In Conversation With Charles

Back in 2020, Charles‘ debut EP ‘On Trend, Hungry & Broke’ was unleashed into the world. A Neo-soul, storytelling masterpiece that if you close your eyes sounds just as Charles looks; elegant, timeless and extravagant. Skip to 2021 and you know longer have to listen with your eyes closed, the first full track from the EP ‘Easy’ now has an accompanying video and it exceeds all imaginations. I sat down (over zoom) with Charles to discuss his plans for the rest of the year, finding inspiration and his shift in purpose as as he questions the point of having a voice if you don’t address whats going on in the world. 

So Charles, ’Easy’ is one of the tracks  from your beautiful debut EP ‘On Trend, Hungry & Broke’ I know the track was written for your parents, can you tell us a bit about that and the meaning behind the song. 

Yeah I wrote the track for my parents. You know when you have that moment where your parents don’t stop being your parents, but you do start to see them in a new light. You see them as human beings rather than these almighty characters who are untouchable and do no wrong. That relationship started to switch with my parents and they started to become like my friends, we began relating to a lot of stuff. We started talking about actual issues, and about their stresses so I wanted to create a song for them so they could just sit back and relax. It’s such a weird shift, but it’s nice to reach that point in the relationship, I think that’s when it really starts to blossom. I guess it goes from them being a superior parent to them letting you in a bit. The song means a lot to me, every time I sing it or even hear it I love it. I guess people might not know what its about from first listen but yeah, it’s for them. 

The video is so gorgeous, and the styling is impeccable – did you always have this kind of visual in mind when it came to creating the video for this track? 

Yes and no. A lot of the time when I go into the studio as soon as I start writing a track visuals come to me so quickly, it almost helps me write a track if I can envision what the video would be, even if I don’t even end up making a video for it! As I create the story I can visualise it in my head. In terms of ‘Easy’ my original idea was actually to use my mum and dad, which would of been super cute but with covid-19 it just would of been to difficult to organise. Once the song had been out for a while, I knew I had to level up the video game, I wanted to push myself to dance, to act, to kinda do it all really. 

‘Easy’ really feels like a track that people can interpret in their own way, so I guess with the video because you’re performing the track in a live show setting it still gives the listeners the opportunity to relate to the song in whichever way it feels relevant to them. 

100%. We wanted to create a space where everyone in the video was a heightened version of themselves, but with the song there in the background telling them to take easy, to relax – from the fags, the booze, just to generally take it easy. 

Talking about the cast of the video, each of your videos so far you’ve cast your friends as the dancers and extras, is this something you’d like to continue? 

Yes, for me this is so important! I don’t think I’d ever not use my friends. I’m really lucky to have a close group of friends, they really are my second family. I moved to London at 16 on my own, with no one, and I met these wonderful, nuts individuals along the way and they’re all just so talented. I’m lucky because when I have an idea I can things like go to my friend Busola (Choreographer Busola Peters) and be like look here’s what I’m thinking, and he can get on board. I love it it really is such a family unit vibe. I also like the idea that one day, when we’re 60 or 70 we can all look back on these videos and be like wow look at us all back then. I wouldn’t be half of what I am if it wasn’t for them. 

At the end of the video we see a different version of events, in which your shown not getting into the club and walking off into the night. Personally I’m seeing a part 2 coming, is there for a potential for a sequel? 

(Laughing) Who knows?! ……

Ideally that would be a nice lead on, for the end of that video to lead on to the next. It’s an idea I’ve been playing with for a bit, I had wanted to do it a few years ago, I really like the idea of one starting as another one ends. I want the videos to feel like you’re stepping into Charles reality, whatever that is. Even in my previous videos like ‘Darker Shade of Green’ there’s this wrapped sense of reality, it’s set in a restaurant, everyone’s dinning and then suddenly (snaps his fingers) I change into a different look and everyone’s all around me. I wanted the same thing for this video for it to be almost like a dream, like I’d queued up outside and envisioned myself in the club performing but maybe it actually never really happened. 

Have you been working on new music?  

I’ve got a few singles that will be coming out throughout the year, and hopefully a bigger project towards the end. I feel like the lead up just before Christmas, I was in the studio loads and writing loads but since then with this most recent lockdown its all been a bit tougher and has just felt harder to write. I don’t know that I really enjoy writing on zoom that much, I did try it but I’ve had to stop that for a bit, the few times I tried they hadn’t failed but I just didn’t get out of it what I wanted and that would really just put me in a mood. I had to just be like ‘right Charlie, just give that bit a break.’ 

I really feel like there’s no point pushing something in whichever capacity your doing it if it doesn’t feel good at that time – especially anything creative. So that sounds like a good decision for you. 

