The rising R&B star talks to Gigwise about her journey from Blackburn to Berlin
Andrew Trendell

12:34 16th March 2015

"Cheers," smiles Charlotte OC, clinking her beer after stepping off stage in Paris - her infectious giggle, approachable demeanour and dour Blackburn tones seeming a million miles to the cinematic drama we just saw unfold on the stage. 

Then we come to talk about music, and her kohl-rimmed eyes fix and the focus returns. However, 'Charlotte OC' is not a separate character - everything she does is an exaggerated version of her three-dimensional ambition. 

"That's the biggest stage I've ever played on, and I just felt very at home," she admits. "It sounds very arrogant, but I just want to be playing stages like this. I love the way that things sound like in a church, and that had the same kind of feel - just swallowing the room."

She smiles and continues: "There was one girl losing herself, which was really nice to see. I love performing in London, but some people just stare, which is great because it means they're paying full attention, but it's nice to see somebody moved by your music."

With her gorgeous new single 'If My House Was Burning' out this week, go behind the scenes and get under the skin of this rising pop-noir R&B sensation. Signed and dropped at the age of 18, Charlotte returns years later as a fully-formed artist and experience. She may often get bandied about with names like Banks, Lykke Li and Lana Del Rey, but the truth is that this Polydor-signed star of the future has carved out a world entirely of her own. 

Gigwise: You have both a sonic and visual identity - how would you describe what you're trying to do?
Charlotte OC: I want it to be all about my voice, I want the narrative to be important and poignant and I want everybody to hear it - I don't want it to be swallowed by music. It may sound arrogant, but when I was little I was obsessed by churches - by how they were built and how someone had created them because they believed in it so much, and it's beautiful. When I heard the way my voice sounded in a church I was like 'Oh my God, this is so cool'. I want it have that religious thing, and when you're watching it I want it to feel like a film - so you're watching a show, as well as hearing music. I want it to be a performance: instead of just hearing it, I want you to believe it.

Like a soundtrack written before the film?  
Yes, exactly - I just went about the longest way of saying that!  

You've spent quite a lot of time working in Berlin. Did the city inspire you in the same way as it has the likes of Bowie, Nick Cave and Iggy Pop?
There was Lou Reed's Berlin (although he'd never actually been) was in my head when I landed. Leonard Cohen's music 'Take This Waltz' reminds me of Germany - it's got that regimental German feel to it. Growing up with it, I always associated it with Germany. When I landed, I just felt the darkness of Leonard Cohen's vocal and it all made sense, I felt strangely at home. It wasn't the lifestyle, it's just a place that's not really trying to be anywhere other than Berlin. It's so unique. It's such a strange thing to be connected to a place, but in many ways I felt more at home there than in Blackburn.

What do you think that says about you?
That I'm a fucking flake and don't stick to my roots!

You've also been working out in LA a lot...
I loved how wrong it is. It's wrong in so many ways, but also so right. The homelessness, and Skid Row and the way you walk down a street and there's that whole life then all of these mansions. I remember sneezing and someone quite far away gave me the biggest grin and said "Bless you". I'm not used to that. You're always outside and doing something, but I always love the beautiful and ugly side to it. That's how I felt about Berlin: beautiful but in the ugliest way.

Do you think you'd have developed artistically if you'd have stayed signed when you were 18?
No, I think I'd be a really rubbish person if I'd have stayed in that scenario. Living at home and getting signed at that age, I thought I was the bee's knees - "Oh my God, how good am I?" The music didn't matter, being an artist didn't matter, I just thought I was sorted - but when it gets taken away from you, it's such a blow but it makes you work and keeps you grounded. It's like your apprenticeship, you need to do these things.

I was signed when I was 18, then 19-20 I took two years out to go to Berlin, and at that moment I was young when you still have so much confidence - if this had happened in a couple of years' time then it would hit me a lot harder than it did when I was young, when you bounce back from that stuff a lot easier. I always just thought that it was fine and something else was going to happen. After that, I knew I had to create something - rather than just make a random pop track. I wanted it be exactly like I am.

Did you consider writing for others?
I did, but I never understood it. I needed to focus on getting my own art across.

Has being through the highs and lows of what you've done so far impacted on your expectations fot the future?
In terms of it not being what I thought it was, yes. When you're younger, you're a little bit crowded and think everyone has your back - but you need to take a pinch of salt with a lot of it.

