We were the very first in the UK to review Tanika Charles’ sizzling debut album, ‘Soul Run’ released here in April. We jumped at the chance for a chat with the classy Canadian artist. Editor Simon Redley asks the questions.
I think it best to kick off this feature by referring back to the first part of our review of Tanika’s fantastic debut album, “Soul Run,” which we ran back in February. An album which has its UK release on 7th April. This is an abbreviated version of some of what we said:
One of the very best soul releases this year thus far, and for a long time, in fact. Tanika Charles. A real find. A real singer A real soul singer. A great soul artist. A great album. Her fellow Canadians know all about Ms Charles and this belter of a debut album already. As do the likes of Estelle, Mayer Hawthorne, Haitus Kayote, Lauryn Hill, Bendouin Soundclash and Macy Gray who Tanika has opened for. Now it is our turn.
It is hard to believe when you hear how rounded and full on this album is, that it is her debut release. Apart from low key EP “What! What? What!?” she put out in 2010. Seven long years later, the wait was well worth it, I can testify.
Sassy, sultry, sensational
The material is top drawer. She mixes up the styles, but it is all soul with a capital ‘S’… Sassy, sultry, sensational. The arrangements are super tight and most of the production values, immaculate. But the focus from the off and held throughout, is THAT voice. It really draws you in. There’s a rawness and a simplicity about it all; that says ‘I know who I am as an artist and what I want to sound like, and I don’t need bells and whistles and star guests.’
The clever thing about “Soul Run,” is the blending of the retro, old school with the uber-current nu soul, neo soul or call-it-what-you-will soul. She can do it all with ease. A voice and an album, that may well have had the potential to make her a superstar had it been released in the 1960s or early 70s, but is equally at home in 2017. “On trend” you might say.
So, do I have your attention now? Maybe then; a bit of background on Tanika before we dive into the recent interview with her. In a few short years, Tanika Charles has transformed from an emerging solo artist to a commanding performer and band leader, a staple in the Canadian soul scene, both on stage and off. “Soul Run,” has garnered her a Polaris nomination. (Canada’s Mercury Prize equivalent) and most recently, a Juno Award nomination, Canada’s Grammys, for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. One of five albums in this category, alongside such artists as The Weeknd.
Tanika’s interest in music was very much inspired by her older brother, a musician and producer who is active locally in Edmonton. Singing was always a passion of hers, but never once did she imagine it would become a full-time career. Encouraged by a friend to attend a background singing audition, Tanika got the part and toured the globe with Bedouin Soundclash.
After a couple of years singing other people’s songs, she figured it was time to start telling her own story, and began to gather together some of her friends and peers in Toronto. The outcome was “Soul Run”, cobbled together in various Toronto studios on a shoestring budget. All but one of the songs on the album were co-writes, mostly with local songwriter, Ian James Jones. “Darkness And The Dawn”, was written by Tanika alone. Production was handled by Slakah The Beatchild (BBE Records) best known as a producer for artists such as Drake and Justin Nozuka, Daniel Lee (Hooded Fang & Phedre), Jesse Bear (Sean Kingston, Zaki Ibrahim), Matt ‘Emdee’ Reid and Anthony Corsi.
“Would I love to win? Yes. Yes, I absolutely would”.
So, fast forward to March 2017. Tanika is on tour in Canada when we catch up with her. First, the Juno Award nomination; was she surprised to be on the list of five albums for her country’s Grammys? “I was definitely surprised! And I found out while rehearsing for a play that I was recently cast in. It was shocking to say the least, but I needed to focus on the play as it was opening night AND we were heading out on tour for a month! It didn’t actually hit me until I got home. Hell, I’m still absorbing what has happened! Do I expect to win? I don’t expect anything. Would I love to win? Yes. Yes, I absolutely would”. No mean feat for a debut album. Winners announced over the weekend of 1st April. Fingers crossed.
How does Tanika describe the album to those who have not been fortunate enough to hear it yet? “Think about all the unnecessary tension and anxiety that surrounds you, from work, social responsibilities or whatever. ‘Soul Run’ is the soundtrack to saying, ‘enough’. Whether that comes from a moment of courage, or being just plain fed up, ‘Soul Run’ is the giant exhale as you begin to move on. And the music bangs too. Consider buying it!”
