- Words Solly Warner
Wolverhampton native, Cariss Auburn, releases her dream-pop EP ‘Refraction’, alongside electro alt R&B single “Call Me Up”.
Inspired by the y2k pop of Billie Piper and the smooth R&B of Destiny’s Child as well as the sounds of Mary J. Blige and Luther Vandross that permeated her childhood home, Cariss Auburn cites the likes of Bree Runway, Denai Moore and FKA twigs for the blueprint of her sound; “women unafraid to do what they want, entirely liberated in their art, refusing to be boxed into one genre.”
Previous single “Float” has even earned a comparison to FKA twigs, whilst Cariss’ following track “Daydream” acted as a momentary break from “trauma and pain daily – especially as a black woman”. Now with her most recent release, Cariss has shared her latest EP ‘Refraction’; inspired by a huge trip to Japan that Cariss took with her mother, as well as various pieces of visual art. Fuelled by her love of fashion, she has worked with multiple designers including Anastasia Bull and Kira Goodey and throughout the campaign, including in the EP artwork, Cariss has designed and made entire outfits herself.
With each track deeply relating to the human experience, particularly during a pandemic, the EP comes with the glitchy electro focus track “Call Me Up”. The single is “a bittersweet but hopeful song about trying to reconnect with people after feeling emotionally distanced, though this year it’s physically too,” explains Cariss.
Steadily growing confidence in her own unique sound and underpinned by universal emotion, Cariss Auburn represents some of the most exciting R&B talent coming out of the UK right now.
Notion caught up with Cariss to discuss what it was like growing up in Wolverhampton, how she got to where she is today, and what the meaning behind her new EP is.
- Jacket Lauren Broxton
How has the past year been for you? How has it changed you as an artist?
It’s been surreal definitely. I was about to go on a UK tour with a few other artists in March 2020 then everything just stopped. I found myself working towards releasing ‘Float’ wondering if I could really continue to do this as a career and New Years was hard because the usual theme of resolutions and future plans felt so abstract and impossible. I’m grateful that 2021 made me realise my own resourcefulness and love for what I’m doing, there wasn’t this monumental change or moment of epiphany but the introspection in my writing that came out of being mostly indoors has been cathartic. Plus I made trousers out of PVA glue for my artwork so it’s also that.
Growing up in Wolverhampton, what was your relationship with music like? How did it feed into your life? Was there anything you loved about the city’s scene or things you wish it had?
It was great growing up in a place that has musical heritage. When you go to your school play and Beverley Knight’s there because she’s come back to visit, it’s pretty amazing. School played a big part, I was in every orchestra, band and choir so it built up an appreciation for different genres of music and composition.
There’s 100% a supportive network of artists in Wolves but I remember feeling like the most prominent musical communities were rock, rap and R&B and that what I wanted to do didn’t slot so easily into those definitions. It took me a bit of time to have that conviction in the sound that I wanted to create but what’s super cool now is the amount of artists putting a spotlight on the diversity of the Wolverhampton music scene.
Tell us about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?
I always used to make up little tunes on the piano and write poems, then I found Audacity, went to Fruity Loops, Garageband then Logic Pro and finally produced a track called “Unphased”. My friends thought it was good so I put it on the BBC Introducing uploader, BBC Introducing WM played it and have supported me ever since. I’m grateful because that really was the one thing that made me think I could do this as a career.
Then when The Unsigned Guide picked “Too Tired To Sleep” for their spotlight last year, Modern Sky, who I’ve released ‘Refraction’ with, found me and everything shifted upwards again and all this mad stuff is happening.
What have some of the biggest hurdles been so far?
The biggest has probably been just standing up for myself in what I want and what I want my sound to be. As a Black woman, we can be stereotypically put under this single bracket of R&B, it’s something FKA Twigs & Bree Runway have been vocal about and it’s hard to step out of. I really had to learn the self-confidence and unlearn the limitations at every stage but now I’m so so excited for the future because it feels like I’ve finally opened up a funky new world of creativity.
Also, every artist can relate to the difficulty of funding projects when live performances have been impossible or restricted for so long so a thank you to PRSF Women Make Music for supporting ‘Refraction’ because it would not have been possible otherwise.
You’re a singer, songwriter and producer. How important do you think it is for artists to be multi-disciplined?
I’m one for knowing what works best for you personally. You don’t have to be doing every single thing yourself but for me being involved in all these stages helps my creation process.
So far all the lyrics have come from me because I’m working out my own emotions and writing them down in real time. Production helps me visualise the end result, understand the vibe I want, pick out melodies to feature, decide on vocal arrangements. It’s a double edged sword though because it can be pressurising if it’s all down to you.
In that sense it’s been great this year to produce a couple demos but then let go and know that I’m on the same wavelength as everyone I’m working with.
Talk me through your song creation process. How do you go about building a track?
I might be minding my own business and a melody or a lyric pops into my head, so I do a voice memo so I don’t forget it, I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of little recordings on my phone. Then I’ll either sit at the piano, guitar, or open up Logic Pro and play around until I have a few chord progressions that make sense. Then I’ll go back to writing – always in a notebook, I don’t know what it is but it’s such a struggle to tap away on my phone, it’s easier on paper. Guaranteed I’ll get stuck at the second verse so I leave it and depending on how organised I’ve been either sit and finish a demo at a later point or run to the studio with the producer to see what comes out.
Now I say this it all seems a bit haphazard, I’ve never sat down and said okay today I want to write about this, it’s working so far.
You recently released your ‘Refraction’ EP. What are some of the themes and topics you discuss on the record? And what’s the meaning behind the title?
Refraction is a lyric taken from “Float” the first track of the EP. It’s like a distortion, light travelling through an object. I felt it encapsulated these 4 stories of how I’ve been doing this past year or so, trying to move forward whilst navigating anxieties surrounding isolation from my close ones, physically and emotionally, the shared trauma we’re absorbing online, my mental state fluctuating. When your life pauses you’re kind of forced to look at it, which I struggled with, but as melancholy as the roots of the tracks are, I’m reaching out with a bit of positivity. It’s ok to be on pause and float for a bit, it’s ok to have a break, any small thing can be a celebration, I’m rooting for us all.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
The list is long but Rina Sawayama, Rachel Chinouriri and Denai Moore would be a treat. If I ever learn how to dance to be within a chance at keeping up, Bree Runway call me.
What would you like more people to know about you?
I am actually a DIY queen. I made my green fluffy hat for the “Daydream” artwork plus customised my gloves and dress and I made the wire piece I’m wearing for the ‘Float artwork. The PVA trousers I mentioned are on the ‘Refraction’ artwork (see my TikTok for how I made them) along with a corset I made from lacquering a piece of satin!
What’s next for Cariss Auburn?
I’m very tentatively working on the next project right now, pottering about and humming tunes and seeing what sticks. I’ll be getting into it properly over the summer, I just want to try my hardest to see how far I can go and take time to appreciate this support.