Photo by Maximillian Hetherington
Phone interviews come with a sense of anxiety for most every journalist–there are so many variables that come into play, ranging from your cell connection to the clear lack of visual stimulation. I still haven’t fully recovered from the P.T./E.T. mix up that I had with Mos Def’s PR team nearly a decade ago. Mos Def was anything but impressed with the “He-hu-hello, uh, who is this?” I struggled out after being jolted awake by his call at 6:00 am (9:00 am his time).
Having since learned my lesson ten times over, when Charlotte OC’s thick but charming Northern-English accent interrupts the dial tone, I’m nothing but excited… “Hall-ów.” Charlotte Mary O’Connor is uniquely gorgeous–a quarter Malawian, a quarter Indian, half Irish, and 100% stylish. Charlotte is currently quarantined with her family in Blackburn, England where she grew up–a 15-hour journey from LA composed of a flight to Manchester followed by a two-part train ride that stops in Bolton before reaching her industrial hometown that is in Lancashire.
For Charlotte, life hasn’t changed much since the pandemic hit the English town: “My life is so much like this anyway–especially when I’m in Blackburn, which is where I am at my mum and dads. I can’t drive unless someone can take me somewhere, which is fucking annoying. It’s like I’m back to being 12 years old again.” There are both light and dark undertones that can be heard when Charlotte speaks that ground my assertion that she is genuine. Filterless, Charlotte continues on the point of her current headspace: “I struggle with anxiety a bit, and I’m not getting it as much because the world has stopped. I suddenly can breathe and can get a grasp. It feels like there is a level playing field and I want to say I’m happier.”
Photo by Maximillian Hetherington
In a weird sense, I couldn’t agree more. Finding peace in moments of darkness has always come easy to me, though there are simultaneously those moments in which “all is well” and yet I simply cannot get a grip. I admit this among other things to Charlotte before we continue on and I can hear her smiling on the other end. We agree to spend the rest of our call honing in on what implications come with an affinity for that which is dark, and which artists best exemplify the spookier aesthetics.
There’s the age-old question that comes with exploring one’s personal affinity for anything–nature or nurture? In support of nature, Charlotte tells me of the “folklore around where [she] live[s] about witches who used to come together on Pendle Hill.” In 1612, the women of Lancashire found they could make a decent living by posing as witches, monetizing rituals based in darkness for generations. “Knowing this story and knowing this was part of [my] culture … I’ve just kind of leaned towards [the darkness] and felt that it satisfies me.”
As we age, each of us finds pieces of our soul in unique places. At 8 years old, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was the first film that clicked for Charlotte: “Holy shit, it just lit something up in me as a kid.” Musically inclined themselves, her parents nurtured her taste, and the voice of the legendary Leanord Cohen echoing around the house reinforced her fondness for darker tones: “That voice, that tone, that melancholy he portrays is kind of just my childhood … it was fed to me and sculpted this whole world,” citing “Take This Waltz” as a stand out a tune “that set the tone that speaks to [her].” So much of one’s self comes “from being a child and just latching onto [something] and never really straying.” This makes me think of my family’s shared love for Tom Waits, which admittedly none of my friends share or can quite comprehend. Some feelings just stick around.
The Talking Heads were the other ‘staple artist’ that Charlotte was fed as a kid: “When I listen to them it smells like Chinese Food and all I can hear is my mom and dad downstairs with their friends… dancing on the tables to ‘Psycho Killer.’ When you listen to something as a kid and you don’t think too much about it, but then you go back and watch ‘Stop Making Sense’ [now] and you are mind blown. You are kind of like, ‘Holy shit, this is the definition of an artist.’ He is charismatic, he is a showman, and it’s just weird as fuck and beautiful.”
