Charles Fauna (Charles Mischer) is set to drop his debut EP tomorrow. Titled Eulogy, it’s a fantastic twenty-seven minutes of perfectly pensive pop, and Mischer will celebrate the release with a show at Baby’s All Right tonight – most definitely grab a copy of the EP, as well as tickets to the gig. In the meantime, internet-eavesdrop on a recent conversation we had in Brooklyn regarding Mischer’s background, process, and dream environment for someone listening to Eulogy for the first time:
BYT: What brought you to New York in the first place?
CM: I went to NYU and studied sociology, I actually didn’t study music. But I’ve lived here for about eight years, and then kind of just stuck around. I’m from LA originally, but I don’t really like it there. I really fell in love with New York, and this is where my music family ended up being, so I decided to stay.
BYT: So being from LA, do you deal with any of the seasonal depression stuff living here full time?
CM: I really like bad weather. I love rain, I love snow. I get bored when I’m out in LA. After a certain point, the sunshine gets a bit tiresome. Snow was something I never saw as a kid, so there’s something really magical about that.
BYT: I’m an East Coaster, but I still agree with you that there’s something magical about the snow. Granted, I work from home, so I think I have a skewed opinion when it comes to that sort of thing. Now, how did you make the shift from studying sociology to doing music full time? I’m sure there’s some level of overlap, but was this what your family expected?
CM: I think they probably did. Music has always been a part of my life. My dad works in television, so entertainment, production, stage shows…those kinds of things have always been a part of my life from a very young age. I was always enamored by performance and spectacle. I started playing drums when I was twelve or so, and my sister is a very good pianist, so we always played music together. When I was fourteen and she was eleven, my dad built us a studio in our house, in our garage, and it had a couple of mics – I moved a drum set in there, we had a Yamaha piano and a little 8-track recording board, and we’d mainly go in there to jam, but eventually I started recording, because I could. I probably started doing that around age seventeen, eighteen.
So I’d been making music alone in these little studios for about ten years, and when I moved to New York I didn’t have that, because I didn’t have the money or the network to figure out how to do things like that, you know? So I kind of disappeared into school, and I was really interested in people, social trends, and the way people behave, so that’s what made me gravitate towards sociology. I always thought it was cool and interesting, but I knew it wasn’t necessarily “me”. If I could do this other thing, and actually support myself doing it, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would.
I was afraid, though. I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to, but finally I found some friends who were sympathetic and like-minded, so that’s when I kind of pivoted and started to say that I could do this for real. That was four or five years ago, which isn’t that long ago, but also it seems like forever.
BYT: And so this is going to be your debut EP as Charles Fauna – from what I gather, there was an incident where you unfortunately witnessed a hit-and-run death in Williamsburg, and that (in some capacity) influenced the songs you’re putting out. I don’t know if you want to talk about that, but would definitely be interested to hear about it. Did you have songs previously written and then they took a new direction as a result?
CM: I had the bones of some of the music at that time, but that whole event was bigger than just a musical experience for me. It really, really shattered my illusions of everyday life. It was a crisp, January day, and I rounded the corner, and it was kind of just instantaneous. I was totally preoccupied (as we often are); I had my coffee, and it was just very sudden. I felt after seeing that that I had to talk about it some way. It definitely affected my writing and became a part of the story I wanted to tell. I ended up writing a long poem, and I don’t know why. I used to take a lot of poetry courses in college, and I just sat down and did this. Very, very long. Got some good feedback on it, and I went back when I was looking for something to focus the language I wanted to present.
I didn’t want to make it about someone I didn’t know who had died. I felt that was distasteful, disrespectful. I didn’t want to come off as thought I was benefiting from someone having lost their life. So instead, I used the event on the album as sort of point A, and the record becomes about getting to point B – a more a positive place, a sort of bigger acceptance of the impermanence of being alive and the fragility of things, and how important it is to hold onto people with love in the relationships that we have.
I learned something from that experience, is (I think) the best way to explain it. And I’ve changed the way I do everything. I didn’t want to write a record about a breakup or something. I felt there was something broader that I wanted to capture, or at least try to capture. I’ve always wanted to write music that has a deeper, darker part of it, where if you look over the edge it goes really far down. But on the surface, it’s pop. It’s simple, the music isn’t complicated, it’s simple enough that people can enjoy it and don’t necessarily have to go there if they don’t want to. Pop music for the thinking person, I guess.
BYT: The best kind of pop music, for sure. What’s your process generally like? And what’s it like to self-motivate when you’re the one at the helm of this whole thing?
