Charles on TV is a breakthrough synth pop artist from NYC but that’s a description that scrapes the surface of an artist who finds inspiration from very diverse things. The Beach Boys, the political and social situation in The States and saying goodbye to negativity are just a handful of things that shape the music that this exciting artist creates. To attempt to pigeon hole Charles on TV is near impossible but the one thing that is clear as I listen to today’s EP release is that, with every time, I find more nuance, more depth, more that intrigues me. To listen to this musical journey is to recall the moment I discovered the music of Isao Tomita where voice was used as much as an instrument as a lead vocal. Charles on TV combines synths, orchestral instruments, witty lyricism and his voice is as much an instrument as the delivery tool of honest, relatable lyrics.
Charles on TV says of ‘Lately’: “‘Lately’ is a f*ck you song. It’s an anthem for the nice folk who’ve been brought up to keep wrath tamed and turn the other cheek. A song for those of us trained to passively aggress because we don’t know how else to release frustration. It’s an upbeat tune mimicking the smiles we wear when, inside, we’re angry”.
The EP has a focus track ‘Lately’ but the whole EP has a lyricism that runs deep throughout and allows Charles on TV to deliver his introspective 6 track sonic journey which documents his experiences and observations as a queer, liberal male through a satirical, socio-political lens. ‘Truth and Lies’ for me should really be absorbed as a whole but if you need a gateway into the incredible music of this artist then take a listen to ‘Lately’.
I was lucky enough to get to ask Charles on TV some questions and his candid, articulate answers give a great insight into the beginning of what I’m sure will be a long and collaborative journey.
EP: The new song ‘Lately’ really doesn’t pull its punches. With a refrain like “lately I only want to see you cry”, it’s definitely a song that relates to that moment at the end of a relationship where love turns to hate. And yet the upbeat, almost jaunty melody sounds like a happy place. Was the dichotomy intentional, I’m sure it was, and what’s the inspiration behind the song?
CoTV: That assessment is right on! I intended for “Lately” to be a break up-esque song but wanted to focus less on the sadness of losing someone and more so on the freeing experience of bidding a negative force goodbye. There’s definitely a deliberate dichotomy between the angry lyrics and the jovial instrumentation, but I think that dichotomy ultimately lends itself to a cohesive feeling: clarity. And clarity’s a thing worth celebrating. “Lately” is about saying “good riddance” with a hop in your step. It’s about achieving a clear head after snapping out of a toxic love spell.
EP: I love the layers of your music, there’s so much going on that it really doesn’t matter that ‘Lately’ literally has a one-line refrain. Everything going on in and around the refrain adds more than enough depth. Your style really reminds me of songs like the brilliant Groove Armada’s ‘At The River’ where a refrain almost becomes another instrument, just a part of a much deeper multi instrumental whole. What music influences your style?
CoTV: Thank you! I’m inspired by countless musical styles and I think that’s why it’s so hard to pinpoint my sound. When people ask me what genre I fit into, I often freeze. For now, I stick with “Alternative” or “Indie” or sometimes “synth-soul”, though I know none of these give the full picture. My streaming libraries are eclectic to say the least and so is my music. I like to combine sounds that don’t normally co-exist, like synths and orchestral instruments, nostalgic vocal harmonies and 808s. The Beach Boys are one of my main influences of all time and then again so is Tyler, The Creator. So is Tame Impala, Solange, Jerry Paper, James Blake, Blood Orange, Badbadnotgood, Gorillaz, Paul McCartney & Wings, Martin Denny, XTC. I don’t know where the list ends. But all of these artists create music that moves me. Perhaps the commonality is dreaminess. I also think it’s too early in my career to know who I am as an artist. I’m excited to collaborate with other artists down the road and expand my musical identity. In the meantime, I’m here to explore each and every sonic avenue that gives me goose bumps.
EP: Having had the benefit of being able to listen to the ‘Truth & Lies’ EP, it’s almost like an electronic symphony. Your vocals are always front and centre but never in a way that over dictates the pace. I found the EP as a whole incredibly cinematic, and very much like I was being told a very personal story. It was almost like you’d taken a period of your life and put it to music. Did you always intend the EP to be thematic, or would you prefer the songs to be taken as single and separate things?
CoTV: I hadn’t always intended for the EP to be thematic. In fact, I wrote some of these songs before I even knew I’d be making an EP. “Lately” comes to mind. But regardless of intent, all these songs reflect a distinct chapter of my life. That chapter is one of uncertainty; many early-mid 20-somethings can relate. We contemplate futures underscored by question marks–question marks accentuated by climate change and the pandemic. The EP also explores cycles of hypocrisy I observe within myself and others who operate within the American “liberal elite”. “Don’t Pretend” is the track that most directly deals with this concept. We preach about injustices online; we care, we really do. But sometimes we care most about others thinking we care. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, we put our egos first. The EP also nods at the current political climate in the U.S. as a whole. The EP title “Truth & Lies” is derived from living in a society plagued by perpetual falsehoods. We believe everything/we doubt everything. When facts become subjective and a fascist president (Donald Trump) is in office, scary things can happen. And they did happen. They are happening, even as Trump no longer holds office. I find it my responsibility to acknowledge pressing realities in my art.
EP: Your music is very obviously electronic but I can hear other things going on. Are there more traditional instruments in your armour and how do you usually construct your songs? Do you start with the story or the melody?
CoTV: I went through an exclusively acoustic phase when I first started making music. I’d cover the Fleet Foxes and other folk bands on the acoustic guitar and ukulele. My musical identity transformed when I got a midi keyboard. There were so many possibilities! Futes, strings, bass, beats–I could make them all come to life electronically. That made me really excited. Most sounds in the EP are electronic with the exception of guitar and saxophone, the latter of which was played by sound engineer and producer Danny Lapidus. When writing songs, I almost always start with the melody. Lyrics usually take form in the studio, with the exception of “Lately”. I come in with a concept and some key phrases but rarely more than that lyric-wise.
EP: Are there any plans to bring your music over to the UK? We have a brilliant multi-instrumentalist singer songwriter called Jack Garratt who I think you’d really like who constructs music like movements in a classical p[piece but from electronic parts and is very popular. I’m sure your music, like his, would really resonate with a UK audience.
CoTV: It would be a dream to play in the UK! I’m just getting started as an artist, so my fanbase is tiny but I’m hoping and praying to expand it a ton with the release of my EP. I’m excited to perform my first show on October 1st in New York (which sold out in just a couple days!) and I’m excited for the many shows to follow. Fingers crossed I get to the point of performing abroad. Until then, keep streaming UK!