And how would you describe the sound and feel of your upcoming debut album?
It's tiring, draining and testing, but it's good. At the moment I feel like there are about four different Charlottes in my set, I need just one. I have roots in soul, so it's it a very soulful record. It's hopefully coming out in September.

Did all of the hype and 'Ones To Watch in 2015' lists enter your mind while writing it?
There's always someone saying that, but it's not about what anybody else thinks.

Oh, but everybody loves a list - surely?
Can you imagine being in a list all the time? You can't keep up with current music all the time - you just have to focus on what you're doing.

Charlotte OC's Burning EP is out now. 

For more on Charlotte OC, find her on:
Official website

See her tour dates below:

  • Kate Boy: A Swedish trio who specialise in pounding electro and menacing, bone-shaking vocals. If you like The Knife and larger than life techno-pop odysseys, then this is the band for you.

  • Raury: The last three or so months have seen this kid from Atlanta blow up in unimaginable ways. What started with a simple video for 'God's Whisper' appearing online has developed into Raury becoming a defining figure for rebellious teenagers, with collaborations with the likes of SBTRKT and The Neighbourhood already under his belt and a support slot with Outkast that saw him play to 20,000 people in his hometown. 2015 could see Raury effortlessly become a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop and beyond.

  • Ryn Weaver: The 21-year-old singer put her debut single 'OctaHate' online back in July, and the internet went into meltdown. The artist no one had heard of managed to wrack up 1.3 million views in under a month. She did have something of an impressive crack-team behind the scenes, including Charli XCX and Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos, so it's not exactly surprising she's gained such rapid success. Now, it's on her own terms. Hyped by Jessie Ware, this girl knows how to produce a helluva catchy pop hook, and her latest track 'Promises' continues Weaver along her trajectory to pop superstar.

  • Ibeyi: XL Recordings' latest, brilliant signing Ibeyi are a French/Cuban duo, whose fondness for eclectic percussion surely stems from their Buena Vista Social Club father. They released their debut EP Oya back in August, and their latest offering 'Mama Says' is a hypnotic and sparse affair that soon descends into beautiful Yoruban chanting. Let them enchant you in 2015.

  • Years & Years: We've been tipping these guys for greatness for a long time. With a string of flawless electro-pop singles under their belts in the form of 'Real', 'Take Shelter' and new one 'Desire', their following has grown from cult to some pretty serious radio attention. If their debut drops next year, expect them to be a true success story and dominate the festival season. They'll probably do quite well in the BBC Sound of 2015 list too.

  • Indiana: The latest act to head straight out of Nottingham and into the mainstream is Indiana - currently all over the radio, and rightly so. Her trance-inducing blend of honey-sweet vocals, simmering and subtle dark disco and a canon of other sounds work wonders. Her debut album No Romeo is out next year and is going to be massive. Check out our live session of her performing 'Solo Dancing' if you don't believe us.

  • Say Lou Lou: Another act whose breakthrough we expected in 2012, these Swedish-Australian twins have continued to dazzle fans and critics with their shimmering electro-pop magnificence. Regarded for their cool glacial sounds on the likes of 'Julian' and 'Everything We Touch', they've recently moved into dancier territory on 'Games For Girl's and told us to expect their debut album Lucid Dreaming to be 'warmer' when it drops in February. We're already warmed up, just wait them to bowl you over.

  • Charlotte OC: With her debut album released in 2015, this sultry songstress has already clocked up millions of hits on Youtube and Soundcloud with her electro-noir, seductive R&B. Check out 'Hangover' and 'Colour My Heart' and try not to fall in love just a little bit.

  • Wolf Alice: They've already owned 2014 with their blistering live shows and with their Creature Songs and Blush EPs being on heavy rotation on our and everyone else's speakers. With a sound that encompasses grunge, indie, pop, folk and more, expect their debut album next year to be anything but ordinary.

  • Pale Seas: An intoxicating haze of sun-kissed dream-folk.

  • Courtney Barnett: She's already experienced a degree of breakthrough success in 2014 with her Sea Of Split Peas double EP winning hearts around the world as her dry-witted, high energy, lo-fi grunge-folk roadshow won hearts at countless European festivals. Her debut album proper is coming in 2015 (hopefully) and is sure to send her into the stratosphere.

  • Prides: Just go and listen to 'Out Of The Blue' right now. Epic, right? Meet one of your new favourite bands.

  • Girl Band: Not a chance in hell you'll hear Fearne Cotton playing these guys to the tweens of R1, as they sound like a wall of sound crashing to the ground. Mind you, they certainly have enough enough momentum to erupt from the underground in the year ahead.

