By AARON GETTINGER
University of Chicago graduate Claudie Rubin has a plan to achieve pop music stardom in the United States.
A native Chicagoan with a French mother and American father, Rubin followed them to University of Chicago: her mom chaired the Department of Comparative Literature and her dad graduated from both the College and Medical School. She graduated in 2011, but not before playing open mics around campus and winning Delta Kappa Epsilon’s Battle of the Bands, earning a spot as opener for the Summer Breeze concert.
Not bad for an untrained performer who learned to sing along with her mother and grandmother on car rides.
After earning her degree, she decamped – guitar in hand – to Nashville, Tennessee, like many starry-eyed young performers with a dream.
“That didn’t work out,” she said bluntly. “I was too young. I had no connections. I had no money, and I just kind of showed up and said, ‘Make me famous,’ which is generally not how things work.”
Tired of waiting tables, she started a doctoral program in French and Italian literature at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. “I went back to the thing that was familiar to me and that I was good at,” she said, but she realized very quickly that she did not want to go into academia. And so, having taken in the zeitgeist of Silicon Valley around her, she decamped to Berlin, now Europe’s largest tech center, and worked in strategic product development.
Nevertheless, “I realized how much I missed music and what a hole it had left in my life,” she explained. Some friends dared her to audition for the German version of “The Voice,” the wildly successful TV program with franchises on six continents.
She made the quarterfinals and realized she could not balance a music career with a day job.
“I decided as an older, school-under-my-belt, job-for-a-couple-of-years under my belt, business-development-experience under my belt, that I could really approach my music from a different angle and give it more of the business overview, so I could create a product and put it on the market.”
Rubin is a bit older than a just-starting-out pop singer, but she thinks that works to her advantage. “I think that my education and my experience are actually what set me apart from a lot of the younger women in my industry, because I actually know what I’m doing,” she said. “I can actually sit down and read a contract and fend for myself, whereas when I was a much younger woman, I was truly clueless and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
Her stage name, Nordi Blu, alludes her upbringing on the Near North Side; it also means “north” in both French and German. “I was hoping, honestly, to just be exotic,” she said.
“I was hoping the half-French, half-American, cute little accent in German thing would work for me.” With a burgeoning fanbase from her time on “The Voice,” she hoped to build clout. Instead, she found it rough going in the German music industry, which she said is not open to her sound.
“They said they don’t know where to place me on the German market,” she explained.
So, at the end of September, Rubin plans to move to Los Angeles. “I represent a kind of indie pop that would work very well in the United States,” she said, describing her pop style as “much more soul and rock.
“You can hear all my upbringing and influences in my voice, so it’s raspy and it’s smoky and it’s deep. You’ve got a little bit of Chicago blues and a little bit of French ‘chanson’ — all these different sides of the world that make me who I am, I think, come out of my music in that way.”
Rubin has recorded a self-composed, English-language album, and on Aug 9, she released a first single, “Skin” — a paean to “independent artists who, rather than being frustrated and put down by feedback and people in the industry who promise a lot and give very little, [say] ‘Watch what I’m going to do now’.”
As of press time, it has over 21,000 plays on the music streaming service Spotifyhttps://open.spotify.com/artist/2j8V7bW71tVVz4ysoK2OyT.
“I am fully independent, as I was told that I wasn’t going to be getting any help from the German industry,” she said. “It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life, because not only have I achieved a victory completely on my own, but I’ve taken the feedback and worked from it.” If the next singles to drop reach a yet-greater audience than “Skin,” Rubin hopes financial investment and industry promotion will follow. With a label, she could release her whole recorded album.
All the while, she remains close to Chicago; her parents just moved to Hyde Park.
“Although I was there to get my bachelor’s and to do well in school and graduate college, I can say developing myself as a very young artist at the time was a wonderful experience, because both the Hyde Park and University of Chicago communities were very welcoming to my craft,” she said. “I always felt very welcome and positive about performing on and around campus. I definitely have those communities to thank for making me feel good on stage as a very young, 17-year-old college student.”