It’s 2012, and genres don’t matter anymore. Enter Carrie Wilds, the retro-soul singer who’s collaborated with big names of the hip-hop and electronic production world like Araabmuzik and Crookers. On her new self-titled mixtape, she updates vintage glamour with modern beats from Lunice and Joker and guest verses from rappers Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Cody B. Ware. Wilds is also the first female solo artist on Mishka, the streetwear company/record label that’s also launched the careers of acts like Das Racist. Despite her unexpected roots, there’s also an immediate familiarity to her classically powerful voice, even when she’s flipping “Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs on its head.
I met with Wilds at the Roebling Tea Room in Williamsburg to talk about her diverse background, recording the mixtape, and breaking down barriers.
You grew up in the South, right?
I grew up in a little town called Palmetto, Florida, it’s like a little island just west of Palmetto. It was really cool, a small community where everyone knows everyone. It was cute, a cool place to grow up. Pretty darn Southern.
That’s interesting, because you don’t normally think of Florida as having Southern culture.
Most people don’t, because they associate Florida with major cities like Tampa or Miami, and certainly those are less Southern. Palmetto is known for tomato growing, it’s definitely a cow town.
How do you think that affected what you do now?
When I first came to New York, it was when I first decided that I would get back into music seriously. I wasn’t sure how that would come about, but I ended up getting involved with Luca—Drop The Lime—and I was working primarily in the electronic scene. So I was using that Southern soul background showcase these big diva vocals. It really came through in that respect, my love of powerhouse singers like Aretha Franklin. I think it’s most obvious when I do features for electronic artists.
You grew up with a lot of soul music?
A fair amount. My parents were typical hippies, so we listened to a lot of Allman Brothers, more stuff like than than soul music. But in preschool and in my afterschool program, I was one of the only white girls, so we listened to a lot of gospel and sang a lot of gospel. Every day in my preschool, we sang that Whitney Houston song that’s like "I believe that children are the future" and Bill Withers’s "Lean On Me." So I think having roots like that when I was like five years old and singing that kind of music really played a part in both my love for music and my love for that particular style of music.
How long ago did you get involved in the dance world?
When I first moved to New York, I didn’t know anyone, and my ex-boyfriend who was a DJ, he was like, "Oh, you should look up my friend Dave Pitts," who at the time worked at Turntable Lab. So Dave Pitts would take me around to these parties and we’d get on the list, and it was my first experience in New York nightlife. He took me to see Drop The Lime in Fontana’s basement a long time ago. I went to see him DJ and he was doing this live vocal thing and it was so amazing, I had never seen anything like that. I was a huge fan from going to the parties, and then I met Patrick, the Captain, and was like, "Hey, I’m a singer, so if you know anybody who needs vocals…." It was so funny, I was so geeky and had no idea what I was doing. But he introduced me to Luca, and Luca and I started working together, little songs, and then I got confident and started doing things with other producers and getting more deeply involved in the electronic scene in that respect, being friends with those guys. There’s kind of a circle of people, like Supra1, and then I was doing work with Crookers and became part of this weird Italian family of electronic music. It all kind of stemmed from me coming to New York not knowing anyone and going to some random parties with my ex-boyfriend’s friend.
So you were on one of the Crookers albums?
Yeah, the Tons of Friends album. It’s a really weird song, it was their attempt at dubstep. It was cool, you can kind of hear the Southern in that. The whole song is called "Have Mercy," it’s kind of "Oh Lord." I had a phase where everything was "Looord" and "Chiiild," which is definitely real Southern.
How long ago did you come to New York?
It’ll be six years in November. And boy, has it flown by. I came to New York, and by the time I started doing things, it was probably 2007. But I really didn’t take myself seriously, it wasn’t really until a year ago that I lost my job at the time and was in the pits. I was unhappy and I decided that I needed to really do it, like shut up and do it already. That’s when Shiftee and I started working on the mixtape that we just put out. He was so patient, he was busy doing his own thing, but he’d send me groups of beats and check in how things were going with it. I used the last bit of money from that job, went to Guitar Center and bought a microphone and a little system, and recorded the whole thing in my closet in Brooklyn. I’m pretty impressed with the way it came out, considering that if you were to see what it looked like, the way I closed the doors, it was enough space for you to stand in, and that was it. It was fun.
It doesn’t sound like that at all.
I recorded all of it in my little closet, except for "Somebody Save Me," I recorded that in a studio with Sammy Bananas. He has a studio out in Bushwick, we recorded that song there. I’m sure [my roommate] Vivian [aka Star Eyes] was just like, "Oh, alright" with me singing over and over again. At the time, she was working a lot from home, so there was always a combative thing with heavy bass coming from her room and me singing in my room. It’s funny.
So singing is something you grew up with that you didn’t take seriously until later?
I didn’t take it seriously. I was in school choruses; that was the extent of it. I was in acting a lot. When I moved to New York, I decided I wanted to be more creative, and I just felt like acting wasn’t as creative as I wanted to do it. I was like, "Oh, maybe I’ll think about that more."
You don’t see yourself getting back into acting?
