Introducing Charlee Drew, a Leicester based artist who last week released his debut EP ‘You Did Me A Favour’. Charlee started off singing cover songs and putting them onto his MySpace and YouTube pages building a strong fanbase and following, which lead Skepta to discover him. Last year he wrote, produced and sung on Skepta’s ‘Doin It Again’ album and musically directed his sold out tours. ‘You Did Me A Favour’ went straight into the Top 20 in the iTunes singer/songwriter chart based on pre-orders alone, and has been championed by 4Music and the BBC amongst others. Shireen spoke to Charlee about being from Leicester, Skepta, his EP and forthcoming album.
How would you describe your musical style?
That’s a difficult one, but I think it’s got an element of all sorts in there. It’s quite poppy, the vocals are r&b I’d say, but with a pop element to it.
You first joined a band when you were 14. What happened between then and now?
When I was in the band we toured all around the country and did lots of shows, but I got kind of fed up living in the back of a transit van. I just wanted to write music. I ended up leaving the band and just spending a lot of time in my studio writing. Skepta heard one of the tracks I had written and wanted to jump on it, so I ended up doing a track on his album last year. I went on to musically direct all of the tours that he did last year and played keys and sung on some of the live shows. We did Glastonbury, and Radio 1 Live Lounge and all sorts of stuff like that. I started work on an EP; and now were here with the EP and the single.
What was it like working with Skepta?
It was good. It was quite easy for me because he hadn’t done stuff with a band before so he was gassed to hear what we did with it. We took all the tracks he already had and made it live. He knows what he wants.
You’ve built a strong fanbase from your cover songs on YouTube. Did you ever think you would attract so many people?
I hoped, I definitely hoped I’d attract so many people, and I still hope that I attract more. You can’t get complacent. I’ve done my best.
Being from Leicester did you ever see a disadvantage or advantage to not growing up in the music hub of London?
I think a lot more people will say it’s a lot more difficult living in Leicester, and it is because you don’t know anybody. Then again, you’ve got social networks, you’ve got MySpace back in the day, you’ve got YouTube, Twitter, and so everything is at your fingertips. You can do it quite easily as long you keep your head in the game and know who you need to talk to and what you need to do. The only thing that holds you back is the transport costs, the fact the trains are a complete rip off.
What about the networking side of it, is it harder to meet other artists and people in the industry?
Definitely, but it does happen as things progress, as long as you know where you need to head you’re going to definitely meet people. I’ve probably got less friends in the industry than anybody that grew up in London, but at the same time it probably doesn’t hurt. You spend less time watching what your friends are doing and more time focusing on what you need to do.
You’re working on a track with another Leicester based artist Luke Bingham. How did you two meet and are you both singing on the track, or are you producing or writing for him?
Me and Luke didn’t even know each other, but were both from Leicester. He is on the same label as Skepta, so I know the guys at the label quite well and we thought we might as well hook up a session. I’ve written and produced a track for him, I think he’s going to be using it as a single, but if not it will definitely be on the album.
Ed Sheeran and Sway have both praised your music, but who is the first celebrity to notice your talent?
It’s got to be Skepta. I’ve got him to thank for a lot like the breakthrough into the actual industry. He found me on MySpace maybe 4 years ago, and the tracks I was doing. He was the one that brought me through, he took me to his video, and we started working on some stuff, and that was my first step into the London music scene.
You’re a writer, producer and singer. Which one of these do you believe to be your strongest asset and which one will you concentrate on the most?
I think singing is probably my strongest asset. I spend more time singing than I do anything else, but obviously I want to write, I enjoy writing so much and I want to be able to write for other people, and I’m writing stuff for my own album. I want to be able to produce stuff because I need to vent. I want to focus on all of them but singing is the main focus.
You have your first release out at the moment ‘You Did Me A Favour’, can you talk us through what the tracks about and what kind of reactions you have been getting from the release?
It’s been a great reaction so far. I’ve had loads of people jumping on like 4Music, BBC, and so many people have jumped on it’s been great. The track is about a messy break up, but it’s one of those situations I think everybody has been in. They’ve been in a relationship and they think it’s great at the time, but then they come out of it and realise it’s not all that great at all. The whole concept is ‘You Did Me A Favour’ thank you for making us not be together anymore because I got out lightly.
Was it written with anyone in mind or drawing upon a personal experience in your past?
I think every song has to draw upon some personal experience to get the feeling and to get other people to relate to it. Everything has got some personal experience there.
You’ve begun working on your album. What can we expect from it?
More of the same. The whole idea of the ‘You Did Me A Favour’ EP was to kind of give people a taste of what kind of sound and what to expect from me as an artist.
What’s been the pinnacle achievement of your career so far and what do you hope to achieve with your music?
Doing Radio 1 Live Lounge was my favourite experience so far. There was 5 million people listening, and it’s the only time I’ve ever been mildly nervous before. It was the strangest feeling because you couldn’t see the 5 million people. Obviously I was there singing and playing piano, and I was being me, but it wasn’t for me. My goal right now is to get back into the Live Lounge, but do it for me. I hope to achieve all that can be achieved.
Apart from the album, is there anything before that being released?
I think there will be another single and a tour before the end of the year, and then the album will follow in early 2013. I won’t stop putting stuff out, whether it’s a single or a free download, there will be lots more stuff before the end of the year.