The modern-pop singer talks neo-soul, the Black Lives Matter movement and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
If there was ever a song to capture the easy-breezy essence of summer it would be Charlie Burg’s hit “Channel Orange in Your Living Room”. Brimming with effervescent energy, the rising sensation partners layers of soothing guitar melodies with country-tinged vocals for a modern-pop tune. His new single “Lancaster Nights/Title Guide to the Talkies”, is no different with Burg’s soft crooning vocals and a piano-led backing, the singer trasnports us to the last dance at prom surrounded by nothing but young love and slow moving rhythms.
Speaking on the single, the singer said, “Channel Orange In Your Living Room is about the unique power of music to be a “moment freezer,” so to speak. Sometimes music feels liquid; it takes on both the shape and essence of the space in which it is experienced, and that is where it will live forever in one’s memory. When I listen to Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange and I visualise a season or an age or a person, that’s going to be very different from what you see. This inherent shape-shifting quality of music fascinates me. I want people to hear my song and allow it to take the shape of their living room – which is to say, their space.”
Having started writing his own songs in his college days, the singer has been busy over the past three years with three progressive EPs that showcase the singer going from strength to strength while absorbing influences from the likes of Frank Ocean, The Strokes and Lorde. We caught up with the star talking the Motown era, the Black Lives Matter movement and all the new music that we’re waiting to be blessed with.
Check out the interview below…
Being born in and growing up in Detroit there is no question Motown inspires, it also seems to birth an incredible amount of musicians; how has the city shaped your art? What is the best thing about Detroit to you? And who are your favourite artists also from there?
Detroit is a vibrant, inspiring city with a rich, underappreciated history and culture. Although I did not grow up in the city of Detroit– I was born in Royal Oak and raised in a suburb called Birmingham, and I would never claim to have had the experience of someone who grew up in the city, the music and culture of Detroit has always been omnipresent in my life. From my Dad’s Motown vinyl and CDs, to concert and sports venues downtown, to open mics and record stores, the city has always been an important element of my upbringing. Detroit started really inspiring me during my college years when I attended more art exhibits and museum events, concerts, and poetry open mics at coffee shops. I made friends who were involved in music, photography, fashion, etc. and they would take me around to places in the city. To me, one of the best parts of Detroit is the cool Art-Deco infrastructure and tall buildings that have survived through many decades, as well as the amazing music venues that have hosted some of the most legendary artists of all time, spanning almost every genre. I love Saint Andrew’s Hall, El Club; The Old Miami is sick… Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is iconic too. Favourite Detroit artists… too many to name, but a few are J Dilla, The Temptations, Slum Village, The Four Tops, The Detroit Cobras, Austenyo, and Death. Ahh, so many!
What do people need to know about Detroit?
It’s on the rise, it’s rich with music and culture, and you should visit.
Detroit has a large Black population, lots of black culture influences the city, and part of why it’s such a great city too; how did that impact who you are today as an artist? What do you wish more people knew about the city? Who is the biggest influence in your career from Detroit?
Without a doubt, Black artists from Detroit have had some of the most profound impacts on my music, my passions, and my taste in general, and as a white artist who both celebrates and creates R&B-inspired music, I am indebted to them. Artists like The Temptations, Al Green, the Jackson 5, The Supremes – these classic soul artists were the Motown sound, and that was my favorite music growing up. As a teenager, discovering artists like J Dilla, Slum Village, Black Milk and Illa J was big for me when I was first getting into Ableton and making beats in late 2014. I would download free drum sample packs from Reddit and just go to town copying Dilla drum patterns… When it comes to the city of Detroit, I just wish more people knew about its music history! From soul/jazz to hip hop to techno to punk, the city has been a breeding ground for some of the most influential, archetypal artists of both mainstream and underground music and movements for nearly a century. The Detroit artist who’s had the biggest influence on my career is probably The Temptations. Their melodies and arrangements are ingrained in my head, and they just remind me of home, safety, and my dad.
You’ve been outspoken against racism and dedicating yourself to unlearning anything that caused you to be part of the systemic issues; how has that impacted your relationship with fans? What has the movement taught you and what would you like others to know that was helpful for you?
