Northern England’s Charlotte OC is ready to bring the world to its knees. Her latest single, “Darkest Hour,” is an explosive anthem that finds the rising pop singer and songwriter at the crossroads of vulnerability and strength. The most powerful music comes from the deepest emotions – the feelings that are too intricate, convoluted or impenetrable to bottle up inside. “Darkest Hour” comes from that unbearably real place.
It wasn’t meant to be like this
A life for someone else
There’s a road to the righteous
That doesn’t lead through hell
There’s a drop on your eyelid
That stays just for him
There’s a scream in your silence
That doesn’t let anyone in
Watch: “Darkest Hour” – Charlotte OC
Written about her relationship with her sister, “Darkest Hour” is Charlotte OC’s (born Charlotte O’Connor) most personal moment. Her words are raw and vivid as she extends what she calls an “olive branch” to her blood. “The song is basically me saying, I know what’s happened, even though I was so young when it happened. I’ve had to live with this, and so have you, and I love you,” she says. A beacon of inspiration and hope, Charlotte’s voice erupts with fiery passion on the song’s hauntingly evocative chorus. “In the top of the tower, the devil he waits for you / In the darkest of hours, we prayed for you,” she cries.
Now you don’t understand why you stayed
As you wake in the coffin he made you
You’re a stone that’s been thrown in the lake
Now your sinking, it sinks in
In the top of the tower
The devil he waits, the devil he waits for you
In the darkest of hours
We prayed, we prayed for you
I know you’ve been locked up there
With no hope anywhere
In the top of the tower
The devil he waits, the devil he waits for you
That emotional outpouring is amplified by the “Darkest Hour” music video, an intense display of the duality that is Charlotte OC: Cool and intimate; eccentric and wild. The combined depth of the song and its accompanying music video brings listeners closer to Charlotte OC than ever before, exposing her truest self and allowing us to connect in a way not often made possible through pop music.
“Darkest Hour” is Charlotte OC’s moment of truth. Love, loss, and hope come together in a brilliantly heartfelt, emotionally-fueled anthem. Poignant and infinitely personal songs like this make superstars out of regular human beings, and it’s only a matter of time until Charlotte OC ascends that stage. Dive deep into “Darkest Hour” with Charlotte OC in Atwood Magazine’s exclusive interview!
A CONVERSATION WITH CHARLOTTE OC
Atwood Magazine: Hi Charlotte, great to meet you! Where are you right now?
Charlotte OC: You too! I’m calling from a bedroom in southeast of London, in a little place called Brockley. I’m staying here at the moment… I’m from the north of England, a town called Blackburn, near Manchester. I flip back and forth from London to home, so this is where I stay when I come to London. You?
I'm in New York.
Charlotte OC: You’re from New York? I haven’t been [in ages]… I miss it, but it’s so much more intense than London. I 100% know that for a fact, because I got palpitations to the highest degree when I was in New York.
You're getting to the point though where touring may bring you here, right?
Charlotte OC: Hopefully! I’ve been waiting the whole year for it to all start, which I think I definitely needed, so I’m not going to complain when it all happens. Don’t hold me to that, though!
Do you like the slower paced days because they give you the time to find inspiration and write music?
Charlotte OC: Yeah, I think I need that. I don’t know whether that’s saying that I’m a little bit lazy, or I actually need it, but I do need time to just gather myself. I know a lot of people can work on being fast-paced, with everything happening one thing after the other, but I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m from the north of England… It’s quite laid-back up north! It really is. I think I just need time to breathe a lot of the time – which is not part of the job that I’m in really, but…
As extroverted as so many people are, they're equally introverted when it's time to think, and they need alone time.
Charlotte OC: 100%. I’m good at being on my own. Sometimes it gets a bit much, but I think I quite enjoy it. I definitely need it.
For those who are unfamiliar with Charlotte OC, how do you describe yourself to people you meet for the first time?
