Having released her spellbinding debut solo record The Magician back in February, the ineffable composer and musician Charlotte Brandi has been touring Germany seemingly non-stop ever since.
We caught up with Charlotte before her knockout show at Silent Green last month, and delved into the thought process behind her songwriting, as well as changes she’d like to see in the music industry – and the death of the indie scene.
indieBerlin: For those who maybe aren’t aware of your music, could you maybe explain who you are and what you do?
Charlotte Brandi: My name is Charlotte Brandi, I’m from Berlin, and I just recorded my solo debut record – after I had a career with my indie project Me and My Drummer which split up a year ago. Fortunately I had this sort-of record written and almost recorded at the time that we split up, so…
iB: …that’s convenient!
CB: That was very convenient, yeah! During the past year I found a beautiful band and we did some shows – and this February my solo debut The Magician came out and, yeah, what else is there to say? I don’t know!
iB: How long have you been working on The Magician Is there a particular story you’re trying to tell with it?
CB: Yeah, it was supposed to be a concept album, but it turned out not to be, in the end. I was writing songs about a very special encounter I had around 2015, with a person that, well – kind of, introduced me to the field of magic, so to speak. Let’s say that person inspired me to think about manipulation and power towards another person, and taking influence on other people. That made me think about what the core of change is, and where does change begin? – and I figured that it all starts with a wish, and when we say, you make a wish, that’s maybe the core of doing a spell.
The songs – at a certain point they differed from the original concept. They had lives of their own and developed into the direction of what is a wish? What is a dream? When are you before your actual life? and those questions all melted down to the time of purity. When you’re a young person, you’re before life, and you cannot really live the life that you wish to live one day – you’re just in a state of…yeah. Um. Dreams? Wishes? Hopes and desires? So the whole album thematically just opened up into that direction.
iB: Would you say each track is representative of an individual wish, or am I completely taking the wrong end of the stick here?
CB: Mm! No, sort of – I mean, the song Defenceless, it’s about giving in to somebody else. There’s this line saying I’ve not been able to build a solid fortress – that’s the thing with Defenceless, the moment when you have to admit that you have to give in to a certain external power, or in Veins, that’s the opener of the album.
iB: I love that song!
CB: Thank you! Thank you very much. That more or less addresses the persona that tells the story of the album. I dedicated this new record, this new journey, and this new ride to the injuries and the wounds that I suffered from in the past.
iB: I’m curious about your creative process. When you get the inspiration for a song, what’s the first thing you do? Or does it change every time?
CB: With this record, it just so happened that I wrote the lyrics first, then I printed them and I put them on the piano. I sang to it, and played with it and wrote the song around the lyrics – but there was a second level to this process, because I wanted it to be more timeless than the music I did before. I wanted to make a kind of grown-up or more timeless sound.
iB: Sure, I can see that – it’s kind of in a jazzy-bluesy-old-Hollywood style.
CB: Yeah yeah, sort of. My intention was to be a bit classical in the beginning, because as a debut record I didn’t want to be starting at a very experimental point. I just wanted to personally introduce myself and how my soul swings, and how I think and how I dream, you know – a very personal introduction.
iB: Do you think you’d go down a more experimental route later, with your next record maybe?
CB: That would be awesome! I’d love to. I wanted to put hints into the album that I could go from in the next record, so it’s a cool thing not to be too natural and too classical with the sound, and still maintain a certain dreamy indieness.
iB: Obviously you used to be part of a duo and now you’re doing a solo project – is there anything you’ve learnt during this process of releasing a solo record that you didn’t expect at all?
CB: I think I didn’t expect it to work at all, because I was so dependant on my former bandmate. I’m very often scared and really insecure about so many things, so I play it low. In the process of creating things, I like to be positively surprised in the end, I guess.
I guess I’ve always been a girl who was first of all a human being.
iB: Sure – expect the worst and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, I suppose?
CB: Yeah, a pessimist.
iB: I can understand that completely. I think a lot of musicians get that anxiety about putting stuff out there.
CB: Yes, because you have to educate yourself, you know – you have to be strict on yourself with things. When you say okay, I will rock this, this will be fine, then maybe it won’t work and you’ll be disappointed. I wanted to avoid that.
iB: One question I always like to ask is how do you find being a woman in music?
CB: That’s a tough one. I guess I’ve always been a girl who was first of all a human being. Maybe I’m a tough person? I just know what I want and try to communicate it, and I’m not afraid of being emotional and I’m not afraid of being a diva – I think it’s a necessity, because it’s a very intimate profession. It’s everything you are, and therefore it’s better to say in the first place and this is how I do things, this is what I need.
Some of my female colleagues suffer from this issue more than I do, but sometimes it’s so tricky. Reality is nothing that is always proven – sometimes certain incidents happen, and you don’t know if this backfires on you because you’re female, or just because you fucked it up (or because the other person is at a certain point where they just fuck things up, you know). It stays in the shadows, to me – it’s a question that remains unanswered, I guess. You know? It’s hard to be objective about this because I’m inside of it.
iB: That’s true – if you’re in the eye of the hurricane you don’t really see the other perspective. Are there any changes you’d particularly like to see in the music industry, or are you pretty happy with how things are at the moment?
CB: Oh well, where to start? I think we have a huge problem with the indie scene – it’s collapsing.
iB: How so?