So, does it fully sum her up as an artist? “Oh, I would hope to continue to evolve and grow as an artist over time. This is just the first chapter, not a summary”. She adds: “ ‘Soul Run’ is about discovering oneself. Liberation from anything that’s holding you back from being your truest self”. A post-breakup album. About finding yourself after hitting the reset button. Trapped in an allegedly emotionally abusive relationship in rural Canada on an Alberta farm, resulted in her “borrowing” her then fiancée’s truck and running away to Toronto to begin her singing career, never looking back.
So, has she had contact with him since she left and since she “made it” with her music? Has he heard the album, a lot of it apparently inspired by him and that broken relationship? “I’m not sure if he’s heard the album ye.! I do have a run of shows in my hometown this month so…we’ll see! As far as I know, he’s recently married and I wish nothing but happiness for him! And her….” Nuff said.
Her favourite track, and why? “ ‘More Than a Man’. Sonically it’s different from the other songs on the album. It’s unconventional and almost uncomfortable to listen to, but it’s so unique in its structure. And it’s a little funny too”. An unusual cut that reminded me of Lianne La Havas. The closing track, “Darkness And The Dawn”, is the most personal song on the record for Tanika, and she is not yet sure if she can perform it live. “This song was half written on a plane home from a much-needed mental health vacation. I FINALLY saw the light after being in the dark, emotionally, for so long. I’ve yet to perform that song live. I’m not sure I’m ready for that”.
“I despise it”!
She reveals she is not at all comfortable in the environment of a recording studio. You’d never know that from the natural and relaxed vocals delivered across this 11 track treasure. “I can tell you one thing, I’m not the biggest fan recording in a studio. As a matter of fact, I despise it! It doesn’t feel authentic to me. This album took a really long time to produce….” Time well spent, methinks. This really does NOT sound like a debut album. This could be her fourth or fifth album, with it sounding so evolved and complete. What does Tanika put that down to? Modestly she credits her producers. “I worked with a really great group of producers and I’ve been in the “scene” in Toronto for a few years. That allowed me to meet the right people and build a network of supporters to help push me along”.
This debut album differs from her debut release, the 2010 EP “What! What? What!?” in as much as that EP relied upon sample based beats. Tanika received music from producers, and then wrote and recorded on her own. ‘Soul Run’ was far more hands on, live instrumentation, she sat in on the sessions, had input and collaborated with her co-writers. “Team effort”. Her biggest influences and those in her mind while writing and making this record, included Prince, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and Jodeci. “I’m not sure if I channelled anyone in particular on ‘Soul Run’, but Amy Winehouse is probably the most recent influence I’d hope to approximate”. Tanika was listening to the likes of Frank Ocean, some older Solange songs and mixes, Mayer Hawthorne’s ‘Where Does This Door Go’, D’angelo and Amy Winehouse, around the time of making the album. The last album she bought: Childish Gambino. Lately, she’s into NAO, Hiatus Kaiyote (Australia), River Tiber (Canada), Hare Squead (Ireland).
If she could collaborate with two artists; one still with us and one deceased; who would that be? Frank Ocean and Prince. Who would be on her wish list as guests on that “difficult second album”? Which I am told will be out in 2018. Yesssss. “I think I’d really love to have (fellow Juno nominee) Daniel Cesar make an appearance on the next album. Maybe Pharoahe Monch. Working with Sampha would be something special”. Bring it on.
Is there a big ground swell of appreciation for ‘retro’ soul sounds in Canada right now, or is it a small, niche movement? “I’m slowly realising that ‘retro’ soul has potential for growth. Seems like there’s a healthy underground group of folks that love good old fashioned vinyl and classic soul. We had a number of years of very synth-y ambient R&B in Toronto, and now I think the pendulum might be swinging a little bit back to a place where loud drums and horns can play along too”. Good news.
So, from her first break, joining Bedouin Soundclash as a backing singer on tours all over the world, what lessons did Tanika learn to stand her in good stead for her own career as an artist? “Touring with Bedouin was my first foray into music and performing to audiences of that calibre. Huge sold-out stadiums. And while I sang back-up at the time, it was still a performance that had to be solid. On point. I’m still so nervous performing, but I’ve discovered that when people pay to see you play, give them a show”.
STOP PRESS: Tanika Charles will perform live at the Juno Awards.
- The first single, “Soul Run,” is out now for download. The album “Soul Run” is released on 7th April on the Record Kicks label.
By Simon Redley