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  • Carola Kolbeck

A Juicy Musical Affair: Charles’ and Brother Zulu’s Artistic Triumph

From anecdote to hit single - Charles and Brother Zulu take Future Soul to the next level.

Music collaborations are nothing new, and it’s a much-loved and exciting event when two creative entities create some melodic and lyrical magic. It’s rare, however, that two artistic elements come together and create the perfect mix. That’s what I liken the delicious musical medley of London singer-songwriter Charles with future soul band Brother Zulu to. Unfathomably perfect, each in their own right but when you put them together, and you get the soundtrack to heaven. 

To mark the incredible occasion of the release of their first single, Boyfriend together, INJECTION Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Charles as well as Max, Lawrence, and Noah from Brother Zulu. 

We also spoke about what it meant for them to work together on their collaborative song, their fascinating session at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, and what they appreciate most about each other.

First of all, congratulations on finding each other and creating this incredible piece of music together. Can you tell us a little bit about how you met and how this collaboration came about?

Max: It was during lockdown when live music and everything was taken away from us. I was running a podcast at the time, interviewing musicians, finding new artists, and getting them on for a chat. That's how I came across Charles, by randomly going through Instagram. I remember he had this black-and-white profile picture, looking like someone from the 50s. It just grabbed my attention. When I subsequently discovered his music and his voice, it was like, ‘Whoa, is it real?!’  Then we had a chat and recorded a podcast episode together and got on really well. 

When I was back in the studio with Alex, our guitar player, I said to him: ‘I want to write something for Charles.’ I tried to do an impression of his voice, unsuccessfully, because I don’t have a vocal range even slightly close to the one Charles has. But I sent him my idea anyway, and luckily, he wasn’t offended [laughs]. Then, we took it to the studio with Noah and Lawrence and did a writing session. And that was how it all started. 

Lawrence: After the first studio writing session, we focused on layering the instrumentation. Due to a bunch of songs being worked on all at the same time, we took a really gradual approach, refining and enhancing the track over several months. It was kinda like aging a fine wine, but it really helped the song evolve naturally.

© Dora Orzag

You all have worked with other artists before. What made working on Boyfriend together so special?

Max: It was super easy and just a lot of fun. Sometimes, when you’re writing, you can scrutinise every single word and go over and over it again, but this just felt so easy and so natural. And I think it was quite nice to actually write a song that was a bit more tongue-in-cheek. It all just had really good energy.

Charles: And it was super cute because we were in this tiny, little studio, and there were five or six of us in there. There were just the best vibes; it was so much fun. That was one of my favourite writing sessions because we weren't taking it too seriously. That's why I love the song so much.

Noah: The whole concept was quite playful. We were talking about the situation Charles found himself in and then expanded on it, what could have happened, and that gave way to the lyrics.

Boyfriend was born from an endearing moment in Charles’ life when he was waiting at a table of ladies in one of London’s restaurants. One of them was enamoured with Charles and gave him her number. “I really wanted to tell her that this was never going to happen, and if she took me home, we’d just end up doing each other’s nails and gossiping."

Charles, did you ever text that girl and tell her that, whilst you were really flattered, it was never going to happen? 

Charles: You know what, I didn't, I got scared. I wanted to tell her at the time, ‘Babe, I'm gay…’ But then I also didn't want to embarrass her in front of her friends. Not that it's embarrassing, but I didn't know how to deal with the situation, which is very rare. I was blindsided and just panicked. So, instead, I wrote a song about it. 

Did it feel at any point weird coming to work as a solo artist with a band?

Charles: I’ve worked with my friend Sharky before, but we’ve known each other for years. This was the first time I went into a studio with a bunch of people that I didn't really know that well. I remember feeling super nervous about it, but when I got there, I actually loved it way more than when I was writing on my own. I think there's something really beautiful about having a band and people around you who you can bounce ideas around with. I remember leaving and being like, ‘God, maybe I should be in a band’.

Lawrence: It was really fun working with you. We [Brother Zulu] have been together for ten years now, and you obviously grow with the people you’re in a band with. Of course, it can also have its difficulties. But in your case, it just felt like another member of the family. I think that's what made it a pleasure to work with you.

© Dora Orzag

Creative collaborations are a gift to those who have the pleasure of consuming the end product, so thank you for this beautiful music. But how are you feeling about the results of your collaboration?

Max: I'm super proud of it. For me, personally, the song started off with Alex in demo form. So to hear it go from me doing an impression of Charles to a song with Charles’ actual voice, including the Brother Zulu production on it, that is really special. It turned out like one of those classic disco-car wash tunes. And I really believe it's a banger!

Charles: I agree. I feel like it's one of my favourite songs to date. I love it. And I think what I love as well, is playing it to people for the first time and hearing their reactions. I remember when I was in LA and whenever I'd play Boyfriend, everyone in the room would be like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is insane. I haven't heard anything like this before.’ It was always the one song that captivated everyone the most. I'm just so excited now that everyone can actually hear it.

Lawrence: For me, working with Charles’ voice which is a real, deep baritone, and then Max’s voice has like a Prince-thing going on, and to hear them together, it’s just phenomenal. I knew straight away I was working on a really good song and I’m really happy with how it turned out. 

You recorded the video for Boyfriend in the famous Abbey Road Studios. What was it like to be there? Are there any insider stories you can tell us?

