Dion Mavath and Clarita de Quiroz make an odd couple. Not like that – Clarita is married, Dion is engaged – but an odd musical pairing. He’s an Australian dance DJ who has never learned to read a note of music in his life; she’s a classically trained Scottish pianist and singer known for penning intimate, heartfelt Adele-isms. Together they make the UAE’s ‘first live house band’, SickAsSwans.
‘It’s like working with Simon Cowell,’ grumbles Clarita, settling into a chair next to Dion for our interview. ‘Clarita can’t sing in tune when she’s had a big weekend,’ the DJ pipes back, halfway through a low-fat latte. But it’s all good-natured banter; it’s often hard to get a word in as the pair revel in in-jokes and had-to-be-there anecdotes. ‘It’s like this when we go out with our partners,’ admits Clarita, apologising for the umpteenth time. ‘I don’t know how they put up with it. Our jokes all tend to revolve around muscles, protein shakes and cardio exercise.’
Looking at the pair, it’s not surprising. Mavath’s tanned muscles are the clear product of several hours of gym work a day, while Clarita also works as a model, and has the physique to prove it. Even the band’s name is a secret hymn to exercise.
‘I was DJing in Armani/Privé and Clarita came in with her brother,’ remembers Dion. ‘He turned to her and said, “Call the vet – ’cos those swans are sick!”’ Sorry, swans? ‘He meant my biceps.’ Ah, we see.
All this familiar banter calls to mind a pair of lifelong pals. Yet the two musicians have known each other little over a year. Debut album These Words was conceived in the space of a few weeks; recording started at the beginning of the year, the album was launched at a private party on Friday May 11, and should be on shelves by the time you read this.
Perhaps the duo are making up for lost time. They originally met at a party where Clarita was performing back in 2010. After working with vocalists on his debut album Warrior, released earlier the same year, Dion was thrilled to meet a new singer and shot Clarita an email the following day. It took her six months to reply. When the pair finally met again Dion gave her a copy of his record, but it took her another three months to listen to it.
In those wasted months both parties continued their already successful careers. For 37-year-old Dion that meant a 12th year DJing at Dubai’s top clubs, as well ‘ghost writing’ work for Taio Cruz and Beyoncé. For Clarita, 27, it meant continuing a steady stream of solo gigs, which in the past have included supporting Gabrielle, Sugababes and Akon, and more recently Elton John in Abu Dhabi this February.
But when they did get in the studio together, the duo found a mutual desire to create something fresh and radio-friendly. ‘Individually our music is completely different,’ says Dion. ‘It was a meeting in the middle.’ That meeting required certain leaps. Used to penning heartfelt solo ballads at her piano, Clarita was often dumfounded by Dion’s clubby beats. To make them digestible she would first strip the productions down to just a piano when writing and recording vocal lines. Likewise, the trained pianist would send MIDI files of keyboard parts to Dion to flesh out with house productions. ‘I’m more like Adele; sit down in your room and cry to my music,’ says Clarita. ‘My music normally sounds like being on Prozac all the time, but this is a happy-happy album. Dion’s just brought out a different side of me.’
The resulting collaboration is a healthy compromise of melodic house-pop that complements their ongoing solo careers; Dion has been playing SickAsSwans tunes in his DJ sets for months, while Clarita performs stripped-back piano-ballad versions of the songs at her gigs.
And the future of SickAsSwans? ‘I can see us working together for a long time, but it does depend on the success of this album,’ admits Dion. ‘We’re chucking it around everywhere so hopefully a label will say, “we love it – here’s a truck load of cash!”’
‘Now spend it!’ chirps in Clarita. ‘I’m 90 percent sure that will happen,’ adds Dion. For once, he’s not joking. New album These Words is available now at various locations including Virgin Megastore, The Dubai Mall (04 325 3330).