Tanika Charles Discusses Her 'Soul Run' and the Emotional Toll of Music

Tanika Charles Discusses Her 'Soul Run' and the Emotional Toll of Music
Photo: Zahra Siddiqui
Tanika Charles got a bit emotional discussing her long-gestating debut album Soul Run over the phone; it was hard to determine if it was due to joy or frustration. We ultimately decide it was both.

"It was a lot of hard work with so much drama in between," the Toronto-based singer-songwriter and former backup vocalist for acts such as Thunderheist, Bedouin Soundclash and Zaki Ibrahim tells Exclaim! "I'm just so glad that it's done."

Soul Run — originally slated for a 2014 release and out now independently — is the culmination of years of "stops and starts." It's ultimately the story of how hard making it as an artist can be, particularly for a soul singer originally from Edmonton.

It's an intensely personal project, with the catalyst being a classic breakup tale. Charles was living on a farm in Alberta and stuck in an unfulfilling relationship, when she decided to leave, packing her belongings and stealing her soon-to-be ex's vehicle en route to an uncertain life in Toronto. This "soul run" of years ago acts as both album title and thematic through-line for these 10 songs.

"The relationship took up so much of my time and so much of my being. I lost who I was. The album is a story of evolution of sense, of growth and discovering who I am without being a dependent on someone," she says. "I wanted to rid myself of a lot of personal issues that I needed to release. And I really wanted to head out on tour with new fresh music."

Creating the album was also a community effort of sorts, notes Charles, as she gives thanks to family and friends who kept believing in her when she wanted to quit making music.

"I don't think people realize how hard musicians work in terms of what we do behind the scenes. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to quit. Or how many times I've cried and asked myself, 'What am I doing with my life?'"

The record was originally conceived to have a throwback Motown feel, but ultimately took on a life of its own. Working with an array of producers — including 2nd Son, Anthony Corsi, Matt "Emdee" Reid, Daniel Lee and Slakah the Beatchild — the album defies genre categorization as it merges soul, R&B and pop influences.

With the album finally out in the world, next steps include a cross-country tour and potentially some upcoming videos. But the fact that the album is out is the most freeing thing, she says.

"It's really terrifying when you have a ton of music that you need to get out there and put up to scrutiny. Success for me is that the damn album is done and it's out. I feel fulfilled. But I don't want it to stop," she says. "At the end of day what keep me going on is that people are actually enjoying the music. And that I'm not doing this in vain."

You can check out her upcoming Canadian tour dates here, and have a listen to Soul Run's "Two Steps" below.