In life, you will occasionally come across those rare individuals who posses a genuine and unmanufactured air of mystery and intrigue. These people are often completely oblivious to their own intrigue. Such is Nuela Charles, an alternative soul artist based in Alberta, Canada, who undoubtably belongs to that exclusive group of genuinely interesting individuals (something I don’t believe she would ever admit herself). Having just released her latest album ‘The Grand Hustle‘, a culmination of several very transformative years in her life, Nuela is converting fans one listener at a time. I spoke to the soul-inspired songstress about music, family, and self discovery.
For most artists, parents have an enormous influence on their work in later life, something Nuela knows well: “There was always music in the house. I remember as a kid, my parents had a bunch of old vinyl records and I specifically remember listening to a Whitney Houston one, and that’s kind of where it all started”.
One listen to her work and it’s clear to see how that influence plays out in her vocal work, which has a distinct soul flavour. Little wonder then, that Nuela is a fan (like many of us) of those big voices of the pop world – Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, Adele and Beyonce. However, when we discuss influences, it is a surprisingly indie and Brit-centric list of artists that inspire her: “I love Paolo Nutini, Emeli Sande, Corinne Bailey Rae, James Arthur, Arctic Monkeys, Raleigh Ritchie, Nothing But Thieves, Jessie Ware, Jack Garratt, Labrinth and Kwabs to name a few…I could literally go on.”
Diversity is the name of the game in Nuela’s music, something that is echoed by her current home of Edmonton, Alberta, which she says has “pockets of everything, and a sense of people wanting to see each other succeed”.
If Nuela has a lot of love for Edmonton, Edmonton has certainly proved it requited, having awarded her with the very first Edmonton Music Prize in 2013, an experience she described as simply ‘amazing’. Although thoroughly settled in Edmonton these days, Nuela’s upbringing was distinctly international, with roots in Kenya, Switzerland, The Bahamas, and Canada. “Being exposed to so many different cultures and ways of living,” says Nuela, “has for sure had an effect on me, and has made me who I am, and in turn I write from that viewpoint”.
Speaking of viewpoints, I ask Nuela about the inspiration behind her latest album ‘The Grand Hustle’, which she says is a culmination of ‘four transformative years of discovery, love, loss, and recovery’. She says of this period in her life:
“My first album “Aware” was about “finding myself” and I feel after that was released and promoted for about 2 years, I was in this place of “what now?” I wasn’t sure what to do and as an independent you kind of just keep doing what you know and hope that it sticks. It was literally like a rollercoaster. This industry is definitely not for the weak and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up high, only to be pulled back down. It was either – I give up or I keep going. For me, the ones that succeed never quit. So I didn’t. The writing definitely reflects that”.
It sounds like Nuela has matured as a songwriter in the space between this album and the last, something she confirms with conviction: “I’ve definitely grown as an artist, and a person. In my opinion, to be a great artist you constantly have to experience new things, so that you are then able to share something new with your listeners.”
This sentiment is certainly present in ‘Curtain Falls’, which was recently featured on New Moons Vol. VII; a track that is a huge in terms of production and atmosphere, which Nuela describes as ‘the beginning of a journey – [it’s] about being aware of where you are and the state you are in, owning it, and pushing forward’.
The track has a definite air of defiance, and with the use of chanting vocals almost comes across as a rallying cry. For Nuela, vocals are incredibly important in conveying the message of a song: “In music, for me, lyrics are everything. And even more so, the way in which they are presented. It’s all in the delivery for me, so I tried to embody the theme of the song, and then sing from that perspective”.
‘Coming For You’ on the other hand, has a much more sultry feel, which is furthered by the darker production elements of the song. She says of the track:
“‘Coming For You’ was actually the first song that was written for this project. I had been writing with a lot of different producers and writers, and after that session I knew that I had found my match. It was everything I wanted and I knew that we’d be able to make some more great songs.”
Something that stands out about this album is the masterful use of strings – sometimes they sound very natural, sometimes they are more affected with things like pitch distortion. I ask Nuela if she has always been interested in the use of orchestral instruments in tandem with electronic instruments in this way, to which she replies:
“I love strings. Love them. They add so much life. With technology these days you have the ability to manipulate any instrument you want, and some songs might not need real strings, but then you can try to sample and affected a string section and it could become something totally different. So much drama – love it.”
There’s no doubt that ‘The Grand Hustle’ is the pinnacle of Nuela’s career so far. When I ask her which track is her favourite, she struggles to pick just one, a sign that this album is a true labour of love. Now that the album is finished, I ask her how she will spend her downtime:
“I love going to concerts, and I love watching movies. Concerts, especially good ones, tend to give me boost of inspiration and motivation. And a great movie is always good writing material.”
A true artist, Nuela is always thinking of her next step, the next place she will find inspiration. In short, this is a woman that never stops creating. When I ask her about her hopes for the upcoming year, she says that she hopes to make the leap over to the UK and to play more concerts. I am sure I am not alone in hoping her plans come to fruition.
‘The Grand Hustle’ is out now .
Listen to ‘Curtain Falls’ on New Moons Vol. VII: