Sex-fuzz, R&B, groove, soul, rock ‘n’ roll. Charlotte Saxon chatted to Abbe May about genre changing, marriage equality, ponies and gigs.
Jumping straight into it, how do you describe your sound?
I’d call it sex-fuzz RnB. We have a lot of guitar and fuzz guitar in the music but it’s also now making waves for soul groove and some more RnB type styling in the vocals but it’s definitely a fairly alternative delivery of that sort of stuff you know it’s not particularly mainstream. I’d just call it groovy-soul, rock ‘n’ roll sort of thing. It’s a bit hard to pigeonhole it because we do so many different types of music.
Did you always see yourself as a musician who would experiment with all these different genres or did you think when starting out you’d just stick to one path the whole way through your career?
I don’t think we really thought about it like that. I was more excited to explore the song writing medium in whatever delivery that came. I really have always been about learning how to write songs rather than deliberately creating a career for myself. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had some really interesting twists and turns and some successes with some of the songs. For me, it has always been about writing the songs, and just naturally been drawn to very different types of music at different times.
It’s meant that I’ve ended up writing such different styles of music with each album. I don’t know that I ever thought I’d be doing this style of music forever. At the start I was doing really lo-fi, acoustic, country blues stuff, I was beginning with an instrument that I had and the influences that I had. There wasn’t a conscious or deliberate thought about really sticking to one path, and I think people who do stick to one solid music tend to be more identifiable and it’s easier for listeners to identity with their sound and then go ‘okay I want to listen to this type of music, I’m going to listen to this type of artist’. They have an advantage in that way and I think it’s a good thing to do. For me it just was never possible.
I feel like it’s an industry where artists can often get stuck writing in repetitive ways, so I think it’s really great to keep it fresh and different all the time.
I think it takes a certain type of skill to do the same sort of music for a decade and do it well. It’s a certain type of skill and focus, and dedication. I get so easily bored and I feel like, when I was making sort of bluesy stuff, I was listening to a lot of blues and old records and my skills were limited to an acoustic guitar.
Once I became involved in the electrified guitar and playing around with the pedals, I started to get involved with drum machines. It was this long process of developing skills, and expressing yourself in the most honest way. In some ways I wish that I had been more, I guess, just because it can make it a bit easier career-wise to actually have a more defined sound. But this is the way I am.
I saw that you sung, spoke and rallied at YesFest. How was that?
It was awesome. It was amazing to see how many people got together to support this incredible yes vote. For me, I feel shocked that this was even a question. It’s kind of like this government sanctioned opening up of this filthy barrel of homophobia and hate. So it was incredible and I have felt affected by it. I have felt emotionally affected by the hate that seems to be coming toward our community, so I was really proud to stand there and sing and speak at the rally. I am 100% pro equal rights. I think that it was just such an amazing experience to see how many people joined in. There were several thousand and it was beautiful and rainbow coloured in the midst of that grey chilly day.
It’s so important that if you’re in a position of influence to speak out and be an advocate for issues you feel strongly for. It’s great that you’re using your platform as an artist to not just speak out on social media about such issues, but to be out there actively participating and rallying in events like YesFest.
I agree. I think, in terms of the development of your soul and purpose, there’s not a lot of point in having a platform unless you’re actually going to do some good with it. For me, the good comes from actually standing up and speaking for those who are less supported and who have less ability to speak for themselves. To speak from a strong and supported standing, which I do, in solidarity with people who are being treated like second class citizens.
In particular what bothers me in Australia at the moment, is not just the marriage equality issue but the way that this government and the governments before them have been treating asylum seekers. It’s an absolute human right to seek refuge and I think that it can be very tricky when I use my platform to speak up because some people who like my music don’t always agree and it means that I can damage my business. But I’d much rather die poorer than die knowing that I didn’t say something.
I got to a point where I thought, well I find this stuff so disturbing I can’t not say anything. I realised that I would much rather have a few people have a crack at me for standing up for something I believe in than just come through unscathed and not really stand for anything. I really want to be someone who’s visible as a gay person and who is able to give anyone who’s in danger of being hurt or damaging themselves support. Even if it’s just one person who sees it and connects with, I want that person to know that I’m standing with them and that it’s not always going to be so bad, that you will find your community.
I was very fortunate in that I have great parents and my high school was not at all homophobic. We never heard any sort of aggression in terms of homophobic slurs. We were really lucky. But we’re well aware that many other people aren’t and it can cause suicide and self harm and really for me I’m just thinking I’m just going to be out, proud and kind. It’s as much standing up for the people who have been harassed as it is standing up to the people who are doing the harassing.
The saving lives aspect is definitely one of the most important parts.
I agree. Saving lives and enhancing lives. Making this quality of life a bit better for those who may be feeling as if they don’t have anyone to turn to.
In 2013 you covered Ginuwines’ Pony on Triple J’s Like A Version. I’ve always wanted to ask why you chose that song?
I’d always wanted to do that song; I love that song! There’s some strategies that go behind stuff like that. It’s clever to do songs that are current and popular in that week. But for me I was like, I really love this song and I think we can do this really well. You know, it’s cheesy but it’s fucking awesome. So we just sort of arranged it and played it.
It’s funny, when we did it I thought I really muffed it up, because I was very stressed at the time. Then I remember when it aired I got lots and lots of phone calls from people saying they really enjoyed it and I thought phew. I really was relieved because I thought we’d fucked it up. But yeah it was pretty awesome fun. It’s a great segment obviously, it’s one of the most popular segments in Australia. So I felt really lucky to do it.
You have a great relationship with RTRFM, you’ve been working with them for a number of years now. How important are stations like RTR for up-and-coming or independent artists?
They were the first station to play my music. They definitely gave me my career. I think it’s vital. If you’re not a mainstream artist, not supported by major labels, and not writing music that’s palatable for the mainstream, alternative radio and community radio are really vital for getting your music out there.
It’s also really important to just keep going, keep writing, and not worry too much if a song or two doesn’t get on the radio. Chasing the radio is not how it should be. Certainly engaging with community radio and offering your music for them to play is a good way to start. I definitely had my career carved out by radio like RTR and Triple J. They got behind me in several points in my career. It’s meant that I’ve actually been able to continue.
What’s in the works for the next few months?
The album will be released on February 2 through my independent label Luxury Cat Records, with an official Perth launch on February 14 at PIAF. So we have basically a massive clam-jam at Perth festival in which I will launch my album. So that’s the plan. Then I assume we’ll be going on an Australian album tour.