Charlie Marie stuns with Ramble On, a glowing full-length debut ripe with modern moxie and soaring vocals that deliver hardcore country music splendor splashed with a flourish of soul. Delivering on the promise of her 2019 self-titled EP, the Rhode Island native has assembled another fine collection of songs that showcase a growing ability and welcome perspective that resounds and rises above cliche while still echoing the heartbeat of her heroes. Ramble On is available on all your favorite digital platforms and directly from the artist.
AI- You’re out wanderin’ America right now, huh?
CM- Yes! I’ve been wandering mainly Utah and a little bit of Arizona. It’s been wild!
I saw your pictures of Monument Valley. I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve been in the vicinity but never had a chance to actually go out there and see all the formations in the desert and everything.
Yeah, you should definitely check it out because the thing about a lot of these places is they’re right near each other. If you go to Moab, which is really awesome, there’s like three parks over there then the Monument Valley is only like an hour and a half away from that. And then Page, Arizona isn’t too far from that. So that’s how it’s worked out. You can jump from one place to the other. But yeah, you definitely should try to get out one day ’cause it’s really nice. It’s different and helps you see things differently.
And I guess you want to see something different as you’re preparing to release your first full-length album while still trying to navigate what the music industry is gonna do in a pandemic?
Exactly! I [needed] to do something that helps me see a different perspective and see the big picture instead of the everyday life that ends up getting… You know how that can be– monotony. We all have to put up with that. But yeah, that’s why I wanted to get out and do something before the record came out because I know that once the record comes out, I’m gonna have to get it into the next gear. So I wanted to try to do something for myself and actually put the ramble on phrase to the test! And yes, rambling on is fun, and I believe it’s all in us! I think that at some point in our life, we all deserve to ramble on because let me tell you, it is fun! And it helps you figure out who you really are. I feel like I have found out who I am in a different way than I did before. ‘Cause when you’re on the road by yourself, if something happens, you gotta deal with it!
I loved your last EP, and I confess that I expected a full-length to come sooner. But like everybody else, I suppose COVID-19 has played hell with your plans. As I understand it, y’all went into the studio in early 2020, and I imagine that you had planned for a summer release and tour to follow?
Yeah. The original plan was I was going to actually go on tour in the spring and then I was going to put out the record in the fall, just so I had time to try to record videos and whatnot so I could help promote the record. But then yeah, all of that. Everybody was goin’ like 90! We were all goin’ really fast and then it slammed on the brakes and we all got knocked to the ground! So then you gotta get up. dust yourself off, and be like, “Okay, what am I gonna do now?” So yeah, it’s been very tricky– and it’s still tricky ’cause I’m kind of at that point where I wanna get on the road! I’m just trying to keep re-evaluating and I’m working on a plan. Always workin’ on something! You know how it goes!
Did I see that when you went into the studio to record that you actually were fightin’ a cold? That you were sick when you went to go make Ramble On?
Oh God! It’s always something! So when I did the EP, Brian [McKinnon] and I and Ben [Klise], who is like the main engineer, we all got food poisoning and were throwin’ up! This time, right before I went, I was sick and I had a cold and I was worried because yeah, obviously, I need to make sure my voice is in tiptop shape. I ended up getting sick, but I just sucked it up and did it anyway ’cause that’s what you have to do. And then luckily it ended up clearing and I was fine and I was able to sing. Yeah, that was fun (laughs)!
There’s no cracks or strings or anything on those vocals. You sound immaculate.
Well, thank you. I recorded my vocals until I was satisfied because I wanted to do the best I could. So that’s what I tried to do.
This is our first time talkin’, so I want to get into just a little bit of your background. I’ve been to Rhode Island, to New England. I happen to know for a fact that there’s a pretty heavy contingent of Southern rock and country music fans there.
Yeah, it’s just ironic! When I was younger and everybody’s tryin’ to figure out what they wanna do, I started horseback riding and there was a local girl that sang and I was like, “That girl sings! I wanna try singing!” I went to vocal lessons and my vocal teacher told me that I had a voice quality similar to Patsy Cline. So then after that, my grandmother took me and introduced me to Patsy Cline [music]. And then again, it went along with horseback riding and that’s how I really got into classic country because on the way to going to horseback ride, we listened to Alan Jackson, Hank Williams Sr., Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn… We would listen to all classic country artists on the way there. I feel like that just got embedded in me, and it goes along too with that lifestyle. That’s how I really got into country music because even though Rhode Island is a small state and people don’t consider it to be country, it is still country. There are still are areas that are country. Anywhere you go, you’re still gonna find areas that are country. So yeah, it’s been interesting being a country artist from Rhode Island. It works out. It’s obviously different. I feel like there’s more of a scene for it in other areas, but it’s been working out.
