Reliant Tom Uses Music to Navigate Loss

After losing her father unexpectedly, Claire Cuny aka Reliant Tom felt completely lost.

Leaving her home became difficult. Going about her normal day felt irrelevant. And though she has a partner she loves with all her heart and a mother who tries to be there for her, she still felt so lonely that she could “die.” Luckily, Cuny was able to turn to her music for comfort.

“I wanted to keep [my dad] alive in this album,” Cuny tells BTRtoday about the upcoming album Play & Rewind (out May 8). The first single from the album, “Nevermind the Garbage,” addressed Cuny’s emotions after her dad’s death. She uses her powerful yet soothing vocals accompanied by slow melancholic slide guitar to express the torment, the numbness, and the confusion that balls up inside someone who loses a loved one.

Listen to “Nevermind the Garbage” below and read the entire interview with Reliant Tom aka Claire Cuny below.

BTRtoday (BTR): So I understand this recent single “Nevermind the Garbage” was born out of a really rough time. Mind sharing the story behind that?

Claire Cuny (CC): Yes, the entire album Play & Rewind was written right after my father passed away totally unexpectedly. I can’t express how much I loved my dad and how completely heartbroken I was and still am. Each song on the album touches on different emotions I transitioned in and out of during the first year of not having him around. “Nevermind the Garbage” was sort of the numb phase where I was still going in and out of denial, when I was supposed to go back to work and continue with the routine I made before my dad died. Everything is the same, but also can never be the same again. Losing my dad made me realize that there are no guarantees. We are born alone and we die alone. I will lose Monte [my partner] too someday and although we are happy and healthy now, it breaks my heart to think about.

[The line] “never mind the garbage, just come outside,” is about after my dad died, after the funeral, and after traveling back to Brooklyn, it was time to go back to work, back to a semi-normal routine. I felt so much anxiety. I have to commute for a couple of my jobs and I remember feeling more and more afraid the farther away from my apartment I’d get. I didn’t want to go outside, I didn’t feel like I could ever go back to normalcy.

Talking with my mom the first few months after it happened, my mom told me to hold onto that denial as long as I could. But the problem is you know deep down and it changes you. It is difficult to accept that my dad is gone, but the other truth is that I had the best dad in the world, and not everyone gets that.

This song is mostly about continuing to move forward through the decay, maybe unwillingly at first.

BTR: Tell me a little about this upcoming album Play & Rewind.

CC: My dad was a pianist and we really connected with music. I’d always send him demos of Reliant Tom songs to get feedback. I really valued his opinion more than anything. The day he passed away he visited me in Brooklyn. My keyboard was set up and he asked me to play him something. I hadn’t finished showing him my apartment so I said I would later. He passed away shortly after, so this album is me showing him something. I wanted to keep him alive in this album.

One of the hardest things was talking with my mom. She had a tendency to just revisit what happened over and over again. Just dig through the past, looking for a missed detail that would somehow have it all make sense. For a while, it was all we could do—play & rewind through everything over and over again.

BTR: How do you hope this song is used by listeners also going through a similar rough time?

CC: I may be years too late, but I hope people enjoy this album from beginning to end, in order. This album is really one story and while I believe the songs do stand on their own, I think they mean more within the context of the full album. If anyone listening is going through a rough time, I hope this album makes them feel less alone. I tried to be as open and as honest as I could be and I’m hoping that will be comforting on some level, but I’m still navigating loss myself. I am not qualified to give advice on how to deal with depression outside of saying please seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed. There is no shame in getting help. We all need help sometimes.

BTR: As someone struggling with depression and grief, how do you deal with these feelings during quarantine?

CC: I’m thinking about all the people who are losing loved ones and suffering themselves right now. This is such a frightening and strange time that will be remembered in the history books. I hope this pandemic reveals what’s really important to our leaders. I’m so privileged and I’m learning to not take that for granted. I’m so lucky to be quarantined with my partner in life as well as my partner in Reliant Tom, Monte Weber. He’s been so supportive and helps me continue to move forward. Overall, staying busy seems to really help me, but I will always miss my dad and it’s okay to be sad sometimes.

I’ve noticed that not being physically active can make my depression way worse, so I’ve been giving myself ballet and exercise classes at home. (Monte has been joining too!) I teach my students ballet via Zoom nowadays and it lifts my spirits to see them dancing through this.

We’ve also been writing some new songs in our home studio and have plans to live-stream some shows soon. Monte is so driven and has an incredible work ethic, I, on the other hand, really struggle when I don’t have a schedule. I think making my own schedule and sticking to it is so important for me.

BTR: What tips would you give to someone looking into using music as an outlet?

CC: Yes—do it! Just do it with whatever you have available to you, you can make music out of anything. I guess my main advice would be, don’t be afraid to suck for a while. I think it takes time to get good at anything. I had a ballet teacher who used to say, “make a whopper of a mistake” and to me, that meant to really go for it. Like Yoda said, “the greatest teacher, failure is.”