Charlotte Day Wilson Took the Scenic Route to Success

Having previously worked with Kaytranada, BADBADNOTGOOD and Daniel Caesar, the Toronto R&B singer bares it all on debut album 'Alpha'

Photo: Othello Grey

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Jul 7, 2021

On the eve of her highly anticipated debut album, Charlotte Day Wilson isn't exactly gearing up to make a grand entrance so much as a welcome return. The Toronto native, who currently registers over 1.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify, has built an impressive reputation as one-to-watch within the R&B world since her single "Work" placed her firmly on the map back in 2016.

Alpha, originally set for release before the onset of the pandemic, is a culmination of Wilson's past hustle and present maturity. She's come a long way from the child whose parents gifted her a MIDI controller, expanding her burgeoning talents to include an impressive roster of instruments and producing talents. While she's collaborated with numerous artists over the years, including BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada, Wilson assumes centre stage as she bravely bares all on her first LP. "It's wrapping up a previous chapter and starting a new one," she says over the phone during an interview. "I think it also opens the door creatively be a bit more loose and free with putting music out, because I've been a little bit more precious in the past."

The decision to delay Alpha was made jointly by Wilson and her team to ensure the right timing surrounding its launch. Ironically, more time is what proved to be her ultimate friend; allowing Wilson the opportunity to reopen songs and rework elements of the album she had previously thought complete. "Looking back on it, it wasn't finished and I kind of knew that," she says. "I was a little bit nervous and unsettled about pushing it out the door before my gut knew it was 100 percent done. Now I feel confident that I've exhausted every option and that it is actually finished."

The result is a richly textured and starkly honest record anchored by Wilson's full-bodied vocals and uncompromising lyrics. It explores such themes as identity, love, heartbreak and relationships with a tender compassion and vulnerability well beyond her years, but that we've nonetheless come to expect from the soulful songstress. Simply put, Alpha is a young woman coming into her own, on her own terms. "I'm always trying to evoke images of strength and power, but also vulnerability," Wilson says of her approach to both her career and music. "I am attempting to be the most powerful version of myself, and also uplift and empower the people around me."

Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than the music videos for singles "If I Could" and "Keep Moving," realized by Wilson and award-winning Canadian director Kevan Funk. The two would talk for hours to bring her vision to life, which produced stunning visual portraits of strong women like the group of Texas bull riders, as well as Toronto's Dykes on Bikes and drag queen Tynomi Banks. The videos evoke an immediate intimacy with its subjects and a greater sense of reverence towards the broader communities representation within its frames. Wilson, who identifies as queer herself, is very proud to showcase her city and believes in representation.

"If the past year has taught me anything, it's that your immediate surroundings and your community are ultimately the most fruitful and meaningful," she says. "I'm really grateful to be from Toronto, but also to be from Toronto during this time. I've been lucky to be in a sweet spot of creativity in the city, and I'm always trying to reflect that in my visuals. I also want to see certain people on camera, like Dykes on Bikes. That's a beautiful, cinematic group of people that haven't necessarily had the chance to be on film in that way."

Wilson talks openly about the collaborative environment or "sweet spot" for artists in Toronto, many of whom she's had the pleasure of working with, like River Tiber and Daniel Caesar, and how those relationships have nurtured and inspired her creative output. "There's healthy competition, but for the most part it's just love," she says, describing how they regularly hype up each other's music and bounce ideas off one another.

Most recently, aside from her ongoing obsession with Adrianne Lenker, Wilson has found herself revisiting Joni Mitchell's Blue and watching interviews of the famed singer-songwriter following the album's 50th anniversary. Blue was pivotal is ushering in a new era in songwriting — one that prioritized the sanctity of confession. "That whole album is so deeply honest and I have been really inspired by that record recently," says Wilson, who naturally feels a connection to her own drive to produce authentic work. "I strive for the most honest, personal and truthful lyrics I can, but at the same time I feel like I can still dig deeper and probably expose parts of myself that I haven't actually accessed yet. I'm inspired by that."

Wilson's music has always reflected her own life experiences. It is deeply personal and remains a way for her to express herself as an artist. When asked about whether or not she feels any apprehension baring her soul in such a public way, she pauses for a moment. "Yeah, I definitely do. Part of the reason why I still feel like I have more honesty to give is for that reason. I think, to an extent, I still filter myself in order to not expose the deep realities of who or what I'm singing about," she says as she describes the delicate balance. "You have to protect people in the process so as to not have their lives be brought into it too deeply, personally or directly. There's always a level of hesitancy there."

It's hard to imagine Wilson putting out a more fully realized or honest album than Alpha, but the prospect is something she'll no doubt achieve as she continues to probe the depths of humanity's Mariana Trench. But for now, the young artist is simply eager to celebrate the launch of her debut LP and get back to playing music — maybe even live.

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