I recently caught up with the dynamic and multi-talented Charles Coleman in support of his new solo music, after following his previous band The House on Cliff for years. Not only is he a calm, pleasant person, but also remarkably humble despite being the absolute expert he is on lead guitar. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for about four years now, and he was every bit as polished and professional then as he is now. More recently, he’s even delved much deeper into areas like songwriting, vocals, and finding himself as an individual after deciding to leave his band in favor of trying something totally new. In this interview, he talks a lot about his newest release “Madison” – the first single from his future solo album, as well as the post-adolescent challenges of juggling relationships and professionalism. You’ll also hear his thoughts about the many Wattpad stories written by overzealous “Cliffer” fangirls over the years.
***Edited for clarity***
AS: Angelina Singer (Interviewer)
CC: Charles Coleman
AS: Today I’m here with Charles Coleman – and you’ll know him as the former guitarist of the local Boston classic-rock project The House on Cliff – which brought about many fantastic projects until the guys decided to pursue new opportunities separately. But now we’re looking ahead to his solo music, and new song “Madison”. And I’m so excited to hear about what inspired this new song, and what we can expect from the album. So Charles – tell me about the project so far?
CC: Yeah, it’s just been something that I’ve been wanting to get back into doing, creating music. So I wrote this song a year – maybe two years ago now. And it’s something I’ve been playing, you know, open mic nights and stuff. I figured this would probably be the best one to start doing a DIY project. And it took a little bit longer than I thought on it – trying to do most of the stuff on my own. And then obviously I recruited some help: I had Owen Korzec play drums on it – he’s a phenomenal drummer; I’ve played with him a bunch. And then I had Jaedon Bonifield do the mixing and Alex Wright do the mastering. Those are two guys out in Nashville who are friends with Jaedon. They did a great job on it, and it’s been a lot of fun to do some writing and put something out there that’s actually original for the first time in a while. Really excited to finally have it out there, and to finally have it done.
AS: Of course! And what inspired the storyline of the song? Because I love that we have two people talking about complications in relationships and how we kind of make sense of that as people. So what inspired that?
CC: I’m trying to remember because it was [written] so long ago. But I think, the big emotion was I had just kind of started college again after doing The House on Cliff for so many years. And it was just this crossroads in my life where, it kind of did have to do a little bit with a relationship I was in at the time. [I was] in The House on Cliff, and then going to school, and coming into adulthood on the tail end of a failing relationship. So being aware that you’re not going to have that emotional support while you’re going through this tumultuous period in life.
AS: Yeah, absolutely! And you said this kind of happened at the end of the House on Cliff project? So you kind of juggled both the band ending as well as that relationship ending?
CC: Yeah, so it was kind of growing accustomed to this one kind of phase in my life. Or a different way of life than I was about to enter. And having this relationship be conflated with these experiences, and both of them ending at the same time was where the emotion of the song came from.
AS: In some ways, I feel like that’s a fresh start. You probably found that wiping the slate clean is a great way to move forward in life and try new things?
CC: Definitely! It was a scary thing at the time [ending the band], just not knowing what was going to happen – especially after having invested so many years in something. But it was ultimately a positive transition.
AS: Sonically, you have a lot of folk, alternative pop sonic ideas in this song. What sort of sound can we expect from the rest of the album? Will it be cohesive, or totally different?
CC: So I think the rest of the album’s gonna be totally different on this one. With the full EP, I wanna mix it up and have a lot more upbeat songs mixed with the more ballad-y, slow feeling of “Madison”. So I’d say “Madison” is going to be more of a deep cut than what the rest of the album is going to be.
AS: Well bold choice to start a lead single with a deep cut! I think more people should do that, always a good power move. In this song specifically, there were so many moments where I kept feeling you were going to break out into a total shred.
CC: *Laughs* That was kind of the hardest decision to make. Obviously, guitar is kind of my main thing. It’s probably what most people that know me from The House on Cliff know me for. So it was kind of a hard decision to not put a full solo in the song. But I think it ultimately just didn’t suit the vibe of the song.
AS: I noticed that too – that the emphasis is much more on the lyrics than the instrumentation, so I think it would’ve overshadowed the story if you put that in there.