I saw an interview where you talked about going to Nashville. I know you went to school and got into songwriting and doing the open mics there– but you did that because that’s just what you thought you did. That people told you, “You’ve gotta go and be discovered.” Tell me about that experience and what in actuality did you learn [from] goin’ to Nashville?
Everybody tells you, you have to go to Nashville. So I went to college there. I went to Rhode Island College for a year and then transferred to Belmont. I’m really happy that I lived in Nashville. I’m really happy that I did that because for me, what I learned from Nashville was how to write a song. I feel like if I never moved there, I never would have been able to write the songs that I’m able to write. And then also being surrounded by so many people that are trying to do what you want to do, it pushes you and it makes you go inward and figure out what am I trying to do? Who do I want to be? What do I want to sound like? And these are all questions that are really not easy to answer, but again, the more you go inward and the more you experience life, the more these things start to show themselves to you.
So that’s why I feel like when I moved back to Rhode Island, it was a really good thing for me. It woke me up into reality because also living in Nashville, I feel like I wasn’t living in reality. I was chasing this dream, trying to get discovered, and I just wasn’t necessarily living in the present moment. When I moved back home, I picked up jobs. I had a bunch of jobs waitressing, doing this, and that. You see people and you hear their stories and it helps you. Being in the world helps you write and it helps you connect with people. But again, if I didn’t live in Nashville, I don’t think I would be able to write the songs that I am able to write now. Everything’s worked out. It’s interesting looking back now.
Well, let’s talk about some of those songs. I want to start with probably my favorite on the album, “El Paso”. Is this the first country cheatin’ song where a fella leaves a woman for another man? Have you kicked in the door on that concept?
(Laughs) I hope so! I hope I did! I hope it’s gonna be a tough act to follow on that one! ‘Cause that song, I feel like I can’t touch it. I wouldn’t change things about that. I think the recording came out really good. It’s based on a true story. So yes, I was with someone, it turned in that direction, and I actually got this idea when I was going to Nashville to promote the EP. On the way there, this song idea, “He left me for a man,” just popped into my head. When I got to Nashville, I ended up writing it with my friend, Amanda Renkel. We wrote the song together. She knew the person we wrote the song about. So it’s just very ironic and interesting, but the reason why I wanted to write the song is because, A, it’s never been written before, but B, I want to let people know that this stuff happens every day and it’s okay. It is what it is. Just another country song, right?
That’s one of the things that draws me the most to country music is the reality of it. Or once upon a time, there was a reality to it that was very accessible to everybody. On this album, you have a lot of songs about relationships or rather the unpleasant end of them. Stepping aside from the personal connotations of that, I want to talk about writing songs and the challenge of finding new ways to do it, to say what’s been said, and to rise above, I guess, the cliche of a lot of those things. What’s your recipe for doing that?
Honestly, I think that for me, I get a lot of my songwriting ideas and material from life experience and from people that I’ve met, hearing their stories. [“El Paso”] was something that I experienced. I never thought I was gonna write a song about it. And then years later I did! It was a weird time and that was one of the main reasons why I ended up moving back to Rhode Island too. ‘Cause life pushes you in different directions and you can either keep resisting or you can just give in and go with the ride. So for me, with songwriting, like you said, you’re always trying to write a song that’s better than the last song you wrote– and it’s not easy. But again, I think that if you just keep experiencing life and you keep putting yourself in uncomfortable positions or in new places and you continue to grow, that’s when you continue to get songwriting ideas and things just come to you.
I feel like my writing style has shifted a little from a lot of the heartbreak songs to now I’m trying to write songs more about life. Because things just shift. They just keep shifting. I feel like it’s a moving entity, trying to write music. You never know where it’s gonna land! You just gotta go with whichever direction it takes you. And sometimes you write a good song. Sometimes you write a song that sucks! I’ve written plenty songs that suck! I don’t wanna show anybody! I show my grandmother! She’s like, “Yeah, that’s… No, I’m not into that.” So you just never know! I always try to test out my songs on my grandma. If she says it’s okay, then I’ll show some other people. But if she says it sucks, I’m like, “Yeah, she’s probably right. This song probably does suck!”
Another song on the album, “40 Miles From Memphis”. You’ve released a version of it before– just you and some great hillbilly guitar. But the cut on Ramble On, you got a little more soul influence on it. Leading a little bit more towards American Sound and Stax instead of Sun, I would say.
