F Word caught up with Charlotte Clark at the end of 2020 as she prepares for the release of her new EP in February. She radiates creativity and in a wide-ranging interview, we discussed her musical background, the creative writing process and the experience of preparing her latest releases. She is just as engaging to talk with as her music is to listen to.
As we emerge (eventually) from lockdown, we predict a bright future for her.
Amy MacKenzie: So how I like to do these interviews is completely take it back to that start and ask where did you grow up?
CC: Oh no, it’s so boring! I grew up in Fleet, do you know it?
AM: No I don’t think I do
CC: It’s like a commuter, suburban town in Hampshire. Well before that, I lived in Egham so it’s kind of all-around there. And then I moved to London when I was 18 and now I’m in Bristol. It’s really not that exotic.
AM: And what’s your family like?
CC: I’ve got three sisters. It’s the best. We are all really close.
AM: Which number are you?
CC: I’m three. But as we’ve become older it feels like the age gaps are smaller so it’s really nice.
AM: What is the gap from top to bottom?
CC: So, Hannah is 30, Rosie is 28, I’m 26 and Ella is 20. So there’s 10 years between us all. It’s really nice. My oldest sister, was a musician before I ever even thought about it so I think seeing her as this female figure in music was really cool to have.
AM: I guess then it felt more achievable as well because it’s so close?
CC: Yeah and as I got older and noticed there are hardly any women in the music industry, I was like oh! I didn’t even realise.
AM: Where would you say your love of music really came from?
CC: Definitely massively influenced by my parents. We used to go to lots of music festivals, I think literally since I was born we’ve been going. So I’ve never really known any different. World music festivals like WOMAD and stuff like that. There was just so much music from all over the world. My Dad is a huge record collector so there’s everything in the house and it was just played, and there were instruments around because my Dad used to play in bands when he was younger.
AM: Did your Dad end up doing anything musical or did he just keep it as a hobby?
CC: He actually started up a record label a few years ago for me and my sisters because Hannah had gone through some shitty stuff with major labels in the past and I wanted a place to release my music on. My Dad used to manage my sister’s band when they were really young but obviously, she got older and he didn’t want to be a dadager! [laughs]
AM: [laughs] you never hear that term but there’s actually a lot of them!
CC: [laughs] there are! So now he just wants to support us but he plays in local blues bands and stuff like that. He’s starting to write a lot more songs now as well, he’s always still been playing.
AM: Yeah, so you said there were always lots of instruments around, what did you start with playing?
CC: Actually the violin [laughs]
AM: Ooh interesting
CC: Yeah [laughs] I don’t know why! My Dad came home from work one day and was like ‘my mate from work is selling a violin, does anyone want one’ and I was like ‘OK’. I think I was about 6. I remember he gave it to me for Christmas and I opened this huge violin that was clearly meant to be played by an adult and was like ‘Dad it’s way too big for me’. So then I started lessons on that, played in a local orchestra, and then moved to the piano after that.
AM: And is that what you kind of stick with now?
CC: Weirdly, I was doing piano lessons, but it wasn’t until I was about 12 that I started really listening to music, like albums and my favourite artists. It was then that I realised, ok I really like songs, I love music more than just learning an instrument. I think I taught myself a few chords on the guitar and then I wrote my first song on guitar when I was maybe 15.
AM: Wow, do you remember what it was?
AM: Do you want to say? [laughs]
CC: I don’t want to, I wish I didn’t remember! [laughs] It was an embarrassing song about this girl at school that all the boys fancied...
AM: Ugh classic!
CC: I know!! And it’s a song about her going out with this guy that maybe I wanted to be with or something and I had learned three chords and I just wrote it.
AM: I’m sure it was a great song!
CC: Well that was in MySpace days, so I put it on there, and then randomly the school picked up on that song and they asked me to play at the Leavers Assembly, so that was my first performance in front of actual people and I started to get known, people started to know me as being a musician, it was really weird. Then I kept writing and writing and writing. I didn’t write any songs on the piano whatsoever. Due to being classically trained I felt like it was quite restricting in a way like I couldn’t be creative on it. But I discovered open tunings on the guitar and that was in my whole Joni Mitchell, Neil Young phase where I started exploring different avenues with it I think.
