Clara Sanabras talks new album and on-going collaboration with Sir Ray Davies

Clara Sanabras is fresh from working with The Kinks' Sir Ray Davies on the 50th anniversary edition of the seminal 1968 LP ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society'.

The Spanish singer/songwriter impressed the 'You Really Got Me' singer so much with her vocals, electric guitar and harmonium contributions that they are continuing their musical partnership.

Clara is speaking to Lizzie's Lowdown days before the release of her new album 'Fugue to the Floating World', out on Friday (03.05.19), which she worked on whilst collaborating with Ray.

Here, Clara explains how studying the brain's capacity to change (Neuroplasticity), "humanity’s unquenchable thirst for escapism", elements of Jungian psychology and ancient teachings have informed this stunning explorative 10-track "collection of confessional love songs".

Plus, she talks about working with "prophet" Sir Ray, who she describes as a "premonition of modern times", late 'Titanic' composer James Horner being a mentor, and the excitement of finally getting to play the legendary Wilton's Music Hall in London - a place, she says, is full of ghosts and will provide the perfect "mysterious energy" to showcase this unique folk record.

Tell us how your research into the Neuroplasticity of the brain has informed the album?

Reading about the brain and its capacity to change (what we now know as Neuroplasticity) has made me explore the boundaries of my own reality, made me question where the line between the real world and the dream world may be.

At times this line gets blurred and we may be able to alter our own realities.

During the creation of 'Fugue to the Floating World', I concluded that in order to find my bearings, I needed to lose them - to set myself free in a floating world for a while, explore figures of darkness in order to find the light, as Jung advises.

Everything has its opposite and can only be understood if you understand both - the album is a meditation on humanity’s unquenchable thirst for escapism, a collection of confessional love songs pitting the urge to fly free against the need for solid ground beneath our feet.

Watch the music video for 'The Words':

Which song started off the album?

Helium Horses. 

Reading about how Helium (the element) was discovered was almost like reading the story of a man, a recluse, who has been held captive, who is stuck in a role, and who needs to be found in order to fly.

But only by finding himself can he do so.

Also, I do a lot of equine therapy with my son, and firmly believe in the curative powers of horses through their energetic fields.

The song is a result of of these rather abstract thoughts but is a song of hope and the power to free oneself. 

Your drawings are also included with the CD. When you are writing lyrics are you creating a visual in your head? 

Yes, and sometimes the visual comes before the song.

I think a lot about the etymology of words, where they come from, sometimes they are onomatopoeic, and originate from a sound in nature, from a historical fact and, these references bring imagery to my mind, which is not necessarily related to the words themselves by grammar, but directly by meaning.

The meaning of things before they become explainable in words.

So I enjoy turning my words back into pictures and vice-versa, the results of such an exploration can sometimes lead to fascinating discoveries!

Is there scope for the album to be turned into a musical? 

I think it could be a folk opera definitely! The subject matter is perhaps too enigmatic for a musical, but there’s a definite narrative, some clearly defined characters, a Prelude, a Fugue, several Leit Motifs and a Conclusion. I’ll get onto it, thanks!

How did you come to work with guitar legend Jimmy Smyth on the album? 

We met while working together with the RTE orchestra in Dublin, performing the soundtrack to 'The Lord of the Rings Live'.

We sat next to each other for a week, during which, we realised we shared so much as humans and musically.

We were interested in many similar things and so decided do a project together!

Mostly on the phone for two years and in the studio for three days. 

There are so many different layers to your music. What was the most challenging part of making the album?

I wanted to produce something with a big, cosmic sound but strive to keep it as uncluttered as possible, so that each sonority had its own space; Jimmy’s guitar right at the top, my vocal in the centre, strings, flugelhorn, everything finding its place, without conflict.

I produced the album with engineer Peter Schwier, who has a truly exceptional ear.

He has worked with some incredible musicians during his career, Dexys, Sir Paul McCartney and many others. I am blessed to be able to collaborate with him. 

You have been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. How does that feel?

Those two women are extraordinary talents so it feels good, although I’m not one to believe that comparisons are always necessary or helpful.

The world has become so compartmentalised that we feel we have to label everything in order to make an informed choice.

But this sometimes rules out the spontaneity of an impulsive reaction.

Hearing new music that you know nothing about, and being moved by it, not because it sounds like something familiar, but because you’ve never heard anything quite like it - that’s an even better state to strive towards than being compared to the greats. 

Who are your personal musical heroes? 

Cocteau Twins and J S Bach in equal measure. Elliott Smith, The Pogues, Roxy Music, Maurice Ravel, Natalie Merchant, Ella Fitzgerald, Pierre de la Rue (a Franco-Flemish composer and singer of the Renaissance).

You’ve featured on soundtracks for The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. Are you working on anything movie-wise at the moment? 

I frequently tour with Titanic-live, The Lord of the Rings-live and Gladiator-live.

It’s a great vocal challenge and I get to perform with the best international orchestras.


You have chosen The Wilton's Music Hall to launch your album (May 2). What’s special about that venue?

I have dreamt of performing at Wilton's Music Hall for years.

It’s beautiful, magical, it’s full of ghosts, good ghosts!

You need that kind of mysterious energy in a venue. 

The vibrations of centuries still resonate there, and I look forward to tapping into them on May 2.

We have to ask about your work on the reissue of 'The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society'. How did that come about?

I met Sir Ray Davies through Harvey Brough, my closest musical ally.

He had been commissioned by chief Kink to arrange 'The Village Green Preservation Society' album for his choir, Vox Holloway, and band of strings, harp, brass, rhythm section.

I was brought in to sing some of the songs and play electric guitar and harmonium.

Harvey and I recorded a demo for Ray, which we took to Konk Studios (founded by The Kinks) to present to him.

He was so complimentary about it, and had very clear ideas of what he wanted, he recorded new spoke word inserts to be played between songs, so together we presented this magical evening last October where the legendary album was performed by 150 people.

Ray and his wife were there, there was a standing ovation, it was a dream come true.


What was it like working with Sir Ray Davies? 

He is a prophet. Those songs, written 50 years ago, are a premonition of modern times.

You can see that spark in his eyes, he just “knows” stuff Ray does.

He is connected to something that defies explanation. 

Our collaboration is on-going, something that fills me with great excitement.

You were lucky enough to work with the late great James Horner ('Titanic' composer). Was he somewhat of a mentor to you? 

He was, absolutely a mentor to me. Not just in musical terms but as a human being.

We just met and were instant friends.

He was a very humble person, always trying new ways with his music, he always gave the orchestral solos to the 5th player in the section - the guy who never gets the solo, that kind of thing.

He chose me for the project Titanic-live, he said: “Clara will be Celine Dion”, something that still makes me chuckle whenever I think about it.

What have you got coming up for the rest of the year?

My piece “A HUM ABOUT MINE EARS” based on Shakespeare’s Tempest, has been programmed at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and I’m super-excited about that.

As a re-imagining of the Tempest, I emancipated Miranda, by writing her a feminist anthem. This was inspired by my years working at The Globe as an actor-musician and sharing a billing once with Vanessa Redgrave who was playing a female Prospero.

That’s what inspired my piece, and now, I get to bring it back to its place of conception.

This performance will be part of The Globe’s Folk Festival and will take place on Sunday, September 15th 2019. 

Clara Sanabras 'Fugue to the Floating World' is released on May 3.