At just 15 years old, Cloe Wilder is taking the world by storm. The rising star has been in the independent music game for just a few short years, but she’s already making strides.
Earlier this year, she released her very first EP, “Teenage Lullabies.” On the EP, Cloe sings of death, distance, and the teenage experience.
“I feel like there’s also a way you can write about something even if it’s just a pretty unique experience,” she told HangTime about writing the EP. “You can still write about it in a way that is broad.”
Despite all her success, like so many young artists, Cloe still struggles with balancing her mental health and her music career. “It’s such a tough thing to balance because you don’t really realize that that’s going to happen to you,” Cloe told HangTime about experiencing pressure to create on a timeline. “You’re like, ‘Oh, I love writing songs. This is gonna be fine. I can do this everyday.’ And then when it comes down to it, you’re like, ‘I am so drained. I have severe writer’s block and I’m still writing!’”
As part of our Women in Music & Mental Health series, we spoke to Cloe about finally performing live, her love for Phoebe Bridgers, her evolving sound, and why it’s important to write songs she’ll never release.
HangTime: So I wanted to start just by asking you about a few of the responses that you gave to the screening questions that we sent you. Thank you so much for answering those, by the way.
Cloe Wilder: Oh, sure, yeah!
HT: So in response to the question we asked, “How has creating helped you discover yourself and your identity,” you noted that “being an artist presented another reason for being a songwriter.” I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind elaborating on that a little bit or just like explaining what you meant by that exactly.
CW: For sure. I think that I was, you know—I always feel like I’m writing songs for myself and even being an artist, that hasn’t changed, but it just felt really cool to have something to contribute everything I was writing to. Like an EP, or even just a release. I just really enjoy having a body of work or a library of songs to contribute the songs that I was already making for myself towards. So yeah, I think what I meant by “it presented a reason for being a songwriter” was that my songs had a place to live, you know?
HT: Right, it’s like a self-fulfilling type of thing, yeah.
CW: Yeah, totally, totally. Especially—it was so much more special that they were just mine at that point, and that just furthered the fact that they were mine, that I was releasing them under my name, too. So I think it just made me feel so much more independent, and I already am, you know, an “independent” artist but just in that sense. It made me feel like I was actually doing the work because it was all mine at that point.
HT: Right, right, right. Absolutely, that’s amazing.
CW: Yeah, thank you!
HT: So we also asked how other artists’ work has helped in your own healing process and you explained that “relating to other artists on a human level is really special, it’s so cool when an artist is that honest with you as a listener,” and I totally agree with that. I loved that. I was wondering which artists in particular’s work would you say that you’ve connected with on that level the most and, sort of related to that as well, is there any artist in particular whose work has helped you through a hard time or helped you improve your own mental health?
CW: Especially right now, Phoebe Bridgers. Phoebe Bridgers has been my artist of choice for like, I don’t know, just the past—I discovered her during quarantine times, kind of, and I was obviously not mentally well during that time. *Laughs* Most weren’t.
HT: Not the best time in our lives, yeah.
CW: But yeah, so that was a really special relationship that I developed with her music. I just absolutely fell in love with Phoebe Bridgers. And I’m seeing her live in October and I’m so excited!
HT: That’s so exciting!
CW: I know! Even just musically she just became a really big inspiration of mine during that time and I think that always comes from relating to them. Any artist that I feel like I’ve been sonically inspired by has come from me just genuinely enjoying their music as a listener and Phoebe Bridgers is so visual and detailed and funny and dark and I feel like that all just described the life that I was living during the past year. I feel like it was all just funny and weird and dark and sad. *Laughs*
CW: You know? Especially this past year, I feel like it was just ironic how terrible everything was and I think that her music kind of went along with that, the way that she describes things. So yeah, I just really fell in love with that and it allowed me to step back into my listener shoes which I feel like, ever since I started writing music, I have a hard time doing. But listening to her whole library, I can literally just be a person listening to music and I’m not picking it apart just because of how perfect it is for me. So yeah, that has been like my main one.
HT: Why do you think that it’s so much harder for you to put on the listener shoes, as you say, since you started putting out music yourself? What do you think is difficult about that for you?
