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“People will always be able to hear Toronto in my music”: Charlotte Day Wilson on her new album, Cyan Blue

The R&B singer discusses the city’s signature sound, her skating skills and collaborating with artists like Badbadnotgood and Daniel Caesar

"People will always be able to hear Toronto in my music": Charlotte Day Wilson on her new album, Cyan Blue
Photo by Jessica Foley

Toronto R&B singer, songwriter and one-time high school hockey star Charlotte Day Wilson is revving up to tour her sophomore album, Cyan Blue. It’s the latest chapter in a career that took off in 2017 with Wilson’s EP CDW, which introduced the world to her soulful vocals and was long-listed for a Polaris prize. Since then, Wilson has been sampled by Drake, earned five Juno nominations, and released collaborations with fellow Toronto artists Badbadnotgood and Daniel Caesar. We caught up with Wilson to talk about her PWHL dreams, making music in LA and what defines Toronto’s sound.


Your new album is called Cyan Blue. What does the colour mean to you? When I was working on the album, I realized that my musical colour palette had shifted from warm yellows to this bluish green. All of the decisions I was making musically were influenced by that colour. I started seeing it everywhere—in the canopy of trees in Laurel Canyon, in the Los Angeles sky, in my own eyes.

Does that mean you’ve got the blues? Blue to me is not a sad colour. I know a lot of artists treat it that way, but I’ve always associated it with the sky, and the sky is a very hopeful thing.

You’ve said that this album expresses a desire to teach your younger self lessons you’ve learned. What are they? It’s a desire to protect that younger person. I was a queer woman coming out before it was trendy, and that was a really ­isolating experience. Seeing where the world is now and where this journey has brought me, I wish I could tell myself it’s going to be okay—that all of the pain will heal.

A few years ago, you did an interview at McCormick Arena in Little Portugal. Are you still living in the west end? Near there, yes, but I made this album in LA. It’s weird, because I really don’t like LA, but I find that I’m more creative there. One of my best friends and a collaborator on the album, Jack Rochon, is based out there. My partner also lives there.

Is there still a Toronto connection to this album? My musical influences are all from here. People will always be able to hear that Toronto sound—it’s a part of me. And I wrote some of it here. I love the city. There’s a reason I’ll always call Toronto home.

You were a star hockey player in high school, and you’re skating in the video for your new single, “Canopy.” Is a PWHL collab next? Oh man, that would be really cool. I’m so impressed by the calibre of play in the PWHL. I went to their sold-out game at Scotiabank Arena, and I was so emotional. I stopped playing hockey as a teen because there was no trajectory for women in the sport. If I’d had the PWHL, I might have continued.

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For the “Canopy” video, you skated on a frozen lake. Was it scary? I was terrified. I watched a documentary as a kid about people falling through ice, and I’ve been scared of skating on lakes ever since. But, when the director, Sylvain Chaussée, and I talked about doing this, we agreed that it had to be somewhere beautiful. My mom showed me these photos of Joni Mitchell skating, from “River,” and it gave us the vision. We shot the video at a lake in the Kawarthas.

You’ve said that this album was an exercise in avoiding perfectionism. Did loosening up lead to a better finished product? What is perfect? There’s no such thing—it’s all art in the end. With this album, I just set out to have fun with my friend Jack, and we accomplished that. Every day I’d wake up so excited to get to the studio. We just had a good time. It was so different from what I’ve done previously. Both Alpha and Stone Woman were laborious and isolating. I spent a lot of hours alone in my home studio—a bedroom—and it just wasn’t fun. This time, it was helpful to let Jack produce and play the instruments so I could provide the ideas and focus on vocals and writing.

What makes an ideal collaborator for you? Collaboration is great when you fully know people and trust them, like I do with most of the artists I’ve worked with—Jack, Badbadnotgood, Daniel Caesar. I’ve met some songwriters who come into a room and are like, “Let’s dig in. What’s going on with you?” I just find it corny because we don’t know each other. That’s the dance that people do in LA. But how am I supposed to be so vulnerable with a stranger? I worked with a songwriter and producer, Leon Thomas, on a few songs on this album, and he’d say, “Oh, that sings well. Who cares what it means?” It was so refreshing.

Before you got your big break, you were an intern at Toronto record label Arts and Crafts. Did your time there give you an inside perspective on the music industry? In some ways. I was mainly working at the front desk and fulfilling merch orders. But, once people realized I was an artist myself, they were helpful and made sure I didn’t make any impulsive decisions, like signing big scary deals with Canadian record labels. I also got to see the kind of infrastructure artists build around themselves, and I realized that maybe I didn’t need all of the things that labels had to offer—that I could be good with my own small team. I’m super honoured to be working with XL—they’ve always been my dream label. But, up until that point, I was just working on a project-by-project basis.

You mentioned a “Toronto sound.” Is that a thing? Oh, there definitely is a Toronto sound, and it’s already influenced mainstream music for the past six or seven years. I hear a lot of music now and I’m like, “Oh, those are Daniel Caesar chords,” or “That’s the Weeknd production,” or “That’s Drake cadence.” Sampling soul records and filtering them is a big part of it, which, as someone who’s influenced by Motown, I love. We’re also not scared of going a bit dark and brooding. It’s moody, but not necessarily in a minor key.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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