Charlotte OC: … I don’t. (laughs) I’m quite shy, which is really weird; I think I get that from my mom. But I’m also quite eccentric… emotional, very very very passionate; a bit too much… Yeah, I think that’s it, really. And sometimes I can be funny. When I think the time’s right. Also, I think there’s times I just can’t stop myself, and I just – I don’t know… I’m a little bit goofy as well! I think a lot of people who are obsessed with something are a little bit goofy – just like, geeking out on something.
I want to dive straight into “Darkest Hour.” I feel like the biggest struggle on this song is not a relationship with someone else, but your relationship with yourself.
Charlotte OC: Really? It’s showing the different sides of me – it’s really nice of you to just say what you think that it means. That was a real breath of fresh air, so thank you! The video in itself, what I wanted was to show – my whole concept is duality. I’m a girl from the north of England; up north, it’s so straight down the line, like don’t step out of the box kind of vibe; just stay in line and blend in. But then there’s also this side to the north which is quite mystical. There’s this thing called the Pendle witches, which is an old folk lore tale that these witches used to live on the top of this hill right near me, and it’s a really famous story. So there’s this real switch of like, normal and not very normal – almost otherworldly – and I feel like that’s inspired me, and it also feels like it’s part of what I do. I wanted to show that in the video, that there’s this girl in jeans and a t-shirt, and then there’s the other side where I’ve got face paint all over me, and I’m being erratic. It’s really raw and emotional, and there’s the two kind of sides of me, which I think the video got that across.
And the song itself?
Charlotte OC: The actual song is about my relationship with my sister. She went through a horrible relationship with her now-ex husband, and… yeah. He cheated on her constantly, she completely changed as a person, and our relationship through all of this kind of disintegrated because I lost my sister. The song is basically me saying, “I know what’s happened, even though I was so young when it happened. I’ve had to live with this, and so have you, and I love you, and I’ve…” like, I’ve been praying for you. I’m not religious in any way, but I just wanted it to end, because I felt like she’d lost herself, and we’d lost her. So it’s almost like an olive branch to my sister, and to let her know that I miss her, and I hate what she’s been through. So yeah, that’s what the song’s about.
Thank you so much for sharing that, wow. That's a lot.
Charlotte OC: (laughs) I’m trying to master how to say it, because there’s an art to saying it, I think. I’m still in training – still training with myself to get it across in the right way.
Isn't that why you have a song though?
Charlotte OC: Yeah, so true.
Were you writing it both from your perspective and from her perspective?
Charlotte OC: Yeah, which was quite weird actually. I think most songwriters write from their perspective, about how they’re feeling and what they’re going through. It was quite bizarre writing a song about something else, like watching somebody else. I actually think that it made me grow as a writer, by just even trying it. It’s now led me to be able to do that in other songs, but yeah: It’s from the perspective of me and her, and me watching what she’s been through.
You look at a lot of dualities in the lyrics, as well as the video, like light and dark. What's the significance to you of that juxtaposition?
Charlotte OC: I feel like it’s talking about how shit everything is, and then it’s also saying there’s some light of eventually just hoping that she’d get out of it. It’s showing ugliness and then hope; there’s no real solution, no real “light” I guess – it’s just hope, if that makes any sense.
You've been doing this for quite some time, right? What was your musical upbringing?
Charlotte OC: I’ve been into music for a very long time. My dad was in a band called The Merseybeats, they were a really big band in the 1960s. He was there throughout the whole Beatlemania thing, because he was brought up in Liverpool. He got to go on Top of the Pops, and I think that after he had a taste of it… I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who loves music more than my dad. He’s just so obsessed and passionate about it, and he kind of sculpted my musical knowledge, in a way. I grew up listening to a lot of Talking Heads and Lou Reed, John Martyn, James Taylor… A lot of Aretha Franklin – a lot of soul and folk and funk thrown in there, and then I also grew up listening to a little bit of African music because my mom’s from Malawi – and some Indian music from my grandma! My mom is half Malawi and half Indian, so it’s been a constant thing. I think music is super important in Indian and African culture, so it’s just always been a massive passion of my family.