CW: I think just being an independent artist especially and being so hard on myself, ‘cause it’s scary putting out projects where you’re just guessing. Especially during the past year where I put out this EP and I couldn’t even sing it for anybody and I was terrified that nobody was gonna like it and it was my first project. I feel like I’m just so hard on myself anyway, so listening to other people’s music, I go into it with more of a—I don’t wanna say “business” ‘cause that’s not who I am and obviously I am an artist so I can’t really do that, but it’s just a very different way of listening to things where you’re almost automatically comparing it to yourself. Even if you’re not trying to, you’re not trying to be mean to yourself or to this artist. It’s just a natural thing that happens, but then there’s every once in a while when you come across that one artist who really just brings you back to a time when you were just listening to music to listen to music, and that’s really cool. I think it’s more just listening to people and being like, “Oh, well I really like the way they put together this project and it’s so cohesive!” I feel like that is how I was—I still am, a little bit, being more appreciative of artists’ work in that sense. But then, when you’re appreciative of it in a lyrical way and you’re not even jealous of it or anything—which you can’t really even help that sometimes—but I think that crosses the line, like I said, to the human level. I feel like that’s where I wanna be, you know?
HT: Absolutely, yeah. So you mentioned not being able to perform the EP live—have you been able to perform since you put it out?
CW: Yes, I just did my first real performance. It was kind of the first you could get tickets to. I’d done a couple live performances pre-COVID but I only had, like, two songs out so I don’t really count it. *Laughs* But yeah, I performed in LA!
HT: Oh, that’s so exciting!
CW: And I got to perform all of the EP, all 7 songs, and it was so, so cool!
HT: That’s so fun.
CW: And people knew the words which was so sick. But yeah, it was so fun! I just came home and cried. It was awesome, honestly. It was so nice. I just really connected with people over the fact that—and there were so many people there who had worked on the EP and who had helped bring it to life and we were all in the space together just singing these songs and it was so cool. I feel like we were all like, “Wow, this is a real thing that we really did.” So that just felt so nice, it was, like, solidifying as an artist to be there and have all these people show up for you and know that it actually held some weight almost. It was really, really special and just made me feel so much better about everything. ‘Cause like I said before, it was kind of scary putting it out because I’m a very insecure artist anyway, and I feel like everybody is but I was especially insecure about this because it was my first project and I loved it. I loved it so much, I loved it more than anything I’d done before, but that almost made me feel more insecure about it. Because I was like, “Oh my God, if people don’t like this, this is gonna crush me.”
HT: Right. The stakes are high.
CW: Yeah, it was just really nice being in this small venue in a space with a bunch of people who just cared for it and treated it so delicately and we were just all together and it felt so nice. I had the best time. I got to perform a little bit later. You know, I’m not saying “no” to anything at this point because I wanna do it so bad.
HT: Of course! So much time lost.
CW: Yeah, so I did another show later where I only performed one of the songs off the EP. But really anything I can do at this point is so exciting and so cool. So I’m just like, I’m gonna do all of it.
HT: All of the things, yes.
CW: It’s so fun and honestly the way that I felt after performing at that small venue with mostly people I knew, it reminded me why I love doing all of it so much. And it’s funny because I didn’t really realize that I needed something to tell me that but after that I felt so much better and I didn’t even know that there was something missing. So it was really cool and I can’t wait to do more.
HT: I’m so happy for you!
CW: Thank you!
HT: Well I’ll just say that I loved the EP, so congratulations on that!
CW: Thank you so much!
HT: I wanted to ask if there were any songs in particular off the EP that come to mind specifically that you wrote as a means to help you through a low moment or as an act of healing? Is there anything specific that comes to mind?
