Shortly after the release of her new record, Love Reality, JFH's John and Amy DiBiase sat down with Charmaine at GMA Dove Week in Nashville to discuss the album, what she's been up to for the past few years, and reflecting on God's love...
This interview took place on: 4/19/10.
JFH (John DiBiase): What have you been up to since the release of your album, All About Jesus (in 2002) until the release of your new album, Love Reality? 'Cause you kind of laid low for awhile, but still toured with Rebecca [St. James]...
*laughs* I did. Y'know, the All About Jesus album, I [toured] for about four years, actually, after its release. I opened for Rebecca on all of the European tours. Basically, wherever she went, I went. And the longer it got away from the actual album - after the third, fourth year came - I was still producing, I was still doing a whole lot of stuff, we just never released anything. Because up until that point, I probably did about two albums' worth of glorified productions, glorified demos and worked with different producers. [But] nothing was really sitting right. You could say I was "finding myself." I hate using that, but I guess I was! *smiles* And, y'know, when you got something on the tip of your brain and you can't quite pinpoint it, that's been the last six years of my life in regards to music. So, yeah, I toured with [Rebecca], opened for her - did a 20, 30 minute set. And if it was a much shorter gig, I would do one or two songs in the middle of her set. So it was great - still getting out there, still doing what I felt like I was called to do. After seven years, I was like, "It's about time." And having a label is awesome, but a lot of the time they have more of the say of how and who you work with - the sound and all that. And I was "coming of age," I guess? And feeling like I can bet on my ideas. I can bet on the style that I like. I want to see how that works, y'know? Just throw it out there. So I chose the producer, which is one of my friends. *laughs* He went on the road with Rebecca. That's how I actually met him. He became the musical director for Rebecca's band. He's around my age. He's the youngest musical director we ever had back then. And then he went on to be the MD - musical director - for The Backstreet Boys. He toured with them a couple years. He still does one-off stuff with them. But back then, I'd been wanting to work with him and he demoed one of my songs and I loved it. And we just always have had a connection, always wanted to work. So we did!
JFH (John): He demoed one of the new songs?
Charmaine: No, it's one of my old songs that never got released. But since then, years ago, I've just loved his work. So, anyway, it was time. I had the freedom, I could do it. It was just that moment where I didn't know how I was even going to financially - I didn't have the label anymore, and that was all good. Those were all great decisions and a good place to be, but still you need the machinery behind it to make something work. And I was like, "God, I don't have any of that, but I'll just do it!" Y'know? And we did the album, which through that, we slowly started to get with in:ciite [Records]. Now they're my marketing label. All the pieces came together as we were doing the album.
JFH (John): So when did you start working on the record [Love Reality]?
Charmaine: Last year, Spring.
JFH (John): Wow. 'Cause it seemed to come out of nowhere when we heard about it earlier this year! And I remember getting the info about it and being like, "Hey! It's Charmaine!" And the bio and such was touting it as your debut and I was like, "It's not her debut!" But I can understand wanting to approach it like that since it's been eight years. I guess it is kind of like starting over.
Charmaine: Yeah it is. It really is. Well, I mean, I was sixteen / seventeen when I first came out with the All About Jesus album and I didn't know what I wanted. Do you know what I mean? I was from Australia and up until that point, I had done music with my parents' ministry, but we didn't know anything about the industry here. And how it was run and just being under a label and the politics and all that stuff.
JFH (John): You're based in Nashville now?
Charmaine: Yeah. Been living here for almost ten years.
JFH (John): So when you hooked up with the producer, Fred Williams, for this project. How did he help direct the sound?
Charmaine: We just both like the same stuff, I don't know. Everything that he liked, I liked. All the different styles of music. We came together one day and were like, "OK, what style of music do you like?" and he pulled it all out and pulled all the stuff I like and we said, "Oh yeah, I love this about this artist" y'know, "Lily Allen, love the programming here, how the melodies are like this." So it just took us a couple hours to realize that we knew exactly what we were liking and where we were at. It's like he's my peer in every sense of the word. It's looking into the mirror as far as just the style of music is concerned. So we "got it." It was a gut feeling about it, y'know? Which I think is hard to find now. He's a genius when it comes to programming and getting what's in our heads [out] and actually making it a reality. So that was fun.
JFH (John): Yeah, there's definitely a big step up from your first record to this one. The sound is so much... huger!
Charmaine: *laughs* Yeah. We coined it "epic pop." *laughs*
JFH (John): Yeah. It's funny because even when I first heard the opening track, that was the word the came to mind - epic.
Charmaine: *laughs* Yeah. That's what we were going for!
JFH (John): What was the writing process like for this batch of songs?
Charmaine: Totally unconventional. Usually when you go into an album, as you probably know, the artist has thirty or forty songs to choose from that they've been preparing for. *laughs* We didn't. Actually, I did! I had about fifteen, twenty songs that I had already worked up. And after I got together with Fred, I was like "This is where I want to go" and he agreed. We looked at all the songs and were thinking that we had to mold to them instead of them molding to us. And none of them I really wrote on my own. I co-wrote a lot of them. And I co-wrote with a lot of people who were very set in their styles. Which is great because at that point, I was just writing for the sake of writing. So I didn't really care where the style went. But the stuff that I had done on my own, I kept it pretty private. I didn't even show Fred - at first. So he said, "Let's just write from scratch and go with our gut." And I said, "Yes, let's do that! Why not? Let's just go with our gut! If we like it, it's in. If we don't, it's out!" At that point, we had no A&R. We had nobody over our shoulder saying "yes" or "no." - That came, actually, halfway into the album. And even then, they told me a "unless we absolutely hate it, do what you want" kind of thing. Which was great that they had that sort of trust! So the first song that I pulled out was actually "Tell Me." I wrote that one on my own 'cause it was after the week we had gotten together. And I was like, "OK, let's go back and play around with stuff." And I sent him the chorus and the lyrics, and he came back and said, "I was thinking of this..." and I was like, "Let's do it!" *laughs* Then came "At My Door" and a lot of them were just from blogs - the lyrical ideas that I had already done. "Fighting Furies" was one of them. "At My Door." "Tell Me" was written in just about 30 minutes. I actually demoed that with another friend, and then I showed Fred. It was one of the ones I didn't want to show Fred at first. *laughs* 'Cause you just want to feel it out and you're trying to see if that's the best one you're putting out there. But he loved it. He actually didn't tell me he was programming to it. I just sent it to him and he was like, "Come! Come right now!" and I was like, "Fred, it's one in the morning." And he goes, "OK. How early can you come in in the morning?" And I said, "Well, I'll just come when I wake up!" *laughs* And that's how it kind of began.
JFH (John): Do you have a favorite or most meaningful song to you on the record?
Charmaine: Oh gosh, it changes! The one that's been pretty consistent is "Fighting Furies." I think I just love the programming. I love the melody. Love the string work. David Davidson did that. I love the dance part at the end. It's a bit of a journey also in the song, musically.
JFH (Amy DiBiase): I like how that song displays your vocal range.
Charmaine: Oh! Yeah. Now I actually have to work out so I can produce that on stage live. *laughter* I've been doing the concert through a few times and I'm like, "Man, I'm so unfit!" 'Cause when you're in the studio, you're concentrating on a line or just a chorus, so doing that same thing back-to-back is a workout!
JFH (John): What artists influenced the sound you were going for?
Charmaine: Kate Havnevik, Imogen Heap, Lily Allen. Y'know, bits and pieces. Coldplay in the sense of anthems in the choruses. Actually, we didn't know it, but Cigaros. Jonsi, he just came out recently. A lot of his stuff and what he's done in the past has been very influential. Around about that.
JFH (John): Do you ever still work with Rebecca?
Charmaine: Just one-off's.
JFH (John): She's not doing a lot of music right now anyway...
Charmaine: Not a whole ton, no. I mean, she's going to Europe again. She does the "SHE" dates - the womens event, and then one-off things here and there. I just helped her with one of those. She was promoting her latest movie, Sarah's Choice. I came to do the DVD release. And then when we were in LA to do publicity stuff, we just hung out. Stayed at her place. She'll always be like my bigger sister. That'll never change. Whenever she needs me, I'll be there.
JFH (John): So "Tokyo" is about her? *says jokingly*
Charmaine: No. Not at all! *laughing*
JFH (John): I know, I'm totally just kidding. *laughs*
Charmaine: No, "Tokyo"'s... gosh! That's my whole entire life experience of always changing, always being on the road. And then saying, What is my constant? What is the thing that is home? And not just the feeling of security, it's more like conviction of who He is - what love Himself is to me. What that means in a life like mine.
JFH (John): Now, was "Tied To The Ground" inspired by a specific person?
Charmaine: *laughs* Actually, yeah! My own experience. I've had my heart broken, but y'know, every person has. But it's more like a shout-out to my girl cousins and girl friends who have gone through much worse than I have. And I have always been the one that they come talk to, that they share their life with, and I'm so honored by it. But they've been through so much worse, so much deeper hurt - divorces, relationships, loss. You name it, I have a cousin who has gone through it - or a best friend who has gone through it. My family is very big. I have thirty first-cousins.
JFH (John): Thirty first-cousins?!
Charmaine: Yes! My Dad has seven brothers and one sister and each of them have four or more children. I'm the only person in my family... and I looked at my parents and I'm like, "What's the deal?" I'm an only child. But then we were always on the road, so maybe that was a God thing. *laughs* But yeah, I wrote the melody with Fred. It was just Fred and I, because it was one of those days where we were like, "Well, we have to write another song for the album!" *laughs* And it was like, "This is what I want to write about!" And it came pretty quickly because it was as if I was talking to them in that moment of brokenness in their lives. "You can move on in life. You can continue to live and enjoy it! Because Love Himself has taken care of it and He will take care of the rest! So live a life of freedom. It's not tied to the ground."
JFH (John): That's what I like about the record. There are a lot of serious topics but it's packaged in a very upbeat, happy way.
Charmaine: Yeah. Well, we actually didn't intentionally do that. As we were looking back we were like, "Huh!" It's very dark, but happy at the same time. It hits the main issues of human experience just in general, but then at the same time showing that there's hope. It sonically sounds that way, do you know what I mean? We didn't mean for that, but it's what happened! *laughs*
JFH (John): "Not Fair" is definitely one of those standout emotional moments. How did that song come about?
Charmaine: That's a good one, because - we didn't mean to but - we ended up having three other writers on that. So it was Fred, Jeremy McCoy who is the bass player for The Fray, and David Leonard of NEEDTOBREATHE and Jackson Waters. I loved them. So when he came in, I was like "I'm a fan." *laughter* He was awesome to work with. When he came in, he was just visiting and I said, "Hey, you wanna write?" and he was like, "Sure!" We were chatting already about "What does extreme love look like? To the point where it's ridiculous?" And the thought just occurred to me, "Well it's not really fair is it?" I mean, what we deserve is not what we get. So, in essence, it's not fair. And that's when David chimed in, "Yes! Yes, that's the point." So he came up with the melody and it just kind of flowed out of there. Now, mind you, we only did the chorus together. It was only weeks after that I came up with the verses. But it was easy because it was easy to build on that one simple point that it's not fair. We don't get what we deserve. It portrays a ridiculous love. That's what I liked about it. It portrayed a love that's almost illogical because for the very reason that we're not getting what we deserve.
JFH (John): Are you going to be touring for the new album?
Charmaine: The Fall has not been decided yet, but I do have a few concerts in New Orleans doing a conference. I mean, I have a concert coming up this weekend. Just one-off dates. Still getting the hang of it with the band. It's a very unconventional-looking band that I have. One of my best friends, she's a drummer and she's from Australia, Sophie - blonde bombshell! But she's amazing on the drums, so she came over and she's living with us now and she'll go on the road with us. We have a keyboardist, Mac, and then a violinist and a cello. And that's it!
JFH (John): What's God been teaching you lately?
Charmaine: *laughs* What hasn't He been teaching me?! I think it's... just faith. I'm so encouraged by stories in the Bible where the person itself was faced with God - they were in front of God, Jesus in flesh - and in their humanity, they were still saying "I believe, but help my unbelief." Because I think Jesus understands us more than we understand ourselves. I think He gets that we're made from dust. We're human, as Job puts it. And so I'm encouraged by the fact that in spite of my flesh, in spite of myself, He's still taking me on. He's still walking beside me. He's still teaching me. And then I'm realizing that that's what it means to live in the real reality. That trusting in spite of this, in spite of pain and even in situations that we go through, it's almost - and it might be a bit radical to say this - but it's almost an illusion. It's almost a "false reality" - is the best way I could put it - who He is and everything that He puts out there, everything that He is - it is, out of everything, the only good thing to hold on to. And that gives me hope. But still, I'm still learning! *laughs* I'm still fighting furies! Y'know? And I think that'll be an ongoing battle until this flesh is taken care of. But then, He understands that. And that's what gives me peace. It's okay. Even the battles. Even the struggles. It's okay. He understands it. He'll carry me through it. Just trust.
JFH (John): Yeah. Trust is usually my biggest issue, too.
Charmaine: Yeah. 'Cause it's very hard to take that step of faith a lot of the times. Because we're very materialistic in our ways of - this is a table. This is a chair. We can see it, we can touch it. But faith, a lot of the times, seems very illogical. It seems ridiculous. It's no wonder that there are so many agnostics and atheists because the way we portray God, it seems like everyone's waiting on a miracle. But the way I believe in Him, I believe in Him like you would a President. Someone you would say, "I believe in who he is." I believe He trumps all of this. I believe that who He is is stronger than this situation. So, yeah... just trust.
Charmaine's new album Love Reality is available now!