The night before Pittsburgh neo-soul artist Clara Kent opened for Wyclef Jean at SXSW, she was in the emergency room suffering from an intense allergic reaction.
“I was on, like, six Benadryl and an EpiPen all night,” laughs Kent.
But rather than retreat or panic, the next day Kent poured herself into a charismatic performance.
“I like to have the audience rock with me, jam with me, loosen up,” explains Kent, dancing in her seat and bathed in the sunshine pouring in through the windows of Bantha Tea House, during an interview with City Paper.
It’s hard not to loosen up around Kent. Her smile and laugh are infectious, and creative energy hangs around her, attracting the notice of others.
If the words “powerful aura” are coming to mind, it’s only fitting. Kent released her debut record, A U R A, at the end of February. It’s a collection of incredibly intimate songs that are vibey, vulnerable, spiritual and soulful. The 11 tracks, produced and engineered by close friends and collaborators Yorel Tifsim and Bilal Abbey, are essentially a diary of several years of Kent’s life.
“I was literally writing A U R A in the mindframe of a journal. It was awkward at first, but it was a relief. Because for a long time in my life, I would hide certain feelings, because I was ashamed, or there was an expectation of how I had to be,” she explains. “But once I started embracing myself, and shedding the expectations and obligations, and started allowing myself to be, that’s where A U R A came from.”
“The album was a healing process, but I wanted others to experience it,” she says.
The track “Souled,” for example, is a heart-wrenching reflection on unsupportive and unhealthy relationships, while “Outside” deals with angst and frustration. On the other hand, songs like “Clarity,” “Navy Blue (Still I …) feat. Bilal” and “Rise” conclude with positive affirmations in spite of obstacles.
“It’s about embracing your shadows, so you can emerge your light. Sometimes, we run from the things we don’t want to embrace, but if you look at it and hug it, there’s a lesson in there and a message for you,” says Kent. “That’s how paintings are — you have to have the lights and darks to bring out the image so people can really see it.”
In addition to creating music, Kent is a visual artist under the name Bounce. She grew up surrounded by music and painting, as her mother painted wall-sized canvases, while playing records in her family’s apartment in Wilkinsburg. “One of my biggest influences growing up, and still, is Sade,” says Kent. “My mom knew I loved her so much, so she bought a VHS of all of Sade’s music videos from all her albums at the time. I watched it for hours until it wore out, and she had to buy me a new one.”
In addition to her mother’s influence, Kent’s grandmother took her to choir, where she learned to train her voice and play instruments.
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“Those two taught me how to create, how to be influenced and how to take notes from others,” Kent says. “And my mom loved art as a hobby, but I loved it more than that. I always said I wouldn’t do anything else.”
When her mother became sick, Kent spent a lot of her time taking care of her family. After her mother died, she re-emerged and dove into development mode.
That creative fervor, bolstered by her fellow creatives in Tribe Eternal Music Group, led to A U R A and constantly incoming opportunities. In the coming weeks, she has more than half-a-dozen shows and events planned, as well as an impending EP and a rap record, with an art show planned for 2019.
“I want to have national and international reach in the next couple of years. I want to tour, I want to have a studio album,” says Kent. “I want 10,000 fans this year, like people that want to see me every chance they get.”
And Kent already has a pretty strong following. People have paid up to $50 just to purchase her record.
“My fans are my Bounce Babies. They’re so supportive,” she emphasizes. “The listening party at BOOM Concepts for A U R A — 70 people came, and I was expecting like 25.
“What I’m noticing with pursuing my purpose, [is] I feel like I’m getting so much confirmation from the universe,” Kent says. “It’s almost like a hug — all these opportunities feel like it’s saying, ‘See, you’re able.’”