Charlene Soraia has never had any difficulty in standing out from the crowd. An extraordinarily gifted singer-songwriter, she has charted her own path ever since she first turned heads by playing a South London open mic night at the age of eight.
At school, she was the cool, quirky girl obsessed with David Bowie and vintage psychedelia while her peers were listening to grunge and nu-metal. And, when she started making her own records, she soon established herself as a natural talent who refused to comply with any stereotypes.
Now, as she prepares to unveil her second album, Love Is The Law, Charlene is ready to make her most audacious move yet while retaining the individuality that has got her this far. Even in an age when homegrown singer-songwriters are hardly thin on the ground, she still stands out.
Now 24, the former BRIT School student is justifiably proud of her new record. Her confidence boosted by her first Top Three single – a tender cover of The Calling’s Wherever You Will Go that was used in a TV advert for Twinings tea – she had built impressively on her debut album, Moonchild, by embracing bold new soundscapes and working with a stellar array of co-writers to create a collection of bittersweet, beautifully nuanced love songs.
‘The success of Wherever You Will Go really opened things up,’ she says. ‘Suddenly, more people wanted to work with me, and that took me out of my comfort zone. Writing with other people was strange at first. It was like going to the doctors and taking all my clothes off, but I was still left largely to my own devices. The lyrics and melodies are still mine, but my collaborators helped with choruses and song structures.
‘I’m also less shy than I was. My songs have always been autobiographical, but I’m now more balanced. On Moonchild, I was so introspective that I mumbled some of the lyrics. A year ago, I couldn’t explain my music to anyone. Now I can, as I understand myself more.’
Among the high points on Love Is The Law are three songs co-written by Soraia and a former boyfriend, singer-songwriter Jon Allen. These include the indelible heartbreak ballad Ghost – all acoustic picking, yearning vocals and real strings – and The Space Between Us, a track that counterpoints lovelorn lyrics with an upbeat feel.
‘The songs that Jon and I wrote together were mostly about our own impending break-up,’ says Charlene. ‘The Space Between Us is about how distant we were becoming at the time. But we’re good friends now. We don’t hate each other, which is the great thing.’
‘Ghost is about the aftermath of a break-up. When you’re not with someone anymore, you can become annoying to them. You want to let them know how you’re feeling, but they don’t want to hear what you’re going through. You’re a ghost to them.’
Not all of the tracks penned with Allen deal with bruised romance, however. Standing Stone strikes a more optimistic, defiant note, as Charlene explains: ‘It’s a song saying that you’ll still be there for someone when the shit hits the fan. I liked the idea of using something solid that has stood the test of time, like Stonehenge.’
Among the album’s other collaborators are Verve producer Chris Potter and songwriter Justin Parker. The latter, co-author of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games, helped on the album’s stunning title track, a stark piano ballad.
‘We were talking about each other’s lives and it was striking that there were aspects of our personalities that were quite similar. Justin played the piano and I wrote the lyrics as he played. It was an easy song to write. All I could think about is how everything important in life is built on love.’
The album also features one song, Halo, written with master craftsman Eg White and another, The Beast, completed with Guy Chambers.
‘It’s easy to write with people if you get on with them.’ continues Charlene. ‘With Eg, I didn’t know what to expect, but he was very open. Halo as inspired by a guy who thought he was a God-like figure, but he didn’t deserve his halo. What I love about that song is that it allowed me to sing loud. Before I was a solo artist, I sang in a few rock bands, and Halo takes me back to that.’
‘Working with Guy was fun, too. I asked him to show me some chord progressions. The progression that really struck me was the one that became The Beast. I sat in his office with my guitar and wrote the melody and lyrics on the spot. It’s about being let down by someone. I once gave a lot of love and advice to a friend, but she ended up using that against me.’
Another track of contrasts is Caged, co-written with Jim Eliot, which juxtaposes thrusting beats and dark lyrics about the end of a toxic romance. ‘It was written about the feeling of being caged, and the need to escape from that. If I can use music as a healing tool, then that’s a good thing.’
Raised near Crystal Palace, Charlene’s taste for music began early. She first picked up her dad’s guitar when she was a toddler and, after breaking one of the strings, she was given her own instrument at the age of five. Self-taught, she honed her talents by listening to Bowie (favourite albums: Space Oddity and Diamond Dogs) and the progressive rock of the Seventies (favourite guitarists: Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp).
