Ahead of the release of her new single Lights Off and performance as part of PRS Presents LCKDWN, we caught up with Dundee-born singer-songwriter Be Charlotte.
Be Charlotte’s upward trajectory has been steadily gathering pace over the last few years, having signed to Columbia Records and developing a devoted fan base in the process. Her brand of upbeat pop deals in an honesty that is seldom seen and inspires a palpable closeness with her fans.
In our wide-ranging conversation, we discussed growing up in Dundee, her forthcoming releases and the all-female songwriting camp she organised in her hometown last month.
Hi Charlotte. Thanks for chatting with us. What are you up to at the moment and how are you getting on?
I’m releasing a song in the next couple of weeks, so I’m trying to focus on that and stay positive.
It’s hard to know whether it’s the right time to release new music, I guess. I went back and thought it through a lot, and decided, ‘I just need to go for it.’ I think a lot of people are thinking the same as well.
I wrote a massive list of reasons why I should and why I shouldn’t release it. In the end, it came down to what the song is about. I wrote it in 2017 at a time when I was feeling low and didn’t know what to do. Since then, it’s opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve played it at my live shows pretty much ever since. It’s always been the song that everyone at the label’s been excited to release too.
Because of where I was when I wrote it, and how it’s turned into this positive thing for me, I thought people could hopefully relate to what the words of the song are trying to say and maybe they can take a bit of hope or inspiration from them too.
I’ve been waiting quite a while to release it. You never know when the right time is to release music anyway, regardless of everything that’s going on - it’s always such a gamble. You never know what’s going to happen on the day you release a song, so I just wanted to go ahead with it.
For me, the song’s already done what I hoped it would do. Not to be dramatic, but is has changed my life. It’s made more people interested in my music and every time I play a show it’s always everyone’s favourite song.
I don’t have crazy expectations of what can be achieved at this time. I just hope that people can take a few minutes of relief from whatever they’re going through and just enjoy the song. Or, if not, they can wait until this is over and the song will be there ready and waiting for them.
How has the pandemic affected other areas of your life as an artist?
Like for most people, it’s turned everybody’s lives upside down. I was in Paris doing a session, then came to London. The day after that it all started to get a lot more serious everyone was telling me that I needed to get home as quickly as possible. I’d been living in Berlin for the last few years, but at the start of this year I did have to come back to Scotland. I’m really grateful for that now, I feel very lucky to be at home.
As is the case for many artists, everything’s kind of stopped. Any plans that were in the calendar have gone. I do work from home a lot anyway, so that side of it isn’t too new for me, but the way it affects you mentally is different: you find yourself asking questions like: ‘Am I being productive? Should I be being productive?’ There’s a lot of mixed messages on social media too. For the first couple of weeks I was really struggling to show my face online because I really didn’t know what to say. Like most people it kind of floored me. It’s the thought of not knowing when live music is going to return, or when you’ll go to different places again. More seriously, you don’t know if people you know are going to die. It’s such a scary time for a lot of people. When you’re a creative person, you want to try and stay creative and positive, but sometimes everything else that’s being thrown at you gets in the way.
Obviously there have been so many amazing relief funds, which is really great for artists. It’s hard to know when people are going to get paid again. So that’s been really helpful. It’s good to know that there are people out there who are trying to help each other.
'When you’re a creative person, you want to try and stay creative and positive, but sometimes everything else that’s being thrown at you gets in the way.'
Looking through your socials, it seems as though you have a really close connection with your fans. Do you find that people are reaching out to you more at the moment and do you find a solace in interacting with your fan base?
Yes, definitely. I’ve always tried to be as honest as I can be on social media and, as well as highlighting the upsides, it’s about addressing the downsides as well. Because we’re all going through something together, it’s taken down a few barriers in being able to share what you’re actually feeling, instead of just saying, ‘Yeah, I’m good. I’m fine.’ I think people are more willing to admit that they’re struggling. ‘Today I’m good, but yesterday I wasn’t.’
There are a lot of times I don’t enjoy all aspects of social media and it can be not a very nice place, but I think this has really opened up the conversation of mental health a lot more. It’s good to be able to chat to people and see how they’re doing, especially with a lot of other artists as well. Realising that other people are feeling the exact same. It does really help. It’s been really comforting for myself and hopefully for other people too.
What do you think has helped to build that close relationship with your fans? There’s a lot of honesty in your music, could it have something to do with that?
Yeah, I guess so. I think also because I’m a young person and people can relate to the stuff I’m talking about in my songs. I try and be open in terms of what they’re about. I’ve also done a lot of shows in schools over the past few years and I’ve got to meet lots of young people who have then got in touch to send me questions. I’ve tried to keep conversations with them going. They feel like they know me and I’ve always tried to keep it like that on social media.
