Based in The Macedon Ranges, Victoria on Dja Dja Wurrung Country, multidisciplinary artist, improvisational vocalist, musician, composer, producer and performer, Charlotte Roberts creates soulful avant-garde art-pop birthed from the combined kinetic energy of movement, sound and nature. A founder and facilitator of The Musical Body, leading improvisational songwriting, meditation and creative workshops, Charlotte’s musical practice is grounded in exploration, ritual and genre-bending freedom. Her debut album Stay In Your Power was released in 2018; a bold collection of empowering experimentalism that introduced Roberts’ as an artist existing beyond the structural constraints of modern songwriting. Now, the boundary pushing creative is excited to reveal her first new music in over two years, with the mesmerising sounds of ‘Dreams Are Made Of’, the first taste of her forthcoming sophomore album Incantations. We had an in-depth chat to Charlotte about her nuanced creative process and all things sound-body-movement. Dive in below!
Hey Charlotte, congratulations on your new track ‘Dreams Are Made Of’, what’s this song all about and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you 🙂 This track is about persisting through self doubt to live your dream, showing up and doing the work on a regular basis of playing/doing/being and practicing what it is you love. It’s about celebrating the deliciousness and the edginess of being alive, being hungry for life, the fecundity of singing and having personal rituals and stepping into the unknown of how things will emerge. I was inspired by the delight of creating a launch performance for my previous album, Stay In Your Power that was really structured to support improvisation and intimacy with myself and the audience; and bring through the medicine of each song too. I was inspired by the healing power of singing, of my voice, and how it brings me home, time and time again, and how it can bring me back from very dark places if I choose to tune in. I was inspired by my mentor Rhiannon, who said to me years ago ‘Sing on’, when she signed my copy of her book. I love how ‘Sing on’ sums up so much of what has stayed with me since my childhood prayer-songs / song-poems on the farm and songwriting that emerged from my lived experiences, and in relationship to the learnings and discoveries along the way. Dreams, both lived and while I sleep or daydream were inspiration for this song, along with my imagination, children’s and friends’ imaginations, artists, people in general, nature/plants/animals. The words in this song are a core inspiration; the imaginative sense they evoke in me; they are notes to self / affirmations that, along with the musical landscape of the track, reveal and remind me of the power of the digestion process that I go through in life, through singing and creating music, and that I simply just have to keep showing up, no matter what!
You have a real DIY and spontaneous approach to your work, which blends aspects of spoken word, beatbox, live looping, and using your voice as an instrument. Can you talk us through the process of making the track? What instruments were used, if any, and how long does your process generally take from conception to completion?
From memory, I was in my living room, sprawled out on the floor with my loop pedal. I was dancing, feeling, following the pleasure of movement and sound, and the soundscape emerged on my loop pedal, as I played with effects, and as I danced, I took time moving between each element (move, dance, play, sing, listen, feel, repeat….). I used my body-voice to create the sounds and words. Words emerged like anchor points, out of the movement: guiding me and creating pillars amongst the sensing and layering of the music; which emerged similarly from this movement. The song emerged from a need to integrate and concretise, somehow, the intuitive knowing, into my mind-cognitive knowing, into a talisman of sorts that I could return to….It took under 10 minutes, which is very usual for my composition process; it all comes out in either one cathartic experience, or with me holding the reins in moments of crafting then often letting them go completely and experiencing being ‘ruled’ by the song itself. The composition process for me extends to up to one hour if I am going deep into the healing process of the song. But I find that when I listen back to my iphone recording, it’s usually the first 10 minutes, sometimes combined with one or two key words or a solo or hook later on, that become ‘the song’.
You’ve performed your work at festivals such as Melbourne Fringe and for La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, among others. What role does the world of live art and theatre play in your recorded work? Do you take a theatrical approach to what you do both in the studio and on stage?
