Spotlight – Charles Cleyn

Today our Spotlight – Charles Cleyn. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Charles when I was first approached about an interview. After a little digging around I certainly found out some interesting stuff. It was great getting to spend a few moments talking with Charles about his music and his moves he’s made to pursue his career. Check out what he had to say.

Spotlight - Charles Cleyn

You often talk fondly of your childhood/early years listening to music with your siblings at home; Clapton, the Beatles, and the like, were you each pretty steadfast in your lanes, or were all 3 of you pretty wild when it came to music choice, playing, etc (there were 5 kids)

Growing up I rarely heard anything too experiential around the house. All of our tastes fell under a similar umbrella. My parents had their “go to’s” which would be on our 6-disc CD rack and we’d have them on repeat in the living room. The oldest, Trish, was a lover of musical theatre so there was a non stop echo in the house of Disney Classics or the entire collection of Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat. When Mom and Dad were out my brother and I would put on Cream or Sergeant Peppers and this is the music I loved growing up. My younger sisters followed in the footsteps of Trish which meant much more singing!

You mentioned that when you were in high school didn’t really pursue music due to a lack of faith/confidence in yourself, until your year end talent show. What finally pushed you to take the leap and go for it?

It’s hard to nail down one event. I think it was a matter of time. Socially, I was a self-confidence late bloomer and a quiet kid growing up but internally I was very comfortable with who I was. I just needed time to let other people see who I was. I thought the talent show would be a great time to show people I played piano.

You get a lot of praise for taking the plunge and leaving Shopify to pursue your music career. Would you have been that ready and comfortable had you not had the financial backing of years working at Shopify?

Probably not. But I took way more out of Shopify than it gave back to me. And it wasn’t money. It was knowledge. I was lucky enough to be an early employee which gave me the flexibility to do many jobs. During my last two years at Shopify I worked at the executive level and I saw everything there was building and managing a multi billion dollar company. I felt comfortable to leave because I knew I had the business experience to make something work in the music industry.

Berlin is a huge cultural melting pot, and home to a number of international expats, can you tell us more about the arts and music scene there? How it varies from Canada?

Berlin is just cool. It reflects coolness off of everything. Unfortunately, there’s no city like this in Canada. I wish. There is a huge support for local live music. You could play a show every night if you wanted to. Everyone has their own style and nobody cares what that is. It’s really the original hipster. A lot of cities try to be cool but Berlin isn’t trying. It just is.

What was it like trying to bridge back to Canada after living in Berlin as long as you were?

Canada is home so I feel comfortable here but I still spend a lot of time in Berlin and I’m currently working with three different German producers so I still feel tied to the European culture. Berlin is relaxed but still competitive and it’s a great balance, something I will hope to keep with me in Canada.

Your youtube channel –

A – Has a whole host of videos, covering a wide gamut of options from how-to’s for begginers, how do you think the online world is changing music appreciation from living rooms with siblings to learning and getting that confidence at a much younger age?
B – Has honest comparisons between different music platforms (Spotify, Soundcloud, Tidal, etc) what was the motivation behind pointing that out? And does it have anything to do with hammering it home to newer musicians that they wont make money off their music via said platforms?

I create youtube videos because I genuinely like doing it but I think it’s a great channel to build an audience as a musician which has a far bigger organic each than platforms like Facebook or Instagram. I’m still testing out a wide variety of content to see what works and what sticks which is why right now my content might seem a little all over the place. You got to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and then double down on whatever sticks. If an independent musician doesn’t have a youtube channel, they need to start now.

Spotlight - Charles Cleyn

You’ve played LIVE! On Elgin, Queen St. fare, what are some other local spots you enjoy here in Ottawa, music or otherwise?

Live on Elgin is probably my favourite because of its size, sound quality, and support for local musicians. Rainbow Bistro will always have a soft spot in my heart. I’ve gone to many shows there on random Saturday nights. I’ll never say no to a burger at the Manx or Brunch at the Pump.

Your song “Keep On” is hauntingly beautiful, what was the process like writing it? It seems incredibly personal about tenacity?

Keep On is one of my favourites. It was the first song I wrote where I thought, “hey, this is actually pretty good”. I wrote it in my apartment on the keyboard in the fall. It was pouring out and I was trying to figure out the next step with music. I had no idea what to do but to just keep going and hope that doors will open. I’ve stuck by this until today, all I try to do is keep building, keep moving, and put the trust in the process.

Your song “Nothing but Glory” is equally as catchy, listening to it gives a lot of homage to bluegrass and soul music? Tell us more about that

Nothing but the Glory was my first co-written song from scratch so it brings three writers perspectives and experiences into it. That’s why I think we got this sound. It was a great experience and I’ve co-written most of my songs since then to get a more diverse sound and to also learn how other writers work.

Your song “Sorry” is an unbelievably cute love story even though you didn’t work. Was it about someone in particular, an amalgamation of relationships?

Sorry was more of an amalgamation of relationships and actually not being sorry about it anymore. Forgive and forget and then move on. It’s personal but it also draws from other experiences too. Most of my songs start personal and then I embellish them to tell a more captivating story.

If you had dream collab, who would it be and why?

It would be John Mayer, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheehan. Very random. John for his jaw-dropping guitar chops and rootsy vibes. Ed for his incredible melodies and Justin for his angelic voice. I think it would be full of laughs.

Spotlight - Charles Cleyn

What can expect from you for 2020, and how has all travel being grounded affected those plans and goals?

I’m going to release 7 singles in 2020. My plan was to start releasing songs in April but things shifted. It’s been difficult to finish songs in the studio and obviously play shows since the outbreak of Covid-19. I have an EU tour in June which will likely be cancelled. We plan to tour Canada in October as well and we’re hoping it can happen. In general, the new songs are even more personal and I think it’s the closet style I’ve got to yet in my writing and production. I can’t wait for people to hear them. It’s real quality and I’ve had a great team behind me of songwriters and producers to get them past the finish line.

What would you like to tell your fans?

Send me a message, send me an email, I want to talk 1:1 with more of my fans because I can. I’m not a superstar so I have the time and capacity to do so.

This is a unique one as our Spotlight – Charles Cleyn who has ties in both Berlin and Canada and We want to thank Charles for sending some time with us.

Make sure to keep up with Charles for upcoming shows including a tour here in Canada.

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