Inside the Music with Chloe Flower

Interview with Chloe Flower

Chloe Flower is an exciting and innovative composer, writer, producer and pianist who has recently released her eponymously-titled debut solo album.

Flower made waves in 2019 accompanying Cardi B at the Grammy Awards, and she has pioneered a new genre of music called POPSICAL. We caught up with her to find out about how she got started in music, her songwriting process, what POPSICAL really means, and more.

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Interview with pianist and songwriter Chloe Flower

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): We'd love to start with the beginning of music for you. Can you tell us about your first memory of music as a child?

Chloe Flower ("C"): Yeah, you know, I knew I was going to be a musician since I think I was four. And my parents tell this story how when I heard Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, I would recognize it when I was still in the crib and couldn't talk. So they knew I was musically inclined because I could recognize the theme. Apparently I was really excited about it. It's not my favorite piece right now, but back then I guess it was! Other than that memory, I also remember my first performance. My mom said I was three, but I remember being at a nursing home and I was sitting on a telephone book. So music is definitely always something that I knew was the only thing I could do 12 hours a day and not like, hate my life!

S: Haha! So, you started playing piano at three. Can you tell us more about your musical journey from that age until now?

C: Yeah, sure. So, I took very casual lessons, but didn't have any conservatory level training until I was 12. So when I got to New York, everybody's like, "you're so old! You're 12?! We started conservatory at 6!" And so I felt so behind. But I just learned the basics. I didn't have a huge repertoire. I played the Chopins, the minuets, Bach and all of those things up until 12. And then from 12 on, it was like hardcore 14 hours a day, every day.

S: Wow, that's incredible. Switching topics can you tell us a little bit about the musical genre you call POPSICAL?

C: Yeah, you know, it was like this thing that I've been calling my sound for a hundred years. Well, at least 15 years I've been calling it that, because there was never really a genre that I fit into. I wasn't traditional classical-crossover, right? Because that was mostly like EDM beats and longer pieces. And I wasn't pop, and I wasn't classical. And my friends would say, "I don't get it. What's your sound?" And I'm like, "it's pop and classical, like more pop than crossover. But like, you know, it still has a little bit of classical. It's a new way of listening to instrumental." And I felt like I always had to say it that way.

   POPSICAL was about being able to put a word to what I do instead of like 10 sentences."

And then finally, right before the pandemic started, I performed with Renée Fleming at Lake Nona. And when they introduced me, they were like, "she created a genre called POPSICAL." But that was like our inside joke - I had never announced that before! And then afterwards, people were like, "I love that!" And so it just became more of a thing in February 2020. And it was about being able to put a word to what I do instead of like 10 sentences. And there has to be other musicians out there, not just pianists, but violinists, cellists, harpist who feel the same way, right? They don't really fit into pop, and they don't really fit into classical or classical-crossover. So it's not just for me, it's for anybody. I really hope that in the future a lot of people can identify with it and create sounds and songs within that space.

S: That's awesome. When I listen to your music, it's obvious that some of your beats are hip-hop inspired so I assume you have a love of hip-hop?

C: I do. You know, it's funny, because in the week leading up to my classical concerts I would always watch figure skating and hip-hop videos. I was obsessed with them because I just loved the performance and I was like, "oh, I wish I could do that as a pianist." But it was something very separate. It was like, this is pop, and this is what I do. And it wasn't until much later that I realized that I could put those things together. Because it's not just about the sound, it's also about the aesthetic and the packaging. All of those things are what make pop music popular, right? So it's just creating a new package.

S: That's awesome. So, your debut solo album which came out in July. When did you first start working on that? Congratulations, by the way!

C: Maybe like 11 years ago! I think I wrote "Bohemia" in like 2012 or something, I don't remember. And then the solo piano stuff I wrote during the pandemic here in my apartment. But, you know, it's almost like a mixtape because it's not just hip-hop. There's hip-hop beats in "Get What U Get." And then there's like trap beats too. And then "No Limit" has reggaeton beats and some 808 too in that hip-hop space. And then the POPSICAL stuff has a more cinematic feel. So that's the whole idea of POPSICAL. Everyone was like "you have to just do classical" or "you just have to do crossover" or "you have to do just hip-hop beats." But my sound is so much more than just one thing. And I think that's like a new way of listening to instrumental music. I want people to hear my music or my playing as an instrumentalist and be like "oh, that sounds like Chloe Flower" or "that sounds like somebody else," you know? Everyone has a sound. For instance, the other day I had someone do a demo for me and my boyfriend's like "that doesn't sound like you." And I was like "you can tell I have a sound!" So, someone who has the most basic knowledge of music can identify a sound, right?

