On Charlotte Dos Santos’ latest album, she approaches love in all its nuance. A songwriter with a strong impulse toward love and truth, she describes writing the album as a reflective, cleansing process. She started the process of writing the album in 2017, hot on the heels of her soulful and vintage-sounding debut EP Cleo. Whilst she originally had a clear vision for this new project, the pandemic forced her to take a more patient, reflective approach, the vision for the project being informed more naturally by the writing, with fragments falling into place to form a full body of work.
The album title also changed in the process – originally called, ‘Metamorphosis’, after a title track of that name, the title changed to ‘Morfo’ (a type of butterfly native to Brazil) once it became clear to Charlotte that the track did not fit with the new vision for the project. The title change is a fitting reflection of Charlotte embracing a more natural and unassuming approach to her writing, whilst also nodding to the greater emphasis she places on her Brazilian heritage on this album.
The tracks on the album dot about in their love-context. ‘Player and the Fool’, with its bouncing drums and swaying hook, is a retrospective reflection on a past lover’s deceptiveness, what was once a quirk being seen in full technicolour as a selfish and crafted game. ‘Away From You’ is a standout on the album for its sheer majesty and dreaminess, owing to a beautiful instrumental build guided by singing strings. This time, Charlotte is entirely obsessed with her devotion to a new lover.
‘Cupid’s Bow’, a track with hip hop style drums and jingling hi-hats that create a shiny, almost festive vibe, takes a step inward, focusing on the overwhelming, apprehensive feeling of being overcome by butterflies. And ‘Bye’, with a punchy drumming accenting Charlotte’s inflecting vocal, conveys the act of protecting one’s energy from a love affair that doesn’t serve them – “I don’t want to be the Bonnie to your Clyde”. All the tracks are based on experiences in Charlotte’s life, but rather than building a particular narrative or chronology, they serve as snapshots from a range of life chapters spent with a mix of lovers.
I caught up with Charlotte Dos Santos for the Sounds and Sonic series, to dig deeper into Morfo.
Track 01 – Hello Hello
You reflect on this track about why someone might not have been the right person for you, but you’re still coming from a place of concern and care. What do you think about maintaining a soft spot for someone who it didn’t work out with?
I think you can still maintain that person in your thought without having in contact with them. It’s about the energy you hold for the person. Because I don’t think it’s good to walk about with anger or frustration. I really believe in forgiving and moving on. And being understanding of why something happened even if it was really painful. Because every experience, we learn something and we grow from it, and it makes you stronger. And for me that particular situation really helped me grow to a level where I was able to meet my partner. So, I definitely hold a soft spot for those people, because they made me who I am today.
Track 03 – Patience
Can you explain the significance of someone explaining that they’re the right one for you, beyond it just becoming apparent?
I always get super emotional over this song because it’s basically the story of how I met my husband. When we met, we were both thinking we were never going to find anyone. When you’re wounded and hurt you want to be kind of protective over your heart, you want to be a little apprehensive because you don’t want to get hurt again. When I say in the song, “I’m offering my heart to you, my dear…”, that a conversation we had at like six in the morning in New York City after a show I did at Soho House. I already knew he was the one for me, it was just proof that he was sincere.
Track 07 – Angel In Disguise
You speak about your own inadequacies in a relationship here. The hook repeats “hello, it’s you and me” which feels almost like “you and me” is a separate entity to you alone. Do you feel it can be difficult to remember to self-reflect when you’re in a relationship sometimes? Do you think it can be easy to lose your sense of self in a way?
I think that was definitely a struggle for me before, but now I am not sure. I'm a very emotional person, so I do a lot of thinking and I do a lot of feeling. I always do a lot of work on myself as well. I do think that if you are okay first, then the relationship is easier. You have to kind of be healed before you come into union with someone else. But also, it’s nice to be open to change when you meet a person. Sometimes someone introduces you to something that you’re like, oh that really feels like me. Like maybe they introduce you to something within you that you didn’t know you had.