CW: Totally! I mean that whole thing was a pretty therapeutic process but I feel like the ones that stand out to me the most probably…‘It’s True’ was the first song we wrote for the EP and that was definitely about my depression as a teenaged artist in a way and missing out on some classic teenage experiences. So that was a very nice healing song because I’d never written about that before. It almost felt strange to sit down and write about something like that because I didn’t feel like people would be able to relate to that and that’s so important to me. But then, I feel like there’s also a way you can write about something even if it’s just a pretty unique experience. You can still write about it in a way that is broad. So I just tried to do that. But this was basically just me agreeing with mostly adults in my life that were telling me, “Yeah, you’re gonna miss some really important experiences,” and I was always like, “Screw you! I don’t care!” before that, and then later I’ve been like, “Okay, you guys were kind of right.” No regrets, but there’s definitely some empty places. But I feel like that song was kind of just like, “Okay, I’m making my peace with the fact that this is what I chose and I’m happy to be here. Just a very self-reflective song. And then, ‘Call Me If You Need Me’ was about, recently—not recently, I guess it’s been over the past couple years—travelling back and forth between Florida and California. I’m mainly based in Florida but my whole team is in LA so I go there pretty often and I have already realized that that’s where I’d like to be. And you know, I’m fifteen, so I’ve got a few more years until I can really make that call for myself. So that [song] was more just me acknowledging the fact that it’s cool that I already know where I want to be and exactly what I want to do but it’s also kind of sad for the people around me because I’m so vocal about it and I’m like, “I’m not gonna be here in a few years!” *Laughs* That was definitely me just being more open about it and, like, I’ll be there for you, I just won’t be there.
HT: Physically, yeah.
CW: Yeah, so those were both, I feel like, the most self-reflective. ‘Call Me If You Need Me’ is probably my favourite one off of that EP just because that’s what I feel like most of the time is the struggle between the two lifestyles. Because [when] I’m in LA, I’m basically living my “adult” idealized life and I’m doing all the work I want to be doing but then when I come back, I do homework. *Laughs* And that’s really it. So it’s very awkward, it’s a very awkward transition. So I guess that was more written in the future tense of how it’s gonna be in a few years. And then, ‘In the Next Life’ is really just about the concept of death which I hadn’t written about before just because it’s so heavy. Especially for how this EP was coming together sonically, I was like, “I don’t know if I can write a pretty, dreamy song about dying.” But then, we were just talking about it and I was talking about how I haven’t experienced a lot of major deaths in my life, but when my grandpa passed away a few years ago—not a few years ago, way longer than that! But I was just thinking about how I wasn’t that close with him but obviously that was upsetting and how that was weird to me, being upset by the loss of a person that wasn’t really in your daily life but you still knew of them. That was really strange. Then also, seeing how it kind of tore apart my whole family which was unexpected, too. We were all just so shocked by it and that was kind of realizing the importance of a person after they’re gone. So we were just discussing how messed up all of it is and how also, it came to my mind that I think it’s really sweet that we as humans, when another human dies, we’re all like, “Okay, but this isn’t the end, we’ll see you again.” Even if we don’t really believe that, I think it’s kinda cute. So that’s why it came together as, “In the next life/I made a deal with the other side,” because I’m not doing that, I know I can’t do that but it’s just nice to think.
HT: It’s like a nice sentiment, yeah.
CW: Yeah, yeah.
HT: So you mentioned when you were talking about ‘It’s True’, being concerned it might not be relatable to people and then going forward with it anyways. How important do you think it is to you that your music will be relatable or that people will relate to it? Or is it more just, you’ll write for yourself and then if people connect to it, they connect to it, but if they don’t then it’s still something for you?
CW: Yeah, that’s kind of more how it is. I definitely have it in my mind to write my songs in a way that could be a little wider, but then again I try not to get caught up in it so if it happens that way, it happens that way. But yeah, I’m a songwriter first and I’m writing for myself first, for sure. Even if it’s not just for myself therapeutically, it’s for myself as an artist so I kind of have to think in that way. It’s really just a bonus if people really connect to it. Obviously that’s always something I’m hoping for but then again, when it comes to a project, I feel like there’s always gonna be those few songs on it that you wrote on a topic that is obviously relatable. I find that with most artists, so I try not to worry about it anymore because if something’s truly special and it’s special to more people than just you then it’ll come across that way. So definitely a bonus and I love when that happens.
HT: I wanted to ask you about the song, ‘Layla’. That one really stood out thematically to me and I wanted to address specifically the lyrics, “Oh, Layla, I wish I could fix this, everyone who knows you knows you need the help/Oh, Layla, why’d I have to have it, you and all your habits, you do it to yourself.” I was wondering if this song was inspired by a real person or situation and if so, how does writing about another person’s struggles differ from writing about your own experiences?
