Thursday, August 27, 2009

Interview with Charlotte Sometimes

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(Me shopping with Charlotte Sometimes)

Jessica Poland is not your average 21-year-old singer/songwriter. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, she picked up her first guitar at the age of 14, a time when most kids her age were going to NSYNC concerts and mimicking choreography from Britney Spears videos in their mirrors. She spent her teenage years performing locally in a band she formed. Her incredibly mature songwriting, captivating voice and unique fashion sense quickly caught the eye of Geffen Records in Manhattan, who immediately signed the spunky chanteuse onto their label. She created an alter ego by the name of Charlotte Sometimes and released her critically adored debut album “Waves And The Both Of Us” in the summer of 2008.

At (clothing store) the GAP’s recent 40th anniversary in New York, Charlotte was one of the distinguished artists to perform in the store for the highly publicized event. It was there that this charming, modest, funny and high-spirited performer and I had some fun rummaging around the store and giving each other fashion tips while shopping, and she talked to me about everything from being the only non-rocker on Warped Tour to what new material she has in store for her eager fans.

AN: How did you come up with “Charlotte Sometimes” as your stage name?

CS: Well my middle name is Charlotte, and I was into this book called Charlotte Sometimes, which is about a girl who gets trapped in time and has to be someone else. I feel like I have so many different personalities that I’m constantly trying to find my way back to the person I’m supposed to be. I just kind of thought Charlotte Sometimes would be a fun little character to play, and I would be constantly able to change her over the years. So no matter what genre of music I decide to do, I can still keep the name.

You say you switch personas when you’re in your music mode, so do you have to change your mindset to become these different versions of yourself while songwriting? Or can Charlotte Sometimes perform something that Jessica Poland has written?

Well the biggest confusion is that all these personas are still all one person. There are just different characteristics about them, but they all come from the same person – which is fine.

So it’s not like Jessica is the angel and Charlotte is the devil sitting on your shoulders.

(laughs) No. I mean there are certain sides of me that are more angelic than others, and more vindictive than others. With the whole Charlotte Sometimes thing, I can kind of be a different person everyday, but they’re all just variations of myself.

You were diagnosed with Condylar Resorption, a disease that affected your jaw joints and forced you to have jaw reconstruction surgery, having to wire it shut for several months. As a performer, what was your biggest fear when this occurred?

Oh my god! Things like “nobody’s going to be like me because I’m deformed now,” “my jaw could fracture at any moment, how am I supposed to sing?” “Will my jaw just fall off?” It started to hurt a lot singing, it was very painful for me. Then getting the surgery and having all the recovery time, I thought “will my voice change?” and anything I thought could go wrong I feared just might. But you know, I’m fine now. I still freak out if I have normal jaw pain – I start loosing my head and thinking “it’s happening all over again, I can feel it, I know it!” It bums me out a little bit still now because being in the media, everyone’s got something to say about you and it’s not fun to hear. So when I hear a lot of people saying “there’s something wrong with her face,” and they don’t know that, well, there actually was. And you know, I think that with the surgery I had they made it look the best they could and I had to accept it and I like the way I am. But yeah, there’s something a little off sometimes. People are so used to seeing the cookie cutter look and so they’re taken aback when someone is different looking. I don’t really get it too much because I live in New York and being different is cool, but when you go out to L.A., people are like “whoa, who is that?” But in New York, everything is far more embraced, so I like my little shelter where I live.

By the time you landed your record deal with Geffen, you already had written all your songs and managed to record your entire debut album in a single month. Going into the studio, what were you most excited for and what were you most nervous about with a major record label producing your material?

You know what I didn’t think too much about it, I just wanted it to happen so that I could feel like something came out of my work. Whether or not someone would like it? I didn’t know, but I just wanted it to be released, which it was and that came with a whole new set of challenges.

What was your first thought when you first saw your video for “How I Could Just Kill A Man” being so heavily featured on VH1?

You know what’s so funny? I barely got to see it. I saw it once and then I saw it once again when I was on the Warped Tour. I shared a bus with this band called Evergreen Terrace, and they are a metal band, so when the video came on it was pretty funny because they could care less, you know? But I was like “oh my god!” and I freaked out and then I never saw it again!


(laughs) Yeah, really! But everyone else had seen it so I was so jealous.

So what was it like playing (rock festival) Warped Tour with all these bands whose sounds are all so radically different from your own?

(holds up two pairs of jeans) Wait, do you think I’m a 2 or a 4, p.s.?

Definitely a 2.