Track 08 - Filha Do Sol
Filha Do Sol is a really prophetic sounding track with a strong theme of heritage. It’s got a really mythical, spiritual, enchanting vibe with a really rhythmic bosa nova influence. What kind of things bring you back to a sense of heritage and remind you of your lineage and what does your Brazilian heritage mean to you?
Well, I mean myself firstly. Just looking at the colour the skin and my nose and my hair. That's my identity, that’s something that I carry with me all the time. Every day I have a calming sense of that. It's like a comforting thing for me, like a blanket. But also, the music I listen to. I get really emotional when I think about Brazil because it's a place that I had to kind of reclaim as I got older. It was complicated because I didn't speak Portuguese, and I had to learn when I was 22 and went back to live there for four months. It’s like I had my own journey on how to arrive back in Brazil after being away from it for so long.
For Filha Do Sol, I was thinking about my father and my grandma and just like the things that they had to go through for me to now, you know, be here and be an artist and do what I do. And also, not knowing where actually is our heritage. Like, yeah we’re from Brazil but we're Afro Brazillian, so we don't really know except that we think that it's maybe Nigerian descent. It’s about wanting to show how strong we are. And that’s why people oppress you, because they are scared or intimidated. I wanted it to be like putting on a crown and lifting your head high because I believe the future is ours. And it’s me explaining these things to maybe myself in another life or in the future.
Track 09 – Ghost In The Shell
With the theme of AI on this track, I wanted to ask what you think of the modern AI-influenced way we date with apps?
I don’t there’s anything wrong with the apps, I think humans just tend to complicate things sometimes. We start to see things as more disposable when we see it on a screen. But in essence, if we can meet more people that way, why not? I think it would be nice to meet in real life but sadly we’ve become very shy, so people don’t meet that way anymore. I was lucky enough to meet my partner in Japan.
Track 11 – Crooked House
When your head feels like a crooked house, what kind of things do you do to get out?
I think, working out. Trying to do meditation or yoga. And being outside in nature. Just laughing with friends. Sometimes I can be in a cocoon especially during the pandemic. And then you hang out with people who energise you and you realise it’s all you needed.
Track 12 – Just Sayin
There’s this idea of a chaotic cycle on this track. The beat is especially chaotic with these fast drums and the warbling earthquake synths and you’re questioning how many times you will allow this person to pass a threshold of closeness with you. Do you think there’s something inherently cyclical about love?
That song is just about someone who isn’t emotionally available, and you’re going through a lot with this person, but it just seems that they can’t decide and they’re not clear. I think there is something inherently cyclic about everything. Like, the world and our lives are cyclical so it’s inevitable. But I definitely think that there’s a balance. Love can be sustained, you just have to work on that and communicate. I think a lot of us go into a relationship thinking it’s going to stay the same way that is it now but we’re never going to stay the same, we’re always going to change. But if you have pure love, you leave space for each other to grow and be. That way you grow side by side without outgrowing each other.
Track 13 – Aria 4 Arien
You end this track with the dialogue, “Let’s try and make it work”. That’s the same way you end ‘Move On’ from ‘Cleo’. Is that a conclusion you find yourself arriving upon often?
Maybe subconsciously, yeah. I had that in there as a deliberate nod to ‘Cleo’. This was one of the earlier tracks I wrote. There’s so many lyrical codes – one day I want to explain everything. I love metaphors, I love writing that way. Not because I’m trying to keep secrets from my audience, it’s just the only way for me to protect myself a little bit. But with Aria, like a lot of my songs, it’s for my husband who I met 4 years ago. He’s an Aries, so I’m saying “Fiery, fiery, fiery / Careful so you don’t burn me” and I’m a Pisces so I’m saying “Watery, watery, watery / You know I’m from the sea”.
Listen to Morfo by Charlotte Dos Santos