chloe flower interview
photo: JC Calubayan / press

Chloe Flower

Blooming on to the music scene while creating her own genre, Chloe Flower is doing just what her name suggests. After collaborating with legends such as Celine Dion and Questlove, and being featured as a solo pianist at Cardi B’s Grammy performance, Flower is finally ready to come into her own with her newly released single, “Flower Through Concrete.”

Chloe Flower talked to us about her debut album, larger than life fashion, and being creatively inspired by the current social justice movements. 

If you could introduce yourself to the world in a song, which song would you pick?
I would definitely pick my latest single, “Flower Through Concrete.” It’s a piano ballad with an original melody and pop song format. It’s in exactly the genre of music I created (“popsical” a mix of classical and pop) and really embodies that sound, even if it doesn’t have all of the drum beats that my songs usually have. I chose the name because the first time I heard the song, I had this image of a little flower peeking through walls of concrete. It is very much about my struggle as an artist. My whole career, I have been trying to explain to people what my music is; it was a mix of pop, R&B, and classical. I thought it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have a place or a genre, so, that track describes my personal musical journey by trying to explain my sound. 

Congratulations on the new single! “Flower Through Concrete” is such a fascinating title, could you tell us more about the song?
I was actually working on an arrangement of Pachabel’s “Canon” during quarantine, the last song to be featured on the album. It’s a very loving wedding song. Then, the Black Lives Matter protests started on Memorial Day. I live right next to City Hall, all the Federal buildings, and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. I could always hear and see the protests, and I would be at my piano looking down at thousands of people, which made the situation feel so close/intense. I couldn’t even focus on Pachabel’s “Canon” anymore, so I called my label and told them that I was going to put the song down and write something original inspired by these events; they were incredibly supportive. I started with this melody, and I thought that rather than dropping something with drums and a backtrack, I wanted to drop something with hope and empathy, but with the same pop-sound that I use in all of my songs.  

How has the process been like making a full-length album?
I feel like I have been working on this album my whole life. It took me a while to find a label that suits me since I didn’t want to sacrifice my style or my sound or make music just to sell records, but I finally found a home with Sony Masterworks. My album has grown a lot since last year because my original idea was to do covers/remixes of the classics. As I started to compose and learn how to produce with different software, I started writing a lot of original music. Most of this album was created during quarantine, with a few classical pieces here and there, but mostly original compositions. The cool thing is that I was able to create pieces and plug-in to my piano, and since New York was shut down because of the pandemic, I would send the pieces I made to a studio in Berlin to work on, who actually has the sister piano to mine!  

There’s often a common misconception that classical music isn’t as personal as other music because there are no lyrics in it. How do you find a personal connection with your music?
I think that my original compositions are reflective of my personality. When I’m covering Beethoven or Chopin, it’s a cover of their work and not so much my own. Growing up, I always told my mom that I didn’t want to be a cover artist my whole life. I grew up loving classical music, so I wanted to help everyone love classical music. In this day where everything is instant, it’s hard for people to sit down and listen to an hour-long concierto. I tried to create a shorter, more compressed version of classical, but I still felt like a cover artist, even though I would produce beats on top of the pieces. The thing that makes me feel most personal is when I compose and write what I want to because it’s like me speaking. You can do a lot with an octave or keyboard when you are not limited to four chords, like a lot of pop songs are limited to four chords and a chord progression. I don’t have that limitation, and I can express myself differently through the melodies I make. 

In a field that seems very predominately white male-dominated, how has your journey been as a Korean-American woman to claim your space in the classical music field?
As a pianist, women are in a different position, physically, than other instrumentalists. My hands are very tiny, and physically men have an advantage over me because I can barely reach an octave, whereas others can reach it with ease. I have to practice a little longer to be able to reach those jumps. My piano teacher growing up would say “You play like a man, good job.” and I always said “Thanks!” I never really took the time to process what she was saying, but it seemed like the ideal thing to hear since all of the piano players were white men.