I’ve learned so much from the Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, I feel like a different person. I’ve taken this time to begin the work of addressing and dismantling my internal white privilege (or more accurately, my white theft), and to reflect on my purpose and my platform as an artist. Around the onset of the protests in late May, I found it inappropriate for me to use my social media for any other reason than raising awareness and passing along information on social justice. It was a trial-and-error process to learn what exactly my role is – and isn’t – as a white person in the movement (I’m still learning), but I knew that I had no option but to keep learning and listening. I realized that every move I make as an artist can be an opportunity to address something bigger than just the music itself. My followers have been extremely supportive of my recent utilization of social media, and I’m very thankful for their engagement with me. The most important thing I’ve learned from the movement is to constantly be making space for Black, Brown and Indigenous voices. The movement has reminded me that living with and addressing racism is in fact not a movement, but a reality for BIPOC and people all over the world, and it is now an undeniable reality for me as well. I have learned to normalize changing one’s habits and opinions when presented with new information, and I’ve vowed to make antiracism a constant in my life. The movement has taught me that we can’t truly say Black lives matter in this country while we continue to do things like uphold the prison system. I’ve also learned to get local in my activism, and to know my community’s alternatives to policing. A few things that I’ve found helpful are reading selections from circulating book lists (Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, for example), participating in Rachel Cargle’s DoTheWork 30-Day Anti-Racism course, and just following and paying attention to social media accounts that articulate and amplify Black voices. It’s really important as a white person to examine habits too, things that we do and say that we never realized may actually be perpetuating systems of oppression. Again, this is about making space for Black, Brown and Indigenous voices.
“Letter from Last Summer” reminded me of the amazing soundtrack from the film garden state; have you submitted any of your songs to film or tv yet?
Oh thanks! That’s a simple little song, I always thought it was a bit cheeky. But it most certainly came from a time of tenderness and yearning. I have not submitted my songs for film or TV placements yet. I’ve been wary to do so… putting songs to visuals of course has a long-term impact on how the music is experienced, and I’ve always been very particular about what world my songs live in.
“Fever” has some Thom Yorke and Muse vibes, are they inspirations of yours?
I love these comparisons, I’ve never gotten any of them and I enjoy them all! Similarly to James Blake, Radiohead and Muse are artists whose work I enjoyed casually in earlier years before I was making music, but never considered to be palpable influences. I’m due for a deep dive on those bands though.
“Intentions” has a unique style, is that because of the collaboration? Do you write and perform with Daniel James and Codrington regularly?
I definitely think the collaborative aspect of that song helps set it apart from my other work, yes. But all my songs start the same way really, where its seed begins with just me on my own. The moment I wrote the idea that would become Intentions, I envisioned DJ’s voice and brain on it, so I sent it to him immediately upon recording the voice memo and the song began taking shape from there. DJ and Eddie will always be collaborators of mine (as long as they’re willing and available), and you will most certainly be hearing their sonic fingerprints on some of my upcoming work.
What have you learned during the home stay? Have you discovered any new artists we should know about?
I’ve learned that timelessness in art is born out of risk and vulnerability. I’ve learned that white theft is literally everywhere you look, and it’s a white person’s personal lifelong responsibility to address and dismantle it ourselves. I’ve learned that I have never been very good at being alone, but that is okay and that is changing. I’ve learned that our country’s police system should be abolished. I’ve learned that even just a walk around the block in Brooklyn is a symphony of sound and a tapestry of colour. Yes, I’ve discovered many new artists! Y’all gotta check out Lynda Dawn, Maiya Blaney and Mwami. Fantastic artists!
Any collaborations that have come about or ones you realize you want to pursue since the home stay?
I added some ideas to a collaborative music project with a ton of incredible UK-based artists that I’m excited about! I’d love to one day get in a room with Yves Tumor. They are truly visionary and I know I’d learn a lot from their approach to creativity.
In almost every article about you, Ralph Waldo Emerson poems are mentioned, when did his work begin to influence you? How does his work influence your writing?
Haha yes, I was asked the same questions for multiple interviews during the time that Emerson was influencing me. I began appreciating his essays in the summer of 2017, and it was some select passages that inspired the 3-EP series that I released over three years. That year I was actually meaning to put out a full album, but by the end of the summer the album wasn’t finished, so I thought to myself, “Why don’t I break it into three separate moments and let them take shape over time?” And thus, Violet, Moonlight and Fever were born. Emerson has a way of making words and thoughts flow into each other with such thoughtful articulation and fluidity, it’s almost lyrical. And his words entered my consciousness at the perfect moment… “when the moonlight was a pleasing fever.” Since that summer, I’ve discovered other authors and literature that have had equally if not more profound effects on my expression; but Emerson’s works will always be dear to me.