CW: Yeah, that was about a real person, and I’m pretty sure she knows it’s about her so that was a funny one—like a weird one—to put out because I was like, “I don’t know if this person listens to my music anymore.” *Laughs* But they would know! Yeah that was definitely based off a real person. That’s the only song I’ve ever really done like that where it’s basically calling someone out. That was honestly the fastest song we wrote for the project. We wrote that one in like 15 minutes because there was just so much to say about her. That’s another thing that you kind of have to be cautious about because you obviously don’t want to capitalize off of somebody’s struggles. Even if you are writing for yourself, you’re still putting it out to people and you don’t want it to come across that way, you don’t want to be that way. So that’s why it is a little different. But that’s why I was writing about it more from how I felt. Like, “I wish I could fix this/why’d I have to have it.” And that was also calling myself out for putting myself in this situation willingly with this person who’s obviously not gonna get better. And she was around my age, so that was another thing; I felt a little more comfortable writing about it because I almost understand, you know?
CW: So that was where that whole hook comes from: “It just feels good to feel good.” I kind of got it, but obviously that’s not what I was into. It’s different but it’s equally as rewarding because you can kind of call yourself out in the process and be like, “Okay, well I was willingly involved in all of this.”
CW: So that one’s another nice reflective one that we did. It was kind of freeing to put this one out because this person was one of the closest people to me in my life and I never really talk about her so I think it was time for me to put her out there. And now she’s kind of like a character in my music and I’m free to reference her whenever because she did affect me and I think anything that happens to you in your life does feed into how you write and yourself as an artist so I credit her in a way, you know? And I felt like, in a good way, she deserved to have some sort of credit on this project because she was a big part of my teenage experience so far.
HT: That’s so sweet.
CW: Thank you! *Laughs*
HT: You also mentioned the song, ‘In the Next Life’ and I wanted to bring up the lyric: “My heart of stone’s a flaw of mine.” I really love that lyric personally.
CW: Thank you!
HT: Can you explain a bit how you came up with that and what it means to you specifically, like what you meant by that?
CW: Specifically when my grandpa passed away, I didn’t, like, cry at all. I haven’t been to a lot of funerals, but I feel like I’d be one of those people who weirdly would laugh at a funeral. You know that sort of thing, how your emotion comes out in the wrong way?
HT: Totally, yeah.
CW: I think that that just happens to me. *Laughs* That’s kind of what that one meant. And I sang at that funeral and I didn’t feel a thing until I actually sat down and then fell apart, but I think that was just the pressure. But yeah, I was just kind of reflecting on that because I wouldn’t think of myself to be that emotionless person but it’s interesting when you put yourself in certain situations where you’re surrounded by so many people feeling so many emotions and you’re just kind of stuck. I feel like that’s an important part of the grieving process too and I think that’s why funerals are so hard, because you’re around a bunch of people who are so upset for this person that maybe you knew better than every one of these people and it’s almost like you don’t get the time. That’s why I think it’s super tough to have funerals super soon after. That was just kind of a reflection on the importance of the grieving process because if you don’t give into that then you’re just gonna shut it off for awhile until you can’t anymore. At least that’s what I did. So that’s kind of what that one meant—just how weird it felt to me as a pretty emotional person, to be a little emotionless when this big thing happened.
HT: Mmm. Almost like scaring yourself with how—
HT: I totally get that.
CW: Just kind of closing off from your inner self, your inner conscience because you just don’t want to go there.
HT: It’s overwhelming, for sure. Yeah. So, the [series] is about how making music can be beneficial to your mental health, it can be cathartic as an artist, and how the process of creating can help you heal. But I’m also really interested in the flip side of that and how creating or even just the pressure to make music at maybe a certain pace or by a certain time or anything, how that can negatively affect your mental health and if you’ve ever had that kind of experience.