CC: And I definitely plan on throwing a lot more guitar stuff on the rest of the EP. But for the sake of this song, the guitar was meant to be more of a layer on top of everything.
AS: Yeah, it’s just funny, because I felt it was almost like a tease – like you thought it was coming, but it wasn’t. But if anything, it’ll be a really great addition to the rest of the album – since we’re gonna have more of that. Knowing that balance and when to pull back, in my opinion, is the mark of a great musician who knows their limits – and where they should invest that extra energy. So I really enjoyed that. Now, describe your favorite song that’s coming on the album.
CC: So I do really like “Madison” and I’m excited about that. But the one I’m working on right now – I might change the name, but it’s called “Eliza” currently.
AS: Are they all girl’s names?
CC: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying – not sure if I want two girl’s names songs on the album. But it is much more in the vein of the stuff I was doing with The House on Cliff – mixed with some more electronic production. Definitely still a lot of work to do on that one, but I think when that one’s done that’ll probably end up being my favorite on the album.
AS: That’s so cool! And after coming out of a band experience, being part of a team, and now you’re doing things on your own artistically, how do you feel your musicianship is developing?
CC: I definitely think I’m becoming a lot more restrained. I think The House on Cliff – and honestly, it was probably good for what [the band] was. Just a lot more carnal energy, high-energy performers, and a lot people with chops and stuff. So I definitely feel like with the stuff I’m working on solo, I want to pull that back in a little bit. Still be able to showcase things a bit, like soloing, some of the more kind of like high-energy parts of what I learned in The House on Cliff. But I kind of want a more laid-back, refined sensibility to it.Charles Coleman, on evolving artistry
AS: Do you have a name for the album yet?
CC: I do not.
AS: Okay, gotcha! I feel like in many ways, this might be The House on Cliff 2.0 – although obviously, it’s one artistic direction versus four different people. But you’re gonna take what you learned and put your own spin on things – and it’s really neat to see that progression from being part of a whole to then being an individual, musically.
CC: Thank you! I don’t know if I would call it [that]. Because I think The House on Cliff was so its own thing. And I just don’t wanna kind of make it something where it’s rehashing that a little bit. Also, I don’t think I could! Like everyone else in The House on Cliff was so incredibly talented, so I wouldn’t even try to do something like that again. But I definitely want elements of that band to come through in what I’m doing now.
AS: Yeah! And you are one quarter of it, so I think what you learned there is going to translate really well. And it’s so funny because in the band, you sang backup [vocals] – it wasn’t central, because we had Chad [Michael Jervis, more recent member of King Calaway] – who was incredible, by the way. And hearing your voice now on your own, is just really amazing. I know you got into Berklee [School of Music] with the vocal audition and all that. It blew my mind the first time I heard that, like “this guy shreds, and he sings?” I don’t know what kind of water you’ve been drinking, but I need some. *Laughs* So anyway, vocally, how has that been? Since you’re not used to doing so much of that?
CC: It’s been really hard. Yeah, singing is not something that came easily to me, especially coming out of The House on Cliff. Nevermind comparing myself to Chad; I think just comparing myself to regular singers, I have a lot of work to do and things that I need to get straight. It’s been very tiring, doing that. But I’ve been enjoying it, and I’m happy to have been working on those skills now, because I’m feeling a little bit more confident in my vocals.
AS: Singing backup is very different than singing by yourself as a musician. So I imagine it was a bit of a learning curve probably?
CC: Very much so! And many, many takes just to get the vocal take I got on “Madison” right. So I’m hoping it gets a little easier over time. But that’s been something where I’ve devoted most of my time in recording – just becoming a better singer.
AS: Even those harmonies, like if you’re recording a layered harmony vocal, you obviously have to be exact.
CC: That’s where most of those six months were spent getting those. It’s low in the mix, so you can’t really tell. But there’s about, I think sixteen voices on all the harmonies.
AS: Well, maybe I didn’t hear all sixteen – but I could definitely tell there was a lot in there.
CC: *Laughs* Yeah!
