Charlie Oxford doesn’t talk like a rock star. However, this grounded and unpretentious demeanor is a striking contrast to music that is confident and unrestrained. His dynamic and spirited sound is the expression of someone who knows exactly what they want.
Oxford’s self-titled debut album feels very personal, yet strikes a universal chord. It is clear that he feels at home amid a wide range of styles and instrumentation. It is a collection of genre-crossing elements, held together by Oxford’s seemingly effortless vocals. He doesn’t leave anything out of his tool belt – jazz, folk, pop, rock – they’re all part of a whole to him.
NYMM: Have you always had an interest in pursuing music?
CO: No, I wanted to be a major-league baseball player, but then I realized I wasn’t a very good athlete. I started playing guitar around 10 and took blues lessons. Guitar just seemed so cool. I grew up in Texas and went to college in New Orleans, which is probably where a lot of my sound comes from. My parents raised me on soul music and The Rolling Stones.
NYMM: Having listened to the album, a New Orleans influence makes sense.
CO: It’s a mix of everything, but it had a huge influence on me. That 18-22 year old age range is a very important time in your life. You go from being a kid to being an adult and those years mold you a lot.
NYMM: Then some of these songs are a little older?
CO: “Speak Out” is one of the oldest. It’s about four years old, and it’s one of those that I sat on for a while and let marinate. It didn’t change much in terms of song structure, but the production for the recording is different from the original versions. You can always tweak things in the studio, but lyrically it hasn’t changed at all.
NYMM: How did that finally result in this recording?
CO: I’m coming out of a record deal, and so this year has been a big adjustment for me. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do so I just started looking around for people to work with. I had about 50 songs originally and then Adam [Smith] and I pared it down to 10. I wanted all of the songs to be different. There are a few songs that are clearly soul songs, there’s one that has a singer / songwriter feel, there’s a rock song, and even pop songs. Within the span of 10 tracks, we wanted to combine different genres.
NYMM: If the songs are so different, what helps tie them together?
CO: I think the fact that I write all of my own music anchors it. I know that I’m not going to stray too far from who I am. There is an internal thing that is hard to describe that lets you know that you’re not being true to yourself. You have to trust your instincts.
NYMM: Tell me about the opening song, “Waiting For”.
CO: It’s a pretty upbeat, pop / soul track, and it was one of the last songs we wrote. It’s one of my favorites. It’s definitely not a love song. It was more about my need and desire to get the record out. I was tired of sitting on this music and I’m a little impatient. Adam and I wrote it together in about two and a half hours. Of course, some just don’t come as easily. “Speak Out” took about seven months to write. It’s more like a tug-of-war with the lyric gods.
NYMM: Any more plans to tour?
CO: We’ve got some more Indianapolis dates and Chicago dates. We’ve been touring around the midwest a lot, which has been nice. Except for recently. We were driving home from a gig in Indianapolis and the gate of our trailer popped open on the freeway at 12:30 in the morning. A keyboard and drum fell out while we were driving. I guy behind us waved us down because he had just driven over a keyboard stand. The drum was destroyed and we never found the keyboard. Thank goodness everything was insured.
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Images by Jon Karr.