On a warm and sunny afternoon in June, I meet up with Claudia Ferme in Palmer Square Park for an interview that turns into a picnic. We nibble on pastries I picked up from Lost Larson and sip Topo Chicos, soothed by the peacefulness that new summer warmth inspires in Chicago. As Claude, Ferme makes magnetic, pensive dream pop, and the eight mesmerizing tracks on her new debut full-length, A Lot’s Gonna Change, delve into the doubt, unease, and guardedness of growing into adulthood.
A native Chicagoan, Ferme grew up in Ukrainian Village and went to Lincoln Park High, where she started learning to play guitar and then joined a School of Rock band made up of students from her school. In that group, she got her first experience playing music live. She moved to Bloomington, Indiana, for college, where she studied English and formed her first real band with a few friends. After graduating and moving back to Chicago in 2017, she immediately started working on the rudimentary recordings that would make up her first EP, Enactor, initially released in 2018.
In a process Ferme describes as “very DIY,” she recorded most of the parts in GarageBand by herself. She didn’t yet have a solid footing in the Chicago music scene, and she was still meeting musicians and engineers. Within about a year, she’d built a small community of people to whom she felt close, including producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Michael Mac, who played bass in Ferme’s backing band. (I’ve also worked with Mac, on my 2020 song “But There’s Still the Moon.”) Their collaboration quickly felt like a perfect fit. “He’s very intuitive,” Ferme says, “and very conscious of what works for my music.”
In 2018, Ferme pulled Enactor off the Internet, and over the next two years she and Mac reimagined and rerecorded the EP at Pallet Sound, the Bridgeport Studio he’d cofounded. (The new version came out in early 2021.) During this period, she also wrote and recorded the songs that would eventually become A Lot’s Gonna Change.
“I keep describing it as snapshots,” Ferme says of the new album. “I can pinpoint specific experiences or things that happened to me that correspond with each song.” While Enactor felt more outward facing, with broader commentary on the outside world, this album feels more personal. “And kind of coming-of-age?” she asks through a nervous laugh. “I don’t know if you can say that when you’re in your 20s.” She’s 27. I assure her she can.
Many coming-of-age narratives assert the unclouded confidence of finally finding out who you are and relishing your newfound power, but A Lot’s Gonna Change instead homes in on the pain of growing up—the desperate attempt to struggle through its facades and its unshakable insecurity to make yourself into a good, lovable person.
Claude’s first full-length album, A Lot’s Gonna Change, comes out Friday, August 12.
For those of us not yet 30, the past few years have made this shuddering journey into adulthood all the more confusing. We’ve faced down pandemic isolation, economic precarity, an unreliable health-care system, climate crises, and the consequences of rising global fascism, all while earnestly trying to make the right choices in our daily lives: to be a good friend and partner, to dress how we feel best, to make compelling conversation with strangers at bars. And all along, we’ve told ourselves that we’re doing all right—really, we are—even when it’s far from true.
Gleaming and lush, A Lot’s Gonna Change is anchored by Mac’s production—he not only engineered and mixed the record but also played most of the instruments on the backing tracks. It’s held together throughout by precise layers of wavering synth melodies and impeccable bass lines—catchy, electric, and sweetly captivating. Ferme’s voice hovers over each song, stoic and steady, and there’s something hypnotic in her inviting murmurs. A Lot’s Gonna Change draws you in like only pop music can, with irresistible intimacy, brazen cheekiness, and melodies you can’t help but sing along to.
Ferme’s songwriting style is straightforward, emotional, and undeniably personal. When I ask if she taps into any personas or alter egos while writing, she lets out a boisterous laugh and shakes her head. She half-remembers a quote she once saw taped to a friend’s bedroom wall—something about only writing about the things you wouldn’t share with someone else. “That’s the only way that I learned how to write music,” she says. “I can lay out my thoughts and my feelings in a concise way, in a beautiful way, in a way that’s therapeutic and feels good.”
