Interview: Cariss Auburn

Cariss Auburn

Cariss Auburn is a melodic & soulful singer-songwriter and self-taught producer from Wolverhampton whose influences range from 80s funk and soul to 90s R&B. Previously long-listed in Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition, Cariss has opened for soul legend Alexander O’Neal at The Jam House Birmingham and performed at various Sofar Sounds sessions across the UK. Cariss’s radio-friendly sound recently caught the attention of BBC London (Sunny & Shay), BBC Introducing in the West Midlands, Capital Xtra (Leah Davis) as well as radio stations across North America & Australia. Cariss is set to embark on a five-date soul acoustic UK tour organised by Punch Records later this year (postponed from March due to the Covid-19 pandemic).

Hello Cariss, how are you?
I’m well thank you! Hope you’re well.

Congratulations on the release of your single Too Tired To Sleep.
Thank you so much, glad I was able to put it out to a lovely reception.

You are a singer from the Midlands, how did it all start for you?
I’ve always been a musical person, so after school I started writing and producing some songs. Eventually I created one that my friends and family liked enough for me to decide to upload to BBC Introducing WM and it got played as track of the week. That was Unphased, and the shove for me to pursue a career in the music industry.

Your sound is very summery. What are your influences?
Ta that’s nice to hear! I grew up hearing a lot of 80s funk & soul, 90s R&B and garage, so those bass-lines, the vocal harmonies, they’re the most evident in my music as major influences. I don’t really feel the need to have sad topics reflected by a sad-sounding song. There was also a period in my life where I constantly listened to Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone, other obsessions with Muse, Arcade Fire, Bombay Bicycle Club. It’s all created a real appreciation for musicianship in live performance and seeing the voice as instrument whether that be in a wandering melody or layered harmony.

You have performed as part of the Sofar Sounds series, how was that for you?
If you’re not used to performing to complete silence it’s one of the most intimidating crowds there is, everyone is focused on you and there’s nowhere to hide. The support though, and that direct contact with the listener – people will chat to you after – it’s so great and as an organisation they do their best to lift up their performers. 

How does a typical writing session begin for you?
Music is a form of catharsis for me, so lyrics always spark from a feeling or event in my life. A line will pop into my head and then I’ll work on the song from there. It’s that or a melody building from jamming on the guitar or piano. It’s rare that I’ll sit down and say OK what shall I write about today, but you never know!

What artists are you listening to at the moment?
Rina Sawayama, Kelela, Cecile McClorin Salvant, Se So Neon, Honne.

How has the lockdown affected your creativity?
Weirdly it’s almost made me more creative than before. The usual routes you would go down are suddenly blocked. My personal example would be the music video for Too Tired To Sleep. Plans A, B & C got shutdown because of the pandemic and it led to me self-directing and editing the video featuring this gold tinsel installation I built in the garden. It’s also meant creative ways of connecting with my audience via livestream gigs and online events.

You’ve opened for Alexander O’Neal, what was that experience like?
Very surreal at first because “Saturday Love” is literally one of my favourite songs of all time. Then it was like ok I have a job to do. To perform to such a crowd quite early on in my performing career, I’ll always be grateful.

You are a self taught producer, who are your influences production wise?
Production is a writing tool for me to be able to get my ideas down but to see artists like James Blake and Beyoncé self-produce knowing exactly what they want to achieve is inspirational to me. 

Lockdown permitting, you will embark on a five date acoustic tour. What’s your favourite aspect of playing live?
I always get nervous, but when I’m actually on stage it’s all worth it, knowing all that practice and preparation is being received with love by the crowd. I have a minimal chat with the audience here and there in my set too, and that connection like refreshes my health bar every time. Plus it’s fun just getting to vibe with my band and feel their energy.

You’ve received airplay on radio stations, what’s that feeling like for you?
I’ve definitely screamed. It’s just a lovely feeling to get that recognition after working so hard on a project. The comments from the presenters are always a treat too, shoutout to BBC Introducing WM, Brum Radio and Leah Davis on Capital XTRA for the major support.

What are you looking forward to most post lockdown?
Seeing family! And just getting back into rehearsals and performing, although safety has to be key so I am wary still. A lot of performances were cancelled which has been difficult so it will be a real moment when I can reunite with the live music scene – not to be dramatic!

Del Osei-Owusu

Del is a songwriter, producer, keyboard player arranger and musical nerd from South London, Del comes from a gospel music background but listens to anything, everything and nothing. Read More

5 Comments

  1. Great interview Del. Lovely to have an artist like Cariss Auburn sharing her thoughts on our platform. Well done for arranging it and asking such a cool set of questions. A pleasure to read her answers. :)

  2. Sue

    I agree with Neil – great interview Del. And I get why Cariss finds Sofar Sounds an intimidating gig – I have seen artists crumbling under it’s intimacy, but the audience is always enormously supportive and it’s a great way to get new very engaged fans.

  3. JFlames

    Great interview Del, and congratulations to cariss on her new single release….

  4. Lovely interview! What a gorgeous voice Cariss has!

  5. The song has got a lovely vibe all the way through, the chorus is smooth, there’s plenty to dig into here, really enjoyed listening and great to read about how Cariss operates.

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