These days, it’s OK to be honest about mental health, and writing songs is like therapy. And when these words and melodies reach listeners, they can lessen their struggles. Or – at the very least – let them know they’re not alone. Serena Ryder’s JUNO Award-winning The Art of Falling Apart, inspired by this keynote on wellness, is one example.
When it comes to wellness, young people, aged 15 to 24, are more likely to experience mental health issues than any other age group. Charlie Houston, 22, backs up these stats. The songwriter isn’t always OK – and she’s OK with that. Since the 2021 release of her debut EP (I Hate Spring) Houston has – like Ryder – addressed in her art what it feels like to fall apart.
“Mental illness these days is more commonplace,” she says. “Every young adult right now is struggling with something.”
On Oct. 7, 2022, the songwriter’s new batch of songs arrived: Bad Posture. Produced by Houston’s friend and frequent collaborator, Toronto hip-hop artist Chris Yonge, the title refers to the way the artist’s posture shifts whenever she’s sad, nervous, or anxious. We catch up with the Gen Z pop star via Zoom, on a mid-week afternoon, to chat about wellness, big questions, and the new EP.
Wearing a baggy sweatshirt, Houston is settled into a hotel room in Sacramento, California, enjoying some down time. She’s just arrived in town after playing a show the previous evening in Boise, Idaho. Like she has since late July, she’ll join ODESZA onstage later that night to sing “Wide Awake,” the Spotify viral single that she collaborated on with the American electronic duo. Not a bad gig – performing just one song a night, and getting to watch and learn from a Grammy-nominated artist.
Just like she learns from ODESZA, Houston is also constantly learning new ways to control and take care of her mental health. “It definitely has gotten better,” she admits, talking about her current anxiety levels compared to a few years ago. “Before, I didn’t really understand what was happening. I’ve gotten better at recognizing those feelings now, and doing things to not make me feel that way.”
Houston’s anxiety stems mostly from metaphysical questions that swim around constantly in her brain, like “What’s the meaning of life?” and “Why do we exist?” No wonder, outside of her music career, she’s currently completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.
“I find those questions difficult to grapple with,” she says, revealing that Peter Singer, who’s written extensively on animal welfare in modern society, is one of her favorite philosophers. “I feel different mentally every day. Some days are good; some are bad. I just go along with it… capitalize on it when I’m feeling good, and wait for it to pass when I’m feeling bad.”
Heady stuff to occupy a 20-something’s mindspace. Houston hasn’t delved too deep into incorporating her academic learning into her songs… yet. She’s considered it, but finding a way to explain complex theories in song has proved a challenge. “Maybe one day I’ll find the right words,” she says.
Were these deep thoughts always part of Houston’s make-up? “I always thought about these metaphysical questions, but I had a terrible experience with a weed edible when I was 19, and it heightened all of those anxieties,” she explains. “Since then, those feelings have never really gone away… That experience was a huge shift.”
Houston’s latest single, “What Do We Do Now?,” which speaks to the sadness brought on when two close friends grow apart over time, hints at a musical shift.
“Sonically, it’s a sound that I’ve never released before, but really like,” she says. “A lot of my other music has electronic components, and is more poppy, but this song has more of an indie-rock vibe. I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Charlie Houston plays her first hometown headline show at The Drake Underground on Oct. 27, 2022, before joining six-time 2022 JUNO Award winner Charlotte Cardin to open a string of Canadian dates in November of 2022.