  • Menace Beach: One of the best band names we've heard in a while, and highly recommended by none other than Sir Johnny Marr. Check out 'Drop Outs' and 'Fortune Teller' for a taster of their brilliantly unhinged lo-fi fun to find out why.

  • Kacy Hill: Judging by her sound, she's come from the future so she must have a few tricks up her sleeve to steer her slick electronica into your attention in 2015.

  • Deers: Bloggers' flavour of the month they may be, but they're much, much more than that. We have no doubt that their warped, punky, youthful exuberance will be soundtracking those mental afteroons will into summer 2015.

  • Kite String Tangle: 'Given The Chance' has been on repeat here in Gigwise towers, and is sure to act as his main crossover hit. Meet music's new neo-soul Prince.

  • Heyrocco: The trio of Nate Merli (vocals and guitar), Taco Cooper (drums) and Christopher Cool (bass and yes, that is his real name) have been together for five years after starting out in their parents' garages. Since then, they've only got louder, while maintaining that infectious youthful exuberance. Famed for their carefree image and explosive live shows, HEYROCCO have been compared to everyone from The Cure, Nada Surf, and Mudhoney but spiked with an experimental blend of Broken Social Scene meets On A Friday. There's a spot of early Weezer in their sound too.

  • Marika Hackman: You may have seen her supporting Alt-J on recent UK dates, but her days as opening act are certain to end soon. There's a richness, chill and beauty to the folk songstress' sound, and we can't wait to hear her spread her wings even more when her debut album We Slept At Last drops in February. It's being released by Dirty Hit, home to Wolf Alice and The 1975, who clearly know what they're doing.

  • Tourist: You've probably heard his astounding remixes of Chvrches, London Grammar, Haim, Sam Smith and Sharon Van Etten, but Tourist's own tracks of house-driven progressive electronica will surely turn him into the main event in 2015.

  • Ten Walls: Lithuania's Marijus Adomaitis finally cracked the mainstream when his 2014 single 'Walking With Elephants' charted at No.6. The only way is up from here on out for his dark and forward-thinking brand of futuristic house.

  • Tinashe: Her debut album Aquarius arrived this autumn, but we predict it will be 2015 when she truly becomes the R&B sensation she's always threatened to be.

  • Joey Bada$$: Another one whose breakthrough has been a long time coming, Bada$$ has been making a name for himself with some bold as brass mixtapes for years now - but with his proper debut album finally out in Jan, we expect him to be eyeing up the hip-hop throne in the year ahead.

  • Laurel: From the swooning, cinematic romance of the opening notes of 'To The The Hills', you can hear that this is a serious artist with high ideas. Imagine a young, British Lana Del Rey with a more contemporary urban edge.

  • Tove Lo: Sweden has been very kind to us when it comes to powerful pop personas, and this latest export has been causing an incredible storm in Europe and the US her brutally honest alt-pop about sex and triumphs and tribulations of being young and free. Her debut album Queen Of The Clouds is scheduled for a 2015 release in the UK. We await her conquering our hearts over here too.

  • Flyte: They headlined our stage at this year's Great Escape festival, and you know what? We never tire of their aural sunshine. Check out 'We Are The Rain' for a dose of sheer guitar bliss.

  • Black Honey: Morricone-esque widescreen sounds, straight outta Brighton - Black Honey are a group that will be massive before you know it. Breaking new ground by looking backwards, their sound has a remarkably plush and throwback quality to it, producing tracks that could equally work on the new season of Twin Peaks or on a festival main stage. Listen to 'Teenager' or 'Sleep Forever' and get acquainted.

  • Brawlers: A Frankenstein's monster made up of members of Castrovalva, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Leftover Crack and Old Romantic Killer Band, this is one hell of a beast. What do they sound like? Fast and furious pop-driven punk from a band with a love of hardcore and their tongues firmly in their cheeks. That's not to say this isn't to be taken seriously, mind - while singing about 'all things rad', this is a sound that immediately grabs by the throat. Check out 'Mothers And Fathers' and 'Instagram Famous' if you don't believe us.

  • Cheerleader: 90's-influenced dreamy power pop indie from Philadelphia that's light as a cloud, and will make you feel twice as high.

  • Blood Diamonds: If you haven't spent the last couple of years enjoying his heavenly remixes of the likes of Chvrches, Tinashe, Kiesza, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX, Ellie Goulding and Kendrick Lamar then get on it right now. He's produced for everyone from Grimes to Rome Fortune (via working on Madonna's new record). We hope to be hearing a lot more from him in 2015.

