Whenever Toronto-born, Edmonton-raised R&B chanteuse Tanika Charles writes and records a new song, she goes to her surefire sounding board: her Dad Lennard.
“My Dad’s the best,” says Charles, whose 2019 sophomore album The Gumption created a lot of momentum for the now Toronto-based singer-songwriter. “He’s just taught me so much. And, you know, I’ll never forget when I first started singing, he said, ‘I only ask you to do one thing: enunciate… make sure people can hear what you’re saying, and make sure your story is true and pure.’ That’s how I’ve been rolling ever since.”
Lennard came in extremely handy when it came to feedback for some of the mixes of Charles’ new album, Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly.
“There’s a song on the album called ‘Frustrated,’ and the title is so fitting, because I think it had maybe four or five different mixes,” Charles explains. “I sent each mix to my dad, and he’s, like, ‘Nope, that’s not it. Nope. That’s not it. Sorry, Tanika. No. no.’ And finally, I just decided, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do: We’re gonna put the bass up here, and I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that. So, we mixed it, sent it to my dad, and he’s, like, ‘That’s it!’ It wasn’t until the fifth one that we got his approval – and I literally made those changes with tears coming out of my eyes, because it wasn’t hitting the way that I wanted it to.”
Charles acknowledges that she’s her own toughest critic – and that, combined with pandemic woes and depression, led to making what she calls “the most difficult album to create.”
“Not only was it done remotely, but there was no inspiration, no motivation,” she admits. “It was just a dark time. After not performing, or singing, or doing anything except eating, having to come up with this album was incredibly difficult. I struggled with my voice. I didn’t feel confident. I thought, ‘This is not how I wanna sound.’ Because, during the lockdown, I’d been listening to Yebba, who’s my absolute favourite artist, of course, Moses Sumney, just these incredibly powerful singers. I just felt inadequate. So, I struggled with this album.
“There was no inspiration, no motivation”
“I wanted my third one to be passionate and honest, and I just couldn’t find myself. Finally, when this album was done, I’d come out of the darkness and I felt stronger and brighter and, and vibrant – but only because I completed something in such a difficult time. I’m continually working on being and doing better vocally, and internally, spiritually. I know that we, as artists, need to recognize that we put in a lot of work and we need to be proud of the milestones that we’ve accomplished.”
Charles should be proud of Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly: 11 slices of soulful, classic, and contemporary R&B stylings, including the groovin’ “Different Morning,” featuring fast-rising rapper DijahSB; a funky duet with soul/Gospel singer Khari McClelland; and a coterie of producers and writing partners that include Scott McCannell, Ben MacDonald, and Chino de Villa on the production side, and Robert Bolton and Tafari Anthony on the writing side.
“I prefer to collab with others,” says Charles. “When it comes to songwriting, there are people that are just way more prolific than I am. That’s what they do. I have to really experience everything to write a song effectively. And when I’m writing with other people – with Robert Bolton and Tafari Anthony – they would understand where I’m coming from. We’d receive music and I would express what this song in particular makes me feel. I’d write a few words here and there, and then we’d elaborate on that.”
One particular standout: “Paintbrush and A Palette,” a funky, ‘70s- flavoured number with a lighthearted lyric. “That was actually the very first song I wrote for this album,” says Charles. “I love it because It’s bright and fun, and has something unique in its structure. I usually want to write sad songs about failed relationships, and this one gave us an opportunity to do something fun. And this song I wrote with Robert Bolton and Todd ‘HiFiLo’ Pentney. We were aiming for a D’Angelo-esque kind of vibe.”
While the jury is still out on how Papillon De Nuit: The Night Butterfly will perform in the public eye and ear, Charles has enjoyed a good run with her first two Polaris Music Prize long-listed albums Soul Run and The Gumption, and says she’s overcoming her shyness regarding self-promotion.
“I’m learning now to be okay with saying, ‘Hey, this is, this is my song,’ or ‘You can hear this song here,’ or ‘Take a listen to this album.’ I can honestly say that I’m quite proud of this one.”