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Arts & Performance

Asheville Tiny Desk contestant transforms stressful experiences into a healing song

Claire Hoke_AnastasiaMarie_pic.png
Courtesy of Claire Hoke
Claire Hoke playing her guitar.

Every year, dozens of local musicians submit their best original songs to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

One of them is Asheville musician Claire Hoke, who decided to transform stressful relationships and the pandemic into a healing song.

One year ago, Claire Hoke found herself feeling stretched working several jobs, including as a nanny. The pandemic was ongoing, and Claire began to reach her limits. Out of these limits, “Sit and Stay” was born.

“Gone too far this time, knowing that we’re really doing alright ” 

 The North Carolina-native decided to become a songwriter after listening to Taylor Swift as a kid.

“You know I loved her in high school and the chords were easy and I could kind of figure it out for myself,” says Hoke.

In college, Hoke studied European classical music at UNC Greensboro but decided to transfer to UNC Asheville after learning about their music technology program. It was in Asheville that she began to find her voice as a songwriter.

  “I was in a duo with Annie Jo Buchanan, “ says Hoke. “We started writing songs at the same time and thought, let's do this together. I think that’s where a lot of my songwriting and singing style developed, she's a huge inspiration to me for sure.

Now Claire Hoke is on her own, writing songs and performing at open mics and solo sets. Like many musicians in Asheville, she’s squeezing in music in between multiple hustles. In addition to her nanny job, she is sound engineering for music venues and churches.

Out of all the things she can do, Hoke says songwriting provides a salve like no other.

“Songwriting for my brain is like putting a cap on a feeling, you know. It's in my brain and things are floating around and have no ending or beginning. A song is like a really nice, concise, thing”

And that’s what makes “Sit and Stay” so appealing. It’s an encapsulated feeling that brings us into a contemplative space. The singer’s meandering thoughts, for a brief moment, become the listener’s own.

Guitar playing “I can take it, anything for the bottom line…”  

While listening to Taylor Swift helped her play the guitar, other artists got her thinking more deeply about music. Among her inspirations – Joni Mitchell, John Mayer, and Paul McCartney are big ones. She says, the thrill of songwriting is not knowing where the music is heading.

 “Harmonically, I'm inspired by not really knowing what's happening on the guitar. I like to use different tunings and stuff to sort of get myself out of any type of ‘ the 1, the 4, the 5’ - all of the stuff that just muddies up my relationship to the song. “

The title of the song carries her ultimate message about sitting and staying with discomfort – the full discomfort.

 “You have the power to make things different in your life,” says Hoke. “And to move through things that aren't really working for you anymore. And that doesn't mean that it’s easy. It's hard to do that, to sit and stay, to sit with all the things that are coming up and causing problems in areas of your life.

“I ain’t  coming out until it’s  time to go.   Is it really time to go?   Something tells me, it’s ain’t gonna change” 

Claire Hoke didn’t win this year’s contest, but you can catch her performing on June 10th at Static Age records. Find a video of her entry here.

Her 2020 Tiny Desk entry was among the favorites highlighted in a North Carolina Tiny Desk showcase judged by Carolina Waves Founder and K97.5 Personality Mir.I.am, Blue Ridge Public Radio’s arts and culture reporter Matt Peiken and Embodied host Anita Rao, with help from WUNC Music.