S: Right! And how do you approach songwriting? Because some of your songs are pure solo piano, and others include beats with additional layers.

C: When I'm doing a song that has many sounds like the piano and the strings and drums, I treat every drum sound like an instrument. So every hi-hat, I listen to it solo. I listen to it with each song. It takes forever. I listen to the whole song with just the hi-hats or just the 808 or just the kick. And then I listen to them together in so many different variations. Before the pandemic, I would go in an Uber and listen to them. But I always write the actual music first, and then add the drums and the strings around what I've already written. And then obviously I'll make some changes. But that's typically been the way that I've been able to do it.

   Most everyone else writes to an existing beat or sings to an already existing produced track, and fill in the rest around that. I do the opposite."

I think there's only one other artist who sings their part first and then you create and produce around it, and that's Brandy. My producer, Babyface, told me that. He's like "there's only one other person that does it the way you do it, it's Brandy. You guys are strange!" But most everyone else writes to an existing beat or sings to an already existing produced track, and fill in the rest around that. I do the opposite. I find with instrumental music it's easier that way. Then I don't feel constrained to follow a sample pattern over and over again. Because again, the drums are like an instrument, so they come in and out, they change. I never copy and paste, ever. I think that gives it that more natural feel, so it doesn't sound as produced.

S: That's incredible. You've worked with an impressive array of artists in recent years. Are there any you particularly enjoyed working with? And is there anyone you'd love to work with that you haven't yet?

   I would love to work with Ariana Grande, like do a sick ballad. It would be great."

C: Well, I mean, obviously, I loved working with Cardi B. She was amazing, so gracious, so kind. Such a girl's girl. So that was obviously a huge moment for my career. One artist I would love to work with is Ariana Grande. I just think she's so talented and she's such a great performer. But also when she's in the studio, she has such a huge part in the music and the background vocals, and she is basically producing while she's back there in the booth. Tommy Brown, who co-produced my song "Get What U Get" produced "thank u next" and "7 rings." And so I know how she records. And I know some of the things even from just seeing her on YouTube in her BTS. But I'm like "wow, she's like a real musician." I would love to work with her, like do a sick ballad. It would be great.

S: Very cool to hear about how amazing Cardi B was. I LOVE the Ariana collab idea! What are you working on next that we can look forward to?

C: I actually have two amazing, very POPSICAL sounding songs coming out in October this fall. I partnered with Krug – the champagne company – and they commissioned me to write two new pieces around their upcoming vintage that's going to be released in October. So I'm really excited about that because they're very cinematic again, they’re so different. No drum beats, just purely strings and piano. But it's like I was saying the other day on Instagram – I think I just wrote my first concerto by accident! It’s very concerto sounding. Only short, three minutes, which is the perfect pop song, right? I don't know if people have the capacity to listen to 20 minute long first movement concertos anymore, but yes, I'm really excited to share that with everyone.

S: Fantastic! And one final question: what advice would you give to aspiring pianists?

   Always ask for help or ask for an opportunity. And the worst thing that anyone can say is no."

C: You know, one of the things that I love to tell people when they ask me for advice is to never be afraid of the word "no." That's one thing where I don't think I would be where I am today. Always ask for help or ask for an opportunity. And the worst thing that anyone can say is no. And I think people are often scared of that word. So they don't want to ask, but you won't believe how many times you'll get a yes. And if you get a no, it has nothing to do with you. It's just not the right time or it's not the right connection or collaboration. And often you'll find that if someone can't help you, they'll know somebody who might be able to help you instead of them. And so don't be afraid of no and always ask for help.

S: That's amazing advice - love it! Chloe, thanks so much for your time. We look forward to catching up with you again soon.

C: Same. I'm so happy to be working with you guys!

S: Appreciate it. Thanks much, Chloe.

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