From ukulele to ‘Yellow,’ Claire Cooper discusses moving up in the music world

Claire Cooper performed her original song, ‘Yellow,’ at Lennox Community Theatre’s Variety Show in February 2023. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

People sometimes joke that the ukulele lessons they had in seventh grade didn’t prepare them for later life. But Claire Cooper is living proof that those lessons can open up a whole new world of possibilities. The 16-year-old singer-songwriter’s new single, ‘Yellow,’ is being released later this week.

“I’d written a couple of songs without any instrument, and then I picked up a ukulele… I was just like, ‘Wow, this is really cool. I can get into this,’” says Cooper, who quickly became enamoured with the little stringed instrument.

One day at around age 12 she had a song idea, so “I grabbed my ukulele. I wrote a whole song in an hour. [I thought], ‘Wow, how did that come out of me so fast?’ I got really into it, and I started writing more songs.” In fact, when those classroom music lessons were finished for the year, she was a bit disappointed; it had become her favourite part of the day.

‘Yellow’ began to take form about a year ago in March 2022, Cooper says. ”It was different than any of the other songs I had written, and it was really so refreshing.” She decided to continue working on it: ”It took a couple of months to write it, but it’s definitely one of my favourite songs.”

Being a bit older now has given her more perspective to work with, and her songs, she says, have taken on a new sense of “realness” they may not have had when she was younger. “I wrote ‘Yellow’ about the first girl I ever liked… and I think a lot of other people feel the same way… They can connect with the lyrics because it’s such a ‘teenage love story’ kind of thing.”

Making people feel less alone in the world is an important part of Cooper’s inspiration. “My music is a part of who I am, and I want to share my stories and my thoughts [with] the world… We all have feelings… things that we think no one can relate to. I want to put my music out there to be, ‘Hey, this is real, and it’s okay that you’re feeling this.’”

One song she has written specifically addresses other queer people, she says, “but it could be [applied to] anything: people of colour, people who’ve been bullied. It’s very universal,” and sympathetic to people who may feel alone or left out.

A follow-up to the EP Memories, released in January 2022, ‘Yellow’ is produced by Kingston’s Elevation Music Studio (EMS). Cooper is grateful for all the support they have given her since the day she and her “Momager,” Kristen Cooper, went in to find out where Cooper’s talents might lead.

The sunny then-12-year-old from Napanee showed EMS’s Ryan Lewis some of her songs. “He said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s amazing… you are so creative.’ He encouraged me to keep writing and keep going with my music, and I’m really thankful for that, because if he had [said], ‘Oh, you suck’…” she trails off and breaks into a laugh.

“It is scary at first. Music is very vulnerable… The only people [I’d] shown my songs to were my close friends and my mom… And when I sang [one song I had written], Ryan was like, ‘Wow, I love this and it relates to people of colour, too, and people who have been bullied and all kinds of other people’ and I thought, ‘that’s so true!’ It’s a universal language, music. It talks to so many people in so many different ways… That is the beauty of writing music and being vulnerable… It’s scary to be vulnerable, but it’s also good. It’s therapeutic for other people and for yourself because you tell the truth to yourself and… to others as well, and you feel less alone.”

Cooper, who lives in Napanee, calls her creative process “non-linear” — something the sixteen-year-old finds funny because she is learning about non-linear equations in grade 11 math at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School (HC). “So it’s totally non-linear… literally all over the place.” Sometimes she starts with chords, sometimes a melody, and often with some lyrics or a poem she has written. 

“It’s a little puzzle,” she says, giving the example of sitting in class at HC, having a melody come to her, asking the teacher to go to the washroom, and then writing out whole passages on her phone in the stall. “But I think that’s what makes it creative. And that’s what makes it unique to you… [You’ve] really got to do what’s unique to you and let your creativity flow.”

“I wanted to mention how happy I am that this song is coming out,” Cooper reflects, “because when we were working on it… I was struggling a lot mentally with [obsessive-compulsive disorder]. It was really tough, and one of the only times I felt at peace was working on this song… [It] was obviously a distraction, but also I found a way to be proud of myself. When you have a mental illness, you’re so down on yourself, and it’s hard to find things that make you happy. This made me so happy… It sparked a lot of joy in me. I think music, even if you don’t write it, is just a key part of life and happiness and discovering who you are.”

The single ‘Yellow’ drops Friday, Mar. 24, 2023, alongside Cooper’s 2022 EP Memories, on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. Listen for it on Kingstonist Radio, and find Cooper on Facebook at Claire Cooper Sings.

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