How did that transition into the music you make today?
Charlotte OC: I grew up with a traditional structure and stuff that instantly hits home. The way that I started writing songs was because of my dad. I never wanted to play guitar, and I think it’s because I went to an all girls’ school – I hated boys, I just thought they were the most disgusting things ever, and I didn’t ever want to play guitar because it represented a boy instrument. I have no idea why – I think I just got something stuck in my head, and that was it! For some reason, my dad and I used to have this thing where we’d go out and buy chewing gum, and it was like my treat, I used to love getting chewing gum! So one day, my dad says, “Let go get some chewing gum,” and I was like, “Brilliant! Can’t wait.” And then he drove to this house and he was like, “Right. We’re not actually going to get chewing gum. You’re going to go in there and you’re going to have a guitar lesson!” He pulled the guitar of the car, and I had to go into this house and have this guitar lesson. I was mortified! But by the end of it, I said to him, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” I did learn piano when I was younger, but I didn’t really connect with it. I just connected with guitar, and I became obsessed: I started learning chords and started getting confident with chord structures, and with that happening, you kind of start singing over the top of it. That feeling was so amazing… When I first did that? There’s something so pure about writing on your own for the first time, as well. You’ve not done a cowrite before, and you don’t have anybody saying “this would be a chorus there” – it’s just really pure. That’s how I started writing, and I started writing traditional songs. But as I started this project – the Charlotte OC project – I kind of wanted to experiment with sounds, and I wanted it to have more of a vibe. I always wanted it to be where it is now, though – like, I’ve always had that vision of feeling more of a vibe thing in the beginning, and then just going full out. That’s kind of been my mission.
There’s something so pure about writing on your own for the first time.
You end up saying more with less, especially on “Darkest Hour.”
Charlotte OC: Thank you; that’s a compliment.
You really do, right?! That chorus repeats and repeats, stronger every time. You have this ability to be so emphatic with your voice, but you use it sparingly. How do you choose those moments?
Charlotte OC: Recording’s different to doing it live.I feel like when I’m live, it’s a different thing… You know, I don’t really think about it! It’s the only time where I just don’t think, when I’m singing. I can’t answer that question because it’s not something that’s kind of thought about.
How is the live performance different from the recording?
Charlotte OC:I feel like I’m more restricted in the studio; it’s hard to get me exactly how I am, I feel; hard to capture it. Live, I just feel like it happens because I just don’t care at all. In a studio when you’ve got headphones on, you’re enclosed; I find it not that natural, because you’re in it, and it doesn’t feel right. It feels like a really manmade thing, but when you’re performing, I don’t know… It’s open and you can just be free with it. That’s when I’m at my best, I think.
Have you ever recorded live to capture that energy?
Charlotte OC: A lot of it’s live – the whole album’s live, but it’s done in the recording studio. I’m still learning though – I want to better myself; I know my weaknesses, and I know that that’s one of my weaknesses.
In spite of that, “Darkest Hour” does have something special in it. It has this arena pop sound - I kind of hear Sia in your voice at times.
Charlotte OC: You’re not the first person to say that. Weirdly, with this song – nobody else has ever said it before – but with this song, I’ve heard that before.
I think that's a good thing, as long as it's not your whole identity, right?
Charlotte OC: No, I’ve never even thought… It’s not an issue to me; I don’t feel like it’s overpowering it, either, if there is a sound of it. Like, that’s still me in there, but it definitely has a feel, which is that I think she’s got a real anthemic way about her, and if that’s what I’ve got, then I’ll take it.
Do you like that? That anthem.
Charlotte OC: Yeah, I think I’ve realized that I love doing that. When I perform, I just need to go for it. It all needs to be 100%. That’s definitely my vibe.
cover photo: Charlotte OC © Harvest Records