Now at 29 years old with a modeling stint, numerous EPs, and a label-guided Pop album under her belt, Charlotte continues to undergo and make a note of formative experiences: “When I took some time off and left my old team, I took a breather and met my boyfriend now. [After] listening to “Colour My Heart,” he played me some stuff that he thought I’d like and again it was that same feeling… ‘Oh my god, I’ve been waiting to hear this.’’’ Charlotte cites this moment and the release of “Freedom” as a sense of closure and growth, of no longer feeling lost in this world. “The whole lyrical idea of ‘Freedom’ is that I’ve wasted so much time trying to be myself while hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
Charlotte reflects on those negative experiences attributed to “the wrong crowd” with an almost cathartic tone–momentary melancholy trumped by a reassurance that she grew from these experiences. “I’m from a Northern town and it’s just very real where I am … [there’s a] whole world [within music that] is not me [or real] at all.” Take her Coachella experience: “It’s beautiful, that’s the sad thing about it, it is so fucking beautiful [but] I actually cried because I’ve never felt so judged. I felt if I wasn’t somebody, then nobody gave a shit, and it was that energy throughout the whole day.”
Charlotte touches on time spent in Los Angeles in a similar light: “Is it just me, or does LA make you feel like you’re floating on a cloud and then all of a sudden one day you’ll wake up and you’re like, ‘I feel like everybody fucking hates me.’ LA is the kind of place where if you can let things happen and not let them bother you then that’s the place to go… I feel like an alien most of the time but there it is just a different fucking level.” Charlotte is not alone in this feeling, though she is one of the few acts who will come right out and say it.
Let me continue to paint a picture of Charlotte for you, with overarching intention I promise…
When Charlotte saw DJ Harvey at Pike’s Place in Ibiza “where they shot Club Tropicana and where Freddy Mercury spent a lot of time … it was so that good that at one point [she] had to leave because [she] couldn’t take it anymore because every time he played [a song] it got better and eventually it got to be too much.” She is anything but a passive consumer in this respect.
Similarly, Charlotte struggles to watch movies alone because it is difficult for her to differentiate reality from what is going on in the film, citing this as the reason she’s never finished Pan’s Labyrinth. That being said, she is a movie buff, and when we discuss some of her favorite films she has a tendency to reference the song that plays in the scene she finds most memorable:
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) by Jim Jarmusch.
“There’s that moment when ‘Trapped By A Thing Called Love’ comes on, and it’s so out of the blue that this soul tune comes on. It’s so romantic and quiet and you feel like you really have to listen to [the song to know] what’s going on. There’s such a calmness to it, but it’s about vampires, really.”
Donnie Darko (2001) by Richard Kelly.
“Donnie Darko starts with ‘The Killing Moon’ which is a song that encapsulates that sound that I love. It’s one of the most perfect songs ever written and for that song to set the tone for the whole film, I was just like ‘I’m fucking in.’ … Is it religious, is it not, is it God, what’s happening? Each time I watch it, I think the ending is different and I don’t know what’s happening which I fucking love.”
In my favorite moment of our conversation, without so much as taking a breath, Charlotte brilliantly lists off the three songs that she believes accurately captures both the sound and feel of death…
LCD Soundsystem’s “When Someone Great Is Gone”
David Bowie’s “Lazarus”
Leanord Cohen’s “Do You Want It Darker”
…and so calmly notes that Death itself “is so weird as a tone.” You can truly hear it if you listen to these three tracks back to back.
Charlotte is a very REAL human whose soul feels palpable when she touches on it, even indirectly.
“Even if you feel that way, please act this way,” is just shy of a standard request in entertainment, regardless of who you are or what you do. As a creative in the music industry, Charlotte’s taste is deeply ingrained in her craft and sense of self, but she is by no means exempt from the often ridiculous rules and social norms that give entertainment a corporate framework. Charlotte still has to show up and, beyond that, kick-ass no matter how bad things get because her dreams are on the line. For those deeply-affected artists like Charlotte, who wish to retain the sense of self that comes with creative control, attaining the success promised by label support can mean suffocating oneself.