CM: Yeah, that’s been a big challenge. You’ve got to self-motivate every single day. You don’t have a boss who’s telling you to show up at 9AM every day. You have to do that yourself. So in the past few years I’ve gotten into a rhythm where I’ll just sort of start working, but I don’t begin to write or record something unless it’s been in my head for such an amount of time that I’m annoyed by it, or I’m like, “Let’s just get this out.” Usually, nine times out of ten I’ll finish a song within three days. If I like it I’ll keep going. Usually it’s totally over-produced, and it takes a friend to help me strip it back, but I do get really into it since it’s just me. I have a live band, but my entire process is in solitude, and kind of has been for my entire life. I kind of prefer it that way. I like collaboration, but I do prefer it that way.
BYT: So do you like being on stage? Do you get stage fright at all?
CM: I definitely do [get stage fright], but in a good way. Stage fright is the same sensation as excitement, it kind of just depends on how you frame it. I’m a very anxious person, so when I have a show, I get into a super activated state. But every single time I do it, I’m immediately reminded of how much I love it and how natural it feels. Usually it takes a lot out of me to play a show, but it’s a rush that I would never give up. It feels innate.
BYT: Have you started thinking about how you’ll translate these songs live as you’re writing them?
CM: Well, I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible musicians supporting me who are genuine professionals and can learn anything immediately. But again, growing up around television shows, my dad was doing these huge productions – I have a very innate sense of lighting and stage production and set design, things like this, and I’ve always thought about how to make things look visually. I also have synesthesia, so I have various set colors for every single song in every key. Every musical key to me is a different color, so all my songs are different colors. I have a very specific visual of how it should all look. It’s very difficult to execute those things, you know?
BYT: So a lot of these things are ingrained in you. What has taken getting used to?
CM: If you learn something a certain way, it kind of becomes habit. So it started with fun, and it’s actually coincidental that some of my friends are in this band called Glassio. My first collaborative writing sessions were with them, and it worked because it was simply fun. Someone would lay a beat down, I’d go over to the piano and say, “Oh, that’s a good idea! We could double that or layer it here,” and it was not writing where I had written before, where I was upset about something, wanted to express myself…it was just, “Let’s create a thing.” It was a childish sort of building block, and it became fun. And once we did that successfully three or four times, it became easier to open up. And then we’d sit down and try to write words. I’m still trying to figure that out with other people. Writing lyrics with others is a strange process for me. I tend to feel that the best songs have to be written by one person, lyrically. I think the best stories come from one point of view. I think when it’s one person, that, to me, is always going to be more powerful. I still really haven’t figured out a way to collaborate with people lyrically. Writing is what I’m most interested in, and is my true skill in life. But I think also just being with friends, and people who don’t judge you, you don’t have to stress as much. That, for me, is what changed. I realized it could be really fun.
BYT: And what are you envisioning for your LP as Charles Fauna?
CM: I’ve got twelve sketches of songs right now, and I’m exploring what it’d be like to create a bigger story. Eulogy, now that it’s done, is a story, but it’s sort of more abstract. The next thing I want to explore is direct narrative pathways – have characters, have a beginning, middle and end. I’d like to tell a story that you can get really lost in. As a kid, and as an adult, those are the kinds of things I remembered the most – there was a sense of environment and a sense of space. I think it’s in our nature to tell stories like that. I want to add something to that. So that’s what I’m exploring, and that’s what it’s going to be hard to do, but the bones of it are taking shape.
BYT: Do you think that stems from your upbringing? With your dad working in production?
CM: I think definitely, yes. I was also an overly imaginative kid. I’d run around telling myself these stories, create entire plot lines, literally just run around talking to myself. My imagination was a refuge for me. And on top of having exposure to the things that my family was involved in, as well as concerts that I saw when I was younger…those things just completely transported me. It was like church. So I wanted to do it. It was something I could get lost in. It felt safe, and being an anxious kid, having stories to thing about grounded me.
BYT: So with having such an imaginative mind, then, I’ll ask you one more question – is there any sort of ideal listening scenario that you would curate for someone who’s going to listen to this EP for the first time?
CM: I think that this particular batch would be in some kind of gallery. It’d be a nice, sort of industrial space, but a big part of this EP has been neutral colors, black and white and grey. Very stark images. I’d imagine it’d be in a warehouse or something – nice and kind of warm, but also white walls. Maybe some bleachers, some champagne, black tie. I’d want people to dress for this as if they were going to a funeral, kind of like an occasion. This record feels to me like an opportunity, or a chance to celebrate something. It’s a “Hey, we’re alive, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to connect or be friends. We can come together, be closer, not be afraid.” To me, that’s special. So yeah, champagne and tuxedos. (Maybe the next one will be a pajama album with smoothies in bed and an acoustic guitar.)