AS: How do you even construct that? Do you go on paper and be like “okay, we’re gonna have two octaves…”
CC: Yeah, so four or five harmony parts. So basically, nothing fancy – just simple triadic harmony. And then obviously, Queen is my favorite band, so I obviously take a lot of notes of what they do with their harmonies. They just go over parts again and again, and do like four voices doing each part. So I think I opted into three for every single part. But even that – if one’s a little off, the dissonance is not correct. That was probably the biggest time sink on this song, just getting them right.
AS: It’s probably hard to think about touring, but do you see yourself doing gigs and stuff with it?
CC: I would very much like to! We’ll have to see what happens with that. I plan on trying to do more kind of acoustic-y gigs. The big problem is, I really don’t have a touring act, I feel like. Because I feel like I could work on my acoustic and get a little better. But ideally I would love to do some kind of band touring with this stuff.
AS: Yeah! You could get a backing band and be the lead! And be a superstar – that would be fun.
CC: So ideally, I would like to. But we’ll see what happens.
AS: Acoustic versus electric guitar feels so different.
CC: It’s basically a different instrument. I feel like none of what I’ve spent so much time practicing on electric will really translate to acoustic. So in that respect, it’s also very much felt like starting over.
AS: The calluses hurt a lot more on acoustic! So, where do you see yourself in five years? Musically, or otherwise? What’s on the agenda?
CC: Oh, that’s a really good question! Definitely I would like to still be playing in some capacity. Right now I’m mainly gigging with a wedding / bar band situation – which I love! I absolutely adore performing.
AS: And what’s the name of it again?
CC: *Laughs* The Sweet Beats, so if you need someone for a wedding… [BSD readers, take note – he’s so modest about it but this is actually the #1 rated wedding band in New England].
AS: He’s great, you won’t be disappointed, I promise! *Laughs*
CC: But yeah, in five years I definitely would like to have some sort of body of work. Whether that’s something I choose to promote, or whether it’s kind of an archival thing to show people down the road. But obviously if I could tour, I’d love another opportunity to go out and tour and play music. That would be the dream! The best-case scenario.
AS: I know the band was amazing for you, and you loved it, and over time you felt like you wanted to chase something else. Which, mad respect for that – because it takes guts to leave something familiar and kind of start over. So I mean, I’m sure you have a lot of mixed feelings and you’re still developing that new direction, so where are you at right now? What is the current moment?
CC: As far as the direction of music?
AS: Yeah, just anything!
CC: I’m very happy with where I’m at in life. Leaving the band was definitely bar-none the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I guess choosing to go back to school initially was the hardest thing. Because that was kind of the beginning of the end with The House on Cliff. But I’m very, very happy with how things have all turned out. I’m on great terms with all the band members, they all seem to be doing fantastic, and I’m actually very happy with where I’m at right now. [I have] a solid job that I enjoy, I still play music all the time, and I’m trying to continue to write. So all things considered, very, very happy.
AS: And you’ve mentioned, kind of a pipe dream to want to move to Nashville eventually?
CC: Yes, so that’s something I very much plan on doing. So hopefully in the next year or two.
AS: I’m sure you’ll meet all kinds of different people and maybe form some kind of a backing band. You never know – it could be really great! What tips do you have for guitarists – or musicians in general – whether they’re touring, or they’re just casually studying. What do you recommend to people?
CC: Oh man, that’s a tough one. The best way to answer this question is probably what would I tell myself at like, ten or twelve when I started doing it. And I guess just, stick to what you like. There’s a lot of noise out there – especially if you’re studying music at a collegiate level, or some sort of intense level. And there’s a lot of pressure to be like “oh, there’s a lot of people doing this, and I don’t really do this, maybe I need to do this…” Just stick to what you enjoy, and obviously work very hard at it. But I think it’s very important, especially if you’re trying to do original music commercially. Very much try and stay the course and stick to it. Be open to other things, but don’t feel pressured to be a jack of all trades.
AS: Right. And what about songwriting? Because songwriting is its own kind of animal, of like expertise and finesse. So where do you recommend people start? I myself struggle with that! *Laughs*
CC: Oh I struggle too! I’m not sure I’m the best person to give advice on this.