A confessional tone carries the album, conveying a vibrant and sometimes sardonic honesty that’s easy to relate to. On “Claustrophobia” Ferme contemplates a string of heartbreaks while a party goes on outside her bedroom door, singing, “Can’t believe I thought love was magic / God that’s so damn tragic.” And on “What’re You on Tonight?” she describes getting ready for a night out with friends, just for something to do, because she’s “got a good outfit on” and “wasting time once in a while’s all right.”
“What’re You on Tonight?” is the most danceable song on the album, with a skipping beat, 80s-style synth, and drawn-out, reverbed guitar. Its lyrics perfectly capture the absurd contradiction of forcing yourself to have a good time when life seems to bring nothing but bad news, a feeling Ferme returns to often. “I’ve been trying / To figure out / How to live like I should,” she sings on “Roses,” over a swelling, spacey arpeggiated synth and a gentle shaker. “Guess I was wrong / For believing I was doing the best I could.”
A Lot’s Gonna Change is rife with self-deprecation and achingly stagnant apathy, with little to belie that atmosphere of dread, but in person Ferme has a cheery air. She even softens in embarrassment when we talk about how it feels to sing openly about such personal feelings. She considers herself shy and socially anxious, and she sees both her music and her album visuals as opportunities to be loud and express herself openly and without reservation.
In the video for “Twenty Something,” the opening track and first single from A Lot’s Gonna Change, Ferme strolls blithely and stone-faced across varying landscapes in a series of intricately styled outfits. In one shot, she wears an off-the-shoulder satin corset over a button-down, floor-length cerulean skirt. Elsewhere in the video, she’s in a chain-mail coif and oxblood lip. Her looks are bold, unconventional, and impossible to ignore. She references the John Galliano 1993 spring ready-to-wear collection as an inspiration for the styling in this video—Galliano’s campy and imaginative clothes featured cinched corsets, draped layers of chiffon, and hip-hugging ruffled skirts. The connection is clear, and so is Ferme’s intent—on camera she exudes unbridled self-confidence.
Fashion is more than just a passing interest for Ferme. She took sewing classes growing up, and over the years she’s continued to hone her craft. “I feel like that’s just as much a part of being a musician and a performer,” she says. “I’ve just always loved clothing and jewelry and expressing myself that way.”
Ferme is currently back in school at University of Illinois Chicago, remotely finishing up the undergraduate prerequisites—including chemistry, calculus, and physics—for a graduate program in textile chemistry at North Carolina State University. The science and math courses have sometimes proved difficult for her, but she’s also discovered a refreshing comfort in the reliability of those disciplines. “Having an English degree and taking literature classes, I always struggled with having to interpret things and find the meaning of things,” she explains. “But with science it’s very straightforward. You have to learn the terminology and the formulas and apply them to what you’re doing, and that’s it.”
I can’t help but see a connection between this observation and Ferme’s sincere and up-front songwriting. She has no desire to re-explain things to anyone, but in our interview, I think I expected her to. Listening to the forlorn storytelling on A Lot’s Gonna Change, I found myself struggling to reckon with the distress it communicates and the unself-consciousness of its doubtful, inward-facing lens. When crafting my questions for Ferme, I kept inching toward some reinterpretation, some assurance that things are not as bad as she believes them to be.
Claude, Lipsticism, Fresh Tar
A Lot’s Gonna Change album-release concert. Fri 8/26, 9:30 PM, the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, $15, $12 in advance, 21+
But I think now of Susan Sontag’s famous essay, “Against Interpretation,” in which she implores readers to resist the habit of reducing art to its meaning or content, in favor of experiencing it with transparency and honesty. “What is important now is to recover our senses,” Sontag writes. “We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.” On A Lot’s Gonna Change, Ferme bravely faces life’s daily discomforts, and in doing so she gives listeners the opportunity to do the same, unhidden and without fear.
When we feel embarrassment and pain, we naturally want to shield our senses and rush to rid ourselves of those feelings as quickly as possible. But this album invites us to shed our shame and make our own private struggles a little more visible to everyone. Given that suffering is inevitable, why not endure it together? And in that way, perhaps there’s some comfort to be found as we all figure this mess out.