Bartenders are lighting candles around the venue, and band members are mixing tracks on their computers at the bar. Her publicist, manager, and agent are all in deep prep, moving around the room as a family would, smiling at her between placing cards and nutty snacks on the tables, and sending an encouraging look her way. The excitement in the room is palpable.
I am waiting to speak with Chloe Charles, and tonight is her record release party. Dressed in a sleek mauve skirt and a mint green blouse, she exudes everything that one would expect from a savvy young woman born and raised in Toronto. She nervously glances at me while she does another interview, and I can tell she’s worrying that I’ve been waiting for too long, but I know that I accidentally showed up an hour early. She is sweet, aware of her surroundings, and decidedly humble amidst the lights and cameras that are focused on her.
Breaking the Balance is her second album, but if you ask her, she’ll tell you she feels as though this is her true debut. What else would you call the presentation of her maiden voyage into complete creative control? For such a young woman, this is an astounding feat.
Her first record came after a year of musical soul searching – a year Charles gave herself to explore the industry and map out her place within it. The songs on the LP are a reflection of that experience. And though the record received acclaim, Charles herself was not entirely satisfied with the outcome. Her label required her to work with a lyricist, and she was asked to only come up with the melodies and perform the songs once they were complete. This didn’t suit her, and when asked, she was quite candid about what she learned from the experience. “That year wasn’t what I wanted; it wasn’t the sound that I wanted,” she says. “It was a great experience, because it taught me very quickly what I didn’t want to do. It made me realize that I needed to be the songwriter.”
She could not ignore the whisper within her that the songs were not hers to own. She had a hand in their creation, but she told herself that she could do it herself; She could create something solely from her own heart and eventually triumph over the fear that all artists feel. She presents Break the Balance with the benefit of wisdom. “Take it day by day,” she says. “Do not hesitate to create.”
Break the Balance showcases her talent as a writer. Each of the tracks explores prominent themes in her life, huge ideas in fact, that she is able to articulate easily with subtle sentence structures. “Find Her Way” is particularly apt and displays this nuanced design that works so well for Charles’s eclectic singing style. “It’s the future she’s watching/will she find her way?…Don’t think too hard/ you can’t force life.” The stories are streamlined and simple. Her messages are made clear by her concise wording and the way she has sculpted the melodies to accent her meanings. All this is important because what her writing style really does is provide the opportunity for her voice to be in the spotlight, and it’s all the more powerful when what she is singing about is pure emotion. “I’ve always known that that was the direction that I wanted to go in,” she says. “[The writing process] was immensely rewarding.”
A certain notoriety surrounds this girl’s voice. More than one music journalist has succumbed to its ‘indescribable’ qualities. No one word can do the voice justice, but a combination of several equate a valiant effort; there is a remixed vintage feel to her voice, like Billie Holiday on a soundboard, a South American quena that got it’s instruction in 1920’s Harlem. Charles’s voice is, quite literally, a wind instrument, but she uses it as a percussion element as well. Her voice pushes subtle ripples on the harmony pond. It is playful, soulful, and above all, intriguingly non-conformist.
“Soldier” is a beautiful parade of Charles’s musicianship. A self-trained classical guitarist, she made Guitar World’s ‘Ten Female Guitarists That You Should Know’ list for Little Green Bud. Her songs tend to open with a beautifully arranged riff, evoking a lush calm that pulls the listener into the melody. Once her voice and the classical elements are layered over it, it’s easy to agree that this girl is the real deal.
Charles is also an incredible advocate for aspiring artists. She speaks freely about the importance of going out there and being involved in the industry. I asked her what advice she would give to singers, musicians, writers, producers, and non-artists, if music was their passion as it is hers. “Find a band and help them out!” She laughs. “I don’t know any band that doesn’t need help. You can learn so much through that experience, make really cool connections, and go to awesome festivals.”
Break the Balance would not have turned out as it did if she did not have the strength to stand up for her talent and work as hard as she did to prove to herself, as well as her label, that she had it within her to write beautiful songs, to record an album that she could be proud of, and to stand on that stage at her own record release party knowing that the evening was a true celebration of her love for music.
Tracks to Check Out:
Find Her Way
God is a Toad