It started with a snotty kid in junior high and ended in a major-label record deal. When Charlotte Sometimes was bullied in middle school, she took out her anger by writing a poem about the brat who was mean to her, which turned into a song. “My dad told me that no one really wants to hear me just sing my poems. He said, ‘You should probably get a collaborator,’” says Charlotte, whose stage moniker comes from a children’s book of the same name. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna get a collaborator, I’m gonna do it on my own. I’m gonna play guitar and write songs,’ and he’s like, ‘OK.’” And so she did.
The song she wrote about the jerk in middle school certainly wasn’t the last Charlotte penned about a guy — her May 6, 2008, Geffen Records debut, Waves and the Both of Us, has plenty of them. But the feisty pop album also has a number of contradictions, much like the 20-year-old herself. Onstage, Charlotte usually wears an apron, which she says is a nod to Samantha from Bewitched. The infamous TV character had to decide what kind of woman she wanted to be: homemaker or breadwinner, powerful or passive. “I always thought how interesting of a concept it is to be the woman with all these great things about you, yet you still want to downplay the things that make you exceptional, for a guy,” Charlotte says.
Applying this to her own songs, Charlotte says she juggles between being strong and opinionated and wanting the guy to come back to her. In “AEIOU,” she sings about a creepy guy who hit on her and chased her down the street, and then in “Toy Soldier” she wants a guy to take her back. “I think every girl feels that way, even if they don’t admit to it,” she says. “We’re all strong women, but we’re all little girls inside. It’s hard to decide what role you want to play. Who are you as a woman? Do you want to please the man? Do you want to please yourself? Can you do both? Can you be the girl who cries, but be the girl who punches the guy in the face? I don’t know.”
When I meet with Charlotte before a show in late February 2008, there are many places she would rather be than Lansing, Michigan. I can’t say I blame her — the weather sucks, and Mac’s Bar (a smoke-filled hole in the wall down the road from a Big Ten college town) isn’t the most glamorous of music venues. It doesn’t help that it’s the first date of her tour with local punk rockers Every Avenue, or that her last experience at Mac’s was just a couple of notches below awful. When she graced the stage at the bar last fall, it was the beginning of another tour, the venue was empty and smoky, and Charlotte lost her voice. The sickness she says she feels in her stomach is totally justified.
Queasiness and bad memories aside, the New Yorker by way of New Jersey is as bubbly as ever — maybe because she’s so excited to talk to a girl after being cooped up on a bus with a bunch of guys. “It’s hard the first week of any tour because I’m the only girl,” she says. “I’ve gotta get used to eating strangely and sleeping in a weird way … I get kinda cranky.”
Onstage, Charlotte is animated. During her short set, she danced on band members and seduced the cameras of fans in front of the stage. She says her performance style stems from her dance and theater background, but she’s also dramatic because the guy who inspired a few of the tracks is long gone. “I play it up onstage a little bit. It’s almost like a comedy, even though when I wrote it, it was so hurtful,” she says.
Charlotte says she tries to find the right balance in her music between clever, catchy, and intelligent, and tries to put this in a language that most people will understand. “I want to be able to help someone [with] their day the way that my music has helped me get through the day,” she says. “You want to please yourself, but at the same time you want to please other people, without giving up who you are. And that’s what you want to do in a relationship. So that’s how I take on music, like a relationship.”
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