Interview with Lady Charles
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
What got me into music originally was hearing David Bowie's Changes on the radio. The emotions and creativity that song unlocked set me down a path of playing in bands and writing music from a pretty young age. I actually put that aside to try to get into video production and eventually become a filmmaker – I even started a production company and did some work for indie artists and businesses. That's likely where I would have ended up, except that I had a nagging feeling to return to the stage, and started releasing music and playing live again and eventually decided I had to dive in headfirst.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I have always been very curious about the world around me, and one thing I love to do is to walk or bike around whatever city I live in, taking in different neighborhoods and landscapes, meeting different people. It's great physical exercise, but it also forces me to leave my bubble – unlike on the internet where we have much of our experience curated to match our expectations. The rhythm and monotony of walking is great for coming up with music and I often write based on ideas that come to my mind first, rather than from sitting down with an instrument.
Other than that I really love learning – I'll make it a point to read about any random thing I become curious about. I try to always learn a few basics in any language I might encounter too. Every bit of knowledge, whether it's language or political history or pharmacology, I feel has its place in influencing creativity. In a way it feels like experience and learning are the raw materials of creation.
How long have you been making music?
I've been making music in some form for over 20 years – right back to when I was a kid making little tapes on my Fisher-Price recorder and a young teen recording multitracks of my crappy first keyboard – but my first actual serious releases are turning 10 this year.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa, and have lived in a few cities but am based near downtown Ottawa right now. Ottawa is a government town that already has a bit of a reputation for being boring, but growing up in a far out suburb was especially so. I found myself really consuming and creating music as a form of escape and I think the monotony of a 90's suburb really inspired me to want to travel, create, and experience new things.
Ottawa itself isn't really known as a music city – we don't have a lot of mid sized venues at all and are overshadowed by Toronto and Montreal. There's some incredible talent and dedicated people though, and it has a real underdog feel. Ottawa has a very conservative attitude – not in the sense of being socially conservative but just in terms of not being a place where you rock the boat. Many of our biggest acts are barely known locally yet have big followings online. It's ironically the perfect backdrop for rock and roll in a way, because it makes it feel a bit rebellious. If Canada's economic problems can be solved so that the average artist can afford to spend more time making their art, I could see Ottawa surprising some people as an emerging music city.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
So bear in mind Lady Charles really started in 2019, so most of my live memories are from my previous projects. One of my favourite shows ever was a little punk rock house venue I played a solo set at. At one point I went to play saxophone and people started cheering before I even put the reed to my lips... It's just great to see a crowd so excited about music that they cheer for the instruments themselves!
Otherwise, in my old band it was always fun to open for the Monowhales because they always play a remarkable set, and they're incredibly kind, warm people who were willing to take a chance on us. I also loved opening for Nyssa whose music I've grown really fond of and Dent May who was the first US indie artist I got to share a bill with in Toronto.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Live On Elgin is a great local venue that's run by great people and employs a lot of local artists, it's always very fun to play there and I'd recommend it to anyone in Ottawa looking for a small room with great sound and vibes. The Silver Dollar in Toronto is gone, sadly, but it was a real rock and roll venue where it felt like anything could happen – the crowds were always incredibly energized and my memories of playing there are really special.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
There are a LOT of indie bands I'd love to play with. I really love theatricality and the sense of playing bigger than the room, and so Of Montreal is one act I'd love to share a bill with. I also love performers who leave everything onstage every night, where you never know if you're about to watch a train-wreck unfold or a brilliant performance and you sometimes get both which is even better. I suppose Iggy Pop really exemplified that for a long time – I hear he's amazing live still.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
The biggest thing I've learned on this journey is that you have to be true to yourself, no matter how hard it is to put your authenticity out there. People aren't always going to understand you or your vision – your job isn't to cater to those people, it's to find your people.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I think it would be Manic Pixie Dream Boy. I wrote it as a sort of personal theme song, and I think I injected a lot of my personality in humor into the lyrics. I may never write a better line than “A Canadian with depression, I call that red, white, and blue” and I am okay with that.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Love Dies But You Won't is always really fun to do at my loop pedal sets – it's a really loop-friendly composition that allows me a fair bit of room to be creative while building up the arrangement. The Lady Charles version actually evolved out of the live versions I was playing back in my last project – it went from very stripped down in 2015 to a massive wash of synths and harmonies in 2020.
Since I haven't played more than a handful of shows as Lady Charles because of the pandemic (and probably won't until I get the LP out) I couldn't speak to requests, but it's probably going to be Manic Pixie Dream Boy. That got the best reception online, and still gets a fair bit of daily listens.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
Generally I come up with music first – sometimes that comes from sitting down and playing keyboards or guitar, other times a melody will pop into my head and I'll record it as a voice note. In my teen years I started practicing writing/arranging in my head without touching an instrument or singing – I've been able to do it since I was 16 and it's a skill that actually allows me to pull songs out of my dreams, and so on a few tracks I've written what you're hearing literally came to me in a dream. Other times a song idea that I don't bother to record or even play will just live in my head until I realize I want to do something with it. Composition has always been the thing that I love most in music, I play instruments to get my ideas out but I'm a songwriter first and foremost.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
My songs all have different meanings, but if I was to distill my message, it's freedom. I truly believe that people should have the freedom to do what they want, express themselves how they want, all as long as they do not put others at risk in the process. It took me a long time to get up the confidence to dress how I do and act how I do, and if I can make it easier for the next generation to do the same I'd consider myself a success.
Far too many people have been sucked into a culture war where we're taught to categorize ourselves and others and let people with vested interests draw our battle lines. Everyone primarily worried about their neighbour's sexuality or race or religion is someone who isn't giving their whole energy to improving things for themselves and others. I get a lot of hate, but none of it is for my music. I actually cherish that, because it shows that I've exposed an artificial fault line; it's ridiculous to think that wearing makeup and feminine clothes would actually bother anyone since it's about the mildest form of self-expression there is, yet here we are. I'd rather expose the absurdity of how we're divided against each other by being hated than to be loved for conforming.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I have my first full-length album coming out sometime around the end of this year, beginning of next. It's called Manic Pixie Dream World and it's mixed and mastered by Erin Tonkon (David Bowie, Richard Hell) and Sarah Register (David Bowie, The Shins, US Girls) respectively. I recorded most of it at home during the pandemic, but there are also contributions from my former bandmates, and performers from acts like Tokyo Police Club, Raphael Sadiq's band, and Lavola. I also have been working on a covers album which will be split between songs by my friends, songs by me that were released previously in different projects, and songs by artists who have influenced me. I think I'll be releasing a track from that soon too, a cover of Flower Boy by my friend Fliss with a trippy fall-coloured music video.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
I'm most active on instagram as @ladycharlesmusic and post pretty regularly on tiktok (LadyCharles). I welcome any fan to DM me too – I may not get around to seeing everything especially if it's not on instagram but I love to hear from people who like what I do. My website is currently in the works, but it will be at www.ladycharlesmusic.com and I'll announce on my socials when that is available.