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Home » International Musician » Chloe Charles

Chloe Charles


Chloe Charles of Local 1000 just wrapped up performing at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, for the second year in a row. But because she was also slated to perform at Canadian Music Week, she didn’t stay for the duration of the festival. She did, however, make the most of her time there. She performed just one main showcase, solo, for Guild Guitars and ended up with a sponsorship agreement from the storied manufacturer. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who picked up the guitar for the first time in 2007. But such is the trajectory of Charles’ musical career.

A self-professed Type-A personality, her tireless work ethic and immense natural talent have enabled her to pursue a career in the music industry on her own terms. In the process of self-managing her career, she has become the epitome of DIY—from booking her own tours, to editing and releasing her own videos, to crafting her own songs, and learning to play classical guitar. Her ongoing accomplishments as an indie artist are reverberating throughout the music industry, and the same can be said of her music. If you haven’t yet heard much of Chloe Charles, you will. Because one thing is certain; she isn’t just grasping at the brass ring, she seems to have it firmly in hand.

Enchanted Forests

Where does such determination and independence come from? For Charles, it started with where and how she was raised. She grew up in a rural environment, about an hour outside of Toronto, Ontario, and confesses that nature has had just as much of a role in shaping her identity as did early influences like Local 47 (Los Angeles) member Joni Mitchell, Etta James, Lauryn Hill, Björk, and Marvin Gaye. “We had this pond in our yard where I’d sit,” she recalls. “The sound of frogs in the spring would be so overwhelmingly loud it was like a choir—you could feel the vibrations. That’s one of the most beautiful sounds for me—or coyotes howling in the forest. I think that’s a thread that definitely ties my songs together—a connection to nature. It’s something that grounds me and reminds me not to take myself too seriously. I always say that, whenever I’m in nature, I feel insignificant, but that’s also one of the most comforting things in a way. It reminds me to enjoy what I’m doing and be mindful and appreciate all of the little things.”

Appreciating the little things can also be attributed to her mom, a single parent who exposed her to a broad range of music as a child. Having a single parent is probably why Charles is so fiercely independent and her exposure to everything from classical to reggae is what makes her hard to pin down, stylistically. “My mom played all kinds of music,” she recalls. “We’d listen to Puccini in the car and then I’d belt out Lauryn Hill songs at home. My mom was a closet songwriter too, and that definitely inspired me.”

Before she got used to belting anything out Charles admits she had to overcome being extremely shy as a child. “Music was a big part of my upbringing—my nana plays piano and my family would always sing at our parties, but I was really embarrassed to sing in front of anyone,” she confesses. “I would listen to Joni Mitchell or Whitney Houston and thought that if I sang with headphones on nobody would hear me.” Then one day she decided she’d had enough of being shy and dove into musical theater. “I don’t remember what happened, but I made a decision to start auditioning for musicals.  That was the beginning.” She enrolled in university, but instead of a musical theater education, she pursued a more practical major in psychology. Music, however, remained her muse and her dad became responsible, somewhat inadvertently, for launching her current trajectory.

Chloe Charles 3

Six-String Prowess

In 2006, a year after she enrolled in university, she went to visit her father in New York. “He was like ‘what do you really want to do?’” she recalls. “And finally for the first time I was like, ‘I want to sing’.” He then proceeded to hook her up with some people in the entertainment industry. “He knew some people,” she says. “So I took a year off of school to work with an R&B producer and a lyricist who wrote for Dionne Warwick back in the day. It was a really cool process, but they wrote most of the pieces.”

Charles found she wasn’t as involved in the creative process as she would’ve liked to have been. And so when that process ended, she says it didn’t feel right. “I didn’t feel like I could put it out there without feeling phony.” She shelved it and decided that she needed to find a way to take control and write her own songs. “I could hear them in my head,” she says. “So I went and bought a guitar and taught myself. It was funny because I think I already knew how to play, I just had to teach my fingers. The very first day that I picked up the guitar I wrote ‘Soon on a Snowflake.’”

Sans Label

“Soon on a Snowflake” became the lead single from her 2010 release, Little Green Bud, which was chosen as the best EP of 2010 by Dryvetyme Onlyne and best album of the week by Alarm Press. In addition to showcasing her burgeoning classical guitar playing skills, the five-song sampler is an eclectic blend of musical styles and vocal virtuosity. Her evocative soundscapes range from “chamber-soul music with jazzy detours” to “deliciously creepy, wintry arrangements.” Despite all of her otherworldly talents as a musician, one of the biggest hallmarks of Charles’ career thus far, is its independent status. “These days it doesn’t seem so necessary if it’s not the right fit,” she says of being on a label. “Would I like to be with a label that matched with my ideas and was really behind me? Absolutely. But I don’t want to sign away my life.”

Her sense lately is that a lot of people have negative opinions about the industry, but she thinks that’s probably because nobody knows what’s going to happen in the near future. She sees this uncertainty as an opportunity for change. “It gives a lot of power to the artist,” she says. “Nowadays you don’t have to be with a label to be somebody. I know quite a few artists that are doing well independently and it’s probably because of things like social media and the ability to download.” She says that downloading, while frowned upon by many in the industry, is expected now, and it has to be considered when creating a marketing plan. “It’s like free publicity in a strange way. You just have to figure out how to make money in other ways.”

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The result of downloading, however, is fewer CD sales. But that’s okay for Charles, who feels that they are just one small facet of the many requirements the modern music industry demands of its artists. “If you go to a show, people buy it as a memento,” she says about CDs. “I try to stay positive about it because it leaves a lot of room to be creative in other ways.”

A conversation with some folks in social media helped her look at music a bit differently, not as something she solely does, but as a tangential means of expression. “Most musicians are not just musicians; they are probably also poets or may draw or write stories,” she says. “You have to bring that all together and find different avenues to express yourself nowadays. I edited all of my videos myself, I know how to make websites, and I book my own tours. My upcoming tour is like 30 dates in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, and I booked them all myself.”

In fact, she now has people asking her to book them tours. “You have to know how to pitch and that’s something that I’ve learned,” she says when asked how she’s been so successful booking her foreign tours from abroad. The key to a good sales pitch is to keep it short,” she offers. “You need to have the right stuff to show them. You need to have a recording or a live video with quality sound.” About booking tours she adds, “I love when I’ve done it, but it’s not really fun. But, what am I going to do? I’m not going to just sit on my butt in Toronto.”

In addition to her solo work, Charles occasionally fronts the Toronto dub step band Ninja Funk Orchestra and the electronic Toronto/Montreal band Sacred Balance, and performs (guitar and backing vocals) with the up and coming Austin/New York/Toronto harmony-rich collective The Sweetness. “It’s nice sometimes to not be the front person,” she says of the latter. As she continues to maintain a full schedule for herself, including upcoming North American and European tours, the release of her first full-length CD and collaborations with DJs and composers in Germany, Italy and Canada, Charles says, “It keeps me motivated,” referring to her many pursuits. “But a booking agent for Europe would be cool.”

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