I do have a small enough fan base at the moment where I can connect to most people and reply to everyone, which helps. I think it’s down to being as honest as I possibly can be. I don’t share everything online because I don’t think you need to, but I do I think sharing is important. I feel very fortunate that people are there and interacting with me.
Were there artists who you looked up to in the same kind of way as your fans do with you?
I’ve always been such a fan of people who tell stories in their music. When I first started I was a big fan of people like Paolo Nutini and Tracy Chapman, people spilling their hearts out in the their songs. When I was growing up, my Mum played a bit of piano and sang a wee bit as well, so I’d always been around music. When I wrote my first song, my mum encouraged me to say what my feelings were. I think it really helped to have that support at home.
How important has Dundee been for your journey as an artist?
When I started writing and doing open mic nights I was about fourteen. I used to play at a venue called The Doghouse in Dundee – one of the most recognisable venues in the city. Everyone who was up on the stage, I thought they were famous. Having that sheer ability to go up on stage and sing their songs, I was so mesmerised by it.
When I was doing open mics there wasn’t a lot of pop music, it was mostly folk, which I really do love as well. For me, Dundee has always been a big part of my identity. I do sing in my own accent, which somewhere in there means something about being from Dundee. In Scotland, the biggest music city would be Glasgow, but I’ve always been so passionate and proud to be from Dundee. It’s a city that’s starting to get more recognition for music and I’ve always tried to keep it as a part of who I am, even when I’m living in a different country. The kindness I felt at those open mic nights is something that’s given me the confidence to keep going.
'For me, Dundee has always been a big part of my identity. I do sing in my own accent, which somewhere in there means something about being from Dundee.'
What’s your favourite part of the songwriting process?
I love that first moment when you write a song and you get that real buzz from it, when it feels right. It’s such an excitement when you think, ‘I want that to go there, that lyric here, this chord there.’ Also, the whole process of seeing a song come together from start to finish. When I first discovered that I could do that myself I really loved that idea of having something that’s completely raw and acoustic, then it’s built up, mixed and goes out into the world. For me, my favourite bit is right at the beginning when it feels super exciting, you’re writing that song and not really thinking about anything else.
How important have organisations such as Creative Scotland and PRS Foundation have been in your career so far?
They’ve been really supportive. Help Musicians too. As everyone knows, it’s really hard to make a living as an artist. Sometimes opportunities come along that you can’t afford to do but having organisations like this means that they become accessible – you can afford to travel to a festival or go to a certain recording studio. It’s so good that we have that support network. There are definitely things that I wouldn’t have been able to do without those organisations. Even more so now, we’re seeing how important those organisations are for supporting musicians. It also helps with representation in the arts, such as the Women Make Music fund. They’re such a key part of the industry.
You recently curated an all-female songwriting camp. How did it come about and how did you find the experience?
It was really great. I’m so please it got to happen at the start of March. It’s an idea I’ve had and something I’ve wanted to do for ages. When I started co-writing, there weren’t many women who I was getting to write with, songwriters or producers. Each time a session was set up, I’d always ask if there’s any women I can work with. There’s been a few amazing women I’ve worked with. Fiona Bevan was the first female songwriter I got to work with and she’s incredible.
At the start of this year we thought, ‘Let’s do it’. I know I wanted it to happen in Dundee, so I asked a few people here to see if anyone would be up for getting involved, and that’s when I got the University of Dundee on board to give us some space to do the camp. Then I reached out to some artists who I know and love in Scotland.
It was the first time I organised and managed a project like that and I was really looking forward to the songwriting part. It ended up being in the Botanic Garden in Dundee, which was the amazing. It was an outdoor space, it didn’t feel like we were stuck in a dark studio somewhere.
The thing I took the most from it was when we were chatting and we realised we’ve been experiencing and feeling very similar things. It felt like a really good time for people getting things off their chests. It’s important to realise that we’re all working together and it’s not this competitive thing. It’s about supporting and encouraging each other.
It’s an under represented sector, so I wanted to spotlight that and show that there is this community and all these amazing women who make music who deserve to get recognition.
You’ve got a single coming out, then an EP, what else can we expect in the future?
My next single Lights Off is coming out in a couple of weeks. There’s lots of stuff in the pipeline. The goal is to keep releasing lots of music and hopefully a live show soon too. I want to keep writing and creating and I hope that everyone’s OK. But lots of new music to come.
Be Charlotte is performing as part of PRS Presents LCKDWN today (24 April) at 6pm BST.