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Interview: Charles Emanuel 

Learning to breathe

Charles Emanuel has a knack for smooth melodies. He draws from coffeehouse genres, often writing introspective ear-pleasers that are pretty much impossible to dislike.

Charles Emanuel Miller, Jr. moved to Rochester in 2014 from St. Kitts, West Indies to pursue a career in music, dropping his last name for the stage. Emanuel's local performances caught the attention of soul singer Danielle Ponder, who invited him to join her European tour last year.

Now a 28-year-old singer-songwriter, Emanuel released a debut EP in 2016 called "The Healing Process" - mostly a collection of songs written in his teens. Released last November, Emanuel's sophomore EP "Breathe" underscores the reflections honed in "The Healing Process" with acoustic songs that highlight his vocal talents. Stand-out track "Obeah" swings elegant, the dream pop of "First Love" is reminiscent of bands like The Sundays, and "One Inch from Perfect" floats along with ease.

In a recent interview, Charles Emanuel discussed his upbringing, his music, and touring in Europe. An edited transcript follows.

CITY: How has growing up in St. Kitts influenced your songwriting?

Charles Emanuel: It really has, because back home a lot of our music is inspired by African traditions like calypso and reggae. I find that a lot of times the influence does not come out as strong as it would, but there are inklings of it. I have written for other artists where that influence would be a little bit stronger, but in terms of my own music, I tend not to force it. But once it does come out, it comes out in droves.

What was it like growing up there?

There's beaches, rain forests, dormant volcanoes, coconut trees. It's a really cool place to live, but the music that I do doesn't catch the ear of a lot of people. So when I would try to do my acoustic stuff, I would only get so far. I would have to try to mimic the styles out there just to fit in, and it just didn't work. But growing up there, I wouldn't trade my youth for anything.

What has drawn you to acoustic music?

With acoustic music, you have no choice but to pay attention. It's very centered, and you have no choice but to feel the vulnerability and feel what's going on.

Describe your creative process.

I tend to get an idea, start a project, and leave it there for weeks, months and even years. If I don't feel the inkling to continue it or finish it at that point, it sits there until I get some sort of inspiration to come back to it or start something new. I don't really have an exact process. It's more that I'm seeing now, my creative process feels like it's emotionally based.

Talk about your new EP "Breathe."

"Breathe" came about because of some bad stuff I was going through in 2017. I had just gotten out of a seven-year relationship and I was in a bad place with my music career, feeling like I wasn't doing much at that time. There was a lot going on emotionally for me, so I was writing that whole time, expressing everything I was going through. And I wanted to get it out and put it all on the table.

What was the inspiration behind your song "Obeah"?

Obeah is a religion that stemmed from Africa but then got wiped out or just tarnished. The name got tarnished by Christianity. The song is more so about not being able to trust love when you've been hurt many times, that when something good comes along you ask, "Is this real? Are you playing with me? Have you done something to me to make me feel this way?"

Are you working on new songs?

I am, but more so writing for other artists. In terms of my own material, I have been writing for quite some time. There's material I have been writing for years that isn't finished yet. This year, I want to put out a couple of singles maybe.

What was it like touring in Europe?

It was otherworldly. It was the furthest I've ever been from home, doing music. It was so beautiful.

What was your favorite show?

The first one we did in Zamora, Spain. I was supposed to do one song. So I do the one song, which was "Flow" from my first EP, and it goes well. And I'm about to unplug my guitar and the audience chants "One more, one more." I'm getting an encore in a non-English-speaking country for my material, so I stood there and I was just like, "O.K., I guess I can play one more."

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