Charlotte O’Connor: Introducing Blackburn’s ‘acoustic hip pop’

It was a late Friday night.  The basement to the 229 venue that lies just outside of Great Portland Street tube station was hot, humid and cramped.  People were bustling in chatter with anticipation for what was to come;  a young 20 year old Blackburn hailing folk/soul talent by the name of Charlotte O’Connor was to sing.  Before the live performance, Soul Culture’s very own Philip Javens caught up with the rising UK star to talk about her debut album For Kenny, new single “Treasure Island,” her admiration for Akon and imaginary mice…

“London is just really hard…” For over four years, Charlotte O’Connor has been honing her craft on the acoustic guitar, in style, lyricism, and voice.  Discovered on MySpace by Sam Bush (son of the legendary music promoter Mel Bush), the young acoustic singer/songwriter was quickly snapped up for management.  Although she’s beautiful, it is her voice, her undeniably deep, soulful voice that stands out more than anything. “A whiskey helps before gigs!” – not to mention her charming personality and good sense of humour.

Her official website describes Charlotte’s music as “a mix of acoustic folk and soul,” but how does she describe her style?  “Me and my mate Lottie (her tour manager) didn’t know whether it was hip hop, but hip pop.”  Hip pop you say? Neologism is always a good way to be innovative.  “So it’s acoustic hip pop,” she laughs. “I don’t think it’s anything like that, but I think I want it to be.  But it is acoustic folk and soul, I guess – there are not hip hop elements, but there’s a lot of groove to it and it’s quite up-beat.”

Her music is also described as the “stuff boys listen to when they’re on their own.”  Now last time I checked, she was a girl, so how does she know this?!  “Somebody said it to me actually, and I asked one of my lad mates, ‘Do ya’ like it?’ and he said, ‘It’s definitely stuff that boys listen to when they’re on their own.’  It’s honest, really romantic, but honest.  I think a lot of girls would listen to it full blast in their bedroom because they love stuff like that and they love really relating.  But I think boys would possibly listen to this on their earphones and like to hear a girl possibly sing all these things.  I have a lot of closet boyfriends, which is quite nice.” [Just to clear up any confusion, she meant ‘closet’ as in being secretive when privately listening to her music.]

Although she’s got a homely, northerly accent that has descended from Blackburn, she’s also got a tremendous voice – how did this come to be?  “I’ve always been singing since I was five, and my dad bought me guitar lessons behind my back.”  How dare him.  “I didn’t really want to do it, I always thought it was a bit of a lads instrument.  But I had my first guitar lesson, and I just fell in love with it.  Ever since that, I started writing.” 

For a relatively small person, she has got some resonating volume in her vocals. So much so that on the night of her performance, Charlotte was three songs in but it had befallen to her that the microphone decided to fail. Now this would put most musicians off, but alas she carried on with the use of her raw, booming voice.

“Do you know it’s a weird thing, but I always kind of knew ever since I was little that I wanted to be a singer,” she muses. “When I was about six or seven, I used to want to sing the loudest.  It was always in the back of my mind, that this is what I’m wanted to do.”  So it’s instinct? “Yeah.  I was quite shy when I was little.  I didn’t really speak to anybody, or didn’t really have a personality until I was 18.  So I was quite reserved.  But with my music, it was a way of being really loud.  It was my way of communicating, I guess.” 

Charlotte now acts as a global ambassador for surfwear brand Quicksilver, who approached her on social network music phenomenon MySpace. “They talked to me about being an ambassador for their new range, which is Quiksilver Woman.  I went along and met them after I did a gig in London, and just really got on with them,” she explains. Joining 13 other women who all practise in different various creative outputs, they collectively campaigned for the “independent spirit” of women; “It’s been nothing but amazing with them.  They’re definitely a second family.” 

Following this Charlotte was later signed by Quiksilver Records to create her debut album, For Kenny, which is set to be released for November 7, 2011. Produced by Mario Caldato Jr. (producer for The Beastie Boys and Jack Johnson), For Kenny is certainly playful; “It’s all about enjoying it, it’s not about empowerment or anything, it’s fun,” she says. “I take it seriously because I absolutely love doing it, but not too seriously where it’s pretentious and try-hard.  It’s just fun.”  And fun it is, especially being named in memoriam to her childhood best-mate imaginary mouse – “He helped me out loads,” she laughs.

What can we expect from the album?  “I think it’s just fun, honest, and not really that pretentious.  But I think ‘honest’ is the best word for it.”  For a young, beautiful, talented woman who has fallen into a pot of luck and been graced with an astounding opportunity that every teenage girl dreams of, I had to ask: how does it feel to sing the songs off your debut album?  “I really fucking love doing it.”

Currently on the road for a tour to promote For Kenny with Quiksilver, Charlotte recently put out her first single “Treasure Island,” with a cute video to go along with it…

With a masterful singing ability and quirky pop style, Charlotte’s efforts will certainly win over the public’s attention – and inevitably cause other artists to notice her.  Expressing her admiration for Grammy nominated Senegalese star Akon [“No, I don’t really want to collaborate with him, I just think he’s unbelievable”], Charlotte earmarks American folk singer Brett Dennen as someone she’d like to work with – along with the late, legendary Queen frontman Freddy Mercury.

As time passed, her performance was due.  During the wait, I scoffed my face full of free food until spotting fellow musician Newton Faulkner walking about;  little did I know, Charlotte supported Newton on his tour back in 2010.  Like a (fat) bird of prey, I swooped in for the kill and asked Mr Faulkner what he thought of singer as an up-and-coming artist. “It’s all going acoustic again, going back to basics.  Her voice is incredible, really amazing, and she’s good live.”

And he wasn’t wrong. As Charlotte stepped onto stage, the busy, talkative London crowd ushered into a silence.  She was dominant, she had presence, she had funk.  The London crowd witnessed something special tonight.

“Treasure Island” is out now, whilst Charlotte’s debut album For Kenny is set to be released on November 7, 2011. You can catch the latest news and follow her tour dates here. She’s also on Twitter @CharlotteOC.

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