to her unique background as a Navigational Officer in the Merchant Navy, where she draws inspiration from her experiences to craft poignant songwriting and haunting melodies that offer a fresh perspective on the seafarer’s life. With her remarkable talent as both a vocalist and harpist, Chloe has garnered critical acclaim, firmly establishing herself as a rising star in the maritime folk music tradition. Join us as we delve into her musical journey and discover the magic behind her highly anticipated music video, “Clyde Islands.”
Chloe’s compositions weave tales of the sea, transporting listeners to distant shores and captivating their hearts with her thoughtfully crafted lyrics and evocative melodies. Her voyages on oil tankers across the globe have provided her with a deep understanding of the modern seafarer’s life, and she effortlessly translates those experiences into a musical tapestry that reflects the rich seafaring tradition with a contemporary twist. Through her music, Chloe offers a glimpse into the emotions, challenges, and triumphs of those who navigate the open waters, creating a truly immersive experience for her audience.
Renowned for her captivating voice, Chloe Matharu has received high praise from critics and industry insiders alike. BBC Radio Scotland describes her music as “truly haunting,” capturing the essence of her ethereal sound. Acclaimed artist Anais Mitchell refers to Chloe as “a voice of milk and honey,” highlighting the sweetness and purity that resonates in her vocals. Bella Hardy, another respected folk artist, recognizes Chloe’s voice as “the voice of a folk classic,” solidifying her position as a leading figure in the genre. With each performance, Chloe leaves a lasting impression on her listeners, captivating them with her emotive delivery and impeccable musicality.
The release of her music video for “Clyde Islands” further showcases Chloe’s artistic prowess and her ability to create a deep emotional connection with her audience. Directed by a team of accomplished creatives, the video takes viewers on a visual journey through scenic landscapes and maritime imagery, perfectly complementing the ethereal atmosphere of the song. The combination of Chloe’s haunting vocals and the enchanting melodies produced by her harp creates an immersive experience that lingers long after the video ends, leaving a lasting imprint on the hearts and minds of all who watch it.
Critics have praised Chloe Matharu’s work, recognizing her unique blend of maritime folk traditions and insightful songwriting. “The Herald” describes her latest release as “an exquisite release,” highlighting the intricate fusion of tradition and contemporary elements in her music. They further acknowledge Chloe’s contribution to a new tradition of maritime folk music, establishing her as a rising star in the genre and breathing new life into its rich history. FolkRadio UK echoes these sentiments, commending Chloe’s ability to create music with a natural ebb and flow that carries the listener along on a beautiful and dynamic journey.
“Clyde Islands” serves as a testament to Chloe Matharu’s artistic vision and her innate ability to create a profound emotional connection through her music. The music video provides a glimpse into the soul-stirring experience that awaits fans and newcomers alike, inviting them to embark on a musical voyage through the seas of folk tradition.
Check out the exclusive interview with Chloe, below as we delve deeper into her musical journey, the inspiration behind her captivating compositions, and her vision for the future.
Can you tell us about your journey as an indie musician? What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I was drawn to music growing up in Edinburgh, it’s all around you- especially traditional music. I would get lost in the stories of old Scottish ballads and as someone who’s never fitted in, it felt like something special that was just for me to escape to after school. Although my family wasn’t musical they were very supportive and arranged for me to learn the Celtic Harp which was something I’d dreamed of for a while. I always imagined I’d become a singer but it was hard to visualize what life would look like as an independent artist seeing as most of the mainstream stuff that reaches you consists of signed and commercial artists. My mother would say there was no point doing music unless you became a household name. That type of mindset put pressure on my passion for music and made me feel that enjoying it for the creative journey alone was going to get me nowhere.
Despite this I did music semi-professionally for a few years whilst in high school, touring with my trio, guitarist Ewan MacPherson (Shooglenifty) and fiddle player Lauren MacColl (Heel and Harrow). After a few years I felt I needed to see more of the world and so took a break from music and left for sea. I’d been obsessed with oil tankers from a young age and wanted to experience life in the Merchant Navy. I wanted to travel and experience things from an entirely new perspective: from sea.This also allowed me the space to realise my priorities in music, and how that was very much about needing to share my own authentic message, not about ticking boxes to become a renowned act.
After finishing my cadetship and moving up the ranks as a Navigational Officer working on board tankers, cruise ships, tug boats, ferries, I left sea in time for maternity leave. I kept up song writing, documenting my experiences onboard. After becoming a mother, it was important to me to record a selection of these songs and so I produced an eight track album which was released in October 2022. That’s how my album, Small Voyages, was born. It was for my daughter really.