CW: Oh, absolutely! I feel like just being an artist in itself and having these timelines—and I got lucky with this last project because we did have a timeline but I met this group of these few writers and this one producer and we really got a good groove going. I didn’t mind the timeline because it was literally day after day. We wrote however many days in a row and got the EP, so that one wasn’t stressful. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because it’s funny that we schedule days to write, like how do we know that we’re gonna feel a certain way on a certain day. You get lucky sometimes but then you can’t beat yourself up about it if you don’t because you literally scheduled a day to write. I think once you cross over into like, “This is my job,” it gets a little tricky so I’ve just tried not to go there with myself and that’s hard too. That’s why I think it’s important to take time to write by yourself and honestly I think it’s important to write things that you’re never going to put out.
CW: So that you maintain the relationship with yourself as a writer and kind of separate it from your artist self for a minute. I do that all the time. It really just comes down to a self control thing and you just need to remember what you’re in it for and how good it feels once you do get that one song. But yeah, timelines suck, and that’s why I think you have to—like right now I’m working on my next project and I’m starting it a little earlier than I would have to because I know I want it to come out early 2022 and I just want to have all this time so that it’s not rushed at all. That’s another thing that kinda blows—you really do have to think about things like that for the sake of your own sanity so that you’re not just day after day after day after day trying to get something perfect.
CW: It’s such a tough thing to balance because you don’t really realize that that’s going to happen to you. You’re like, “Oh, I love writing songs. This is gonna be fine. I can do this everyday.” And then when it comes down to it, you’re like, “I am so drained. I have severe writer’s block and I’m still writing!” So yeah, it’s a little rough. But like I said before, I think just taking time and writing alone is really, really important and formative and I think everyone should do it.
HT: How do you decide which songs you’re going to keep for yourself? Is there an idea about the project that certain songs would fit and certain songs wouldn’t? How do you decide that?
CW: I think it definitely comes down to a sonic thing, like when you listen to a project all the way through. And I don’t love going back into songs and altering production things just ‘cause I feel like it takes away from the natural process almost. But then there’s an occasional one that I’m like, “Okay, I love this, I don’t love this little part so let’s change that.” Once you sit down and listen to everything, you’ll kinda know and it definitely stands out to you. But when I just sit down by myself and write at home in my bedroom, a lot of times that is really just—it doesn’t rhyme, there’s no structure to it and honestly those are cool songs to have, though, so I consider them, but I still think it’s good to just write for yourself sometimes. But I think you just kinda know. I definitely normally have a little bit of a concept going into it. I don’t like to tie myself to anything which I’m trying to get better at because with “Teenage Lullabies” I had the title as soon as we wrote ‘It’s True’.
CW: So I’m trying not to do that with this one. But I think it really does just come down to when you sit down and listen to everything and what feels good to you. It kinda varies. And there’s been moments where I’ve written a whole song and at the end I’m like, “I don’t like this.” *Laughs*
CW: You know?
HT: But it was worth it to do it, yeah.
CW: Yeah, but I like going through with something once I’ve started it which is a little bit of my toxic trait. So it’s always different but I think you just know.
HT: Totally. So you did mention that you’re working on your next project. Is there anything you can share, any ideas about it that you have at this point?
CW: Sure! It’s definitely a lot less pop than the last one. I’m trying to get out of the dream pop world. I enjoyed my time there but I’m trying to get out of that so it’s definitely more alternative folk I would say.
HT: Oh, okay, that’s cool!
CW: That’s what I’ve been into right now. I’ve just really come into my own as a songwriter. I feel like that’s naturally the type of songwriting I’ve gravitated towards so I’m just kind of following my writing’s lead which I’ve never really done before. I’m just writing a ton of songs. I’m doing it all with Sam Nicolosi, who produced the whole last project, but now we’re more on that co-writing level just doing it together which is super nice. I got super lucky that I met him when I did because I was ready to jump into new songs pretty soon after. But yeah, I’m really excited about the way it’s all coming together. I think I wanna make four or five more. Because it’s gonna be an EP for sure but I want it to be a really long EP. I’m actually starting to dive into it now and think about visuals and everything so it’s actually coming together at this point. I’m really, really excited about the new sound. I feel like it was a nice next sound for me, you know? And I feel like I won’t get out of this one for a while. I feel like the transition from “Teenage Lullabies” to whatever this one’s gonna be is gonna be really nice to listen to.