Twelve years ago, I received an album called Waves and the Both of Us by a 20-year-old New Jersey spitfire who went by the name of Charlotte Sometimes (real name: Jessica Vaughn). There wasn’t a singer on Universal’s entire extended roster (She was on DGC) that sounded like her, with a unique singing voice and a focused lyrical point of view. I couldn’t get her on the phone, but she gave me the best email interview I have ever done. She was smart, funny, candid …and dropped after one album.
Worse, she was mistreated by management (pills), suits (dumped), and her touring crew (assaulted), the holy trinity of Horror Stories of Women in Music. After a stint on ”The Voice” (Season 2) did not get her back in the big leagues, Vaughn decided to hold a funeral for Charlotte Sometimes — no joke, she actually held a funeral, encouraging fans to wear black and everything — and rebranded herself LACES, and the musical approach, deft lyrical play aside, is a radical departure from her previous life. With new single ”worship” coming out September 4, LACES took some time out from her vacation (!) to do a Zoom chat about the new material, her work writing for TV shows and other artists, her ability to mimic other singers, all while constantly underscoring that she is completely out of fucks to give.
But we start at the very beginning, and the email chat we did all those years ago…
Did [your publicist] send you the link [to the interview]?
She did! I read it. I was like, ”Oh my gosh, it was such a baby.” I was like, this is hilarious. What a little nugget. [Laughs]
Here’s the thing, what I remember is being really impressed with how self-assured and composed you were, at a mere 20 years old.
Twelve years ago. Wow.
And then I read your most recent bio, which describes what was going on backstage around the time you answered those questions, and I was so angry that I wanted to build a time machine, and buy a flame thrower.[Laughs] Thank you. I mean, I think that my story isn’t that unique. I think a lot of women have those issues when they’re touring as young women, so…
Be that as it may, it still infuriated me
Well, thank you. Yeah, I think, you know, it’s crazy what goes on behind the scenes.
”This Is Only for Now.” That was my jam from that record.
That’s one of my favorite songs from that record. I always thought it was super fun to play live and [turns to husband] I don’t think that you like that one. My husband doesn’t like that song. But we’ll not hold that against him.
The same year you put out Waves and the Both of Us, Universal put out an album by an Estonian singer named Kerli that was, like yours, an interesting, offbeat pop record. And now 10 years later, we have Billie Eilish, and Sub Urban, and Melanie Martinez putting out material that I don’t think is that far removed thematically from what you two we’re doing. You two were ahead of your time.
Thank you. Yeah, I hope that we at least helped pave the way to give those artists an opportunity to express themselves in a more unique, left-of-center way.
Were you familiar with that Kerli record I was talking about?
I’m not, but now I feel like I have to go check it out. Send me the link.
I will definitely send you a link. It was a little dark, a Goth lite type thing, which is what made me think of Billie, but it was really good.
I love a good Goth lite, because I’m super into campy goth kind of stuff. So like ”Buffy [the Vampire Slayer]”, I’m obsessed with ”Buffy.” I got my little Buffy tat [holds up wrist].
Nice. Big fan.
So I feel like that’s like right up my alley. Anything that’s Goth lite, sign me up.
And sadly, like you, it took another 11 years before she put out another record.
I know. It’s because we’re all so tired of the bullshit. We finally came up when people were finally ready to hear us. [Laughs]
I didn’t watch ”The Voice” with any regularity. But, as luck would have it, I happened to see the episode where all four judges were fighting for you.
The heartbreaking part of that for me was that Angel Taylor was on that show the same year. I don’t know if you ever ran into her…
…but she was just like you. She put a record out, I think a year after you did, on a major label. It was a nice record and then she was dropped, just like that. It frustrates me that the labels are leaving it up to reality shows to do their A&R work for them.[Laughs hard] They are. I think that they’re suffering, in a way, I mean, whenever you are in an industry that has an old-school model, the growing pains of evolution are tougher for big corporations to understand that they’re not in charge anymore. [Laughs]
What is the origin story for the name LACES?
Well, I felt like for so long, everyone expected a certain thing from Charlotte Sometimes, like ”This is the type of music that Charlotte Sometimes makes, this is the way that Charlotte Sometimes sings.” And so for me, when I stopped making records, and I was doing more writing for other artists, it was really difficult for me, because people would expect me to come to a session and write that way. And I’ve always been a songwriter first and an artist second, so I really needed to rebrand myself when I moved to L.A., so that I could get better writing sessions. And I wanted to do more film and TV work, so LACES was a way, like, of how the different sides of my personality are tied together. And I felt like LACES was more of, like, embracing my womanhood, and leaving my girlhood behind, which to me, Charlotte Sometimes represents what I wrote in high school, from high school to my early 20s, so I didn’t really relate to those lyrics [anymore]. While I respected where it came from, I had a different vibe going.
