By Marcy Stamper
Although John Sinclair occupies an increasingly bright limelight — he’s toured with the hip-hop artist Macklemore and appeared with him on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — he hasn’t strayed from his low-key roots growing up on an orchard near Twisp.
Being on late-night TV was “crazy — it was super-cool,” said Sinclair, age 21. “I live under such a rock — I didn’t know Fallon was such a big deal. The culture at large kind of missed me, which I don’t think was a terrible thing.”
Today Sinclair has become part of that larger culture. Known by his stage name, Saint Claire, he has been composing and performing his own music — and arranging string parts for everything from hip-hop to dance music — since he moved to Seattle four years ago.
Sinclair ended up on “The Tonight Show” after touring with the hip-hop artist Raz Simone as the opening act for Macklemore. After Macklemore saw Saint Claire play, he commissioned him to write the string parts for his band and they played together on “The Tonight Show.”
He’ll be back in the Methow Valley as a headliner at The Rendezvous music festival Sept. 22.
Locals may remember a really young Sinclair playing a Bach double-violin concerto with the Pipestone Orchestra, or conducting the orchestra in his own compositions a few years later, when he was just 14. And while violin remains Sinclair’s main instrument, he’s taken it in a distinctly different direction.
Sinclair said his music was predominantly acoustic until he recently teamed up with Jake Crocker, whom he calls “an insanely talented producer.” They blend Sinclair’s acoustic violin and piano with electronic drums and keyboards. “It’s got a super-heavy synthetic bass line, and electronic drums hit really hard. I take all my favorite sounds from every kind of music and blend them together,” said Sinclair.
Sinclair still writes all the music and does his own production, and Crocker crafts it for the desired effect. This new sound is featured on Saint Claire’s new EP entitled “LO,” which he released a couple of months ago.
Putting out a four-track EP is actually a departure for him, since Saint Claire typically releases one single at a time to get attention in a market that rarely sits still long enough for an album, he said. “A single can spike, and you can release another one two weeks later. You keep the snowball rolling, instead of trying to throw one huge snowball, and maybe it hits, but maybe it doesn’t.”
Sinclair is disciplined about his music. He quit his job at a sushi restaurant about six months ago, but he has been devoting at least six hours a day to his music for years. Some days that could mean spending two hours writing lyrics for just one really good line, he said.
“I’m not much of a burst-of-inspiration guy,” said Sinclair, although he gets lots of ideas — he estimates he has recorded six or seven hundred voice-memos on his phone. He’ll work on about 15 of them and ultimately scrap all but one.
As one of the few violinists in Seattle willing to do “weird stuff” like writing for hip-hop and dance music, Sinclair has been sought out by other musicians to arrange parts for strings. Although like most violinists Sinclair comes from a classical background, he prefers pop music. “I’m not a big fan of boundaries. There’s a lot of crazy genre-bending,” he said.
Sinclair performs as often as he can in the Seattle club scene and on occasional tours. He and Crocker played at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle in July, which Sinclair called his first big show.
Because it’s in an open area with several stages, the block party provides instant feedback, said Sinclair. “People mill around. If it’s sounds good, it’s like a magnetic, exponential pull.” From the time they did their sound check, they watched the space in front of their stage grow from 75 people to 300 and then 1,500, he said.
Over Labor Day weekend, Saint Claire is one of the more than 150 bands playing at Bumbershoot, Seattle’s long-running music and arts festival.
John Sinclair, who performs as Saint Claire, will play Friday, Sept. 22, at 8:45 p.m. at The Rendezvous music festival at the Patterson Lake Cabins at Sun Mountain Lodge. Tickets are $120 for a two-day pass (Sept. 22 and 23), $60 for Friday only, and $70 for Saturday only. Tickets are available at www.therendezvousfest.com and at the door.