Performing, like collaboration, is such a rich playground and transformational space for me; it inspires me deeply and shifts/creates things beyond what I can in my own private composition process. The perfect example of this is my explorations season of ‘Vocal Digs’ at La Mama Theatre in 2017; which generated a number of compositions which I plan to start developing as core songs in my third album next year. I’ve always had performing in my life, but for many years it was really a way of seeking validation that I was a ‘good girl’. I was in the Australian Girls Choir growing up and every so often would perform alongside a Bette Midler recording or share one of my compositions with a friend or family member. These performances had a particular shape and colour and texture to them… and I am really interested in exploring more of the textures that don’t need a particular emotion or ‘look’, and how performance can be an emergent space…
I think that performance and a theatrical approach have been tools to overcome the overwhelming shaking I used to have when I was asked to sing in front of people as a teenager, and also to start to unlearn that particular kind of extroverted joyfulness which I was enslaved to most of my life. The last 10 years of performance – in the sense of being witnessed/sharing with other humans, rather than ‘putting on a show’ – has been aided by my studies in somatics/body and movement, and vocal improvisation. I’ve started to discover and begin to explore how the stage can be a space to make huge transformational shifts; create an experience for audience members where they feel inspired and moved to feel, connect and create and live loving lives… To be honest, I don’t know if I know what a theatrical approach is, but after looking on Wikipedia I can see some resonances for sure. My studies with Anna Halprin in Marin County USA really took me back to the original nature of music and movement and performance/sharing with others. I guess being in relationship with others is as vital as being in relationship with myself, and performing has helped me discover how much more of an introvert I am than I thought I was growing up!!!! When I’m recording in the studio it’s really imperative that I can move, roll on a ball, be on the floor, touch myself, be completely at ease and juicy, or I go into stiff-cold mode and that produces un-fun-ness and not so great results. When I perform I have numerous people around me who I hire solely to keep talking me back into doing what I’m doing (I had three paid directors for my Stay In Your Power launch) and there’s a part of me that absolutely hates performing and avoids it like COVID. But I also know that it is good for me to take the intimacy of what I create and share it with others. So I guess the tools of theatre, and those that support connecting to my body, my breath, my eyes, my inner world, the audience, the material, the song form AND the unknown/emergent improvisation are vital to keep me showing up and to support the sharing of my work.
Following from your debut album Stay In Your Power (2018), you’re ready to drop a new collection of work on the upcoming LP, Incantations. Can you tell us a bit about this release? What can listeners expect from this one, and how might it differ from Stay In Your Power?
Stay In Your Power was really such a cathartic collide-a-scope of my fears meeting my motivation meeting my lived experience meeting my creative hunger, frustration, feeling, despair, joy, and quirky fairy spirit and it was really full of words too. Incantations only has three songs with words in it, the rest are musical landscapes, which is exciting for me and a delight because I am very interested in the textural depth of imagination within a single word, sound or shape I make with my mouth. The loop pedal in Incantations is really holding the structure and pulse and predictability of life for me, and as I play with effects, and soloing, and messing about with the timing and echoes of the track (aided in the studio by the masterful Joe Hammond), and with the ebb and flow of volume, and soloing with either minimal words or nature sounds or bodily sounds, I’m exploring the freedom and feeling; the interaction of this oceanic place and the sea-shore-sand/rocks and cliffs.
This album has a number of songs which may feel, seem or even be unfinished, they are short portals, song poems, moments of recognition that ‘oh, this is a thing’, ‘this is an experience/feeling’. They are tracks that I want to develop into ambient/dance music next year as my Ableton live skills improve. But for now, they are whole pieces in and of themselves. I guess, there’s more space for the listener to dance and bring their imagination into that dance in this album, as I’m explaining my neurosis through sound rather than words!
How has the current global pandemic affected/strengthened your creative practice, and what’s it like releasing music during a time when you’re unable to perform live?
Oh, I realised that I was terrified of solitude! And, I got over that fear during COVID. And my new dog, Willow Juju Pumpkin Roberts helped with that also! It took a pandemic to realise how exhausting trying to be everywhere and do everything and be peppy and outgoing and extroverted was!! And that I adore my alone time, time to explore rhythm, drums, nature sounds, gardening… all these things that are vital to my creative process and of course, being able to switch off!!!! And also, feed the inner creative hunger!