AM: That’s really interesting. Do you find that you feel more freedom on the piano now?
CC: I do now, yeah, I do. I hadn’t played the piano for years because like I said, I didn’t know how to write on it. Then I remember finishing uni and moving back home. My Nan plays the piano and she was like ‘Charlotte, I want to buy you a piano as like a 'well done’ thing’. She went into the music shop with cash from her pension and they were like ‘okay’. She counted it all out and she brought me this piano and then after that, when I was 21, I started writing all these songs on the piano. And now it’s probably more piano than guitar.
AM: That’s such a lovely story, especially to get you back into it .
CC: Yeah it was, and I don’t think she had that intention either. I think she just loves it!
AM: So what kind of artists were you listening to when you were growing up?
CC: Hmm, so a lot of Feist. I really love Feist actually, she’s probably one of my favourite artists. My parents used to play her all the time. And soul music, so a lot of Aretha Franklin, and lots of world music, Manu Chao and Muna Dibango. Neil Young and the band, and then stuff like Kate Bush, Nick Cave. Really everything, I mean every kind of genre. Jeff Buckley was like my idol… the way I discovered him was so random because I was into piano, I think someone bought me a Jamie Cullum album when I was really young and there was this cover of a Jeff Buckley song on it. I had never heard who he was before and I was like ‘this song is so good’ so my Mum was like ‘hang on, you need to listen to the original’ and then she showed me Grace. It was that album and Blue by Joni Mitchell just on repeat for years!
AM: Listening to Joni Mitchell makes me so upset
CC: Really? Aww
AM: Yeah I don’t know what it is about her voice. It’s too perfect. I don’t know how to explain it
CC: I know what you mean, sometimes it’s just too cathartic
AM: The sound of her voice is just…
CC: It’s so woeful isn’t it
AM: Yeah there’s so much emotion in it. I guess, maybe she is the perfect artist for me because whatever I am feeling I can hear in her voice.
CC: Yeah I think that’s why maybe I ended up being so influenced by her. She was the first artist that made me realise you could attach your own emotions and your own life to music and it’s just mind-blowing I think.
AM: Yeah. So how would you say listening to those artists has influenced what you do now?
CC: I think definitely Joni because she is so vulnerable in her music which has hugely influenced me. I think that’s probably why I feel like this is my space that I can just let everything off and not have to think, there’s no barriers, no ego, just purely how I’m feeling and that’s what I love about my favourite music I think, is that purity in it.
AM: I was wondering if you feel inspired through other art forms, whether its film, or going to galleries, literature, all of that kind of stuff and if that has any impact on you?
CC: I always feel like film should be something that influences me more, but it’s definitely more words like poetry. I read and I like art in general, just looking at art. Yeah, and more recently it’s not art but I am fascinated by… there’s no way of saying this without it sounding so pretentious… but I am really fascinated by just generally mental health.
AM: Oh ok
CC: And everything that surrounds it and I think it’s actually, since I started exploring my own mental health it’s really helped me write because I understand myself better and then I can write about the things I would never have known how to approach before. That has become a massive inspiration for me I think.
AM: When you’re writing songs is there a particular process you stick to or does it vary from song to song?
CC: I feel like there’s two different ways in which I write. Sometimes I don’t know I’m writing a song. So it’s more like 'oh I feel shit today' and then I might just go and get on the piano. It sounds really strange and I’m really glad that no one can hear me do this but I just make sounds of what I’m feeling. There’s no words, it’s more just a feeling that I’m singing or some sort of sound, and I’m like ok this is a sad song, or it’s about this. Usually the first thought that comes to my mind, I realise 'ok I’m clearly I’m feeling like I need to get that off my chest' and I’ll write in that way. Other times, when I am actively like 'right I’m writing a song', I might start with a beat or a nice riff or something. More recently it has started with drums…
AM: Ah, ok. Do you play the drums?
