Published May 08, 2019Just a month out from the release of her new album The Gumption — her followup to her Juno-nominated, Polaris Music Prize long-listed debut album, Soul Run — singer Tanika Charles is feeling the nerves. And no, your feedback isn't going to help.
"I don't want to hear it," she tells Exclaim! in an interview over the phone. "There's a place inside that, yes, you want to know what people actually think. But then, if somebody says they enjoy the album, I don't believe them. I think maybe they're a friend or they want to be nice."
It's hard to picture someone as talented and critically acclaimed as Charles grappling with imposter syndrome, but the Edmonton native is candid in sharing that her confidence sometimes wavers.
"I'm very hard on myself. I can be the most confident person, but at the same time, imposter syndrome does take up my mental space. This duality just exists."
Charles has more than earned the right to confidence and self-assurance, though; Soul Run's was a huge success, and her sophomore effort, The Gumption, finds her channelling that same complexity. Each song is an exercise in breaking out of her comfort zone: while working on this project, she had to contend with pressures to outperform her last album, learn to adapt to a new writing environment (Charles penned the majority of The Gumption while on tour), and operate with a much tighter deadline than her previous work.
It was hard, Charles says, but if she was at all rattled during recording, it certainly doesn't show. The Gumption, with its brash guitars and thumping drums, is commanding and full of attitude, tempered with strategic doses of sweetness.
Charles worked with a tight team of collaborators — among them DJ Kemo, Daniel Lee and Robert Bolton — to create snappy, soulful mid-tempos coated in a shimmering '60s veneer. She sings about dark things: rocky romances ("Tell Me Something," "First & Last") and political turmoil ("Upside Down"), but her sugary vocals add charming warmth to even the bleakest subject matter. It's an interesting juxtaposition of dark and light, a collection of uncanny contradictions, but it's sincere and very human.
"Soul Run took so long [to create] and I wasn't feeling like myself," Charles recalls. "With this album I thought, 'I'm not going to take any shit. This is what I want. This is how I want it to sound. This is what I want to hear."
That spirit of defiance is what inspired the album's title, Charles says.
"'Gumption' is a great word. Who uses that term at all? What I love about it is that [it means], 'You have some nerve!' Who are you to do x, y and z? Who are you to build a wall? Who are you to tell me what to do? I think it's just a great name."
But even though Charles views the word as a reprimand, her confident performance throughout the album spins it into an affirmation of sorts. She's honest about her doubts, ("I still feel like I could have been so much better on this album; there's so much more that could have been done"), but she doesn't let them shrink her. Throughout her album, she has the, well, gumption to disobey her inner doubts and deliver a powerful performance of which she can be proud. And she's learning to embrace that contentment.
"I listen to [this album] and I'm like 'Okay, Tanika. You're happy with this song.' I'm pleased with what has been done so far. Pleased. And it was very hard to get to that place."
The Gumption is out on May 10.