So I started LACES as a way to express some of that darkness and frustration and me becoming a woman, but obviously where we are now and how it started out was very different. I’m 32 years old, so things have evolved. I think that my music is now more of an observation, a conversation of sitting with yourself and figuring things out, in comparison to before, when you’re young, you’re just like, [in an accusatory tone] ”You did this, you did this!” And now it’s looking looking inward. It’s like, ”Let’s fix ourselves, honey.”
The bio mentions you placing some songs in TV shows, and I’m going to guess that ”moves” is one of them, because with that line ”Tell me the truth, make it a good lie,” that’s got CW drama written all over it.
It’s really funny that you say that. It was on ”Charmed.”
Of course it was.
It’s going to be on ”Lucifer,” on Netflix, on the second half of season five. Funny enough, I actually started writing it about the Lucifer character and his love interest. I do a lot of writing for film and TV. I had a writing session booked with a friend of mine, G — who’s also from Jersey, hey — we’re just two Jersey kids living in L.A., and we wrote this song. And I was like, ”I want to do a song about dark love and how, even when you move on. that one person who just fucked you up, you’re just never going to get over it. And you almost wish they would just tell you a believable lie, like…I think that’s also a woman thing, like, choose your truths carefully. [Laughs]
But, we ended up writing this song, I eventually found myself within the song. I think it’s always important to have a place to start. Sometimes I’ll think about somebody else’s relationship or a show I’m watching, and then I’ll find my way authentically in that experience, and then tie in my own life experience in it, which is fun. Writing can be fantasy, as long as there’s something tying it to the ground. But yeah, it’s definitely a song that is inspired by that dramatic teen love, if you will.
You hinted at this earlier: I don’t know how you got into writing for animated shows, but genius move on your part.
Thank you, thank you.
There is gold in them thar hills.
Yeah, you know what, I just realized, as an artist, you don’t always have a lot of agency or power over your own career. So it’s best to diversify, and start your own company, become an executive, things like that. But also, like, do other things with your writing, because you create allies and partnerships and you learn how to be a better writer, and a better teammate with the people that you write with. When you’re not just doing things always for yourself, when you’re supposed to write music within somebody else’s narrative. You’re helping them tell the story.
I’m guessing that means you were a fan of Adam Schlesinger, then, because he did a lot of that.
Such a fan, such a fan. I mean…
I’m still angry about [his death from Covid-19].
I know. We’ve lost so many great people, so many great people. It’s such a shame. A lot of my 90s heroes did similar paths. So I think it was just natural for me to explore that, plus the cartoons are fun! [Laughs]
Let’s talk about your new song ”worship.” I felt like that was quite a departure from the previous work, to the point where if I if I had gone in blind. I wouldn’t have guessed that that was you singing it.
From Charlotte Sometimes? Like, in comparison or…
Yeah, what I’m used to hearing from you vocally, and this has been a slow progression as I’ve gone through your LACES stuff on Spotify. It seems to be like there was a crossing point at the song ”Some Body,” and after that it seemed like you changed your vocal delivery.
I did because… a lot of people don’t know that I — or maybe a lot of people do. I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone actually gives a fuck about me — but I’ve had three reconstructive surgeries in my life.
Oh, my God.
Yeah, I’m a bionic woman. When I made my first record Waves and the Both of Us, I had just gotten reconstructive surgery where they took out two ribs, and they replaced my jaw bones with my ribs, so I was learning how to use my my face for the first time, and I had to pronounce things a certain way. I was trying to hear [how] things resonated in my head a certain way to sing correctly so I didn’t hurt myself. I had a list for a few years after my initial surgery, so I feel like there was a different kind of stylistic approach.
Also, I was listening to different types of music. But as I’ve gotten older, and I’ve had the two other surgeries, I’ve really gotten to know how to work with a new landscape, a new theater, if you will, numerous times. So I’m constantly trying new things, and I don’t know if everyone knows this, but I’ve worked as a professional singer for many years. So you’d hear things on TV, and that would be me singing. So I had to learn how to mimic other singers and sing different genres. I had a lot of fun, when I created the LACES project, to find out who’s adult Jesse, and how does she sing, and how does she sing with this new face that she has? I actually like a lot of the breathiness that comes through on the song ”worship.” I was talking to my husband about this in the car the other day. Some of the other singers that we work with, they were like, ”How did Jesse do that?” It was because I was writing pitches for Britney Spears years ago, and I would have to pretend to sound like her on these demos and [drops into a pitch-perfect Britney Spears impression] ”Oops, I did it again…”
And through that experience, I learned how to open up and do more breathy things, and then to find my own voice within it. [Laughs] And that’s how the vocals have evolved.
I want to hear more about you mimicking other singers. Like, who did you do the best, who is the most challenging… I feel like that’s a 10-minute conversation on its own.