CC: [laughs] very badly! I’m dating a drummer so we have a drum kit in the house and I’m trying to learn and I feel like I know what I want it to sound, so I can roughly play it but I’m not a drummer, no [laughs]
AM: You’ll get there
CC: I feel like with writing, it’s more about realising, ok, the energy of the song is this and the drums really help me establish the energy of the song in a way. I said there were two ways but also sometimes it can be a lyric. Or the other day I was like ok I’m going to write a song called ‘Twelve Lilies’ because when my cat died, I had a bunch of lilies that I bought and I decided by the time these have all bloomed, is going to be the time I’ve healed. More like it was my way of positively focusing on something. I don’t know, I haven’t written that song yet…
AM: That will be such a lovely process and I can imagine that already.
CC: Yeah. But it’s always that I have to be feeling something. I don’t want to just write for the sake of it.
AM: Yeah, so how would you describe your sound? And how has it evolved over time?
CC: Well funnily enough, the music I’m releasing at the moment is actually quite old. It’s not old, it’s maybe a year and a half old, so what I’m writing now is even different to that stuff. It’s always evolving. I never know how to describe my sound.
AM: It is such a hard question, sorry!
CC: Ahh I don’t know! I think it’s… Oh God, I never know how to answer this question. It’s very honest, which is not a sound. [laughs]
AM: I think a sound and a feeling can interlink enough
CC: I think it’s quite warm and it’s still poppy, but it’s also… I don’t know… how would you describe my sound?
AM: Oh gosh, I don’t know! It is hard! It’s emotive, your song ‘Disarray’ made me burst into tears last week!
CC: Noooo I’m sorry.
AM: No, it was a necessary cry! [laughs] It’s so hard to describe…
CC: Well this is the thing, I never think about… Well I do think about the sound a lot, but the sound just lends itself to the song so everything is just built around the song. And every sound is there just to enhance the song.
AM: Well I think the sound is different for each song because each song is saying a different thing.
CC: Yeah definitely.
AM: So it can’t be like blanket, this is what it sounds like…
CC: I mean I really love a lot of pop music and as I was saying earlier, like Feist, these more alternate 'rootsy' sounding artists where everything is a bit more organic and it’s where we kept in loads of voice memos in the recordings, to bring it back down to the room so you could really feel the room that we are in. The whole EP I recorded without any headphones in, I was sitting in a chair like this [an armchair!] just with a microphone and Scott’s cat sitting on my lap and it was to the point where sometimes I didn’t even know he was recording so it really is the most me it can be, I think.
AM: So let’s talk a bit about ‘Disarray’, the song that made me cry!
AM: It makes me really goosebumpy
CC: Does it?
AM: Yeah I just love it
CC: Thank you so much!
AM: Can you tell me a bit about what it’s about and what it means to you?
CC: When we wrote that song I didn’t know what it was about. This happens to me quite a lot, when I write I don’t know what I’m writing about and then I can reflect on it and be like Oh my God that was about… something I was going through. That song is essentially about being in an unhappy relationship that I didn’t know I was unhappy in.
AM: Was it the kind of thing like you were saying earlier that you make sounds and realise what kind of emotion is coming through, was it that song that made you realise you weren’t happy?
CC: It was during that time. So ‘Disarray’ I started with Scott and we had this day where we couldn’t come up with anything and we wrote that up to the first chorus, up to “you don’t want to see me in a Disarray” and that was it, it was this weird thing, I’ve probably still got it on my phone if you want to hear it. It was a really jolty, strange demo and I didn’t know what it was, I just thought maybe that’s quite nice. Then it wasn’t until about four or five months later when I had come out of that relationship and I listened to the demo we had and it was just totally about that. It’s like “we’ve been here before, fighting on the first floor” I was living in a first floor apartment and all the lyrics were totally relevant to everything and I just didn’t know. I got back home to my parents’ house, moving home and on the piano that my Nan had bought me and I wrote the whole rest of the song in about 15 or 20 minutes, something like that, and it just totally made sense to me. And at that point I was like ok I know what this is about now.
