Interview: Charlotte Sometimes
Thu, 13 Mar 2008 07:31:11
Somewhere in Alabama, Charlotte Sometimes faces a serious conundrum. The volatile winter doldrums of Middle America keep shifting from hot to cold, and it's proved to be rather annoying. Coming up with a solution, she laughs, "I just keep changing my outfit. I don't know what to wear! It's so strange. It keeps changing temperature every hour. It was warm out one minute, and then it got really cold out. It was rainy, and then it got hot. Then it got rainy again." Unstable climate aside, the 20-year-old New Yorker is currently touring the U.S. with The Hush Sound. She also stands on the eve of releasing a self-titled three-song EP (Geffen/Interscope) March 18, with a full-length, entitled Waves and the Both of Us, to follow in early summer.
Charlotte Sometimes is not your average pop singer. She combines dark, satirical lyrics and a vibrant, theatrical delivery for a truly engaging brand of alterna-pop all her own. She's smart, clever and downright poignant, as she examines life, love and more. She chatted with ARTISTdirect about her forthcoming debut, her obsession with Bewitched, why she's down with Cypress Hill's B-Real and much more.
How was your move from New Jersey to NYC?
I grew up on the Jersey shore. I knew that I wanted to live in Manhattan, pretty much forever. My mom is from the Bronx. I've been going up to the city for years. I was never scared of it. Like at 5, I was yelling, "Taxi" for my parents. Then I started taking voice lessons in the city, when I was l5. Ever since then, I was like, "Alright, when I graduate, I'm moving here." End of story.
You deliver pop melodies in a theatrical fashion, but the subject matter is so dark. That's what's really compelling.
Thank you; it's definitely what I try to do. I feel like I'm one big contradiction. I was a dancer for 13 years, so I love dance music and pop music. My parents raised me on folk music, so I started as a folk singer. I have all these elements, and I'm this burning artist. It's so much more fun to dance, instead of sitting and crying by yourself. It's like, "Oh, let's cry, and let's dance a little bit." That pretty much explains my personality.
It's great you borrowed the fairytale imagery in the name too. You don't get very many modern fairytales, especially in music.
The way that the entertainment industry is right now—and music—there's just no mystery left. There are no stories going on. I was doing the whole folk-singer thing for a while, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to spice it up a little bit and have fun?" While my music is still heartfelt, it’s a way to bring a little more theater into it and have that mystery of, "Oh, what's that all about? What kind of statement is this person trying to make?" Instead of someone paying attention to my name or who I'm dating, just stupid shit, why not focus on the whole idea of the music that I'm making and the concept that’s behind it?
You create this dark concept that is really intriguing. It really pulls the listener right in.
Thank you. It's always good to hear nice things about yourself. Maybe I'm little self-absorbed [laughs].
There's sort of a self-absorption that goes into making music. You have a part of yourself that you want to get out there.
I definitely agree. That goes without saying for the whole entertainment field. We have quite the nerve. Like, "Oh, let's look at my feelings. Let's listen to them and talk about them" [laughs]. It's all so ridiculous if you think about it.
It's interesting. Some people can't do that. So many people can't expel their feelings and be honest in that way.
Definitely. I'm a ball of emotion, so it will always come out. There will always be music made.
"Sweet Valium High" really stood out. What's the story behind that song?
That one has a really interesting story. It was the first song I wrote for the record. I have all these songs, and some of them are old. We had this record, and I was trying to make a concept around it. My producer made this track. It was completely different than the song that we have now, and it sounded like an Evanescence song. I was like, "Are you guys trying to write songs for me? I can do that. That's why I'm here. I have over a hundred songs. Why are we doing this?" They were like, "Just try to write something over it." And then I ended up coming up with a really cool concept. It was way different. I took over. I just said, "This is a really sweet song, if you get rid of everything you've done, and you give me an acoustic guitar, and we start over with this verse." I ended up writing this really pop chorus. I was going through a really rough time with someone I was dating. I had already written all these songs, but I just wrote everything I thought about this person. It came out really cool, and it was a totally different feeling. It was a therapeutic and fun song to play live, because I get to just tell a guy that I dated off every night. It's probably the most fun to dance to.
