Why Fit in When You Can Stand Out?
Written by Kathleen Goodwin
Never before have I met a 21-year-old quite as in tune with herself and her world as Chloe Gendrow. She greeted me like an old friend, and our conversation was free-flowing and easy. This is part of her charm. She is approachable and understandable. She is adorable and fun. She is honest and real. And these qualities shine through in her music. Chloe has always known that she wanted to make music. “I feel like this sounds cheesy: but I’ve always known that I either wanted to sing or write songs from the time I was very young. It is the one thing that has stuck with me. I felt that it was my duty to serve the younger me and give it a fair shot,” she explained as she sat down to talk with Destination Missoula about her music, her life in Missoula, and her plans for the future.
I met with Chloe at Le Petit Outre, and as I walked in the shop at 3:55 for our 4:00 meeting, she was already there sipping a coffee at the family-style table in the center of the store. She flashed a friendly smile in my direction, like she recognized me even though we had never met. “I got her early,” she laughed. As I was setting up the recording device, she said, “Just so you know, I am the most awkward person ever when it comes to talk about my music. It is hard to verbalize it. When I make my music, I am in my own little world. I am in my head. I am just doing it for me. I am not thinking of an explanation for it so long as it satisfies my vision. It’s just me in my room making music alone most of the time.” Well, Chloe, that sounds like a pretty good explanation to me!
And with this in mind, we dove right in. Chloe Gendrow has always written music. When she was a little girl, she would write songs in her notebooks. And when she was 11, she got her first guitar. “I’ve been singing and playing guitar for the last decade. I was super into writing as a kid. I was just a very emotional kid—there is no mystery here! I sang what I thought. And then as I got into high school, I quit playing for people and just played in the comfort of my own home because I was so scared of what people would think. Then my junior year I decided, ‘Screw it. I am doing the talent show.’ I had nothing to lose. I was never going to see these people again. I realized that I wasn’t being authentic to who I was and it wasn’t making me happy. I did a cover of a Macklemore song at the talent show, and from then on people just recognized me as the girl who sings. That definitely jump started the whole pursuit of this career.”
“I grew up as an only child,” she went on to tell me. “It was me, myself, and I. My parents had really stable jobs. My mom was an office manager, and my dad was a garbage man. I always was nervous about having a job like that, and I realized that [music] could be a feasible career path if I just hit it hard. I think writing and singing got me through some of the hardest things. When my parents got divorced in 7th grade, music was the one thing I had, being an only child. It was my comfort blanket. And I also feel that it was the one thing that set me apart from other people. Like, you are bullying me, but you can’t sing and write songs like I do. Internally it gave me strength.”
Born and raised in the Missoula area, Chloe graduated from Lolo School and started at the University of Montana in 2013. Despite the fact that she knew music was her chosen career, she felt that going to school and getting a degree was a smart decision. “[Right after high school], I knew if I don’t go [to school] now, it was likely I wouldn’t go back. So [I wanted a] degree that would work with music, but that would also work if and when music fades out. I felt like if I had access to this kind of education I should take it and run with it. So I chose marketing. I tried to be strategic. I had to pick a major that would allow me to pursue music. I will graduate in December 2018. It took me 4.5 years since I took a semester off. I just want to get it over with, to be honest,” she says, laughing a little.
And when Chloe says she knew she could make music if she hit it hard, she is not joking. She released her first EP, Growing Pains, at age 19, only a year-and-a-half out of high school. She released her first full length album, Glow, in November of 2017 at age 21.
“You learn a lot about yourself when you make yourself so vulnerable like that,” she explains about releasing an album. “I was obviously super nervous about what people would think, but it I had to get it off my chest. [When I released Growing Pains,] people didn’t know I could write my own songs. [After that, I thought], ‘If people know I can sing, well now they know I can write, too.’”
Chloe explains that releasing her full-length album, Glow, was a totally different experience than releasing Growing Pains. “With Growing Pains, I was just learning to make music, logistically and electronically and dealing with all the logistics of production. I was just putting it out there and was interested to see what people gravitated to most, just to identify my sound. But Glow was a much more cohesive project in the sense that I kind of kept it to one genre. The songwriting is very related throughout the whole album. It opened my eyes to the effort of making a whole album and what that process is like. It’s hard for people to understand what it’s like until you are actually in it. I feel like I lost so much of who I was during that because I put myself under so much pressure. I made these deadlines for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I never had so much going on in my life [because I was doing this and was still in school]. I feel like my relationships with people suffered a little, but I wanted to feel what it was like to be in my own head and make the kind of music I feel when I am alone.”
She explains that during her EP, she found that she was creating a lot of music that sounded like other artists on the radio. She laughs, saying that she is a pretty good copy-cat when she wants to be. When she was given the chance to record a full-length album, she knew that if it did not go well, then perhaps her dreams of a career in music could be over. For that reason, Chloe spent the time while she was writing and recording Glow in creative isolation.
“I would just drive into the woods, up Lolo Pass. You start getting these crazy thoughts when you are alone long enough. I tried to do research on people’s creative processes. I don’t think there is one right way to do it, but it has a lot to do with what type of music you make. It was when I was the weakest when I would pull [my best] lyrics. I was not sacrificing my well-being by any stretch, but I let myself fall into a lower mood than I normally would just because I wanted to be honest with myself for once in my life. I also feel like I didn’t listen to music because I did not want to sound like anyone else. I knew I had to do me fully, so I could get the most authentic sound at the end of the day. When I was making Glow, I did not listen to any music. Radio silence. I would find myself driving into town not even listening to the radio, because I could not listen to a song without analyzing it. I would just listen to nothing. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t enjoy it. I was getting into producing and all the logistics of it. Instead I was more Influenced by experiences [at that time] and my friends’ experiences.”
