Charlie Marie has hit the road. After being holed up at home the past year, the rising country songwriter wanted to see the world. Recently, she's been roaming the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin, and while it may not be the cross-country tour she initially envisioned for her debut full-length - the newly released Ramble On - the walkabout journey has been rewarding nonetheless. After a string of promising EPs, the aptly titled record finds the country crooner stretching her legs and delivering one of the year's most satisfying albums. Brilliant and lush, Ramble On proves that the Rhode Island-native is primed for a breakthrough.
Effortlessly weaving classic country nods with contemporary flashes that feel vintage yet fresh, Marie is a gifted tailor. Her nuanced character development is sharp and swift, while her storytelling arcs are memorable and unforced - despite their often left-of-center peculiarities and quirks. Yet her strongest suit is her unpretentious focus on nostalgia and sentimentalism. On songs like the honky-tonk cheater ‘Heard It Through the Red Wine’ and the soulful ‘40 Miles from Memphis’, she steers clear of cliche, even while fully embracing the familiar expressions of the past.
Still, it's Marie's velvety, warm vocals and refined tone that truly set her apart from the pack. Specifically, it's her control and range - she’s a ringer for Patsy Cline’s crystalline and sultry delivery. She can boldly soar, but is tender when she wants to be. Whether it's the desert-swept 'Cowboys & Indians', the sun-kissed pedal steel opener 'Soul Train' or the aching ballad 'Lauren', Marie's vocals answer the call each time.
Sitting down to discuss the record, Marie shares the relief felt in having the extra time to complete it the way she wanted, how traditional country allowed her to be her true self and how Westworld inspired one of her best songs.
Ramble On is finally out in the world. Like many artists, you've been sitting on it for a minute, due to this past year's circumstances. Has it been burning a hole in your pocket and has it been difficult figuring out a timetable that made sense for you?
Yeah, but everything happens for a reason. I think it was beneficial to hold off on the release. Honestly, sitting with it for so long made me listen to it over and over. After everything had been mastered, I was listening to the record on these back roads, because I had nothing to do besides drive around and listen to it. When you keep listening to something, you get into your head, and that was a very interesting experience - feeling like I was trapped in my own psyche. Luckily, I have some really good friends, and people like Brian McKinnon and Ben Klise helped me get through it. At the end of the day, I'm really happy that I did have that extra time and was able to shine and polish the album. This record has come out better than I ever could have imagined - I'm just so excited for the world to hear it now.
I guess there's got to be a balance with that, right? Being decisive and making those necessary changes, but not being overly nit-picky because you'd probably wind up losing sight of what you wanted to create?
Definitely. I think if I didn't make those changes, they'd have stuck out for me. Thankfully, now I feel it's as good as I could possibly make it. I get excited and emotional, it's a very strange experience. I have never put out a piece of work where I'm like "I don't know how that happened." That's how I am listening to it.
With this being your debut full-length, do you feel you were able to properly stretch out and reveal more aspects of your songwriting - and in doing so, deliver more of an artistic statement?
I look at it as a flower. I was able to show the world glimpses of the past, but with this album, it’s fully blossomed. I feel like I've fulfilled one of my soul's purposes. In the I was on cloud nine - it’s like when you meditate or do extreme sports; when you're in the zone, you feel free. When I was in the tracking room, that's how I felt sometimes. I've never really felt that before - aside from playing a few shows.
There’s a few great vignettes about heartbreak on here. In particular, ‘El Paso’ has such a twist at the end of the chorus. What's the story behind it?
I was driving to Nashville to promote the Charlie Marie EP. On the way, I had this idea about a guy and how he left me for a man - when I was growing up, I dated someone who ended up being into dudes. It was an interesting experience, but I felt really alone at the time because of it. Now, because of how we're all more connected these days, I've found that there are tons of people who have been through the same kind of thing. There's obviously nothing wrong with being gay - I was just inspired to write that song because I felt it should be recognized. If you've been in a similar situation, it's not your fault. It was really difficult for me, but it made me a stronger and better person. I'm grateful for that, because it taught me so much about myself, about life, and how to forgive.
One of my favorites is ‘Cowboys and Indians’ - it has this cool and chic Nancy Sinatra feel. What's the story behind that?
So I became obsessed with Westworld. A few years ago, on the Fourth of July, I had just watched the final episode of the second season. Delores, one of the characters, makes this statement about how she doesn't want to play cowboys and Indians anymore. I thought, "Oh wow. That's an awesome line." I could see the song developing and the directions I could take it. It's a little bit of a darker song, which again, was inspired by that world.
An aspect of your songwriting I love is how informed and knowledgeable you are of classic country. You embrace classic songs and lines - references that are already touchstones in our lives - and offer your own spin. For example, you nod at Marvin Gaye with ‘Heard It Through the Red Wine’, Marty Robbins with ‘El Paso’ and Hank Williams (and many others) with ‘Ramble on Man’.
I listen to the classics all the time - it’s what excites me, and I want to create music that does the same. Those are my heroes and heroines. I don't turn on pop-country radio much, there's a couple of artists here and there, but it doesn't do it for me. I tried chasing the radio, but it didn't work for me, I didn't feel like I was being authentic. I feel like I was trying to be someone I wasn't, and it's hard enough being yourself. I've found that life is more complicated, it has a lot of different avenues and different edges - that's what I hear in traditional country. I want to write music that makes people feel something inside and hopefully inspires them.
Charlie Marie's debut album, Ramble On, is out now via Soundly Music. Watch the video for Marie's single 'Heard it Through The Red Wine' below.
Charlie Marie is this week's featured artist on Holler's Introducing Country Playlist! Listen below.