I wanted to put that song on the record because when I had just put it out, it was just a guitar/vocal, and I feel like obviously, I’ve developed a lot since then. I think that the new sound for the song came from when we were in the studio and it was just the vibe that arrived. We just started jamming. ‘Cause you know, when you get in the studio, that’s kind of how we do it. We get in and we have a direction, we jam, and then it’s like, “Yep, that works!” And then you go with it. The way that they played the song, I’d never sang the song like that before until they played it that way. And I felt I was having the time of my life for that one! I was really having a good time singing it and it just felt like how it was supposed to sound. So I’m happy that I went back and rerecorded it. ‘Cause yeah, I think that it’s the way it deserves to be.
Tell me about the band. Brian McKinnon, I believe, is generally with you always as a guitar player. And I know you’ve worked with John McTigue before on the Charlie Marie EP. Tell me about the rest of the cats on the record, who put all that together?
I really enjoyed working with John, so this time I just asked him for some recommendations. For bass, we ended up going with Alec Newman and then we ended up working with Micah Hulscher, who also, I believe, plays with Margo Price, but he played keys, and then Eddie Lang played steel guitar. I had recorded some Christmas songs before and we used a percussionist. I figured we should incorporate that as well. So we ended up going with Josh Minyard and he played percussion. I feel like before, when I did the EP, Brian and Ben and I, we all worked together, but we didn’t care about a producer title. We didn’t care, so that went that way.
For this record, I wanted to be more organized and I wanted to have a little more of a direction. So we ended up going with Tyler James Kelly. He plays in a local band in Rhode Island called The Silks and everything ended up working out ’cause we were able to really polish the songs and organize them before we went into the studio. That’s why to me, I think that Ramble On is a more developed, cohesive sound than the EP. Just because I’m learning. It’s a learning process. You keep getting better at things usually as you go along. But I had a great time working with everyone in that room and everybody was a professional. It’s mainly about, for me, when we get people in a room to just let them go with their gut. If we have any ideas, we’ll ask them to try them out, but mainly, we just have people go with their gut because these people are professionals and they know what to do.
You went to college and got a music business degree. I want to talk about that part of your career right now. ‘Cause you’re running the whole show as far as lining up the distributor, taking care of the management issues, seeing that the album and the songs are making it to radio stations and whatnot. Were you at all prepared for that or did you just feel like you needed to take the reins if you wanted to get it done yourself?
I felt like that because, basically, in Nashville, you can wait around and hope somebody discovers you. I did that for a while and nothin’ really happened. And then when I moved home, I had to make things happen for myself. So yeah, I just started taking the initiative. I met Brian and it’s been helpful having him. Usually, we’ll split up the workload, but yes, unfortunately, I’m the front runner. I guess I am guiding, steering the ship! I have the reins in my hand! But I feel like going to Belmont prepared me a little bit for it, but mainly, you just figure out things as they’re thrown at you. I learned some skills at Belmont in terms of I learned some of the music business lingo and this and that, but we both know the music industry is always changing. You have to stay on top of that yourself anyway.
I guess you just figure it out as you go along. That’s how it’s been working for me. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but I just try to focus on the step that’s in front of me. That way, I can complete the task instead of dwelling on all of the things I have to do. When I do that, it just overwhelms you! But yeah, I guess that Belmont taught me how to find people and how to build a team. I think that Belmont taught me that. Because if it wasn’t for Brian and for my friend, Ben Klise or my friend Amanda Renkel or people that have helped me along the way, none of it’s possible. Everybody helps you. It just seems like a group effort, and I think that if you keep chasing a dream and you keep trying to do the best you can, things eventually work out to some extent. That’s what I’ve experienced.
You talk about the music business constantly changing. Absolutely correct. And we’re in the midst of another huge change. Do you think all of this is gonna make you uniquely suited for the next phase of live music and performing on the way? Because things are gonna be different and change greatly probably within the next few months– and then whatever intends to happen come fall.
I think it’s put me in an interesting position because I’ve never really had security. That’s also like with that road trip. You don’t know where you’re gonna sleep. I didn’t know where I was gonna sleep half the time. And I always found somewhere to sleep. Nothin’ ever happened to me. My family thought I was gonna get murdered! I’m still alive! So it just goes to show you that if you just take things one day at a time, you can figure it out. So I think that I will probably be able to continue to progress. The journey hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been simple. It’s not easy if you have to do a lot of the work on your own or with a small group of people, but working with REK Room Media and Soundly Music, and Angela [Backstrom Promotions] has helped. You just can’t give up. And I think that if you have that in you, that drive and that desire and you just keep getting back up no matter what happens, I think anybody can succeed. I think what ends up happening is people just get discouraged and quit. I feel like if I was gonna quit, it would have happened a long time ago. I’m at the point where this does get overwhelming sometimes, but I’m not gonna quit. I’m not gonna give up because I’ve already gotten so far!