CB: I guess it’s much harder to get a record deal these days than it was before. It’s very unclear where to get money from for a music project. You have to be really everything at once, you have to know about things like Musicboard; you need to know about financial support; politics; you have to manage yourself – and I’m kind of worried about the phenomenon of Spotify, and the fact that people are starting to write for Spotify. There’s a very strange marriage between the creative process and the commerical process and I don’t know if it’s good, it feels…I’m afraid that everything will sound the same. That people just copy and take recipes from each other and just spit out things that…yeah.
iB: It kind of sucks all the life out of it, if everybody’s just copy/pasting the same formula.
CB: Maybe it’s a good thing, because in the end there are still geniuses out there, and they create new stuff and they’re real hardliners. For instance, King Krule: in any era, he would be a successful musician, because he’s a genius, but for people who find themselves in the public eye and want to grow in public – I think it’s a very tough time.
iB: I can imagine. There’s the pressure to release single after single – rather than an album, like you’ve done – which kind of sucks.
iB: I don’t really like that so much.
CB: Yeah? You don’t? You’re missing the album concept?
iB: I miss the album concept! It’s nice to just sit down with a glass of wine or coffee or whatever, and just be present in the moment and listen to an album. I feel like with a lot of artists you’re kind of losing that. Do you find that as well?
CB: Yeah, for sure. It’s very tough, because some people claim that time is speeding up, saying that the concentration of people is narrowing down and that people are not able to concentrate anymore. I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – when there’s a person who says it is like this, because the music business is like the stock market. It’s all about the hype, and about a certain this is going to be big because of this and that, but they’re all blindly guessing, you know?
I just hope that musicians these days stay strong enough to concentrate on their vision, and lock themselves inside and write beautiful music – and if that’s an album or an EP, both are fine, but it would be good to know that musicians find the confidence to still hold something against this commercial view that says “oh, we have to release one single in January, and the next one in April, and then let’s create a hype – but we don’t know if we can promise you we’ll get an album out, as it all depends on the first two singles: if they’re very successful people will invest in you and if not, they probably won’t,” – that’s very unfair.
iB: Especially if it’s an unknown band – how are they going to get the money for that?
I just hope that musicians these days stay strong enough to concentrate on their vision, and lock themselves inside and write beautiful music
iB: Obviously, you’d probably tell yourself that if you could go back to when you were starting out and offer some advice to your younger self – is there anything else you would add to that?
CB: I think there are no regrets, but to be honest, with me and the music business, it’s been a very, very long and troublesome relationship. Sometimes I feel so tired and so pissed off that I just want to drop everything and write albums – if somebody would give me money just to write albums, that would be perfect, and I could have a little studio place and just record, and organise a little tour on my own…because I was never interested in fame! I figured out too late that you need a certain popularity to work, you know, to make money flow. My younger self…hmm. I think it’s all good. It was all good!
iB: Fair enough! You said you don’t really like the concept of fame – what is it about it that you particularly don’t like?
CB: That’s the special thing about me, I am two totally different characters. When I am onstage and when I sing my songs there’s a side of me that is kind of romantic and proud and serious and poetic, in a way, and inside the sound, and therefore detached from my everyday goofy self. But as a private person, I’m completely different. I’m so down to Earth. I come from an area in Germany where people don’t understand the concept of glamour at all!
iB: May I ask which part of Germany this is?
CB: It’s Dortmund.
iB: Ah, okay. I – yeah. I know what you mean.
CB: It’s super working class. Back in the day it was a coal-mining city. It’s an ugly city. The people there are really down to earth, and this is something that’s deeply rooted in myself. I have my problems with creating a persona that everybody respects, who creates a certain atmosphere of fear around herself to make people respect her.
I’m not an actress, but I figured that most of the artists who go through this career as a musician and are successful and admired, they do that – they created a persona which is a least a bit detached from their actual private selves. They keep things to themselves – but I guess it’s a very German thing, to be honest. I think in the UK or in the US or in Australia or in Canada people are not as emotional, open and honest as Germans.
iB: For Sure. Perhaps everyone could be seen as being a little more reserved there, making sure you say the right thing.
CB: You know what I mean? This is a very helpful thing when it comes to culture as an export. I guess the UK never had this industrial side, to an extent – but you always had the greatest bands and great comedians, so culture in your country was an export article, so to speak. It’s very valued and it’s very important, and it’s been taken very seriously. I kind of miss that in Germany.
iB: You don’t feel that art is taken too seriously, or it’s an afterthought in comparison to other things?
CB: Yeah, it doesn’t come naturally to be a German person and become a professional musician! It’s not an official option. Then you’re a total freak and everybody will ask okay, wann bist du wieder arbeitlos? You know?
iB: You think they’re kind of expecting you to fail, almost?
CB: I think so.
iB: I see. Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re particularly looking forward to?
CB: This year was the year of Fridays For Future, and in the beginning of the year I had so many nightmares about climate change and what it will do to our planet. That was kind of freeing at the same time, because it’s always a freeing thing when you look at a greater cause than your personal life and your own troubles.
I want to be more active as an environmental activist, because that feels so right and so necessary. I’m writing right now, I’m writing a novel – I don’t know when it’s ever going to be finished, if it’s ever going to be something, but it’s so much fun.
iB: I suppose that’s a rather different process compared to writing a song!
CB: Of course! And it’s in my mother tongue, so I can totally sculpture everything super intuitively, and I have all the tools. That’s super fun. I’m really into Latin American music right now, especially music from Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador like Quechua songs. It’s so nice – I would love to record some songs in Spanish.
iB: That’s so interesting, do you speak Spanish?
iB: Ah. Well, it’s a good project!
CB: Yeah, I’ll have to learn it first!
Photo credit: Helen Sobiralski