  • Darlia: Royal Blood have brought proper rock back to the world's attention. Expect these lads to take it to the next level next year.

  • George The Poet: Slick and inventive British hip-hop with a youthful energy and refreshingly fresh take on the troubles and strifes of growing up in modern Britain.

  • Seinabo Sey: A diverse and colourful collage of influences come together for this soulful and dramatic take on electro-pop. For fans of The Weeknd, The xx, Jessie Ware and Ella Eyre.

  • Novelist: Aged just 17, South London's Kojo Kankam is leading the way in bringing real grime with bite and integrity back to the very cutting edge of British music. A bright future awaits - just listen to 'Shook', his collaboration with Mumdance for proof.

  • Dolomite Minor: They may be a hard-rocking two-piece and destined for greatness, but to compare this duo to Royal Blood does them one hell of a disservice. They're much more of a filthy affair - like grungey-blues from the sludgiest of swamps.

  • Rae Morris: This rising piano maestro and poetic songstress has already gained praise from the likes of Chris Martin, Tom Odell and Laura Mvula - and landed her a place on the BBC Sound of 2015 longlist. Her debut album Unguarded is coming in January. It could well turn her in to a household name.

  • Slaves: They tore up Later With Jools Holland and have been melting the faces of future fans on the support band circuit for the last year. Expect the scene to get a whole lot more menacing when their warped, breakneck punk breaks through in 2015.

  • Lapsley: No one has taken the music world by surprise quite like Lapsley. Recently signed to XL and sure to follow in the footsteps of The xx and FKA Twigs, Lapsley creates twitchy electronica that somehow manages to be both minimal and yet still deep, human and packed with character. She's destined to sweep the world - and she's only 17.

  • Sisters: There's no style over substance with this trio, just massive insanely infectious fuzz-rock pop that brings the grunge and shoegaze sounds of the 90s racing into the future with awesome results. Just check out 'Hush Hush' and 'February' if you don't believe us.

  • Rosie Lowe: Likely to be compared to Banks, Jessie Ware and FKA Twigs due to her compelling image and R&B noir sound, but the truth is that Lowe is an artist in a world of her own. With a sound so slick but lyrics so raw, she'll gracefully seduce your heart with her sultry, haunting romance.

  • SOAK: Originally coming the world's attention after dropping 'Blud' on Chvrches' singles label Goodbye Records, she's now signed to Rough Trade at just 18-years-old. With vivid and dreamy tales of adolescence and the everyday, she's been compared to Laura Marling and Beach House for making the ordinary seem oh so very extraordinary.

  • Kwabs: A very modern and synth-led take on deep, rumbling soul. Absolutely beautiful.

  • Autobahn: Nightmarish shoe-gaze, post-punk bile, a droning brilliance, gothic darkness, driven by punchy motorik beats. It all adds up to something bloody huge. Thanks, Leeds.

  • All We Are: Having signed to Domino, they've been dominating the airwaves of 6 Music and are often heard here in the Gigwise office. If you love infectious funk rhythms, with layer upon layer of earworm guitar melody and one hell of a chorus, then this is the band for you.

  • Shura: Born in Moscow to a Russian actress and an English documentary filmmaker, her propulsive and subtle take on classic pop and R&B is every bit as original as you'd expect.

  • Eaves: In a world of increasingly beige yoghurt advert folk, it's refreshing and invigorating to hear an artist with an original, poetic and haunting sound as this.

  • James Bay: Already winner of the BRITs Critics' Choice Award and likely to top a fair few other lists, Bay has a universal charm in his heartfelt folk to win over the hearts of millions. Watch your throne, Sam Smith.

  • Circa Waves: Critically-acclaimed and rapidly growing their cult fanbase, Circa Waves are the short-sharp sound of the sweetest of dancefloor indie - albeit with a whole lot more depth and longevity. Their debut album Young Chasers is out in March.

  • Stormzy: With the support of Wiley, Skepta and Lethal B behind him, all signs point to Stormzy's relentless race into the future as leader of the neo-grime movement to prove revolutionary in 2015.

  • Laura Doggett: For the track 'Moonshine' alone, Laura Doggett deserves your undivided attention. With an enchanting stage presence and an utterly beguiling voice, Doggett is already writing songs with the passion and compulsion of an artist thrice her age. If there's any justice in this world, she'll reach Adele levels of fame.

More about:

Photo: Gigwise/Lucy Bridger