On the Beat

Double Life: Anne-Claire Niver sings for her supper on a goat farm

By David Menconi - dmenconi@newsobserver.com

Anne-Claire Niver sings  during the final act of “Moving Pieces.” She is backed by guitarist Tom Whelan and bassist Joe Wimberley.
Anne-Claire Niver sings during the final act of “Moving Pieces.” She is backed by guitarist Tom Whelan and bassist Joe Wimberley. rwillett@newsobserver.com

When she’s not singing on stages or street corners, you’ll find Anne-Claire Niver working on a goat farm. Except she’s almost never not singing, even if it’s hard to tell how appreciative an audience her “kids” are (that would be the goats).

“I can’t tell if they like it or not,” she said. “But it doesn’t stop them from coming around, so there’s that.”

Her story

Niver, 24, started singing as a small child, making the community-choir rounds and going on to study music and vocal performance at UNC-Greensboro. After earning her degree in 2012, she set out to travel the world and went to Thailand, where some friends were teaching English. She did, too.

Thailand was a formative experience, the peak of which was the week Niver spent in a temple doing chores with the monks. But even though she thought she’d “be there forever,” Niver decided it was time to come home to the Triangle after six months.

“It just got to be too unpredictable because Thailand is falling apart,” she said. “There were rebels storming the school while I was there, things like that. It was a difficult decision. Sometimes I feel like I must have dreamt all of it. I did so much over there I never would have otherwise.”

What pays the bills

Niver found her job at Prodigal Farm, a family-owned farm near Rougemont, through a Craigslist ad. Prodigal has several hundred goats roaming its 97 acres, and its main output is artisanal goat cheese and meat. Niver had her job interview this past spring at crunch time: the beginning of baby season.

“The first thing they said was, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, we have seven girls kidding,’” she said. “I had no idea what that meant – the goats are joking? – but I do now. We had 170 babies born this year, more than 100 of them in an eight-day stretch.”

Niver feeds the baby goats and helps out with marketing, bookkeeping and delivery, in addition to making the cheese. It’s still a small operation, but growing. This past May, Prodigal held a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign to expand its cheese-making operation and surpassed its $45,000 goal by more than $3,000.

Pretty much everywhere you go on the farm, the goats will crowd around demanding to be petted (and responding with tail wags, not unlike a dog. And the noise Well, if you’ve seen that YouTube goat-yelling video, you’ve heard what it’s like. ( http://tinyurl.com/atmroet)

“That video,” Niver said with a laugh, “is my life. But the goats are great to be around, even though we all want to spank them regularly. All the other entry-level jobs my musician friends have make me go, ‘No way!’ I knew I could not work in a restaurant for privileged Inside The Beltline people. I’ll just sell those privileged Inside The Beltline people cheese instead.”

What feeds the soul

Niver is a classically trained vocalist and has sung opera. But she’s always done other kinds of singing, too.

“In college, I was always dating the jazz majors,” she said. “They knew everything and were so much better educated than the classical majors. They’re gigging all the time, their knowledge is on-point and they know who all the movers and shakers in the business are.”

Locally, you’re most likely to see Niver in the role of big-voiced chanteuse belting it out at open-mike nights around Raleigh. She’s also one of the best things about “Moving Pieces,” the traveling play that happens First Fridays in downtown Raleigh. Niver pops up at various points along the route, singing the story along with soulful versions of songs like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

“I’m gonna have 10 lives before I’m 30, do one thing after another that I’ve never done before,” she said. “I’ve had to learn patience – adjusting to being back in this country, finding a job, all the demands. And I’m trying to figure out how to write and put out my own music. It’s a test of bravery. It can be terrifying, not knowing what I’m doing. But if I slept on the floor of a temple in Thailand, I can do anything. I’m on this farm, the people here are great, I feel valued and I love goat cheese. Will I do this forever? I dunno, but it’s great now.”

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi