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Charlotte Dos Santos: on her musical influences and taking the scenic route

30 Mar 2017

Having never been to Norway, the idea of it conjures up images of well dressed people. An effortless cool that Scandinavians seem to do much better than their other European cousins. It’s in this way that Charlotte Dos Santos, and her voice are terribly Norwegian.

Going through Sofie’s SOS Tape earlier this year (which had just dropped on Stones Throw Records), Charlotte’s voice appeared like an opening between two trees in a beatiful landscape. It was a vista that was realised in her debut music video ‘Watching You’, which was co-directed by Charlotte alongside long-time friend, videographer and fellow Mutual Intentions member, Erik Treimann. The video streamed at the second gal-dem V&A Friday Late takeover at Stratford Circus as part of the Juice VCR visual radio programme.

We spoke to Charlotte via email from her current location of New York, where she is gearing up for the release of her debut album on Portland indie label, Fresh Selects. Which is well known for the uncompromising space and support it gives emerging artists to create and nurture themselves. Previous alumni include Iman Omari and Knxwledge.

gal-dem: You’re originally from Oslo, Norway – how was that pivotal to your sound growing up?
Charlotte Dos Santos: My parents were music enthusiasts with very diverse music tastes, my mother was very infatuated with Arabic music, flamenco, samba and my father – jazz, pop, hip-hop and soul music. So I was exposed to a lot of different music genres and cultures growing up, travel-ling a lot and having curious parents who passed that curiosity on to me.

How has moving to America and your more recent travels inspired you?
It has made me grow tremendously. I first moved to England from Norway right after High School, and had some years in Oslo before I actually moved to the US. I had a lot of great classes at Berklee [College of Music], and with so much talent gathered in one place you can’t afford to sleep on anything so I really tried to take advantage of all the possibilities around me. I was very focussed on school, and it is a super tough school so I spent many, many hours practicing, writing, learning and nurturing and becoming comfortable with my own sound.

You’ve released via Mutual Intentions, Stones Throw, and soon Fresh Selects with your upcoming Cleo debut album. Has this trajectory through such iconic independent institutions been a considered one or simply just a nomadic journey past places that felt welcoming to your sound?
I think both. It is crazy because Stones Throw is a label I’ve always dreamed about work-ing with and I think that just manifested somehow. I have always been a huge supporter of indie labels and have for many years been afraid of giving up my own sound and creative freedom. Many of the opportunities I have been so lucky to have, came through the work we did in Mutual Intentions and our previous work before we even started the collective, where we released everything ourselves.

People were so curious to what we were doing in little Oslo and it feels amazing to be able to be a part of the expansion of that [with Mutual Intentions] and contribute in the process of Oslo becoming a little musical pot.

[The Fresh Selects deal] ended up happening four years later [Kenny Fresh discovered her on SoundCloud], when we met in New York outside of Turntable Lab when homie Ivan Ave was spinning records – it just happened organically. I decided to sign with him right then and there. I am very happy that so far I haven’t had to compromise my own expression our sound.

There is a lot of arthouse and cinematic direction within your debut music video, ‘Watching You’. Was that intentional? Could you explain how you decided to go about introducing yourself visually.
Yes absolutely intentional. I recorded ‘Watching You’ in my closet in Boston but I was considering doing an exchange semester in Valencia the same fall. I started visualising and I have very strong opinions on aesthetics and visions on how I want to present my music.

That summer, videographer Erik Treimann and I were supposed to start filming in Norway, but we knew we weren’t going to be able to create what I had in mind. So when I moved to Valencia, I rented a car and scouted locations – he flew down, and we drove around the outskirts of Valencia with a GPS to the locations I had found.

The trip in itself was so incredible and with no budget we had to freestyle a bit too… we’d jump out of the car when the lighting was good and he would shoot and direct as we went. We were also incredibly lucky with our days, one of the scenes from Xativa, the big castle where we spent an entire day, had almost no people visiting that day and we managed to capture some amazing scenes and stills. The planning of the whole project was through Facebook, messaging references to films that inspired us.

What direction are you taking with Cleo, and what can we expect?
Cleo is a woman who represents courage, independence, femininity, royalty and power- the title track is called ‘Cleo’ and is about a girl following her dreams and making her own path, on her own.

After living in Valencia, I was very inspired by the medieval and Moorish history of Spain so it is very conceptual as well. It is also a self-produced album meaning, no live musicians – [only] a few amazing contributions by Oslo producer Fredfades. Very excited for this project to finally be released. As for what to expect: you’ll just have to wait and see!

Charlotte’s debut album, Cleo is out soon via Fresh Selects, you can listen to her debut single from the project, the sumptuously rich ‘Red Clay’ below.

‘Watching You’ is currently available to purchase here on Sofie’s SOS Mixtape via Stones Throw.