Charlotte Day Wilson is being heralded by both the hipster elite and snobby music publications alike as the next best thing out of Toronto—pretty big words for a city that also yielded current hitmakers Drake and The Weekend. But she is worthy of such props, as the multi-talented musician is a blend of all the best things: a little bit jazz, a little bit velvet, and a whole lot of soul. Her song, “Work,” became an unofficial theme for the women’s marches taking place across the globe earlier this year, and was followed by a haunting video featuring tear-inducing imagery of straight-faced women moving alongside each other in quiet solidarity. We chatted to the 25-year-old before her first of two sold out Toronto shows during Canadian Music Week (catch the second one tonight!).
“Work” was written before the women’s march. How do you feel about it being co-opted as an anthem?
It’s amazing. We put the video out right after the marches were happening, and we hoped it would become a message of hope and solidarity. I’m super-stoked.
We live in troubling times. Do you feel an obligation as an artist—someone who has a platform—to create political work?
It’s important to be conscious and make an effort, but if you feel more comfortable making music that will help people escape from the realities of whatever is going on—even if it’s during one song—that’s just as powerful as creating something with an overtly political message. Musicians aren’t necessarily in it for political reasons.
What are you listening to right now?
A lot of Connan Mockasin. I’m really loving the new Kendrick Lamar album. Arthur Russell has inspired me in a lot of ways. Feist is a huge influence of mine, as is Joni Mitchell. I’m all over the place.
What inspires your lyrics?
I don’t think too much about lyrics, which could be a downfall, or maybe it’s lucky. Most of the lyrics I write are stream of consciousness, so they end up being about relationships that I struggle with or whatever is at the top of mind. Sometimes it’s something I am subconsciously dealing with and it comes out in my music, so it’s a pretty therapeutic process.
Why do you think love and relationships are so omnipresent as musical themes?
As humans, we’re seeking connections and being in love is the most intense and sincere connection. There are a lot of intricacies that go into a relationship—like sharing your time and thoughts and your darkest secrets with someone else—so it’s a very intimate thing. I guess we’re never fully at ease with how vulnerable we are in relationships.
How has being classically trained impacted your music?
I am classically trained on piano but I never retained theory in the same way as other people who went to music school do. What I retained was a strong ear, which is how I work things out. It’s given me some tools that have unquestionably sped up the process.
How did you get into music growing up?
My family is very musical. My dad is a non-professional musician, my two aunts are music teachers and my grandmother was a contralto singer, so it’s heavily in my family. In terms of my own discovery, it was pretty self-directed. I remember being in grade five and discovering 50 Cent and being blown away, like “this is the most amazing thing I have ever heard in my life” and walking down the halls of my school with my Walkman feeling pretty badass.
Do you think anything about you is distinctly Torontonian?
I lived in Halifax when I started making music and that had a big impact on me, and I also lived in Montreal for a bit. Toronto is the place that raised me and the music that has come from here in the last 10 years has definitely shaped me, but I don’t know that I’m part of the new Toronto style, as they say. It’s almost dangerous to say that there is a specific sound coming out of Toronto. If you spend any time here, the shows that happen on the regular aren’t the same as what people are calling the Toronto sound.
What about your personal style? Can you describe it?
I don’t know if I have one style. Some days I feel like a tomboy and I dress in baggy jeans. And then some days I feel feminine and put my hoops on. It’s whatever I’m feeling on any given day.
Your first EP was self-produced—was that a practical or creative decision?
I do like to have control over things but subconsciously it was political, too. I can’t just be another singer; I have bigger aspirations and they include being a producer.
How would you say you’re dealing with nerves and fame?
I still battle with nerves but I try to rationalize it in a constructive way: being nervous is a sign that you care and want to do the best for the people who are paying attention. Attention comes and goes—I am constantly reminding myself of that. You put music out and people are paying attention. You go quiet and people forget. Everything is fleeting and fame is not the goal. The goal is just to be comfortable and make music every day.