I Almost Quit: The Birth of ECHLO

 Photo Credit: Katie Budd

Photo Credit: Katie Budd

You’ll repeat yourself until you’re heard. Like an echo, repeating yourself over and over until all that is left is the purest form of yourself. An echo leaves behind the voices in the background, your inner critic, others judgements and only carries the loudest parts of you.

I've been working on this baby for 2 years now. I thought, either I quit the music industry or do something different. Well, it seems I've chosen different because I'm still here, this time round as ECHLO.

So with that, I’d like to introduce you to ECHLO and share with you her first album, ECHOLOCATION, which magically is available for streaming on Spotify or for purchase on iTunes, Apple Music and Amazon.  

Who is ECHLO? Why did I choose to reinvent myself? If you’re interested, read on…

I want to preface this piece by saying I have never stopped loving the act of creating absolutely anything. I am utterly in love with the process by which you become a channel for something more than yourself, something that is not wholly understood, and by that you share your small personal musings with a larger public with the hope that they can expand them to relate to their own experience.

You cry out into the galaxy and those who respond are your tribe, hence why I called my album ECHOLOCATION.  Music for me is a way to communicate with anyone who wants to listen to messages that when reduced to their purest form say:  “We are all worthy of existence. We all have a purpose and that purpose, regardless of whether we will ever understand it, is best articulated when you are your most authentic self.”

Creation has always been a way for me to delve deep into the spaces we shy from, a safe place for me to let go of my grip on the material world, to tune into something more - my soul some would say.  It is a spiritual process. At my core, music has little to do with making a living, or with notoriety than it does with discovery, experimentation, challenge, connection, introspection, collaboration, inspiration, and questioning and honouring the magic, awe and mystery of existence and all that that entails.

And at the end, we all just want to be understood and validated.

I love writing poetry that turns into lyrics, letting a melody come to my lips, disappearing in the creative process, translating the solo tune for a band, fumbling around with a new instrument or program, learning, making mistakes, singing to an audience and feeling the reciprocal energy flow between us, making people feel anything, travelling, collaborating, surprising myself, recording in studio and turning your ideas into reality, connecting with strangers in foreign places, learning about and being influenced by new cultures, trying new foods, hearing different languages, pushing yourself to the edge and proving yourself courageous and capable and, of course, finding my tribe who by simply listening helps to validate my existence as well.

However, this is the story of why I took a break and why I decided to change directions, and not why I love being a musician.

Backtrack to September 2016 when I let go of my manager and considered, very seriously, quitting my career in the music industry.

Why?

Well, I was at the end of my rope, overcome and defeated by the crippling pain of depression.  No, I wasn’t just sad. No, it wasn’t just the winter blues. It was severe and had been creeping up on me for the prior 4 years. The decline was gradual, so gradual that I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel at peace and content.

4 years ago my career was going great. I was touring Europe multiple times a year, playing some prestigious festivals across that continent, on the road for about 6 months of the year.

At first, I loved what I was doing.

When I started out, touring brought me so much energy. I remember driving from Toronto to Austin, Texas on tour with my old collective, The Sweetness, and I’d stare out the window excited by the unknown. The road fueled me creatively. Meeting new people and being in new places every day was inspiring and shook me out of my worrisome head. I didn’t worry about security or success. I was just happy to be able to make ends meet by doing what I loved, and to make special memories with new people every day.

It felt like a gift.

Slowly my solo career started to blossom and I was forced to make a choice as to where I wanted to put my energy because I realized I couldn’t slip myself into two full time projects.  I chose Chloe Charles and that proved to be a great decision.

I moved to Berlin, had a European band, a pianist from Leipzig and a violinist from Milan. Sometimes we’d bring in more string players and sometimes it was just the three of us.  They were incredible. I was in love with a wonderful German man whom I’d met on tour, and I should have been happy and proud.

But slowly I started to feel lonely and isolated. I had a manager at the time who in many ways was incredible but to put it simply, I came to realize in the end nobody cares as much about your career and mental health as you do (other than moms!). I felt solely responsible for the happiness of my band members, for the success of my shows, for the reception of the public, my audience, and my critics. I was short on sleep, not eating well enough, sitting in cars far too much, never alone and always stressed -- with nobody who could really understand.   I didn’t have the time to build a community in Berlin because I was always away.

Then my grandpa died. Then my dad died.  I didn’t really cry. I was strong though I felt even more alone in this world than I already had but, as they say, “the show must go on”.

As the shows got bigger and the venues got more prestigious, people from the outside thought I was doing great and making good money. But the reality was that my expenses just increased, paying my band, my manager, my booking agent. At the end of the day, I was left with just enough to get by but it was not comfortable.

I feel like I spent those years in permanent discomfort always hoping that something would change, I’d get a bigger break and be able to afford a comfortable tour bus rather than cramming 5 people in a 20 year old hatchback Volvo, or be able to hire a tour manager, or be able to fly everywhere rather than drive 16 hours from Berlin to Paris in one shot, or be able to sleep in a room by myself rather than sharing my life with someone 24/7.