Charles: Yeah, it was a crazy experience. And it was funny how it came about. They [Abbey Road Studios] just messaged me on Instagram! I remember looking into my message request and seeing Abbey Road Studios contacting me, asking me to come to the studio. And I just thought: ‘Is this spam? Has someone hacked their account and is taking the piss?’ But yeah, they wanted me to do a performance video. And straight away, the first thing that came to mind was to perform Boyfriend. It had to be Boyfriend.

Max: I'm forever grateful to Charles for giving me that opportunity because it was a real bucket list moment. Abbey Road Studios is one of those places where as soon as you step through the doors, it's just got this magical kind of aura about it. I was shitting my pants the whole day [laughs].

Charles: I just kept thinking: ‘I shouldn't be here, I don’t belong here.’ I remember walking down the corridors, and I couldn't look at the pictures of all the greats that had been there. I clocked the first two and then I just put my head down as I couldn’t look at them and I just spent the whole day staring at the floor when I was walking through the hallways.

Max: We just had the best day because of Charles. I've never experienced anything like that before. And we all got styled by Charles and wore the coolest outfits; it was a blue corduroy suit I wore, wasn’t it?

Charles: Yes, I'd sorted out all the styling and stuff myself for the whole band. And the day before the performance, nothing I’d ordered had arrived yet. So I contacted the people who were supposed to send it, and they told me no order had been put through. And I just said: ‘You are joking! What am I going to do? I'm supposed to style everyone the next day!’ So I found out where they were located, and I drove there for three hours in the morning on the day of filming and then all the way back to Abbey Road Studios. There was no way I wasn’t having the clothes, I fucking needed them! It was worth it, though, because everyone did look amazing.

Are there any more joint songs in the pipeline?

Charles: I hope so.

Max: Noah is in Memphis, Lawrence is in Birmingham, Alex is in Manchester and I’m in London… Really, this is all COVID’s fault because COVID was the reason why everyone just had to live so far away from each other. 

Lawrence: I think that's one of the challenges for us, shifting to a new way of working together as a band. We’re doing it through WhatsApp and it can be difficult, but I think recently we've found our groove and been getting somewhere. So, hopefully, we’ve got some new releases coming out soon.

Charles: Yeah, I feel like we definitely need to, I think what we need to do is to put a week in the diary when we meet and just write for the whole time. A Memphis retreat.

Noah: We've kind of just chosen to take a route at the moment, which focuses on growing our following. And then coming back with gigs, when there's a demand for it. We burnt ourselves out a bit, and so we decided to look at what have always been our strong points, which is making the music we love and then letting the music speak. So, at the moment, we find this works best. But we’d definitely love to have Charles on stage with us!

Let’s spread the love a bit. What do you like most about each other?

Max: I love Charles's star factor. It was really cool, doing the Abbey Road session with Charles and just being with him backstage, chatting normally. But as soon as the cameras were rolling and the recording started, something changed. It was fascinating performing next to someone who doesn’t just focus on vocals, but on the whole performance, the whole visual experience. That was eye-opening for me and yes, I love that about you Charles. 

Charles: I love most about you how real you are! In this industry that we're in, I've always been surrounded by other artists. But when we started working together, it always felt to me that you guys were the realest just because of the way that you guys don't take things too seriously. It was a nice eye-opener for me to be like, you know what, Charlie, you can actually just relax a bit, and you can still make friends in this industry and it doesn't have to be so serious. 

I also love the music that you create; I was a big fan of yours before we even started working together. I remember when I got the message on Instagram from Max - I was so blown away! Your message also came just at the right time, because at that moment I doubted what I was doing in the music industry. I really look up to you guys. And I never really told you that. So, I just want to say thanks for bringing me on, and that's why I love this song so much. 

Noah: I really appreciate and respect Charles's drive to just do things and get things done. I work with Brother Zulu and I run a recording studio over here, where I'm living. I work with so many different artists. And nothing does it for me more than someone who still keeps things to a high standard. For example, one day we were talking about artwork [for the single], and the next thing I knew, Charles got this incredible sketch from an amazing artist that's a perfect fit. Charles is one of those people who excite me, and I want to work with them because that's the level where me and Max and the band work. I just really appreciate that. 

And to give Max a little love, too, he’s just got this really special way he approaches writing sessions with other people. He's got this way of feeling people out a little bit. He also knows what it's like to be that person going into a studio feeling a bit weird, not knowing anyone. He's got this way of trying to make people feel really comfortable and can get the best out of someone. I think that’s such a valuable skill to have. Pair that with his voice and his knack for hooks and lyrics, and you’ve got what I call the Max-Factor. 

If you had to describe the amazing single Boyfriend to readers and listeners who haven't heard it, how would you describe it? 

Noah: Saucy, playful bedtime stories.

© Dora Orzag

As our interview came to an end, mainly dictated by Zoom rather than by anyone on the call, the magical atmosphere and vibe still lingered in the air. The chemistry between Charles and Brother Zulu is the perfect cocktail of talent, friendship, and respect for each other’s artistry. Boyfriend is just the beginning of an exceptional collaboration that’s begging for more music in the future. 

Listen to ‘Boyfriend’ here

Follow Charles on Instagram, TikTok,and YouTube

Follow Brother Zulu on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.


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