Big streaming has been both a blessing and curse, you’ve mentioned you don’t love catering to the big streamers and dislike playlists, have they actually helped you gain new fans? Or do you feel your music is discovered in other ways? Where do you find the newest fans? Which of the big streamers do you feel has helped you the most?
Streaming services have most definitely done very positive things for my career, I will not deny that and I never mean to disrespect anyone at those companies that have supported my music. What I do feel disdain for is the way streaming seems to control artists’ priorities. The playlist placements, the song submissions, the attaching of numbers to songs… it creates this active stock market of sorts, where artists’ value rises and falls at the whim of the big machine that is streaming. A million streams does not equal genuine or thoughtful music. Success with those platforms gets to artists’ heads very easily too, sometimes unknowingly. I’ve admittedly struggled with the expectations brought on by more traffic on streaming services; fans and supporters want things from you, and it toys with what used to feel so natural. As an artist, you have a choice: do I cater to what obviously seems to be successful, or do I ignore expectations and do my own thing? As you grow and continue on in your career, it becomes clear that the second route is superior, but that’s a realization you need to come to on your own, and it’s something I’m still learning to actualize myself. I suppose it’s always been a struggle for people in the music industry. I think Spotify has been the biggest source of discovery for my listeners, and it’s also been the most active in putting my songs places where more people can hear them. And for that I am thankful! But I don’t like playing that game.
You once said, “I try to find ways to really remove myself and my music from that whole thing, trying to use the internet to pull people away from the internet,” explain this thinking, we love it by the way!
Haha hm! As I said before, at this stage of my career, social media is not a meaningful extension of my artistic expression. That’s not to say that I condemn the internet at large as an expressive tool; videos and photographs and websites and whatnot can obviously be extremely powerful ways of expanding the artist’s universe. But personally, I feel that my most compelling work takes place on stage, in recording, and in the presence of real people. Maybe it stems from a fear of the duality that the internet can breed for an artist in the public eye – the online persona versus the offline one. I’ve always felt a need to bridge that gap however I can, and I do it best through my music. Now, that may change as I grow; I would never keep myself from exploring new spaces to inhabit (again, the idea of normalizing changing opinions with more information – a pertinent theme of today’s conversations). In fact, I hope that one day I can truly embrace the Modern Age Of Music and comfortably incorporate the internet and social media into my expression. Does my current refrain from social media get confused for an attempt at mystery, or a desire to be enigmatic? Perhaps. Haha.
Speaking of writing, when did you first start writing songs?
I’d say I started writing around 2014, which was the end of high school and the start of college. The first lyrical idea that I put to guitar chords was probably in the Winter of that year, while the first original song I actually completed and recorded was that Fall, during my first semester of college at Denison University.
Has the order to stay home created a new culture for music? What do you think will be the best thing for music to come out of this pandemic?
People won’t take concerts for granted anymore. And concerts will be rowdy as fuck.
Being a regular performer, 2020 obviously made in person shows impossible, living room shows have become common, but you’ve been avoiding regular viral performing, why?
I’ve always preferred keeping my online presence to a relative minimum. Posts, captions, tweets, these are not my medium for expression. I believe that everything forward-facing and public that an artist does contributes to the universe of their art. If Prince did more interviews explaining what his songs meant or describing his writing process, his work wouldn’t be as ethereal or magical because there’s less to discover on your own. So you look up videos of him shredding an otherworldly guitar solo and wearing an outrageous outfit and convulsing into the mic, and suddenly you’ve got everything you really need to know about Prince. Merely by watching him pour his soul into his craft. It’s great to be relatable, but I don’t see a need to make accessibility be a part of everything I do. You want to know the whole story? Come to a show after this is all over and I can promise you you’ll get everything you were missing from live streams I never did or pictures I never posted.
When borders open and masks are no longer needed, what will be the first thing you’ll do?
Probably go to a bar with friends! Or take my guitar to a park and sing for pigeons and passersby! Or buy a ticket to France?