A couple of years ago when I used to frequent a certain social media/music promotion website, I would occasionally run across submissions by a group of teenagers from England called Escape Route 36.
At first I didn’t pay much attention. Teenagers with a band, how good could that be? But soon I began to notice Josie Charlwood, the female lead singer with the flaming red hair. She could really belt ’em out. It was shocking to hear such a powerful voice coming from such a small package. I thought, this girl is going places.
After hearing some of Josie’s recent solo work, I think I was right. Just 17, Josie is already developing a devoted following on the web with her videos, which demonstrate her use of loop pedals and a powerful set of pipes. Her songs include covers of bands like MGMT and the Gorillaz, as well as originals.
I just interviewed Josie via e-mail and got some great answers:
You’re 17 now, is that correct? How old were you when you realized you had musical talent?
I am indeed 17 at the moment but turn 18 this July. I never touched an instrument until I was around 11 – I have my cousin to thank for that. She’d just got into singing and I wanted to do the same! Instead of buying the karaoke machine I desperately wanted, my Dad insisted he’d teach me the chords to any song I wanted to sing so I could play along on the keyboard. He indeed did this and that is how my interest in piano and singing began.
How did you get involved with Escape Route 36? Can you give me a few details about the band – who the members are, what they’re up to now, etc.?
Escape Route 36 was essentially a project we started in our school days to help inspire all of us in terms of the music. At school I had a tough time with music in general (I think I can speak for the boys too) as we were never really given the encouragement when it came to performance and/or creativity. In contrast to this, the band was a great thing which we all enjoyed and helped me at least get through exams and stuff. The ER36 project started when we were all 14/15. The boys were all from school too and we’re still great friends, even though we’ve taken different paths. I’m not sure if they would all want their names mentioned but I can tell you one’s going into photography as far as I know and one into music production (specialising in Dubstep).
How long did you work with ER36 and when did you start recording solo?
As a band we worked together for around 2 years I think. Things changed when we left school and wanted to concentrate on other things. It was however a great experience for me (and I hope the boys too) and I learnt a lot about performance, arrangements and working as a team on the whole. After the “No Divider” album I obviously wanted to keep recording and experimenting with my originals. The first single was “The Mirror” with two of my good friends sessioning; Dan Hardingham (drums) and Blyss Gould (bass). Shortly after this (and a few other tracks!) I really got into filming for Youtube; this is when solo stuff became more prominent for me.
Why did you decide to use looping and how do you see that process developing as you create new songs?
I first got into looping after being massively inspired by singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall, both well known names now! I’m all for trying new arrangements and looping was something I’d never tried so I decided to give it a go. People sometimes ask me if I’d had “lessons” as such; this never happened. In fact I bought a BOSS RC-30 loop pedal back in April 2011 and just began experimenting. I paid a lot of attention to how loop artists break their tracks into parts. After a week or so (and some serious practice) I filmed my arrangement of “Electric Feel” by MGMT.
How is working on your own different from being in a band?
It’s very different. When working with a band you have so many ideas to share and compromise with, which always results in new things. You also have people to share the music with and that’s such a good feeling. However, it can also be hard work and a lot harder to arrange compared with a solo gig. With solo rehearsals you can put in as much or little as you want, whereas with a full band everyone has to be fully focused else it won’t go anywhere.
Do you still collaborate and if not is that a possibility for the future? What about working with other musicians?
Of course, I love to work with other musicians! I’ve made tracks like “My Life Begins Now” and “The Mirror” where I’ve done live session work with other musicians and that’s been great. I also have a growing interest in the electronic music industry and have collabed on several tracks with Dubstep/DnB producer Filthzilla, who is a very close friend of mine. Both of these things are ongoing projects and I am always eager to work/share ideas with new musicians.
What has gigging been like? Have you been able to perform live very much? Does your age complicate that because of age restrictions at clubs, etc.?
I love gigs, but in the last year or so have done very little. I’ve sung at a couple of small events but have mainly been concentrating on exams – I’m sitting my A Levels at the moment and want to get this right! There will always be time for gigs in the future. The amount that I’m doing at the moment age isn’t really an issue and I should be 18 by the time I get back into serious gigging.
I understand your parents have been involved in the music business. Could you tell me a bit about that? I think your father sang and is your manager now and your mother also was a singer?
Erm, well Dad [Toby] is now a producer (formally a chartered accountant) and Mum [Annie] a music teacher at the local Primary School. They have both been musicians for a while now, in fact they met through playing in a band together. Dad now runs the tobesmusic.com independent record label, which all my music is released through.
How did your parents influence you musically?
I think my parents are the reason I’m so into music these days. They have always supported my growing interest, right from the start. Dad essentially taught me most of what I know about harmony and theory and was my main teacher when learning keys. I never really had formal piano lessons. The only instrument tuition I’ve had was singing lessons for just less than a year, a few years back. My parents are still so supportive and I learn new things from them all the time, whether it’s based around guitar, piano, or music technology.
What bands have influenced you most and who are your current favorites?
This is a hard question! I really am into such a wide range of music. For looping, Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall. For songwriting, so many artists inspire me. I’m really into funk and love music from people like Stevie Wonder and bands such as Steely Dan. I’m a great Genesis fan too – we had their albums in the car for a bit when I was younger. In terms of more recent bands I enjoy alternative music such as Porcupine Tree, Bloc Party and Everything Everything. There really are too many artists to list.
Do you have an album in the works?
Indeed I do! It’s on my list of things to get done (alongside my A Level exams and driving test). At the moment it’s more about building my portfolio, especially online – gotta keep the Youtube channel active. However, I am working on an album to hopefully be released this year.
What are your long term plans? Are you going to make a career out of this? Are you thinking of getting signed to a label or would you rather stay independent and release music digitally?
I am definitely looking into a music career whatever the case, but I’m still unsure of what I want to do. I’ve got myself a degree placement in London, beginning this September and plan to come out with a full music degree before I really decide what to do for the future. Until it (hopefully) becomes a career I am in no rush to be signed to any label nor make any money out of my art. However if I could eventually make a living out of what I love, that would be amazing.
It looks like you’ve got a growing fan base on Youtube and recently got some nice attention from Reddit. Is the Internet your primary source of marketing? Do you think you could do this without the Internet?
The internet is definitely the reason my music is “out there.” I’ve been able to build an active online profile essentially from home, whilst still concentrating on my education and other things. It’s great that people are enjoying my music from all over the world! At this age especially, I would not have achieved that otherwise.
I’ve noticed you get a lot of comments about your hair. Is it more pro or con? (Heard enough redhead jokes yet?)
Haha, this is the first time that question’s come up in an interview. I get plenty of redhead jokes, but I don’t mind them. People are always going to find something to comment on, after all. I like the colour of my hair and it makes me more recognisable too! Someone stopped me in a shop in Chichester and said “excuse me, are you Josie Charlwood?” Could just be my point of view but I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened if I were a brunette. Overall I don’t think there are any “cons” to being a redhead, except being terrible at hide and seek.
This cover of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” may be my favorite performance so far.
She also has some great originals, such as “Better Days.”
I’m kind of glad she didn’t get that karaoke machine.
Josie essentially uses Youtube as her home base. Check out her Youtube page for lots of cool videos. You can find her band page on Facebook.
She distributes music through Bandcamp and iTunes.