Photo by Maximillian Hetherington
“When people meet me they often say, your music is so depressing, you’re not that depressing though. I’m actually quite giddy and silly.” Well, can you be both? We briefly discuss the careers of Audrey Hepburn and Aretha Franklin, masters of their public crafts, and simultaneously distraught behind closed doors as a result of their respective baggage. Audrey “detach[ed] from whatever she’s gone through to portray this beautiful angelic character… to block out what she was going through” and it “took [Aretha] quite a long time for her to find her voice and she had all these songs and it didn’t happen for ages.” In the art world and entertainment, it could be said that a cocktail of pain and practice makes perfect. Legendary producer Tim Anderson, who has worked on projects ranging from Solange Knowles to Billie Eilish, once told Charlotte that she reminded him of Aretha, and I personally can see a little Hepburn in Charlotte’s gaze. “I do my best vocal when I’m really sad and I really mean it–when every word is gospel. I do think there is a tone that not a lot of people have that can portray an emotion more than most. That’s what makes gospel so powerful, you can feel it, there’s belief in there.” I agree with her sentiment, “you have to watch me live and it makes more sense…”
“I think it’s been me balancing out these worlds of what I like and who I am–I’m still trying to fucking do it. It’s not only just me trying to do it, it’s doing it really well. It’s a process, I’m still growing and it will click, but I’m still trying to get to the artist who I want to be–who I am.” As she says this, I can’t help but think of the polarity between her project and the face-tat Soundcloud acts that chase their bag rather than artistry.
In the most surprising moment of our conversation, Charlotte abruptly tells me that Stephan Bodzin is her favorite artist. I am dumbfounded, as my friends view him as a musical God and despite having a significant international following, he is still quite niche and heavily electronic in his style. “Stephan Bodzin is the person who really made me realize that he’s really just enjoying himself, he’s doing exactly what he loves, and he’s just fucking loving it.” This iconic video is the ultimate testament:
So what does the future hold for Charlotte? Channeling Bodzin’s creative drive and excitement, I presume. “You need to stop chasing [success] because it becomes a chore and it becomes this thing that you’re scared of doing. I didn’t pick up a guitar for ages because I was scared to be disappointed with whatever I was about to do and I lost the love of it. It can get a hold of you, chasing something, it’s hard to find that balance.” I’m confident that Charlotte’s sound and palette will become increasingly refined and more people will be touched by her character and sound with each new release and adventure she takes out of the house.
“I’ve been taking my dog out to the forest nearby where I live and making note of little ideas. I always get ideas when I’m walking through there and I’ve got 20 voice notes which is pretty-fucking-going really. I definitely feel that there’s a new tone that I’m hearing that I didn’t hear before.” Charlotte is an inspiration in so many ways; her vulnerability is paralleled by confidence and she sees no point in faking it until she makes it as so many have sought to do. With numerous successes under her belt, the future is hers and no one else’s to direct, and I could not be more excited to see where it goes.
“Can I just say, you’ve been a joy to talk to … [you] really understand what I’m on about… Not a lot of people do. It’s just been an absolute joy, so thank you so much.”
With my whole heart and soul- right back at you, Charlotte.
And now, check out Charlotte OC’s new EP, Oh The Agency, Oh the Ecstacy, below! It is incredible as she is, each song showcasing different corners of her character. You will love Charlotte OC and this project if you like pop powerhouses such as Lana Del Rey, Florence and The Machine, and Billie Eilish though she is undeniably in a lane of her own with an indie flair and engaged exuberance that are unparalleled. As I’ve elaborated my adoration long enough, I’ll wrap out with a quote from a British business partner who caught wind of the fact I was writing this piece as it captures the new project’s soul beautifully:
Down to earth, from the north, with the voice of an angel scorned. Beauty.
All photos credited to the photographer or property of Charlotte. If there are any mistakes or missing credits, please e-mail the author to request a change- [email protected]!