Anne-Claire Niver is an incredible singer-songwriter based in our home state of North Carolina, and one of our most inspiring friends. Her music started as a personal project, inspired by her love of soul divas and intimate songs, and has since grown into a band that’s now in the process of crowdfunding their second album.
We chatted with Anne-Claire about being a woman in the music industry, her struggles with body image, and how to bravely change your life – even when it seems impossible.
Beauty Dummy: We love a woman making her own way in a creative industry. How did you come to the realization that starting a band and recording your own music were what you were going to do with your life? Has being a woman in the music industry affected your experience at all?
Anne Claire Niver: I had resisted making music as a career for a really long time, convincing myself that some other career would be more fulfilling, would speak to me more deeply. In fact, when I graduated from UNCG in 2013 I was determined to ‘quit’ music. I had gotten burned out from my mainly classical program and didn’t want to look at another score ever again. I promptly moved to Thailand to teach English (as one does) and, while there, began to record songs in Garageband just for myself. I had always written songs but never thought that I was ‘good’ enough or ‘talented’ enough at it. In school we were always singing music written by old dudes and rarely were we encouraged to write our own music. When I returned stateside, I began recording more and more and sending them to various creative friends. One day, my good friend (now producer) Alex Bingham called me and said, “What’re you going to do with these songs? You know you have to start a band, right?” And so I did. I’ll never forget the first rehearsal where I heard one of my tunes in the hands of other people. From then on, I’ve been on this path to entertain and touch people with my music. I love to perform.
It’s funny you should mention being a woman in the industry. I usually only deal with subtle prejudices, but recently I was in a recording session wherein a male artist shook the hand of every man in the room and turned his back to leave without even acknowledging me. He had literally not even seen me, and I highly suspect that it’s because I am a woman. I did stand up and loudly introduced myself, but it was embarrassing and shocking to me. All of this to say, I think women in the industry have a visibility problem. We’re often relegated to a tokenized system of booking (when’s the last time you went to a show where all the bands were female/femme-fronted?) and until we start seeing ourselves in these places with positions of power, it’s not going to feel like an equal playing field.
BD: You've been open on social media about your past struggle with an eating disorder, mentioning you had food related stress from as early as 12 until your recovery in the past few years. I feel like people don't realize how common it is, and how recovery really involves a reshaping of the mind. What has that process been like for you?
ACN: My journey to self-acceptance has encompassed every aspect of my life. I was always chubbier than my peers growing up. My body always seemed to be on a more mature course than anyone else in my class and I was so, so distraught about this. I was getting messages, overt to not-so-overt, from my family and friends that I was different, and not in a good way. I began dieting when I was 12 with periods of extreme restriction and binging that continued until I was 23. I hit rock bottom while I was living abroad and returned home hopeful that I was going to find help. I surrendered to my caregivers completely. I was taught to trust my body through Intuitive Eating and mindfulness. I left treatment with a sense of euphoria but was unpleasantly surprised to find that just because I had changed my perspective on food, my body, and how I talk about those things, American culture was the same. Since then, recovery has never been a straight line. I’ve not been as low as my rock bottom (but I’ve gotten close!), and I can confidently say that my life has been on an upward trajectory. I often say that ‘No one gets out safe’ in American culture when it comes to bodies and society’s definitions of normal. Going through recovery wakes you up to just how messed up our culture’s ideas of beauty and desirable bodies are and tasks you with paying attention when you’re getting caught up in the noise.
BD: As a woman in the digital world there's a certain amount of insecurity that's hard to escape. How do you deal with that on a daily basis? What makes you feel confident and how do you empower yourself?
ACN: I know as well as any other person that enjoys taking selfies that angles are everything. I try to remember this as I scroll through my IG feed. It’s really hard not to compare myself to others, though. I’ve also been reading so much about how social media for more than 2 hours a day can negatively affect your self esteem. I feel it, no doubt about it. I’m also tethered to it because of the nature of what I do. I have to use social media to promote my music. But I try to turn my phone off when I can. I also try to get outside when I can. I live in Durham, North Carolina and love to walk the Eno River trails. I meditate when I can. If I can find a way to return back to reality and ground myself, I usually do ok.
BD: You have an amazing tattoo of a bull across your stomach that I know has a meaningful story behind it. What was your inspiration for it?
ACN: Well, I had always wanted a tattoo on my abdomen. I had spent some time thinking that I should ‘lose weight’ before I got it, but one day I was just like, fuck it, and started to get a design for it. I’m a Taurus and identify with lots of their traits. I had the date to begin the tattoo on the books for a while and it just so happened that the day I was scheduled to get it done, my grandmother died. I was totally devastated by this loss, but decided to keep the appointment. The pain was cathartic for me and became a kind of ritual in the next five sessions it took to complete it.
BD: Big changes in life can be intimidating, whether it's pursuing a creative project, or making the effort to heal. What advice would you give someone who may be desiring that change in their life, but is afraid to take the first step?
ACN: I love this question. I spent a long time in fear of taking steps to make my life better. Hitting rock bottom certainly helped me jumpstart my recovery journey, which led me to my musical journey. I have to accept myself for the WHOLE person I am in order to survive. I would say, try to get to the root of the fear and start there. Maybe it’s your health, maybe it’s your relationship, maybe it’s your living situation. If you choose to change one thing in your life for the better by admitting that the old ways of doing things aren’t working anymore, it can have a ripple effect on the rest of your life.