As all musicians know, live shows are so precarious. You never know what you’re going to get. Every new venue and new audience and new country has a load of variables you are at the mercy of (not to mention the implicit sexism you have to let wash over you) and to be a professional you have to be able to adapt to everything on a dime. In a way this balancing act can be fun but it kept me tightly wound up. On the outside, it looked like I could handle anything and I guess I could but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a price to pay.  I started to get sick nearly monthly, with flus, UTI’s, viruses, bronchitis, migraines, and the list goes on. The short of it was that my body was telling me I actually couldn’t handle everything.

I remember realizing this while I was living in Berlin and telling my manager that I couldn’t do another tour like that again, trying to explain that there was a real cost to my health and that we needed to figure out a new way to do this or I would crash.  “I understand”, she’d say and I’d feel hopeful but then again a new opportunity would present itself and somehow my manager would convince me of the value.

“You never know who might be in the audience”, she’d say, and I’d quickly forget I wasn’t superwoman.

Time would warp and suddenly I’d have yet another slew of shows and, though I knew I was sinking, I’d find it hard to say no. I felt like saying no would be a sign of weakness, and that I’d be letting everyone down, so I’d tell myself I could do it.  The optimism would kick in, I’d remember how much I loved to play and perform and share a stage with my best friends, and then I’d convince myself that after this tour things would change.

So I went on those tours believing that I’d manage but then, not only would I get sick and have to sing through a fever, but I found myself crying daily and often breaking down in the car with my band.  Whereas before I’d stare out of the car window and admire the beauty of the landscape, feel energized by the road, now I’d stare out the window and cry. I learned to turn off on our long drives. I’d shut my eyes no matter what the time and sleep because I wanted some respite from the feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt and loss of my waking hours.

I was depressed and weak. From all angles everyone was telling me what I should do. Everyone thought they knew best how to really make my career successful, from what type of music I should make, to how I should present my image, to what songs to play on stage, to what I could say in my blog.

When I started this career, I was pure and my intentions were good – to connect with people and share my story in order to empower others to be proud of their imperfections, their humanity, to turn pain and trauma into something beautiful.  It was like alchemy. I was trying to be and find my authentic self, not to listen to what society deems good or worthy but to find self worth in myself, my true self. But it stopped being that. I was too tired, too discouraged, too jaded, to depressed to hear myself, to listen to my gut and follow my intuition. I had turned it off and music ceased to be fun.

I won’t deny that I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety but I had managed to distract myself with travels and fun and love affairs and over productivity.  I was a hustler. When I first started my career, I was booking my own tours across Europe, managing it all -- but I rarely rested. Everything in life came second to music - love, life, health. Everyone around me seemed to just expect me to maintain that pace forever, but of course they would. I had led them to believe that.  Really, I was to blame.

So let’s fast forward.

There I was with 3 EP’s and 2 albums under my belt in Hamburg, Germany, playing at Reeperbahn Music Festival at the Mojo Club. I had been lucky to land such a killer spot at the festival. Amazing venue, perfect time slot, full house.

In the background, I had recently destroyed my relationship because nothing made me happy anymore and I blamed that on Berlin, and my boyfriend. We had broken up but he was trying to get me back so, being the sweetheart that he is, showed up to support me.  But I was already entangled in another relationship with a sensual man who healed my soul and gave me the comfort I so craved. I desperately needed to feel good again and falling in love is the best antidepressant I know of.

As you could imagine, the tension was high. We had travelled there, 5 of us in the car, with my manager and 3 band mates. We were cramped and everyone was totally done. The boys wanted more money but I couldn’t afford it, they wanted to know why I wasn’t more successful. They wanted to know why I wasn’t making more money. They were critical of my manager’s strategy. We broke out into a fight and tears began to strew from many eyes.  I said nothing but felt like I would explode. I wanted to disappear.

Having put myself back together after an argument in the car with my manager, and a tearful episode with my ex on the street, and now with him in the audience, I put everything into our performance and it was a success.  We nailed it and I told myself, if something good doesn’t come of this I have to make a drastic change or I will collapse. I felt like my body and mind were about to give up on me and at some point it wouldn’t be my choice to stop because my body would make that choice for me if I wouldn’t myself.

I waited a month to see what had come of it, waiting for a report from my manager. Finally I got an email detailing what had come from the festival – Nothing game changing.

So I thought, either I am going leave this world, leave this industry or change things drastically and see if I can feel better. Something was not working. Fast-forward a couple weeks later in Toronto. I had asked my manager to meet with me to discuss something. I told her I no longer wanted to work with her. Soon after, I told my booking agent I no longer wanted to work with her either. All of my contracts had come to an end and I was free to figure out what would make me happy. I wanted to start fresh and find out what the problem really was.

Sadly it wasn’t that easy. I soon realized that I had been very naïve when originally signing my contract with my manager and that I had basically signed away nearly a decade of my future life to her. At first I believed it to be a mistake, a slight typo, that nobody would expect someone to pay commissions on all revenue for 9 years after they stopped working together.  I was heartbroken when I discovered that this was intentional and I had just been overly trusting with my career and my money, so trusting that I hadn’t even taken the contract to a lawyer before signing. Oh well, such is life, and like I said, nobody cares about you or your career as much as you do. In the end everyone has their own interests at hand. I tried to talk it through but that proved fruitless.