I had little expectations of how it would be received but I’m delighted to say it’s gone on to win Celtic Music Radio’s Album of the Year 2022, and in 2023 I’ve been awarded a Danny at Celtic Connections, been nominated in the Wales Folk Awards, as well as Canada’s Goderich Celtic Festival Emerging Artist Showcase, and was awarded Greenock Telegraph’s Live Music Award. Although this is heartening and means so much to me, the reason I do music is because of my creative calling. It doesn’t really feel like a choice.
How would you describe your unique style and sound as an artist?
What sets you apart from other musicians? I weave together harp arrangements with field recordings from sea to create an ethereal backdrop to thoughtful lyrics. My music has been described as “truly haunting” BBC Radio Scotland, “a voice of milk and honey” Anais Mitchell and “beautiful…soulful” Mike Harding. I create a juxtaposition of the industrial marine environment to that of the soft melodic nature of my singing and harp. I do this to challenge people’s perception of the Merchant Seaman.
Could you share some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an indie musician and how you overcame them?
Finding funding for projects is difficult. My marine background helped me create my first project and I’ve recouped these costs by selling CDs and gigging. But harps need servicing, strings break, and you need electronic equipment to help you develop independence as an artist. Money is needed for mundane things as well as creative projects. Being selected by Showcase Scotland to be part of Global Music Match 2022 was a game changer. It offered me one-to-one sessions, guidance and a professional network of other musicians, and introductions to mentors who have helped me develop as an artist. It’s also taught me a host of things such as basic videographer, recording, and editing skills. This means I am left with the ability to bring some projects in-house if budgets necessitate which, although still out of my comfort zone, means a wonderful sense of freedom!
What is your creative process like? How do you approach songwriting and composing music?
Songs come to me as a melody with lyrics. I start with a phrase and proceed to write the whole song. I then sit down at the harp to find an arrangement to accompany it. Phrases come to me most days and I only really remember them if I sit down straight away and finish it with all the verses and chorus. If that doesn’t happen I am unlikely to revisit a phrase to finish the song at a later date. It’s usually from an experience or sense of wonder or awe at being at one with the elements that these musical ideas come to me. My approach is developed from my history as a singer of traditional song. I started singing traditional Scots songs with the harp and so it’s natural for me to create the songs first and then write the arrangement afterward.
Are there any particular themes or messages that you aim to convey through your music? What inspires your lyrics?
Through music, I lend a voice to the modern-day seafarer, a marginalized part of society that many people are unaware of. Merchant mariners make up civilian shipping, we carry fuel and stores, passengers, and man research vessels. You mention the Navy and everyone thinks of the military. That’s not us. Although in folk music people do keep traditional maritime songs alive- it’s centered around large crews and men. It’s not reflective of the modern-day mariner. My songs are inspired by the natural world, as experienced at sea.
I explore themes of longing for loved ones and isolation. Storytelling is so important in music, mine are first-hand stories about an industry I am a part of. As well as this my personal experiences inspire my lyrics. Catching a Free Ride is a track from my recent album, it’s a love song for my daughter. She suffered a stroke when she was an infant and was later diagnosed with a rare neurological condition. This song is about how her bright and cheerful soul carried me through that dark time and as a parent I realized at that moment how children can be our best teachers.It’s about how she makes every day brighter and life more meaningful just by being around.
The track Frozen World was written inspired by sailing off the coast of Alaska, seeing ice floats and the Northern Lights for the first time. It’s also about the emotional aspects of life as a modern-day seafarer: much of your sea trip is spent alone. The Ship’s in the Night is a song about Celestial Navigation- a way to navigate by the stars which we still use in everyday practice- and how my and my husband’s view of the celestial sky was entirely different since we were sailing on different ships in different hemispheres.
What are your long-term goals as an indie musician? Where do you see yourself and your music in the next few years?
This year I am sharing a couple of singles I am working on right now and I am touring the UK. I am really excited about these singles as they are electronic soundscapes, further developing the use of field recordings in my music. I am also writing a theatre piece and potentially collaborating with a pair of dancers to take this on the road in the next year or so. I am planning to record an album in Canada and tour North America in 2024 or 25. It’s very exciting to see how you can develop a sustainable and exciting career within music whilst also maintaining an authentic and unique in sound.