BORN in Hawaii but also a former resident of Arizona, Hong Kong, Singapore, Michigan, and now New York, Charlene Kaye is the daughter of two church singers, a classically trained pianist, skilled multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and performer. Sunday morning gospel, classical, jazz, showtunes, Fats Waller and Carole King were the accompaniment to her home life. The revolving door of instruments in Charlene's young life included lessons in clarinet, saxophone, classical piano, and violin until the age of 14, when she discovered punk music and traded in her lessons for a Fender stratocaster. Within months, she had learned almost every song she knew on guitar, which prompted her to start secretly writing her own music. Rufus Wainwright, Michael Jackson, Sondre Lerche, the Beatles, Nina Simone, and Joni Mitchell became familiar voices on her stereo, nurturing her ardor for pop music and songcraft. It would be years before she revealed her own songs to anyone, going to college at University of Michigan and performing at open mics and local coffee houses around town.
After a brief stint singing and playing keyboards in the ambient/experimental rock band Perhapsy, she recorded her debut album, "Things I Will Need in the Past," in the spring and summer of 2008 with Jim Roll (Chris Bathgate, Frontier Ruckus). The album revealed Charlene's budding talent as an arranger, composer and lyricist and made her a formidable presence in the Ann Arbor scene as a potent songwriter and dynamic performer. The album is a deftly orchestrated work whose varied nature offers the magnitude of a symphony and the modesty of a haiku, any one song just as likely to be adorned by pizzicato strings and gritty guitars as it is by twinkling bells and castanets. Playful pop, mournful waltzes, and wild-eyed tango are all deftly folded into Things' abundant embrace, underlying heartfelt lyrics exploring the depths of love's underbelly and the idea of time as a malleable entity. The album was met with rave reviews, described as "a grand blending of orchestral classicism and neo-folk pop anglings" (Real Detroit), “a full-fledged rumination on the nature of time and love” (Metro Times), and "a blending of perfect balance, showing strength in arrangement and ambiance” (Current). In November 2008, she was selected as Ann Arbor 107.1's "Artist to Watch" among dozens of other aspiring artists.
Charlene's sound continued to evolve as she made the move to New York after university. While her first record reveled in an orchestral chamber pop sound with a healthy dose of indie folk, her new EP, recorded with her new backing band the Brilliant Eyes, has a punchier, more realized rock sound, complete with overdriven guitars, driving bass and drums, thumb piano, distorted wurlitzer, and plenty of cowbell. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, White Stripes, Belle & Sebastian, and Al Green were newfound influences, but the songs are still grounded by Charlene's smooth, clear alto and her confident songwriting and personality. The EP signifies an exciting shift in gears for Charlene and opens many possible doors for the direction her music will take next.
Hailed as “an indie spirit headed for greatness” (the Michigan Daily), Charlene Kaye is indeed the kind of songwriter and performer whose work listeners will return to for years to come. Right now, she is assembling material for her sophomore album and gearing up with the band for festivals and shows this fall.