I feel like I do well with Sia, and Adele, and Britney is my favorite to do. And then Fergie… Gwen Stefani, because Gwen Stefani is not that far from Britney, actually. But I’m not good at any R&B singers. I don’t have the runs, I can’t do the thing. So I usually stay away.
It’s funny you mention Sia, because I remember hearing a song on one of her recent records, and it reminded me of you.
A lot of people have said that. She actually is managed by my old management now.
Is that right?
Yeah. The stories I could tell her!
I was gonna say, is that a good thing? Is she in good hands?[Says nothing, but the look says, ”Really?”]
The look says it all. Okay.[Laughs]
That scares me, because I like Sia. I want her to do good things.
She’s a boss. I mean, you have to think about grown-ass women being managed, right? And then young women, definitely different things.
This is true. I find Sia fascinating, because there’s this whole ”Logan’s Run” aspect to pop music, and she is just flipping this giant middle finger to it.
She really is.
Usually, you hit 30 and you’re done, and here she is in her 40s going, ”All right, here I am. What are you going to do about it?”
I think that that’s a lot of people, though. I mean, like, if you look at our industry now. I mean, I feel like the age thing, that’s over, like some fucking basic-ass straight white dude decided that, ”There could only be one, and you have to be 16!” It’s like, suck my dick. No thank you.
I never understood what the drive was to make the talent so young in the first place. I grew up in a landscape that had anyone from their 20s to their 50s scoring top 10 hits, and that was okay. And then all of a sudden everyone had to be under the age of 25, and I’m like, why?
To control them. Power dynamics. That’s why. Younger people are easier to manipulate.
That was the most simple, honest, perfect answer to that question.[Laughs] I try.
I only have one thing left [to ask you]. This is something that your publicist actually mentioned, because it’s not in the presser, and I’m always reluctant to discuss this because it just feels invasive, but she was saying to mention something about [your] bisexuality, and all I could think to say is, you must have enjoyed seeing shows like ”Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — speaking of Adam Schlesinger again — and ”Brooklyn Nine-Nine” introducing characters that were bi, and being represented on a large stage like that.
Yeah, I think that being queer and being bisexual is just another form of my humanity. I never hid that part of myself, but I didn’t really share it, because I felt like it was none of anyone’s business. But I do realize that I have a platform. And I have a place of privilege, because I’ve been in the music industry for so long. I’ve been in it for, what, 16 years, and I own my own company now, and I also am an executive for a music publisher (Heavy Hitters Music), and it’s also my responsibility to create a space for people to feel like they can identify however they want, and still be successful, and knowing that they have an ally and an advocate in their corner. I feel like gone are the days where we hide who we are, because it makes someone else uncomfortable, that guess what, growth is uncomfortable, so just giddy on up.
But I do love that being bi, I feel like there’s more representation now. I think for a second, you could only be straight, or you could only be gay. How small-minded. I think that sexuality is fluid, people can identify however they want, especially with gender as well. But I always got nervous, because then people would like over-sexualize me. And even though I’m a sexual person and I would write sexual things, that’s me, right? Like, that’s me doing that for myself. When I say I’m bi, people are like, ”Oh, so do you like women?” and like, ”Well, you married a man so like, did you pick a team?” Just stupid stuff. And it’s just like, ”Uh, no, I didn’t pick a team. I just fell in love with a human being that I’m in love with. I just think that it’s really cool that people are finally accepting bisexuality as an actual valid lifestyle. People just felt like, the lesbians hated you for a while, and the straight people hated you, so I feel like now it’s like, ”Oh yeah, you do you, it’s cool.”
I am out of questions. What’s next for you? You release the song [September 4].
Yes, super nervous. We actually just had a bunch of billboards go up. There’s like 16 billboards in L.A. that are promoting the song, which is kind of crazy, and then I’m releasing another single in October called ”they say,” with really amazing women: FLAVIA, Amanda Brown, and BELLESAINT. And it’s a song about being a survivor, women dealing with sexual assault [in the music industry]. We might be doing a campaign with an organization with that song, and a portion of the proceeds will be going to one of those organizations. More information on that soon. But yeah, it’s definitely a big fuck you’ to The Man. Let’s burn the patriarchy doooooooown! [Note: she sings that last word.]
Hand me a torch.
Let’s do it, come on!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, especially when you’re on vacation. I had no idea you were on vacation.
Honestly, it’s all good. Definitely on vacation because we haven’t taken a day off in months, and I was getting weird, so we decided to finally give ourselves some time off. But this isn’t work. This is fun. And I wanted to catch up with you.
It was great to do this again after 12 years, and I’m really happy to see how things turned out for you, despite a really rough, rocky start.
Thank you. Sometimes you’ve got to take it for yourself. So I appreciate your time, and thank you so much, and I hope you have a wonderful day.
Thank you! All right, take care.