Tera Elwell / Web editor
After trading a few text messages with her agent, I was able to get an interview with local celebrity Clarissa Serna. I picked up a rather large bag of tacos and plenty of hot sauce (per her agent’s request) from Alteños Taqueria and headed to The Loop Studios off Everhart and Alameda. I was greeted by fellow photographers and reporters who were also anxiously awaiting Clarissa’s arrival. After her photo shoot and magazine interview it was finally my turn to chat with the singer, who was recently a contestant on “The Voice.”
First we bonded over our mutual love for the band Paramore and how we’d have our very own Wayne’s World moment (bowing and repeating “We’re not worthy!”) should we ever get the chance to meet them. We searched through the tacos for the right one and then got down to business.
Tera: I saw that you went to South By Southwest. Was that your first time playing there?
Clarissa: Yeah, I was supposed to play it last year but uhm … what a tragic decision I made. I was supposed to participate at the Beach Fest here. Do you remember that? It was a big ol’ scam … blah blah blah … so I ditched SXSW to do the Beach Fest and ended up getting screwed out of like $400 on that so it was kinda crappy but we played at Aussie’s Bar and Grill this year in Austin. It was actually really cool ’ cause I went to a couple of shows and you know, it’s cool if you’re playing SXSW but odds are unless you’re a huge band you’re playing to an empty venue. There’s so much music everywhere ya know.
Tera: You have to be on the ticket.
Clarissa: Yeah and we got lucky because it was part of an event called “Music Madness” and it’s a volleyball place as well. They have food and stuff so people were hanging out there anyway and then we had support from our friends in Austin. Some people drove up from Corpus so we actually had an audience of about 100 people. They taped the thing and we got a cool interview with AMFM Magazine so it was really cool. I felt like I really got the experience and hopefully next time I’ll go back and have a full house to sing to.
Tera: I was just about to ask if SXSW is something you’d want to do again.
Clarissa: Absolutely! It’s fun being part of that movement and everyone knows what SXSW is. Celebrities go to it, inspiring musicians. You go there for inspiration. It sucks because this time I didn’t get to stay very long. I went up I think the night before and came back the night after so next time I want to go for the whole weekend. Rough it outside, do the Twitter thing and try to get into some shows and really go for it. I’ve heard it’s a huge pain in the ass but why not? That’s part of it.
Tera: It’s worth it.
Clarissa: Yeah. You can’t be a musician and not have struggled for tickets to a concert or roughed it outside in the rain or sweat your balls off just to get into a show.
Tera: You have a couple of local shows coming up. Do you plan on playing something special at Revolution?
Clarissa: I think we’re talking about doing, not really a welcome back, but something with them as like a thank you for helping me get my name out there. They’ve been great supporters of us. I actually haven’t been in a long time because we now use Tuesday nights as a practice night, which is what we used to do before only it was at a bar hahah, uhm … so I haven’t been able to make it. We wanna go show love after band practice and we talked about doing a show, kind of like a come back/welcome home type thing with Revo, ya know. Stay true to our roots, always! Always, always.
Tera: I read that you’re working on a new record. Is that with your band or a solo album?
Clarissa: I’m actually doing a little bit of both. Nothing is concrete yet but I worked with Dusty again on some kinda dance, some kinda club-ish sounding stuff. Kinda came out cool. We came out with a cool song and we’re wanting to do that again and elaborate with that. But then with my band, they learned my original songs from my CD but that didn’t involve them back then and they’ve changed the songs so drastically that I wanna re-record a few of the old originals from the EP live. We’ve been together three years and we never really had official band practices to just sit down and write. I’d always write on my own but just recently we wrote two cool new songs and I’m super excited about it. It’s neat because I can say, “Do a jazz song,” and they just start playing or “Do a rock song,” and they do. We’re experimenting right now and just discovering who we are as a band and what our sound is. I’m super excited about what we’ve already come up with and then just really learning each other’s vibes better.
Tera: How did you get started in music?