Part of that has to do with a lack of musical education/resources in schools. You can see that in inner-city schools, this is more prevalent. I teamed up with Compton Unified School District and donated a piano to them because they didn’t have one. Not only do they not have classes for music, but they also don’t have instruments, and there’s only so much you can do on a computer. Once we start to prioritize musical education in schools, I think there will be a lot of diversity to come from that. 

chloe flower interview
photo: JC Calubayan / press

You’re very well-known for your on-stage fashion, which is AMAZING! Who are your fashion inspirations/how do you choose the design for your performances?
I never wanted to dress conservatively. I was always into sparkles and tulle and organza and feathers. In a classical concert, it’s a very traditional setting where you have the dated all-black outfit, which I never wanted. What I have found because of social media, is helping to communicate my personality as well as the song with my fashion, like when I do a cover of a hip-hop song, I don’t have to wear a gown, I’ll wear leather pants and a jacket and go for a more edgy look. I love making it a whole visual experience. I have also found a lot of amazing designers through Instagram. One of my favorite designers at the moment is Christopher John Rodgers, who is an amazing designer! I love finding new people and DMing designers. When Beyonce did “Spirit” from Lion King, I saw her dress and thought “Oh, I have to have it!” so I reached out to the designer, and I found they had one left in yellow,  and I grabbed it! I love encouraging POC and women designers to work with them in fashion and in my music video directing. 

Tell us about your work to end human trafficking.
I appreciate you asking because I know how difficult this topic is to talk about. I remember bringing up human trafficking at a dinner party a few years ago before the cause got very popular. I had an actress tell me to stop talking about it because it was “depressing” and it made me want to talk about it more. I started off working on advocacy and getting people more aware of the issue, but now that it’s become something we are aware of, I’ve focused my efforts on prevention. One of the ways I do this is through supporting music education. When you think of the people who get into human trafficking, these are people who come from broken homes or don’t have a support system. Music education, even though you may not have thought of it, can give these people a place to belong. For example, in an orchestra class, there are all types of people; it has no certain personality type like in sports. You can be loud, quiet, you don’t even have to be the best player because there are other people who can cover you. It can give you a family and community, and I think that it’s one of the most powerful tools in fighting against this issue.

You’ve worked with legendary creators like Celine Dion, Cardi B, and Questlove. Which collaboration has been your most exciting?
I think that obviously the Cardi B experience was probably the most impactful in terms of collaborations. She was so gracious, and she really allowed me the opportunity to shine in the performance. She said multiple times, “Chloe needs to wear a different dress because she doesn’t stand out enough.” She really wanted me to have my moment in terms of music and fashion and sharing the stage. She was so gracious, and as a woman in this industry, you don’t really come around that a lot, since she is such a huge star and it was her first Grammy performance. That not only put me on the map and let me share that classical music can be more than just a white man in a suit, but also the importance of empowering other women. I think that one thing I learned about her was that empowerment was so key for her and that there was room for everyone on the stage. 

My publicist at the time was one of my closest friends. I was headed to a Meek Mill session, and afterward, she invited me to dinner. Marsha St Hubert, who is an executive at Atlantic Records, was there and we were just talking about piano music. When the Grammys came around a year later, she remembered me and shared my Instagram with Cardi and Toneshia, Cardi’s creative director, and they asked me to be a part of it. 

One of your most impressive possessions is Liberace’s piano in your apartment. How did you get it? Does it inspire you or have special energy?
Having that piano is honestly a whole mood! I can look at my reflection as I play since the music stand is reflective. This may sound bizarre, but I do feel like Liberace’s spirit is with me, because I feel a lot of joy when I play on this piano.  I feel like Sasha Fierce, but the Chloe version of that! I’ve always loved Liberace’s authenticity and flamboyance. I got the piano through the Liberace Foundation, actually. I was in Vegas and reached out to them, and I was able to get it! I try to honor his legacy as much as possible, so instead of having the piano in storage, I got it up to my apartment!