Charlotte OC: tipped for success in 2014
Blackburn-born singer Charlotte OC was signed and dropped by record label Columbia in her late teens and the album she recorded never saw the light of day. Now aged 23 and with an EP out, she is being hotly tipped as a face to watch in 2014.
Few singers have been through the industry wringer before they are even out of their teens but Charlotte OC sees the experience of being signed and then dropped by a major label in nothing but a positive light.
"I'm so proud of it and I'm proud of what I made but it was me when I was 16," explains the young artist who was then known by her full name Charlotte O'Connor.
She admits that, at the time, she was devastated the music was not going to be released by Columbia, but adds firmly, "The next day it felt like a weight had been lifted. I'm happy that it happened. It was an amazing apprenticeship."
Charlotte took two years out, going to work in her mother's hairdressing salon, before starting to write music again.
Now, with her shortened name, her music is a sultry blend of minimalist bluesy soul with funk-edged bass lines and synths.
In songs from her new EP Colour My Heart, she pleads with an ex-lover: "Don't colour my heart blues and greys, Don't tell me that I'm not ok."
On another track, she sings: "You're pushing me sideways but you won't let go, And I know you're sorry but do the right thing, cut the rope and let me fall."
"I think it's just growing up and I think you can tell the earlier music because its so happy," she explains.
"I hadn't gone through pain or anything really tragic and you can kind of hear it. If a song was about heartbreak, it wasn't mine."
A native of Blackburn in Lancashire, Charlotte's first brush with music came when she was in the school choir, when "this priest came in and he gave us these songs and I started singing and I thought, 'Is that me?'"
Not being the shy retiring type, she decided to become a singer. "I had that much confidence, that's the beauty of going to an all girls school, I thought, 'I can do it'."
Charlotte's father was a musician, ("he was in the Merseybeats for at least three seconds," she laughs) and her first performance was in front of her parents. Although technically she didn't actually sing.
"The first time I performed I was miming. I watched Wayne's World for the first time and I heard Bohemian Rhapsody and I thought, 'This is the best song I've ever heard', I was only eight. Instead of singing I mimed the whole song. It was really weird.
"But they could see I was a performer."
Aside from the theatrical stylings of Freddie Mercury, Charlotte counts Leonard Cohen ("he's just unbelievable... I don't have the words"), Lou Reed and Joni Mitchell among her influences. Her Facebook page is plastered with lyrics from other people's songs.
"My dad surrounded me with with folk music and my mum surrounded me with the soul music... Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye."
But one of the first artists who made a live impression on her was Alicia Keys. "I think that's where the soul really got imprinted on me," she says.
If, in musical terms, Keys was an influence on Charlotte, so too was her sophisticated image.
Early in her career, Keys successfully navigated any pressure that might have come to 'sex up' her image and, in the current climate of Miley Cyrus's twerking and the overt sexuality of artists like Rihanna, Charlotte insists her clothes will remain firmly on.
"As far as I'm concerned in what I'm doing, I don't feel like I'm pressured into anything that I don't want to do but I won't be getting my boobs out anytime soon."
She stops short at any suggestion she could be a role model for young girls but admits "I suppose it's about knowing who you are and as young girl you don't do you? And you do look up to people. It's about what you put out there and I just want to keep it cool."
Charlotte's EP, out on 25 November, shows off her powerful, Stevie Nicks-style vocals. The standout track Hangover mixes obsessive love with alcoholic dual meanings: "But the spirits won't wait, I always hear them calling my name. 'Cause I'm numb with 'em, day or night, And as the whiskey raise I sip your love"
Unsurprisingly, the song was the product of a self-inflicted belter behind the eyes.
"I was horribly hung-over and I've never done that, turned up to a session hung over, and I kept apologising to Tim (producer Tim Anderson) and was about to leave and he sang 'hangover' to me and I sang back '... in the morning'.
"And we said, 'Oh my God, there's a song' and I ended up having to stay for the next three hours. It was really tough but totally worth it."
Charlotte plans on heading over to Los Angeles to record her debut album in the new year with a view to releasing it next summer. She claims to find the chilled attitude of California productive.
"Also, I think its something about the 10 hour flight it takes to get over there. I think, 'This better be good'."