Clarissa: When I was 7, I did the whole karaoke thing and the hard thing about learning your talent at such a young age is once you realize people are paying attention to you, and analyzing you, and critiquing you, it makes it a little less enjoyable and a little more scary. I’m really glad that my mom and my dad put me in that awkward position so many times at family functions and things like that. After years of that, and after having the experience of all the bands I’ve played with, including The Jolly Ranchers who really helped me boost my career, I just … you know … practice makes perfect. Over the years I’ve learned to put on a show and I love to make people laugh. I switch it up. Some days I feel like I just sing the songs how they were written and other days I’ll really try to switch it up and do falsetto and do like weird things with my voice. It’s definitely like a day-by-day thing.
All of that lead to my audition for The Voice and having the guts to go and do that. Presentence is key. Finally I got the call back and made it through and here I am. That journey will end eventually and from that point, finally I’m ready to do the tour I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t need someone to come and hold my hand and set it up for me. It’s up to me and my team and the support system I have, to make that happen because every dream can become a reality, you just have to fight for it. It’s not gonna come grab you by the hand and take you away. It’s something you gotta work for, really hard. I got stuck in this like, “I’m waiting, I’m waiting for Clive Davis to come back to life and sign me” and you know, it just doesn’t work that way. You have to go out and look for it. Annoy the shit out of people. Knock on their doors. Pull their hair until they give you a chance and they listen to you, ya know. And that’s when shit happens.
Tera: It’s not just here in Corpus either. Even in bigger cities like Austin, you have to be persistent.
Clarissa: Everywhere, yeah! I mean, I think it’s probably easier here than it is anywhere else. If you go to LA, you’re a needle in a haystack, dime a dozen. “Oh that’s cute you’re a singer. Way to go. Oh, you think you can dance, you think you’re pretty, you think you’re this and you’ve got the look or whatever.” Everybody does there. Everybody’s a singer, actor, musician, comedian and so I mean, it’s even harder there than it is here. What’s cool about Corpus is that I have been able to kind of stand out in, I wouldn’t really call this a small town, it’s more of a medium size town to me, to you know, make everyone listen. Get their attention. Make them pay attention. I’ve pulled peoples hair for several years now, dragging them to my shows and getting that buzz out there about my name and obviously there was still a lot of people who had no clue who I was because once the show aired then it’s like “Oh here’s Corpus Christi.” So, it’s amazing and it doesn’t matter what size town you live in, you really gotta bust your ass to make things happen.
Tera: Do you still get nervous? I mean, obviously “The Voice” is nerve-wracking but like when you do concerts here or on tour?
Clarissa: I get nervous when I’m playing at a new venue or if I’m about to try new songs. It’s when I’m taking a risk. My goal for myself is to always be nervous and to always kinda have sweaty palms and stuff ’cause that means that I’m moving forward. If I’m comfortable and if I’m not nervous then I’m probably not moving up. So that’s why that’s kinda become a quote of mine. “Make yourself uncomfortable, ’cause that’s when shit’s happening.”
Tera: I went online and asked your fans if they had questions for you and picked out a couple. CC wants to know if you were in band or choir while you were at school.
Clarissa: I took a semester of choir in high school. I think I won an award. I went to a contest uhm … whatever they’re called … choir competition? … goes to show how long I stayed there. Hahah. All I know is I was an alto and I got like first place in something. I don’t even remember what it was, but that was nerve wracking because that was the first time I was in a community of singers and like watching people rehearse and get nervous and sweaty palms, that kinda thing. That was kinda similar to The Voice but so many years ago. One year I took a vocal lesson in college … that and a year of guitar. Everything is pretty sporadic. I’m just so ADD, I don’t really stick to anything for very long and I guess maybe a little, I can’t say stubborn ’cause I’m willing to learn and to improve but I’m kinda like set in my ways and I’m self taught for almost everything and I kinda just learn from what I listen to and being inspired by, like for me my vocal lesson is sitting in the car and jamming out to a new band or a new album from somebody and kinda taking notes on what they do and don’t do. Then that night, incorporating that into my show. Like a little hiss, or a weird noise or a different falsetto or different run ya know. That’s how I learn. Just kinda take notes from everyone.