AS: Are you kidding me? Those rhyme schemes, the way the slant rhymes work – see, my English major is showing – and the way you made the rhythms fit the words. I know that seems pretty obvious, but to me that’s so slick. I really enjoyed it so much.
CC: Well thank you! I guess just having a platform to record has been a huge thing for me. Because for me, and still to this day, lyrics are the bottleneck in everything. I’m not a big fan of writing lyrics. It’s something that’s always been an awkward, uncomfortable zone for me. But I guess now that I have a platform where I can do the music part, record it, and come back with lyrics later, that’s been super, super helpful. I was probably the most productive writer when I was writing every day – even if I was writing not such great songs, things that maybe I wouldn’t perform live. I’d say it’s cliché advice, but I’d say if you like writing and you want to be a writer, just write. Try to make a schedule, even if it’s unpleasant. I’m sure not all professional athletes like going to the gym every day, but you gotta make it part of your routine if you wanna get really good at it. Which probably is advice I need to follow a little more, but yeah, I’d say that’s probably the biggest thing.
AS: So you start with the music? Because you said you don’t love the lyrics thing as much. So you start with the music and add them later?
CC: That’s kind of my current system, yeah. That’s something I probably do a lot – I write things where I have the harmony and the melody kind of planned out and the song structure. And then it’s just the lyrics that I end up probably taking too long to write. Yeah, I very much enjoy writing the whole harmony and melody to the music.
AS: What would you say is your biggest struggle with music? Be it in the band, or writing?
CC: Lyrics, absolutely. I very much enjoy writing poetry, but for some reason, lyrics are very different. Because you have to communicate so much more while taking more things into account than in poetry. Poetry I feel like is much more focused on phonetics, meter, and all this stuff. But with a song, you also have to make it sound good singing and fit with a melody, and there are a lot more parameters that make it more difficult. And also just writing stuff that doesn’t sound contrived. Because even just stuff that I wrote 2-3 years ago is… ugh. It’s hard to write stuff that feels genuine.
AS: Especially because for me, the little bit that I’ve dabbled in – with books and music – you write something, and then times goes by. And you’re like “I don’t feel that way anymore.” Like the thing, or the person, or whatever happened, has passed my realm of influence and I don’t feel like that. And I don’t wanna work on it because it’s not there anymore.
CC: Yeah, definitely! Definitely.
AS: So it’s kinda a mix of taking something that you feel is timeless or that can fit you for longer than a month, or whatever it is. And then making it something that people can relate to. So it’s kind of a tough balance, would you say that’s true?
CC: Yeah, one-hundred percent agree with everything you said. Definitely.
AS: Any final thoughts about life in general? You’re such an accomplished musician at such a relatively young age, which blows my mind. I mean you did the schooling, and engineering, and locally famous. This guy has really cringe-y Wattpad things written about him. I don’t read them necessarily, but I like to look up things and see what this is about. And there are some weird things about all four of these guys [from The House on Cliff]. That has got to creep you out, right? *Laughs*
CC: It’s a little wild.
AS: If that were me, I’d be fearing for my life, like is somebody gonna maul me on the street? And also, that’s uncomfortable. What was your reaction to all that? I’ve been wanting to know.
CC: Mixed emotions! It’s definitely wild that someone took the time to do that. That alone is very commendable, that someone was that into the band. I don’t think I made my way all the way through mine even once, just because it’s a lot to process. *Laughs*Charles Coleman, on fanfiction
AS: You probably don’t want to dive too deep into that! Might have a personal crisis of like, “people are strange.” Hopefully you get to a point where you’re famous enough for people to recognize you for your own stuff! And then you can get more cringe-y fanfics written.
CC: *Laughs* Maybe! We’ll see.
AS: It’s so great to talk to you and hear about all the stuff you’re doing, and I wish you the best for all the album stuff. And I’ll definitely be wanting to hear that as soon as you have it.
CC: Likewise! And thank you for doing this.
Stream Charles Coleman’s first song as a solo artist “Madison” HERE and follow him on Instagram @charlescoleman2 for all the latest updates on his new music and upcoming album!