Panoplay is full of talented musicians, but it’s not every day that I get to interview somebody who not only creates awesome music, but also directed her own music video, has written screenplays, and worked for multiple TV networks. Charise Sowells, otherwise known as Lake Lady, has taken the Bay Area by storm in the last year. Moving her creative arts skills to Oakland, she has begun to “establish Oakland as an important cultural hub for Bay Area music”.
While the current Lake Lady project encompasses many trinket instruments, including accordion and ukulele, Lake Lady released a new EP titled Better Day on March 25th that brings a much more somber, soulful feeling than her newer work. In the following interview, we talk to Lake Lady about the music video she directed for a song off her EP, how she ended up in the music industry, and how she splits her time between all the different creative projects she is a part of!
Note: This interview was transcribed by me (we talked over a video chat), so if some of the wording seems off…my bad 🙂
Panoplay: Hi I’m Lake Lady and I _____________
Lake Lady: love pugs. <laugh>. Also, I’m a singer-songwriter, producer, and script-writer that is venturing into directing.
Panoplay: How do you split your time between those?
Lake lady: I feel like I’m still finding that sweet spot. But instead of forcing myself to choose, which is what I was trying to do for years, I just kind of go where inspiration takes me. And right now, I’m at a good point where it’s all kind of merging. I don’t really feel like I’m choosing anymore because I directed my own music video, I produced another music video of mine, I directed a few other videos from previous bands I was in, so it’s all kind of finally starting to come together.
I started this group called the Bay Area music collaborators, and we’re having monthly meetings. I’ve met people through that wound up being on my crew for my own music videos, but I wanted to not only make my own music videos, but make other people’s. But I can’t do that and everything for my EP release at the same time, and work a full time job and have a social life, so…I don’t have the perfect answer to balancing my time, I just try to prioritize and take it a step at a time I guess.
Panoplay: So you’re thinking about going into music video direction?
Lake Lady: Yeah, so I studied script-writing at NYU and actually won awards for my plays! I made short films as a student and worked on a bunch of fun little projects and then worked in film and TV for 7 years at Nickoloedeon and Channel 13 in New York and reality tv in LA and I ran a theater for a while, so it’s definitely been a big part of my life. I grew up doing theater and choir, so it’s always been a big balancing act. When I was working for artist managers in college, I started as an intern and then wound up doing music video treatments and interviewing artists and writing their bios for their press kits. Like, physical press kits, like cutting out the articles from magazines and gluing them onto paper for their press kits. Yeah. So that was when I started to think that yeah, I have this storytelling skill, and I’m passionate about music and I could put the two together because I’ve always been obsessed with music videos, it just makes perfect sense. And 10 years later, I’m finally starting to do that.
Panoplay: What’s the music scene like in the Bay Area?
Lake Lady: It’s diverse. At least in Oakland, my favorite thing about this city is how diverse it is in every way, and the music scene totally reflects that. There’s folk and rock and electronica and soul and salsa and all kinds of world music and world dance. It’s really supportive, you can try anything here and no one is going to bat an eyelash at anything weird or anything new. I absolutely love it. Experimentation is totally normal here.
Panoplay: Do you think that played a part in starting the Lake Lady project you’re currently working on?
Lake Lady: Actually, I started writing these songs before I moved here. I picked up the ukulele about 6 months before moving here, and I had literally never played it before. I was looking into film and TV placement and all these ads were calling for ukulele thought “I play guitar, I can pick up a ukulele and write something cute”. I wasn’t thinking about it being anything serious, but I totally fell in love with the instrument, wrote 4 songs in a week and a half borrowing my roommate’s toy ukulele, and I thought okay, I should probably buy a real one. I posted them on Soundcloud and kind of left them there. After I moved to the bay area, I started looking for people playing world instruments. I wanted someone who played accordion, and all these weird little trinket instruments. The first person that responded was Bill Cole, and he didn’t play all the weird little folk instruments, but he kills it on accordion, and he’s such a nice guy. So, that happened quickly, and then my husband said “I want in on this, I’ll play bass for you”. So it’s been the trio now for the year, and we just added a drummer.
While this EP is more of a past creation than the current Lake Lady project, it still represents some of who I am that I want to show the world. The future Lake Lady project will have 400% more ukulele and a much more worldly sound.
Panoplay: So you have an EP coming out called Better Day. With that title, I can tell it’s going to be full of emotion. Am I right?
Lake Lady: It certainly is. That is separate from the Lake Lady ukelele project sound. There is one song, Be Still My Heart, I wrote it on ukelele first, so it just made sense to pull in the band I was playing with for that one. So that track has both Bill and Evan on it, but the other ones are all sans ukelele and darker. Pretty moody, except for Better Day, that’s the light at the end of the tunnel for the album, and I call it my Bill Withers song. It’s just a total throwback, feel good, sunny, 70’s soul day in Brooklyn. I love it. But, that came from a dark place as well, just wound up sounding really happy for some reason.
Panoplay: So, one of the songs off your new album is called Will He Ever Come, and you have a very unique music video for that song. Can you tell us about that, and what it meant for you?
Lake Lady: It’s definitely about love, and that’s why I tried to get a valentines day premiere for it. Which, thankfully we were able to get with IndieMinded. But it’s about a place a lot of us have been or will be in life, where we’re wondering if that special person is ever going to show up in our lives. Then the music video concept was basically about kind of facing the skeletons in your closet, your true colors, your inner demons, whatever it may be, dealing with your own issues so that you are able to actually be open to true love.
I mean, there’s more to it, but essentially she’s doing a seduction spell, searching for the one. And then these true colors, inner demons keep surfacing, and her true self keeps showing. In the end they wind up facing off and hopefully because of that, it fades into the sunset, now it’s a new day, she’s one with herself and hopefully open to the real thing. That’s what I was going for on that, and that’s the one I directed.
Panoplay: So what are your plans for the next few months? Are you going to do any shows to promote the EP?
Lake Lady: Yeah, well, yes. We’re playing now all the time. We’re having an EP release show here in Oakland, and then I want to do a whole series of Bay Area shows that are specifically tied to the EP, but again we’re only performing one actual song from the EP. So it’s a tricky thing. It’s more I’m building the Lake Lady name at this point.
Panoplay: So, changing gears completely, what has been your most embarrassing moment?
Lake Lady: There was an almost disaster. I hadn’t performed in a really long time, I had just been working full time, and my high school asked me to perform at their 20th anniversary show. I went to an art high school. So they flew me out to do this poetry performance with this entire jazz orchestra. They told me I had a half hour to figure things out and rehearse and perform in front of 2500 people. It was a sold out, gigantic theater in Orange County. So it was really exciting and amazing and this was around the time that Ashlee Simpson had a moment on SNL where she forgot the words and ran off. So I had this terrible stage fright when I got up there. I said the first two lines of my poem perfectly in time with the jazz orchestra, and then I just had this vision of Ashlee Simpson running off the stage, and then I realized I didn’t know what my next line was. I stood there for what felt like an eternity but was probably about two seconds hoping that it would come back to me, because I didn’t want to run off stage and embarrass myself in front of all those people. Thankfully it came back to me and everything was fine. In fact, after the show people told me they liked the dramatic pause I added in the introduction and I said thanks, yeah, toootally planned.
Panoplay: You can hear one song before the world ends. What song do you choose?
Lake Lady: Michael Jackson’s “This is It”. It’s the end of the world, this is it guys. It’s so epic, but it’s so sentimental at the same time, I love that song. It’s so good.
Panoplay: Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Lake Lady: Go big or go home.