Music News

Cooper Claire on Songwriting, Psilocybin and a Police Chase

David Claire is releasing his album, TH3 W312D W3ST, as a fundraiser for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.
David Claire is releasing his album, TH3 W312D W3ST, as a fundraiser for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Amanda Piela
David Claire, who performs as Cooper Claire, first had the idea for his debut electronic country-rock album TH3 W312D W3ST (pronounced "the weird west") in 2012. He was living in Dallas, attending the music school at the University of North Texas and experimenting with psychedelic drugs, namely psilocybin mushrooms. He was grieving the loss of his former schizophrenic bandmate who committed suicide in 2010. To cope, Claire started writing songs for an autobiographical album.

“I truly think that songs are one of the most powerful things on the planet,” he says. “More so than any individual musical talent or instrumental virtuosity could ever compete with. The ability of pop music to create a little snow-globe-microcosm world for somebody to live inside and ride around in for three and a half to five minutes — there’s nothing like it. It has always resonated with me on a deeper level than any other art form I can think of.”

He approached songwriting like he learned to play drums — through formal training. He purchased the online songwriting curriculum from Berklee College of Music and worked through the material as an independent study. He then moved home to Ludington, Michigan, in 2012, where he began to hone his collection of songs.

“It’s always important to learn to play exactly by the rules before you try to break them,” Claire explains.

His goal to write, record and perform a first album by himself was lofty, but he committed fully to the process. He lived near the woods in his parents' home, and there he built his own recording studio. He worked as a bartender, still took psychedelic drugs, and spent the bulk of his time alone in the recording studio.

“I think one of my favorite quotes is Pascal: ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from a man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,’” he says. “I think some sort of solitude is required for anyone who wants to transfigure somehow, like a cocooning process. ... Part of the “hero journey myth” we’re all pursuing with our lives is crossing over into the underworld. That can mean a lot of things…but thinking of it as simply as sitting in your bedroom alone working intently on your shit, that’s pretty productive. I think any artist can relate to that.”

According to Claire, he hoped this project would serve as his calling card as a songwriter.

“I wanted to be an abled instrumentalist but to say, ‘Hey, look, songwriting is super-important to me — just as much or more so than it is to be good at an instrument,’” he says. “I think so many instrumentalists lose track of the forest from the trees, without realizing that song power is 1000 percent of what drives people out to shows — more so than guitar solos and extended LSD jam sessions of nuclear fusion or what have you.”

click to enlarge David Claire first had the idea for his album in 2012 and will finally release it on April 23. - AMANDA PIELA
David Claire first had the idea for his album in 2012 and will finally release it on April 23.
Amanda Piela
Over the next few years, he continued working on the autobiographical album, but this all came to a halt in 2014 when he found himself in a mental hospital for the first time.

While he was still living in Dallas, he developed an interest in “really weird, esoteric…almost paranormal, science-y” material. His obsession with this information grew over time, and he began observing small miracles of the universe, which he likens to the idea of synchronicity — where life events are all seemingly interconnected.

“I was really obsessed with it, and it became like a complex,” he explains. “I was observing these interconnected miracles all the time that combined with the drug use and general social isolation. I would be alone for most of the time. I would be bartending sometimes, or I’d see the parents, but most of the time I’d be alone — which is really bad for you, especially if you’re on drugs and alone.”

This ended in a psychological break, which he says was the culmination of two years of psychosis. Even though a majority of his album was complete, he quit music. “I read all of Harry Potter that summer and decided I was going to be a children’s author,” Claire says.

He was hallucinating, not taking his medication and didn’t believe he had a problem. He moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 because his sister got him a job as an optician. He felt as though moving away would make everything better, and he started dabbling in music again and occasionally working on the album. But then he had another psychological break that November, which he describes as "apocalyptic."

"It’s always like I’m some sort of reincarnated Bodhisattva or some kind of Hindu deity…or some kind of god is talking to me telekinetically, like, ‘The world is going to end.’ So I was going to save my sister, and I was calling her on the phone: ‘We’ve got to go right now.’ We had to go to Montana, I think, for some reason…so I drove from Pittsburgh to Clarion, and it’s like an hour and a half away. It’s a two-lane road through the mountains, and I was just all over the road, running people off the road. ... I was basically there when they started chasing me.”

“I ended up leading the state police on a car chase across the state of Pennsylvania on Route 66,” he says. “It was very poetic. That was easily the most crazy thing I’ve done in my life.”

After that, he was hospitalized, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and prescribed a heavy dose of medication that left him debilitated.

“You can’t even describe how bad it is,” Claire says. “People talk about Prozac and how you don’t feel anything — it’s totally like that. Your whole life is kind of null; you don’t really feel sad, and you don’t really feel happy. You’re just existing.”

It slowed down his lifestyle, and he couldn’t play drums as he had in the past.

“For me, I couldn’t remember shit,” he says. “I’m used to running at 10,000 miles an hour, and this thing would put me…it was like I’m driving behind a school bus — I can’t go anywhere. I couldn’t play music like I could. I went to music school for drums and spent all this time to be a drummer and practiced ten hours a day, and all of a sudden I couldn’t even do this thing I spent my whole life to try to do. ... What the hell am I going to do?”

At this point, Claire says, “[the album] became more of an ancillary when I was snowed in on antipsychotic medications in Pittsburgh and was sort of relegated to just tinkering with instruments in my apartment.”

He eventually paused work on the album, moved back home to Michigan in 2016 and enrolled in school to pursue an accounting career. While in school, he started a new medicationthat allowed him to return to music. He finished tracking the album in May 2017 and moved to Denver in November 2017.

He is releasing the album digitally as a fundraiser for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides grants for innovative, scientific research regarding mental illnesses like addiction, depression and schizophrenia. The album is ultimately free, but listeners are encouraged to donate to the foundation — at whatever amount they feel the experience is worth.

“I’m going to be thirty in June, and I’ve never been more excited for my future and music, regardless of how fucked up the industry is, how vacuous hit records are, or how waning people’s attention spans may be,” Claire says.

Claire’s album, TH3 W312D W3ST, is available here.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing