She plays the cello, piano and guitar. She produces, she writes. Oh and that amazing green hat and the matching gloves – yeah she made them! I sat down over zoom to get to know Wolverhampton native Cariss Auburn. Oozing positivity and between giggling and quoting conversations Cariss reflects on the past year, the lessons she’s learnt and the creations that have been born on the back of a year in lockdown. In the most humble and incredibly articulate way Cariss shares her inspirations and vows to continue to challenge herself, whilst giving herself a pat on the back to. Hard working, excited and armed with all the tools and more to take her to the top Cariss Auburn is definitely one to watch!
Lets start at the beginning, how did you first get into music and what were your early influences?
Wow. So if I think way back to the start I was the most extra curriculum person at school. I was in every single group, band and orchestra. My earliest influences would probably be one, the classical music that I was learning and two, music around the house. As a kid Mary J Bilge, and all the 80’s classics, like Luther Vandross they would all be on at family parties. It definitely wasn’t until a lot later on that I thought maybe I could do this as a career. That happened when I produced a song called ‘Unphased’ – I dropped it on to Soundcloud and my friends and family where like “Oh?!” [Cariss laughs] “this is kinda good” So I bolding popped it onto the BBC introducing uploader and it got played nationally. That was the moment, the turning point for me where I was like – okay lets go.
So playing musical instruments came before singing when you where young?
[Laughing] I think I’ve got a vague memory of doing karaoke on holiday when I was like six years old. I was also in a girl band with friends at primary school our name was just all of our names put together! There definitely was a period of time where the focus was instruments. I was very lucky to be able to learn the cello and the piano, and then later on I would write poems, I’d sit at the piano and start putting stuff together. Now it’s mostly guitar. The guitar really happened because when I’d just started out and seen some open mic nights I just didn’t have anyone who could play with me, so that’s when I learnt the guitar. I need to play for myself.
To think you needed someone to do something for you, then to change your mind and think oh I’ll just learn and do it myself is really inspiring. I feel like that’s definitely the coolest reason to learn to do something!
I guess easier said than done though [Cariss laughs]
Congratulations on the release of ‘Oblivion’ its so beautiful, would you tell us the process behind the track and the story behind the lyrics?
I think everyone can relate, being so cut of recently from our close ones, our friends, our loves ones, people we’d be spending time with usually. I feel like when I remember those times it feels like another universe or someone else’s life. Everything seems so different I almost can’t imagine going back to that life, the song is a homage to the craziest of nights with my close ones and I just feel that for me there some of my happiest moments but at the time it can be hard to stay in that ‘happiness of the moment’. So it’s also about the kind of chase to stay in that moment of peace. Its like my track ‘Daydream’s moodier sister its all about escapism and the other side of that. In terms of the process, I produced a demo and I reached out to producer and artist called Jackie Moonbather – he’s insane. I’d heard his tracks and just really liked them I just felt like I needed that! I reached out and said [laughing] “Hey, I’ve got this song, please produce it please!” – and it worked! We worked virtually – back and forth, some voice notes and insta DM’s. We tweaked it, then it went to Ross Wearing who did an insane job mixing it, massive shout out to Ross. Everyone is based in different places, so it was definitely a cross country project. Music has always been a form of catharsis for me and I think in the pandemic my writing has definitely been even more so an exercise of introspection and reflecting. A lot of my writing has been about looking back and reminiscing so yeah ‘Oblivion’ is just one to honour my loved ones!
What is your usual creative process when it comes to making music, do you always create the demo first?
It really varies, I really don’t have one set method. Its fun, I never know whats going to happen at any given time. Sometimes it’s inconvenient, I’ll have a melody at 2am and I have to get it on voice note to record it so I don’t forget! A lot of the time the writing process for me is massively helped by producing, I need to produce the song to help me finish writing it. With ‘Oblivion’ composition wise I had pretty much done it but it was the extra instrumentation and flavourings that Jackie added that made it. Sometimes I’ll just be at the guitar and I’ll write a song that way and it will never touch the laptop. I remember when I made ‘Daydream’ I went to work with Iziah Yard in London and I was planning on sending the demo fully produced and half an hour before my train and I’d done one bar and I just completely didn’t have time! Then we just ended up making the whole thing in like four hours start to finish! Creating for me is always different I do like to sit down with Logic Pro and kind of haphazardly (because I’ve just taught myself), sit down and see what happens.
Whilst often creating the music and lyrics simultaneously, do you also envision the visuals? You’re visuals seem to be such a key element to your artistry, I’m obsessed with the ‘Daydream’ video!
Visuals have always been important to me, I feel like I hadn’t actually realised that until recently. Its something I’d always wanted to do even back to my very first video ‘Summer’ years ago. I find the interdisciplinary nature of the creative arts so so interesting. For the ‘Float’ video I took inspiration from a piece of contemporary installation art called ‘Contact’ that I saw whilst in Japan created by a Japanese art collective called ‘Mé’. On ‘Daydream’ I got to work with some amazing designers for the outfits! In the ‘Oblivion’ artwork I’m wearing THE most insane boots by Kira Goodey. The visuals for me are just so crucial in delivering this second prong of the song. Some of the artists that I really look up to that I just find absolutely inspirational have that down to an absolute T, people like FKA Twigs, Bree Runway, Denai Moore and Rina Sawayama – there visuals are so important to the story that they’re telling and thats what I want to do! I’m actually really excited for the future cause I know theres so much I want to do on the visual side of things. Its been really fun and exciting, and actually I’m really grateful to of been able to explore that even in the current situation. In the pandemic I had to make things work the best way I could, but it definitely got the creative thought processes going cause original plans didn’t always go to plan. Even thinking back to the first single I released from my new stuff ‘Too Tiered to Sleep’ the video ideas had started out with this whole movie plot and ended up with me in the back garden with a bunch of tinsel! I’m just excited for the new EP dropping as well, I’m hoping to do some really cool stuff. So watch this space, more fun visuals coming!
Talking about the upcoming EP ‘Refraction’ – What can you tell us about it, is there a story or a running thread?
For me, its a collection of moments in time throughout this pandemic I suppose. Its all music written really recently, I suppose the elements are really universal and go outside of just being in the pandemic. I guess its just really about how I’m feeling now and the different sides to that and the different states that I’m in. There’s definitely a variety in terms of the sounds depending on how I felt, because that’s just me. Its a a journey and by the end its about the importance to celebrate the very very small wins and just feeling alright in yourself. That’s the celebration, the real win. You don’t have to be climbing mountains and doing the absolute most at every moment in time so give yourself a pat on the back. I guess its me talking to myself too, to give myself a pat on the back. Its a collection of my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions and hopefully people can relate.
I think this time has definitely made people appreciate the smaller things more. Are there any real positives that you’ve taken from the past year in lockdown or any lessons you’ve learnt?
In terms of positive things about myself, I think I’ve learnt that I’m a very resilient and creative person. I mean obviously I’m a creative person but when I look back at my artworks and visuals, I really think about it. Like with ‘Float’ its just a piece of wire – I got this piece of wire and thought I need to make something, so I made the dress and the for ‘Daydream’ I made my ridiculously fluffy green hat and matching gloves. So there’s been a lot of thinking on the fly. Its really made me appreciate the importance of having supportive people around to, people that can help make stuff happen! Also just having confidence in myself and going with my gut feeling, and just being like no I’ve never done this before but lets just try it! Not to sound cliche but I think if you really just go for something and put your heart into it, it should turn out half decent, it really should be fine. I’ve come away after this year feeling a lot more empowered to challenge myself. I did a show not too long ago for Boiler Room in Guilford for International Women’s Day, and it was the Choose to Challenge – and I said you know what I’m going to choose to challenge myself to produce a song that I will release, that was the goal. Stuff happens and people come into you’re life and its so great to work with new people but also, work with yourself! Big yourself up and back yourself! That’s what I’ve learnt to do.
Live performances have obviously been something you haven’t been able to do for a while. I’ve seen your gorgeous live performance for Sofar Sounds – are there any plans for live shows when the world returns to normal?
I’m really hoping to do a show in June, we’re just trying to organise how that will happen cause I REALLY want to be able to celebrate the EP. I believe there might be a festival booking, later on this year – but I wanna confirm this, [laughing] so just incase I won’t say. I really miss live, it was so nice to be able to do the Sofar Sounds with the band, it was just before the pandemic and we were really in the grove we where doing regular stuff and obviously its ground to a halt but yeah I would just love to get back out. I’ve got these new songs now, I just wanna be performing them! Performing live was where I would test my music, I would go out in Birmingham – there’s a collective called Shanti Town that would always put on really cool nights and I would go with my guitar and test out new songs, it’s not been easy to have that cut of. I’m itching to get out, so for sure this year by the summer I’ll definitely be heading back out.