Another great one is "Losing Sleep."
I cry every night when I sing that song. That’s the one song on the record that I will always be able to relate to for the rest of my life. I wrote it when I just graduated high school, and I was going to college. I was moving to New York City with my boyfriend, and I just wasn't sleeping. I was really stressed out. It was when I was getting ready to record the album. I felt like any young person going through the transition—leaving the family and starting something new. It’s a really scary experience. There's a lot of pressure. Whatever you do—if you're in the entertainment field or if you're going to college—the pressure that you put on yourself and the pressure that others put on you can be a little overwhelming.
Our society expects so much when you're young. There's an emphasis on youth and capitalizing on that time.
The whole thing is just a little crazy. I'm 20 years old, what's the rush?
Another song that hits is "How I Could Just Kill a Man." What are the chances of you and B-Real from Cypress Hill doing that one together?
Probably slim to none, but I'd be down [laughs]. It was the last song that we wrote for the record. All the other songs were finished, and my producer came up to me and said, "'How I Could Just Kill a Man,' you know that Cypress Hill song? Play that song." And I was like, "Alright." I went into the other room and wrote it. I came out, and there it was. It's pretty hysterical, because again, it was just what was happening to me at the moment. I felt like I could just kill a man then. It was perfect. But it's really funny, people ask, "Is this a cover? Is this girl gangsta?" It's just a little pop song [laughs].
Where did the record's title come from?
Well, I have a song on the album called "Waves and the Both of Us," and it's a love song. The reason I called it "Waves and the Both of Us" is because I have this two-sided personality. I love to play into both sides. Charlotte Sometimes was originally this book about a girl who was in a different time, trying to get back to her original self, while trying to be someone else. That’s how I feel all the time. Charlotte is a really outgoing person, and she's very confident. She gets in your face. The person I am at home is different—I write poetry, maybe have a coffee and people watch. I think it’s a conflict of who I am and who I want to be. How can I be the person I want to be without pretending? I feel like Waves and the Both of Us is a really great way of showing that dichotomy. It shows this is the relationship that I have with others, and this is the relationship in my head. That's how it came about.
You have almost like a '50s sensibility image-wise, but it feels unhinged at the same time.
I definitely did that on purpose, and people think I'm just trying to be cute. But I am a girl, and I do try. I have this whole Bewitched theme. I'm sure you're familiar with the character Samantha. I feel like I'm in a Women's Studies class [laughs]. I'm very into Women's Studies, but I never got into it in college, because I started playing around the country. This is my way of saying something to the world. Samantha has all these magical powers. She's this super-rad-kickass chick. Then she marries this douche bag, and all he wants her to do is be normal. He basically wants her to give up everything that she is. He wants her to be this normal person that just sits home and takes care of him, which is fine. However, he's asking her to give up everything that's magical about her and everything that makes her who she is—the reason that he loves her—for him. And I just wonder, "What kind of statement is that making?" Is it possible to be that strong woman and have that love of your life, without giving up yourself? Or is that something that we're always going to have to do? You know, it's a question I like to throw out there. There's nothing wrong with being a homemaker. I'm just posing these questions. If that's who you are, that's who you are. But never let someone take away who you are so they can make you be what they want you to be.
That can go for being an artist too. There are a lot of sacrifices required to create and be in a band. People don't get how deep those sacrifices are often.
Yeah, completely. I think that's why I do my little '50s thing. I hope that it kind of raises some questions in people's minds. I also think that a lot of female artists are really trying to make some kind of movement. I felt like, for the last two years, we were going backwards, as females. I feel like all these girls are getting scared of each other. And even the smart women in music started giving up. However, there's this whole range of smart, young girls that are great. I was like, "Hey, I'm young. I'm not that smart, but I'm smart enough to say something." That's what I want to do.