Charles Talks About Her Upcoming Album, Recent Collaborations, Early Influences, and More
We've been ardent fans of Charles for quite some time now, following both her video and music work. Video highlights to her credit include Weyes Blood's "Seven Words " and the Ariel Pink/Weyes Blood collaboration, "Tears on Fire". On the music side of things, the Charles cassette tape That's How Baby Learns remains a favorite over two years since its release. It's been while since the last time we touched base, and in anticipation of her upcoming album, Let's Start a Family Tonight, we eagerly welcomed the opportunity to sit down with Charles to discuss new music and video projects, her involvement on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, early influences, and - of course - her desire to meet Richard Lewis.
Bobby Weirdo: The first thing I wanted to ask you about is your upcoming album, Let’s Start a Family Tonight. Is that going to be coming out in 2018?
Charles: Definitely. I’m going to work as hard as possible for the next two or three months, and then put it out as quickly as possible. I’m coming out with a 7-inch record with two of the songs from it. All I need to do is turn in the album artwork for it, and that will be out soon – I expect mid-2018.
BW: What are the two songs that will be on the 7-inch?
C: “The Courtesy Bath", which is based on a true story, and then a song called “Remember Blushing”.
BW: You’ve performed “Remember Blushing” at Hushe Club, right?
C: Right – I’ve performed it once.
BW: Will “Call the Cops on Me” and “I Know You Love Me, But Do You Think Of Me, Romantically” be on the new album?
C: Yes. I’m working on a revamped version of “I Know You Love Me, But Do You Think of Me, Romantically” right now. It’s going to be the one “radio song” on the album – it’s decked out!
BW: Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you were playing saxophone. Does the sax make an appearance anywhere on the new album?
C: It does on the song “Romantic Claymation”, but that’s about it. I didn’t play too much saxophone, but I did teach myself bass and guitar. For all of my other songs [until now] it has just been a Casio keyboard recorded on voice memos. It actually feels like real music to me now because I’m doing multiple instruments.
BW: Speaking of bass, you’ve also previously mentioned that there wasn’t much bass on your past recordings.
C: There was no bass. Bass is like a brand new thing to me. It was always there when I listened to music, and I just completely overlooked it. So I’ve been teaching myself bass, and I play on most of the songs. I did everything myself on this record – I produced, played, wrote, and mixed everything. But on about three tracks, Ariel played the bass line. That’s my only collaboration on the whole album.
BW: So whether it’s you or Ariel, all the bass tracks are played on a bass guitar?
BW: And was all the recording of this album done at home?
C: Yes – another bedroom album, as always…the fun way.
BW: Are you still using Garage Band to record?
C: Some of the songs I started with Garage Band, and as they progressed, I tracked with Logic. I torrented it off the Internet, and you can quote that directly.
BW: You performed several dates on the fall 2017 Ariel Pink tour, right?
C: I played Desert Daze, and then I played the next four in San Francisco. I also played Colorado and San Diego. [The San Diego show] was my favorite show of my entire life – it was so much fun. I crowd-surfed for the first time, and it was an out-of-body experience.
BW: You co-wrote and sang on two of the tracks from the Ariel Pink album Dedicated to Bobby Jameson: “Feels Like Heaven” and “Kitchen Witch”, right?
C: Yes. Those are two that I got co-write credits for.
BW: What was that process like? Were you getting instrumental tracks from Ariel, or were you sitting in the same room working on ideas at the same time?
C: Ariel would have a skeletal, basic demo of the song, instrumentally. One day we were sitting in the living room hanging out, and he gave me a piece of paper. For our entire relationship, we had not collaborated. We do not share that with each other because I’m too shy, and that’s my own hang-up. But one day he just gave me a piece of paper and a pen and said, “We’re going to make this song – just write however you feel.” And that’s how “Feels Like Heaven” came about. I wrote my own version of “Feels Like Heaven” - which was similar to how it turned out – and then he went back and tweaked it so that some of the words flowed better musically.
With “Kitchen Witch”, he sent me the instrumental, and I thought it was truly the best thing I’d ever heard in my entire life. All the parts of that song that I sing I did completely separately – he wasn’t there. Then we went to the studio, and my parts had already been written and recorded. Ariel filled in the gaps and did his own lyrics for his parts. It was so much fun being in the studio with Kenny [Gilmore] and Juliette [Amoroso] for that.
BW: This is an obscure one, but I was wondering about the background to the song you and Ariel did with Goldfacemoneywatch.
C: Oh my God! I am so happy you’re asking about this. I don’t even know how to wrap my head around that, but I’m so jazzed that you asked. Golfacemoneywatch – who is currently is prison right now – is a rapper that we found on YouTube, and he just makes the most insane music and does the most insane things with his body and his voice that we’ve ever experienced.
Just to see if we could get it to happen, we invited him to my apartment one day, and he immediately responded and was there within a half hour. He was a dreadlocked white kid from Venice. Ariel and I were playing stuff, and watching him improvise these moaning sounds over the track. We made it in about fifteen minutes, and gave it to him. We never saw him again, but he put it on Spotify. I think Ariel might have helped him mix it later.
BW: Your videos - like the one for “Are You a Happy Boy” – often feature someone other than yourself. That one, for instance, has someone named Tyler in it. Do you know him, and how did that come about?
C: I know him online. He was the first “fan” of my music ever, and has been around for years now. I just asked him one day if he would film himself in his living room – preferably with fluorescent lighting – lip-synching to my song. Within a couple hours he sent it over, and that’s the video. I couldn’t imagine a better video.