Tera: I think that’s awesome ’cause self-taught is kinda hard.
Clarissa: Yeah it’s like the world is my music lesson. It’s just every day. People who send me YouTube videos or whatever it might be, that’s what I learn from.
Tera: DM would like to know if you’ll be attending the 2004 Mary Carroll High School class reunion.
Clarissa: Oh that’s a good question. As far as I know, I haven’t been invited to it or uhm like gotten the Facebook deal. I’d like to go and I think that it’s really cool, timing wise. I was nervous about showing up to it and people ask, “Oh Clarissa, what are you doing?” and I’m like “Oh I’m singing … at a bar … every Tuesday night … still doing the same ol’ thing.” Now, thank God, in the nick of time I can be like “I’m on ‘The Voice’ and I’m doing good.” So hell yeah I’ll be there and I’ll be there to show everybody I finally did it. It’s a good feeling ‘cause half of them are like doctors and lawyers and legit stuff ya know, so now I feel kinda legit.
Tera: Did you go to Carroll when Paula DeAnda (former contestant on “The Voice”) was there?
Clarissa: Yeah, I knew Paula from when she was here in Corpus. We were in church choir together at Most Precious Blood so she was already like kinda pro and I was like getting started. I was very intimidated by her. Like, she would do a song and they’d say, “OK Clarissa, your turn.” and I was like “Helllll no I’m not gonna sing after her. Are you kidding me?” She’s got some chops dude, she really does. We’re friends. She’s a very humble, sweet person and uhm you know, they put her up against a beast on the show like, I don’t think anyone stands a chance against Sisaundra Lewis. I think she put up a good fight. I think she did a wonderful performance. She’s talented. She’ll come back.
Tera: How do you deal with all the publicity and fans now that your name is out there?
Clarissa: I’ve always wanted this. People are like, “Aren’t you tired of taking pictures and signing autographs?” and I’m like, “NO!” This is what I wanted my whole life and if that’s the small quote unquote “fee” I have to pay for it, taking pictures with people who support me, I will sit there and take every last picture. I know the bigger you get, like Lady GaGa or Paramore can’t sit there and take a picture with every single fan, but for as long as I can, and especially here in my hometown, I’m happy to do it. For me it’s just a constant reminder that hard work pays off. I get emotional, especially when I do the school visits. Dude I walk in and the kids are screaming for me as if I’m Beyoncé. It’s the coolest feeling like I don’t even know what to do. I’m glad I can be an inspiration or a role model, maybe not the best role model at times ’cause I’m only human and you know I make mistakes. I’m gonna live my life still. I don’t live by anybody’s guidelines but my own, and Gods, but it feels awesome for someone to say, “You inspire me,” because I’ve had so many icons like that in my own life and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m hoping that, whether it be the risk that I took, or the song that I sang or a high-five that I gave somebody, that I can light that fire in them and be a part of their flame.
Tera: JG wants to know what the most embarrassing song on your iPod is.
Clarissa: Probably … uhm … I have a funny version of “The Fat Song.”
Tera: A funny version? You mean there is a funnier version?
Clarissa: There are many versions but I have a few that I recorded and don’t remember doing. Like, some of them are saved as a voice memo on my phone and the next day I’d listen to them and just be like, “*gasp* I did that on stage? I said that?” and you know the fat song is like singing about how girls think they’re fat, but like we love tacos and we don’t wanna exercise, this and that. Embracing your stretch marks, and your cellulite and your jiggly parts. Not only is that song hilarious to begin with but I have a couple versions of it that if I lost my iPod and someone got their hands on that … oh it’d be humiliating.
Tera: OK well the most important question is of course saved for the end. How is the taco?
Clarissa: It’s really good! I wanna eat more but I can’t talk and eat. I’m like flapping my mouth with pictures being taken hahah but it’s delicious. I loooove it.