AM: It just completely fell out, wow
CC: Yeah and clearly I wasn’t in the right place to finish it when I started it because I didn’t really know what I was going through… It’s why I think my music is almost soul music because it is literally just my soul that sometimes I don’t consciously understand it and it takes me so much time to lean in and listen to it.
AM: Yeah! So let’s talk a bit about your song ‘Warm Weather’. What’s the song about, the process of making it…
CC: Yeah so after I had ‘Disarray’, I had a couple of other songs and then I went out to Bergen in Norway, which is just my favourite place!
AM: I love Scandinavia
CC: I wonder if one day I could end up there, it’s just the best. The air is so fresh, everyone is so nice, it’s so clean. You should definitely go to Bergen, you’d love it.
AM: I will make sure to
CC: When I went there I had been in London working, and working, and working all these different jobs just to pay my rent and I hadn’t left for about two years, I hadn’t even had a weekend break away and I had this writing trip planned for a week or something there. I had just been so in my little bubble that I was then on this flight and was so like ‘ahh I don’t think I can do this’ because I just hadn’t left. And it’s that classical imposter syndrome thing, I didn’t think I was good enough. Then I got there and the studio was just beautiful, it was right on this fjord where you look out to the sea and there’s a view of mountains. Everyone is so friendly and there’s no competition between any of the producers. And then I started telling them about how I was feeling on the plane. It was a really sunny day and I wrote the song with Magnus Skylstad about how everything around you can be perfect and sometimes you’re so caught up in your own doubt that you forget to be in the moment.
AM: I think it’s so interesting as a song because so much could be applied to it. Your reason for writing it is very personal and specific but there’s so many other ways people could interpret it for them but that original essence of why you wrote it is still very strong.
CC: I think in a nutshell it’s about not being present and learning to be, I guess. Because “it’s no wonder I’ve been acting cold under this warm weather, living in the shade I tell myself that I’m not enough, I’m scared of opening up to this warm weather” it’s when you can’t just fully let yourself be in the moment, there’s sometimes so much anxiety around it but once you give in to the present it is always, always ok.
AM: So you have just announced ‘Drive On’, your new single.
AM: What’s that about? And also, I really like the artwork for it, by the way.
CC: Thank you!! Oh my God, there’s a whole story about that artwork I’ll tell you about at some point [laughs] but that again, all these songs are about such specific things on this EP. That one, when I had met my now boyfriend because he is a musician too and we were talking about how its so hard to be a musician, or just to be a creative, or just to have this burning passion for something because when it works it’s the best feeling in the world but when it doesn’t it just kills you and you’re like why am I doing this?
AM: What would you say you have learnt about yourself through writing?
CC: Mmm. Just songs in general?
AM: Well having music so strongly in your life
CC: It is literally the only way that I understand how I am feeling. Sometimes if I’m like how do I feel about this thing and it’s a bit blurred, music is always the answer to that. So I’ve learnt that I need it to understand myself. Again, I have learnt that in the past year or so, with not having the time to do as much of my own artist stuff, and now being able to do it more, I’ve learned that songwriting is such a big part of my essence, as a person.
AM: I guess it is like a super intense therapy session but on your own so it is really all encompassing.
CC: Yeah, definitely. Actually, I started therapy this year and that’s changed my approach. It’s really opened up my approach to music and songwriting.
AM: How so?
CC: Just to not be afraid of saying stuff. Sometimes I’ll have things I really want to say in songs but I feel like it’s too honest to write. Now I’m just letting them write themselves. I keep some songs for myself almost as therapy, and have some for the world to hear, not everything has to be public and that has made me a lot more productive, rather than like 'ooh I need to say this but there’s no nice way of saying it', you know? I think therapy is the best.
AM: Yeah it really is. I think everyone should do it...
CC: I think so too. There’s so much, I guess not now but in like our parent’s generation, there is a lot of stigma around it and I always thought I don’t need that, I’m quite a happy person…
AM: Yeah, like you think there are maybe people who could need it more than you but everyone’s experiences are so relative and everyone’s struggles are different
CC: Yeah. Everyone has things they should explore. I might not understand a specific thing about myself and exploring that with the guidance of someone else really helps. There’s nothing negative about that at all.