BW: You traveled to Jamaica for the Collapsing Scenery video with Ninjaman, right?
C: Yes, I was there for four days, and worked with him for one day.
C: Yes, and it’s really funny that you mention that, because I have a meeting with her right after this. I’ve never met her before. I got hired to direct a commercial for her clothing line.
BW: Amazing! What does she mean to you, that you would write a song related to her?
C: Now that I’ve lived here [in L.A.] for a while, I’m so used to the idea of Angelyne. But I grew up inland of Ventura, around no people. I remember going to a mall and seeing Angelyne in the parking lot, and I had an out-of-body experience just seeing her. I got her business card, and remember taking it – with her excessive cleavage, looking sexy – to show my teacher at school.
I was in third grade and thought it was the most incredible thing, but got in so much trouble for bringing it to school. My teacher was horrified that I had it with me. After that, I just always loved her and thought she was the most fascinating human being. She’s everywhere at the same time – I don’t think she’s a real person. There’s something magic about her because it seems she’s at the Coffee Bean, and also at the mall, and also on the 101 at the same time.
It makes you wonder how often you see the same people without even realizing it. It's incredible – the world is small. And yet there are some people that I’m constantly trying to run into [but don’t]. All I’m trying to do is run into Richard Lewis, but I never do. I do everything I can for that to happen. I put myself out there, and it doesn’t happen.
BW: I wanted to talk with you about your Richard Lewis fascination. When did that start?
C: I don’t know when it started; it’s just something that’s inside of me. This is an abstract thing, but when I was growing up, I didn’t know anything beyond the fact that my dad is from Italy and I’m Italian. My family didn’t get together and we didn’t have much tradition. Then, when I was about seventeen years old, I found out that I was Jewish. I’m full-blown Italian-Jew. So I started researching Jews a bit more and watching Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and realized what it meant to be an L.A. Jew. I looked at my family, and they are the most stereotypical Jewish people you could possibly come across. It’s comical that I had to find out that I was Jewish – that I didn’t even know. And Richard Lewis reminds me so much of the people that raised me, including my own mother. I just love him so deeply. I feel like we're brothers, and that we’re the same guy.
BW: Are you a particular fan of My Fair Lady and Audrey Hepburn?
C: What the fuck? Are these words coming out of your mouth? I was listening to the My Fair Lady soundtrack in my car just now. My goal for the last song on my record is to make a song as good as “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”. It’s a goal of mine to make a song in my life that’s as good as that one. As I child, I was Audrey Hepburn for Halloween so many times, and that’s one of the best musicals ever. “On the Street Where You Live” makes me cry every time. So yes, I’m a huge fan.
As a kid, I was only allowed to watch musicals and Jerry Lewis movies. I don’t think Jerry Lewis is funny now, and that bums me out, but I remember telling my mom when I was younger, “I’m going to marry this man when I grow up.” And my grandfather is exactly like him – a Jewish comedian named Jerry [Coe]. He was Jerry Lewis’s opening act, and I didn’t know that when I was in love with Jerry Lewis, so what kind of Freudian thing is that? Freud is right about everything, by the way.
BW: There are some connections we have in common that I wanted to ask you about. One person we both know is Franco Falsini.
C: Sensations’ Fix is my favorite band. I’m a huge fan. I think Skylar Kaplan - who is my favorite person in the world and one of the most talented people in the world – showed his music to me a couple years ago, and the second I heard it, it was like finding my soul mate. And he’s the sweetest guy ever. He came and stayed with Ariel for two weeks, and it was like what Elvis would be for someone else. Suddenly he was just in our living room.
BW: Another person you and I have spoken about in the past is Jerry Solomon.
C: Yeah – Jerry boy!
BW: You were the person who booked him at Basic Flowers for Ariel Pink Presents Cuckoo’s Nest in 2015.
C: I surprised Ariel. One of my passions is taking things too far – I like doing that. I thought it would be really funny if the next thing you knew he was in the room performing. Jerry was so grateful to be asked, and now we even get together now and then. He’s so talented, and the loveliest human being.
BW: I wanted to ask about the “I want to get a nose job” video. Besides the video, did you do the music?
C: Yes - it took a grand total of about fifteen minutes. I went to school with a friend in the 8th grade for one year. I hadn’t seen her since then, but I saw on her social media that she was getting a nose job. I sent her a message saying I loved how open she was being about it on social media, and asked if she could come over to my place right then to make a video about it.
I think she came over on the spot, and I wrote some bullshit words for her to improvise on as I played the synth track. We did it one time, and that was it – we didn’t even try it another time. We filmed it in my bedroom with a green screen, and Ariel was in the corner, like, “What are you guys doing?” She got the nose job, and there’s a follow-up video coming out called “I Got the Nose Job”.
BW: The Cactus Milk EP was your first release. Were the songs on Cactus Milk also the first songs you ever recorded?
BW: That’s How Baby Learns came next, and now Let’s Start a Family Tonight will be out in 2018. Will you be doing live shows as well?
C: Yes. I want to so badly. I have no clue what it takes to organize that kind of thing; I’ve never really done it well. But I’m excited, and want to get a full band, or a half- band. I want at least a drummer and a bass player, and we’ll see what else happens. It’ll be so fun.
BW: Do you still consider yourself first and foremost a video director and editor?
C: Yes – Definitely. Directing and editing is what I do for money year-round, and music is just what I love to do at home. I don’t get together with people and jam or bring people to play on my music to make it good. It’s just me having feelings and wanting to make a song in the moment. I don’t think it will ever be more than that, but we’ll see what happens. It would be cool if somebody wanted to put out a record of mine.