I completely agree, its too detrimental. I feel like you can end up hating things that way. I’ve done that in the past, I’ve tried to push through and force myself to do something but in the end I’d always just end up hating it all. You’ve just got to be kind to yourself. 

What is your usual creative process?

It really depends who I’m working with. When I work with my normal producer Mathias, we’ll usually get in the studio and he’ll play me some rough demos of stuff he’s already worked on – I’ll say ‘yeah, no, I like that bit, not that bit etc.’ and from there we’ll start developing a track together. I like it when Mathias starts working on the beat and I’ll start writing and singing melodies behind it at the same time. I prefer that over someone sending me a finished track, I like to be there for the whole process so I can really hear what he’s doing whilst I sing melodies. Recently I’ve started reading some songwriting books and in one theres this guy who says he starts with the title first which I found really interesting! So the last few sessions I’ve had I’ve been giving it a go doing it that way which has been really interesting. It’s nice to have a pillar start, and then go from there. It feels a lot easier to then plan and delve a bit deeper from the beginning just knowing I have that start point. 

The past year has been a tough one for so many reasons, does the outside world effect your writing?

You know what, before all of this happened I had never chosen to write much about current affairs. I don’t know why but I’d always kept my feelings to things aside. Obviously I’d have my own opinions if you came round to dinner or if I was chatting to my friends, but when it came to music I almost felt like my outlet wasn’t to talk about current situations. I felt like I wasn’t able to speak about something so daunting, maybe I didn’t want to hear about it – I wanted to sing about other things. But since this year there’s just been so many things that have happened, things I just couldn’t ignore for any longer. There was nothing else for me to write about last year, so I started to delve a little deeper.

A lot of my new music isn’t about love or relationships or the things I’d previously of written about, it’s about things that happened last year, things that really had an affect on me. Particularly with Black Lives Matter, that opened up a few things in my brain that I needed to address. There’s been a lot of trauma I think that’s happened to me that I’d kept locked up and didn’t really ever think I’d need to write about in my music but that was in fact the catalyst for allowing myself to address these issues. What is the point in being an artist and having a voice if your not going to represent the times that you’re living in. I think I’ve come to realise with the artist that I want to be, I have got a voice, I have got an opinion and now I want to use my influence, I want to inspire – I can’t ignore these huge things that are happening I have to address them at my dinner table AND in my music! 

That’s definitely inspiring. It must feel quite cathartic to be able to process past trauma, or address you’re true feelings through your new stuff?

It is but its almost quite daunting too, because none of its released yet I feel a bit [Charles pauses to think] anxious is the wrong word but like that. I know there will be people who will relate to it and that will be beautiful but I guess I’ll be letting go of things I’ve kept so close, and that’s always a bit daunting. But it will be amazing too, I know it. 

As an artist what things are most important to you, what would you like people to think about when they think of you?

Genre-less is one of them and inspiring. Inspiring for whatever reason, whether their inspired by the clothes I wear, or the music, or what I stand for. That’s important to me. 

Your live performance is such a strong element to you as an artist, do you have any shows in the pipe line for when the world is normal again? 

Me and my manager have had chats about it, there’s a few things that could happen or could not be happening. I REALLY hope that this is it and that we’re going to be able to do this now, but I really don’t want to get too overly excited. If I get too over excited and start planning all these things and they get cancelled again I’ll be beside myself. So I’m taking it slow, slow and steady. That gives me an opportunity to work on the live show, I haven’t done one for a long time now! The more time I have anyway, the better the shows going to be. I definitely want to incorporate more of my friends to the show, I wanna have my dancers. I want people to feel like there at an arena tour even if you are in a 150/200 cap venue. I want people to come to the show and be transported to feel like they could be anywhere. It’s going to level up for sure! 

First place you want to go once lockdowns are lifted? 

Definitely a gig, live music has gotta be up there 100%. Also, I really wanna go to Vapiano’s, I know that’s random but I LOVE food. I wanna go to Vapiano’s, Chotto Matte. Actually I want a full day out eating food and then finished off with a gig, that would be amazing. At first in lockdown one, I remember me and Jimmy my fiancé going food shopping – bearing in mind we’ve been together 8 years – but I don’t think we’d EVER done a food shop together until obviously last year! We were going round the shopping place, whatever you call it, you know, the supermarket and we just couldn’t stop laughing, we were so excited pushing the trolley around like ‘oh my god we’re getting our weekly food shop’. We were looking at everyone else as if it was so exciting! Cut to a year later and I’m like ‘Yeah you can go on your own mate’ so I just give him a list so he can go. The novelty has definitely worn off. Without a doubt. 

Top three artists and tracks right now:  

Mysie – ‘Bones’

Sasha Keable – ‘Expectations’

Lord Echo – ‘The Sweetest Meditation’ 

Follow Charles on Instagram

Interview: Tallulah Syron
Photography: Kate Sutton