Chloe explained that the process of creative isolation was a necessary step in producing the quality of music she knew she could create. “I’ve never been through anything really hard in my life. I’ve always been really social. I’ve always had people surrounding me. I was very extroverted. And I felt like I was putting on a façade sometimes. I knew I could really dig deep and find good lyrics if I removed myself from that and was just in my own head and with my thoughts. It was a crazy roller-coaster.”
Chloe did most of the writing and producing of this album in her bedroom with the help and support of her friend Reid Graham, and after a year of writing and two months of recording, she released her album, recorded at Club Shmed Studios in Missoula. In November 2017, Chloe held a release party for Glow at the Top Hat Lounge where she was finally able to unveil her creation to the world. Since then, the reception she has received from fans and producers has grown, something she called bizarre. People reach out to Chloe through email, or Instagram, or SoundCloud. She says that she loves hearing from fans, but it can at time be a shock.
“People were really receptive of it and I was not expecting that at all. I was just doing what made me happy, and if people like it, then that [would be] incredible. And so just I feel like [people’s positive reactions] made it that much sweeter. That and knowing that [Glow] relates to people on a personal level.”
She says that she has received a lot of support from the Missoula community, both her close friends and the town as a whole. “My family has been super supportive, but the music I make is not what they listen to. They will always listen to it because I am their daughter, but like it’s not The Beatles,” she laughs. “But as far as music scene in Missoula, it’s weird because there isn’t an exclusive community in the genre that I make. There is a lot of bluegrass. There is some underground punk and rock, but not a lot of people make pop. I think that people were not caught off guard—they did not expect that music to come out of Missoula. People have been super receptive. They tell me, ‘I don’t hear this from other people.’ And that is one of the reasons I chose to make this music, too, because no one else is doing it. It is not necessarily my favorite genre, but it is fun to make, and it is my niche, in this community at least.”
Chloe has seen success outside of the Missoula community as well. A producer reached out to her and she ended up writing and collaborating on a song called “Feel Like,” which was featured on many Spotify playlists. She explains that the music industry is very much so online these days, and that from “Feel Like,” people from around the world have grown to know and love Glow. “I have had people from around the world reaching out, which is crazy, because you never expect that. I’m just in my own head. If my friends listen, that’s awesome. I’m speechless honestly at how much traction it has gotten. I would have never expected that. It’s so hard to describe, It’s just bizarre. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s the thing you dream about happening as a musician but [you never really expect it to happen].”
Growing up in Missoula, Chloe says she did not know that she was living in such a musically rich place. As a musician living and working in Missoula now, however, she says she constantly feels lucky to have the unwavering support of such a tight-knit community.
“My mom took me to concerts at the Wima,” she says, “but local music was not a thing to me. I think I was more influenced by my experiences here. I feel really lucky to have been able to put something out in this community because it is so tight knit. You are going to have people backing you that you don’t know, just because it is Missoula. You have that built in support, which is super unique. It was scary creating music in this genre—down tempo pop—because there is a lot of people who listen to that music but there is not a huge community in this town who makes it or goes to shows. I was concerned about where I would fit in. Then I decided ‘You don’t need to fit in: just do your own thing and if you don’t fit in that’s okay.’ It sounds so cliché, but I realized I don’t have to make the music [others] are making here to do me.”
Because of her schedule with school, it is hard for Chloe to find time to perform. Unlike other performers, live shows are not her favorite aspect of making music. So much so that her DJ is a friend of hers rather than a professional sound technician. “A lot of people who do this would have a sound guy [DJ], but I don’t want to deal with that. I’d rather have someone who I am comfortable with right next to me. I can just look at her and say ‘Go’ or ‘Hold up I’m gonna talk a little bit here.’ I think it would be really cool to eventually have a band.” Chloe, who also plays guitar, says that she prefers to only play guitar at unplugged shows rather than during her production shows, so she can focus on singing, but she also enjoys playing unplugged concerts at coffee shops and breweries in town with just her voice and her acoustic guitar.
“I get more nervous about laid back shows. They’re so [intimate]. People aren’t doing anything else. With acoustic shows, people are there to see you. Whereas with live shows, people are there to have fun, I’m just background music to their good night.”
Chloe says that once she graduates, she plans to pursue music full time. She explains that at some point, she knows that she might have to leave Montana to grow as an artist, but that she also believes riding the wave of internet music is a good option for her. “I will leave when I need to. But Missoula is just such a cozy town to pursue music, and I am just comfortable here and that is why I don’t want to leave. It’s home. It’s familiar.
Music to Chloe is more than a career, though. It has been a constant in her life, and something that will continue to be so until she says she burns out. “I am not spiritual or religious in any sense, but I knew that one day I am going to wake up and say, ‘I can’t keep doing this,’ and that day hasn’t come yet. So as far as I’m concerned, I need to keep [pursing music] until my heart burns out or I can’t relate to it anymore. It’s always been the one thing I’ve had—I was always [playing] sports, but I was never really good, and music was the one thing that I had in my back pocket. I don’t know. It helped me be okay with not relating to people. I don’t really open up to people like I used to, so when [my friends] listen to my music, I think they get it, I’m not great at verbalizing my words, but I can sing them!”