At the BRIT School, she studied performance, but also developed a fondness for the technical side of things – she describes herself as ‘a geek with technique’ – customising an old Japanese guitar to suit her needs.
As her writing matured, she realised she was affected by synaesthesia, a neurological condition in which the brain causes two or more senses to combine. In her case, sounds are experienced as colours: seeing music in all the hues of the rainbow, she is able to explore unusual moods in her music.
‘I was never a typical BRIT student,’ she adds. ‘I was one of the geeky kids who was always asking questions. But, while everyone else had rich parents who would furnish them with drum kits and guitars, I didn’t have any money. I was living away from him on £20 a week, existing on my Education Maintenance Allowance. I spent most of my money on train fares.’
Cutting her teeth as a performer at open mic nights, Charlene put out a series of self-financed EPs and began attracting interest from record labels.
‘The EPs were home-made. I set up a label when I was 18 and did all the artwork myself. It’s healthy to do things like that, but getting an album out was difficult. I recorded the songs for Moonchild in 2009, and the fact that some of my BRITs peers were releasing records gave me extra drive.’
Things began looking up in late 2010 when Charlene signed to independent label Peacefrog, home of Nouvelle Vague and José González. The label were instrumental in putting her together with Twinings, who asked her to record a cover of Nineties alt-rock band The Calling’s Wherever You Will Go for a TV commercial. It proved the perfect launching pad for her debut album, which was eventually released to critical acclaim in November 2011.
‘Twinings were after a singer with a different sort of voice, and I had the mixture they were looking for,’ she says. ‘In the space of two weeks, I’d recorded the single and watched it go into the charts. The money I made from that helped me break even and, a month later, we released Moonchild.’
Now, with Love Is The Law, Charlene is setting her sights even higher. She has filmed a video with the fabled Joshua Light Show in New York (her make-up was stylishly done by Scissor Sister Ana Matronic, whose husband Seth directed the film footage) and is now looking forward to bringing her new songs to life on the road.
‘It’s all about feelings for me,’ she says. ‘That’s what makes a performance. The reaction to my debut album gave me the confidence to become the artist I truly want to be, and I’m totally dedicated to my art.’
Charlene Soraia "Caged' BBC Radio 1 Track Of The Day!
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Watch the video for Charlene's new single 'Broken'
Charlene's first single from her new album 'Love Is The Law' availbale as a single download today.
Watch the video to Charlene Soraia's forthcoming single now.
'Daffodils' is being used in a new John Lewis online campaign.
Indepth interview with Charlene (in German)
Charlene Soraia plays guitar like how I wish I played guitar:...
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If your in SXSW this week then pop in and catch Charlene's second US gig.
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Moonchild album of the week on Germany's N-joy
Download 'Bipolar' for free on iTunes
A Journey - Exclusive fashion shoot & interview for Access-fashion.com
Charlene joined Jo Good on BBC London yesterday for an interview and session. To listen back click on the link below and skip to 10.37
Charlene performs for Secret Sessions on the 27th October
Chalrene headlines Bush Hall in London in celebration of her album 'Moonchild' release
Over the last few weeks Charlene Soraia has been steadily climbing up the Official Singles Chart with her haunting cover of The Calling's 'Wherever You Will Go'
SOON to be a household name thanks to a Twinings TV ad, in reality Charlene Soraia’s cover of Wherever You Will Go is her least impressive song.
Charlene Soraia’s single, ‘Wherever You Will Go’, climbs to No. 7 in the UK Official Singles Chart. Currently at No. 3 on the iTunes singles chart.
Following hot on the heels of Charlenes success with the cover of 'Wherever You Will Go'. See what all the fuss is about by seing her live!
Charlene is out on tour later this month starting this Thursday supporting The Silver Seas as a one off and then off on a 9 gig support tour for the amazing Fink (Ninja Tune)
Peacefrog's recent signing - Charlene Soraia will be performing live on Wednesday @ The Vortex. 11 Gillett Square, London N16 8AZ
Singer, songwriter and talented guitarist, Charlene Soraia is destined for big things in 2011.