That month I went on tour to Vienna. It was a show I didn’t want to do because it was a one off and the cost to bring my entire band, pay my booker and manager would make it financially worthless.  So I hired a pianist from Vienna, and spent a week rehearsing. But then everything that could go wrong went wrong. The promoters were angry because I didn’t bring a full band. My good friend who was supposed to fly in to meet me from Paris didn’t make it because his plane was cancelled due to the increased security following the attacks on Paris. Though soundcheck went well, when we played our actual set, the sound guy muted my guitar and when he got it working there was constant feedback. I had been crying backstage beforehand and blew out my voice. The pianist seemed to have forgotten all of our arrangements and adapted every song into jazz. We got through it, I went for a smoke and gulped down a cup of whiskey. We went back to the hotel and all I wanted to do was crash but without sharing all, let’s just say I landed myself in a very uncomfortable position where I was left feeling sexually violated and ashamed that I could let something like this happen as an adult woman. I had been through much worse as a teen and never believed that I would freeze yet again.

Crying on the floor, waiting for him to wake up so I could get my stuff from his house, I booked a bus to Berlin that afternoon.  On that bus I struggled to figure out why I was living like this. What was the payoff? What was the reward? And then I checked my email and low and behold, there was a threatening email from a bully of a lawyer telling me my now ex-manager was going to sue me for $65,000.  Suddenly, all of the unprocessed loss, the loneliness, emptiness, worthlessness, guilt for being a absentee friend, girlfriend, daughter, granddaughter, shame for not being successful enough, and embarrassment for my previous naïve optimism and hopefulness all rose up. Discouraged and defeated by the industry and life itself I broke down alone in a bus for 10 hours to arrive in Berlin to my ex boyfriend’s empty apartment while he spent the night with some new girl.  All I wanted was to not be alone but I truly was.

The next couple of years were filled with legal battles, that amounted to the disappearance of my savings, trials with new managers, some who dropped off the face of the planet, some of whom were total pricks, in and out of love affairs, never able to commit, never knowing who I was or what I wanted or where I was going.

But I still didn’t stop.  I decided to start over, to reinvent myself to write like I had when I had first picked up the guitar, blind and uncensored.  So I spent a summer tormented by unrequited love and sequestered in my room. I played around like a child on instruments I wasn’t comfortable with. I wrote with synth’s, keys and started to program beats. I literally could sit for 16 hours a day playing around with no end goal other than to reignite my inspiration and let it take its own course. I’d randomly pick a sound I liked and press a random key and start there. Some songs turned out super hip hop, some were a mixture between classical and electro, some were some weird ass experimental shit.  I just turned off my inner critic and decided that everything I would do would come from that same pure space. I would stop thinking about whether a song would be radio friendly or if it fit with the trends, or if a label would be interested, or if it was cool enough or catchy enough. All the nagging voices that had infiltrated my head over the years were muted.

I wrote lyrics that were defiant and uncensored and provocative. Determined to push back against the expectations of an all-too-often inhumane society, I wrote stories of my experimentation with polyamory, anti-establishment tales that some might consider conspiracy, my inability to commit to one love, my rejection of modern media and propaganda, and my personal experience with mental illness.

I decided to hold my cards close and only work with the ones who’d stood by me since the beginning instead of going for big names. I was done trying to please everyone else first and I was done hiding.  So, I produced my tracks as fully fleshed out as possible in my bedroom and then recruited the skills of my best friend, confidant, musical soulmate, musical genius, tour manager, artistic director and, saviour, best listener, best masseuse, most calming sane and loving presence, Neil Whitford, to use his magic to take these tracks to another level. We fled the city and recorded vocals at Woodwinds, a cabin outside of Lakefield, Ontario, and together produced something I am so proud of, no matter what comes out of it. My greatest wish is for my songs to touch you and make you love yourself and humanity more.

And the outcome of this manic, playful, focused period was a new me -- ECHLO.

What inspired the name?

It’s a play on my name Chloe and the word echo.


ECHLO is the echo of Chloe Charles’ past, looking to start over, only keeping the echoes of the lessons learned and leaving the pain and mistakes behind.  The harder the surface, the greater the echo’s reflection. This repetition after the direct sound serves as a lucid metaphor for the strife that prompts us to bounce back and move forward, a testament to the importance of perseverance, and following your own voice to keep core values, messages and beliefs intact.  

Repetition is command.

I am proud to say, I’ve changed the way I live my life as a musician. My focus is on the art and the connection with you. The rest is just noise.

If you made it this far, I hope you will accept my cordial invitation to the ECHOLOCATION release party and art exhibition (yes I am also going exhibit my art for the first time ever) at Super Wonder Gallery, 584 College St., Toronto,  on December 14th.

It will be more than a concert. It will be a time to mingle, meet friends and like-minded people.

Let’s bring together our tribe.

Thank you for standing by me all these years.

Love,

Your Chloe