Invention is in Claire Massey’s blood.
Growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, she remembers her father opting out of the corporate world in favor of a successful career as a home-based inventor and entrepreneur. “Dad designed plastic products for the automobile industry and the U.S. Coast Guard,” she recalls. “He’d ask his kids to help him in his experiments – we’d spend hours down in the basement helping to mix up the formulas and run tests. If things went right, he would shout ‘Eureka!’ He really inspired us to pursue our dreams.”
As a musician, Claire has taken this same independent path. Her journey has taken her from local stardom to major label success with the group Tami Show to an active and rewarding career as a singer/songwriter. Along the way, she’s embraced challenges and broadened her reach as an artist in the studio and on stage. For Claire, following her muse on her own terms comes naturally.
The urge to perform came early. “It started with the Beatles,” Claire says. “My older sister Kristin and I would jam to their records when we were three and six. We would line up their album covers and act out a whole stage show.” Years of singing in talent shows and with chorale groups helped prepare Claire to join forces with Kristin and younger sibling Cathy in Sirenz, a harmony-oriented group that performed around Chicago while the sisters were still in their teens. Claire and Cath advanced another step after meeting ex-Pezband guitarist Tommy Gawenda and bassist Mark Jiaras. Together, they formed the group Tami Show, named for the legendary 1964 concert film. The band’s muscular yet melodic sound caught the attention of Blondie’s Nigel Harrison, who forwarded their demo tape to Aussie producer Mike Chapman (of Blondie/Knack/Pat Benatar fame). Impressed, Chapman helped them secure a deal with Chrysalis Records and produced their self-titled debut album, released in 1988.
Tami Show gained a burst of attention with “She’s Only Twenty,” their first single. Moving to RCA, they made a bigger splash with their 1991 sophomore album Wanderlust, again produced by Chapman. The album yielded “The Truth,” a defiant romantic challenge with an ear-grabbing hook that showcased Claire’s fiery lead vocals. The tune went on to become a #28 single and spent four months on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Regular MTV exposure and dynamic live shows boosted Tami Show’s momentum still further. The group’s star was still on the rise when creative and business differences led to their disbanding in 1993.
In 1995, Claire launched her own group in tandem with Gawenda. The songs they co-wrote for this new venture combined the rock pulse of her Tami Show days with an added lyric depth and maturity. Grammy winner Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Journey, the Black Crowes) came on board as producer, working with the band over the next several years. The results were first heard on the four-song EP Suncat Sampler (1998), re-launching Claire as a singer/songwriter with a feel for both simmering grooves and acoustic-based balladry. These aspects of her music were explored more fully on the album-length Suncat Muse, released on Claire’s own Mada label in 2002. The lead track “Butterfly” became the most added record on the U.S. adult pop chart ACQB during its first week of release, ultimately hitting the #17 spot.
In the meantime, Claire gained international exposure as a touring spokesperson for EVI Audio, demonstrating the company’s Telex-Evi microphones at exhibitions across the U.S., Asia and Europe. “It was a once in a lifetime experience,” she says. “By the end of that project, I had performed my latest songs around the world. The positive feedback I received was so heartening.”
Claire continued her creative upswing on the EP Music in My Head, released in 2007. This three-song release matched self-revelatory lyrics with a sparkling fusion of folk, rock and pop sounds. Reviewing the EP, music writer Michael Sutton praised Claire for her “warm, honey-dipped voice, bursting with life-affirming good vibrations” and called the release as “a welcome new beginning from a talented artist.” The UK website Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ agreed, hailing Music in My Head’s lead track “Easy Come Easy Go” as “an upbeat toe-tapper that should be booming from car stereos.”
In 2010, Claire was back with another three-song EP, Hearts and Minds (2010). These tunes probed the topics of romantic commitment and freedom with a sure, sensitive touch. Once again, Claire proved herself a nuanced, expressive vocalist, capable of belting out a stirring rocker (“A Long Goodbye”) or a thoughtful midtempo track (“Wouldn’t It”) with equal conviction. “The EP is about balance or the lack of it,” she says. “In these songs, either the heart or the mind is in control – but you need them both working in unison to make choices for real happiness. I’m writing from personal experience, but I think it’s a theme that’s true for everyone.”
In addition to her own projects, Claire enjoys working with a diverse array of outside collaborators. Of late, she’s performed and/or recorded as vocalist with the Chicago-area groups ‘ohana Dreamdance, Blitz FM, The Retro Girls, Chris Connelly, and the highly acclaimed Sons of the Silent Age (performing the music of David Bowie). She’s still looking for those “Eureka!” moments. It’s a family tradition.
For more information about the band Tami Show, read Claire’s Gurl Whurls interview: http://www.gopha.net/whurls/tami/tami.html