Yay! Um, it was hard. I don’t know if I’d ever want to do it again, but it was a good experience. I got to meet a lot of different bands that I never thought in a million years would I ever tour with. It was like summer camp, so it was half love and half hate. You always had to be somewhere and had to be doing something, but at the same time, you also created close relationships with people … and there was always drama with things like “who was your summer sweetheart?,” but no, it was really fun.

You have a very unique fashion taste. I see it as part 1950’s housewife meets contemporary Brooklyn punk. How would you describe your style and what are some essentials you need in your closet while touring?

Well I’m working on a new record so my style is changing, but for the last tour for the last record it was very “Bewitched” 1960’s but with a tom boy approach about it. I would wear a beautiful dress with great perfect hair, but then wear sneakers. Or if I were to wear high heels, it would be all grunge-y on top, but I always had this magical “Bewitched” thing going on. This time, I’m not doing such cookie cutter stuff so my style has been evolving in this very 1960s/Melanie Safka/very gypsy-esque. I’m kind of mixing her with my 1990s Liz Phair and mixing that with the East Village because that’s where I live now. Overall it’s just more grown up and more fashion-y, but a little more laid back than the last time … and a little sexier (laughs).

So other than your new style, what can you tell me about your upcoming record?

I’m working on it now, but who knows when it will come out. The industry right now is in the middle of a “oh my god, what the fuck are we all going to do?” kind of situation. I’m just trying to ride the boat.

How has your sound evolved since the last album?

It’s a lot more organic. There are no beats so say goodbye to the dance beats, say hello to depression. This CD is a lot darker. A lot of people are going to think about a relationship but it’s actually about my relationship with business and my band mates on the last tour. It talks a lot about my relationship with myself and being in this world. It’s a lot different but you can still tell it’s me, obviously. But if you took Brandi Carlile, Fiona Apple, and mixed it with Augustana, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol, and put it all together, that’s where I’m heading. Should be interesting.

You started out as a dancer but completely ditched that to become a songwriter. What prompted this switch and why did you only want to do one? Do you ever plan on returning to your dance/musical theater roots?

Anorexia, actually. Dancing is a difficult road and not everyone can handle it and I was one of those people. I loved it so much but it took a toll on my health so I kind of went to music to cope with it and just stayed with music.

You took the refrain from the rap classic “How I Could Just Kill A Man” and turned it into your own very different song. What about that song inspired you to revamp it so much and do your own take on it?

You know it’s funny because I wish it was my idea to it, but it wasn’t. My CD was almost finished and my producer Sam said to me “Yo boo! You know that song “How I Could Just Kill A Man”? Go write it,” and I was like “write it? What are you talking about? I’m not a rapper,” and he goes “Make your own version of that song. I’m telling you it’s going to work.” So we went to the other room and I rewrote it in like five minutes. It’s funny because at the time I was breaking up with this guy I was dating and he said “how could you just kill me like that?” so I ended up doing the whole song about killing his soul. I’m gangster in my own way. I’m a heartbreaker (laughs). I’m just not very nice to men sometimes, so I thought why not just write about that?

What I personally loved about your first album is that it had so many different genres interwoven in it. There was no single label for it. It’s part jazz, part pop, part rock, part musical theater, and part folk, all fused together. Did you set out to create such an eclectic mixture of genres or did it kind of just happen that way?

It just kind of happened that way. I’m the same way as a person – I say that I’m a loner but I’m not really at all. I just have so many groups that a lot of times I end up alone because they don’t get along but I get along with everyone. With music tastes I’m kind of the same way. I’ve never gotten stuck in a genre. I’ve just always liked good songs. I never really got wrapped up in a single scene, which is a blessing and a curse in many ways for my own music. I’m just kind of all over the place, so the album was reflective of my actual life and what I listen to.

This is going to be a loaded question: as a musician who clearly has a very wide range of influences, what would you say the top 5 albums you could not live without would be?

Oh my goodness! Ok – Death Cab For Cutie’s “The Photo Album,” Liz Phair’s “Exile In Guyville,” Fiona Apple’s “When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King …,” Lifehouse’s “No Name Face,” and Roy Orbison’s “Greatest Hits.”

On my campus at Muhlenberg College, one of our acapella groups, The Girls Next Door, do a cover of your song “Waves And The Both Of Us.” What is it like for you as an artist to hear other people singing your songs?

I think it’s really cool. I’m often like “you should just do it. You want to play this show?” (laughs) No. It’s really flattering and nice that people care enough to do that. Most days I’m like “why do I do this to myself?” and it’s a very stressful life. I mean I think if I did anything else it would also be stressful because I’m just crazy. But it’s so rewarding when people like your music enough to do their own thing with it. I think that’s so cool.

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