If a cool opportunity came up, I’d go for it, but it’s one of those things where I will never see myself going back into a time where I’m out pounding the pavement, auditioning. That’s not for me, but if someone were to be like, "Hey, I would love for you to be involved in this project or this role," I would consider it, for sure.
Who are some other producers you’d like to work with?
One of my major music idols was Amy Winehouse, so the producers of her projects. I’m a huge Mark Ronson fan. I would really like to move out of the more electronic sounds and find a more organic-sounding thing, that’s of course going to have tones of electronic because that’s the way music is right now, it’s kind of in that weird realm in between. I’m really bad with names, I can see faces, but I can’t say the names. Right now I’ve been immersed in this indie rap scene, which is really cool, I’m a huge fan of fan of Action Bronson and Meyhem Lauren and that whole Outdoorsmen crew. And I really love that production, like Clams Casino, but they’re not set up for singers. They’re beautiful, but it’s not conducive to vocals. It’s all loopy or so ethereal you can’t structure anything that people will appreciate with my kind of vocals. I definitely would like to try out more producers who have a stronger hold on live instruments.
There’s so much genre-bending you do, pairing these electronic producers with a classic style of vocals.
It was fun, that’s what I really loved about doing this mixtape. I had some ideas of songs I really wanted to cover, and somehow fit them into these that otherwise don’t make sense. "Dream Lover" is one of my favorite songs on the mixtape, and that’s a song that I wrote with big vocals, and it was over this looping grime beat that I had a friend warp so it wouldn’t be so loopy. It was fun for me to see that blossom out of that experience. I’m still at the point where I’m not in the studio with someone helping me shape a song, it was really me arranging things and making something bigger out of going in on this electronic beat. It’s all up to me, it’s kind of flat when you hear it, but then [I’m] kind of making it come to life.
So your process has to be very self-motivated.
It’s incredibly self-motivated. And it’s fun, but I work a job outside of that, so it’s working outside of my 40 hours a week at that job and then finding the energy to not only write my own music, but listen to new producers, listen to groups of beats and try to reach out to people and see if they have time to make something new, because I’m pushing for the next EP to be something more, with all original beats, so it’s not just a mixtape and something where anyone would have done it. It’s very much together, it’s me.
Are there any other rappers you’d like to work with as well?
I would love to work with Heems, and I would love to work with Action [Bronson]…Bigger than that, I’m a huge fan of Yelawolf. He’s really talented, he’s a good storyteller, and he’s super hot. Can’t go wrong. I would be really into that. Craze was DJing for him for a while, and Craze and I are friends and I’ve worked with him. I’m hoping I can sneak in there and it would be in my best interest to be featured on one of his tracks to get more exposure. That would be ideal. I think those are the main ones. I’m a huge Weeknd fan, and I would love to collaborate. I feel like my style vocally would mesh well with that. Those are the main ones.
Everything’s so collaborative and genres don’t matter anymore.
It’s so true. It’s crazy. I was thinking about that when El-P was on Late Night and Zola Jesus was with him. I would never have been like, "Yeah, they should collaborate," but it worked when they did that.
Or there are those Converse songs where they throw three different people to write together, like the first one was Pharrell, Santigold, and Julian Casablancas.
I’m a huge Santi fan, I really appreciate her as an artist. She seems super rad. I’ve always thought of myself as collaborating with men, I’m always kind of daunted by the experience of working with female artists, because there’s an inherent competitive quality to that in my mind. But I feel like the right collaboration, with someone like Santi whose style is very different, it would be interesting to see what came out of it.
It is harder, because people are going to make you compete with other women when it shouldn’t be a competition.
Yeah, a magazine was doing a write-up, and they compared me to Jessie Ware and Azealia Banks, and I was like, "No, I don’t get that." That was my first experience being compared to someone, it was funny to me. Bad journalists don’t have descriptive language, so they rely on comparisons to other modern artists.
And then you’re the first female solo artist on Mishka.
It’s really cool for me, I like so much music that they’ve put out. They’ve done a lot of really good things with the indie hip-hop scene and the New York hip-hop scene. It was cool to be part of that. I’ve known the brand since the beginning, for five of the six years that they’ve been around, just watching them grow and really loving the things that they’ve done. I’m really excited to also be a part of that, and I love that they’ve grown their music department, it’s really super cool.
And you represent a shift in direction.
Yeah, I think it was about time that they released something that wasn’t a group of hip-hop dudes. They’re really open-minded as a brand, with them supporting CREEP and Lauren Flax in general, and then flipping it and supporting Children of the Night and stuff like that. They’re very intelligent about their choices. I feel like the people they’ve chosen to put their wind behind have really gone on to do some cool things. Children of the Night are opening for Nas in London right now.
What’s coming up next for you?
I have a show on September 10, it’s a Greedhead-presented show featuring Lakutis and Kool AD of Das Racist’s new project. So that’s coming up. It’s going to be a little longer of a set for me, my last show with Angel Haze was only 15 minutes, and this is double that. It’ll be interesting to see what I decide to do with that. It’s still early in my little showcase to introduce any new material, but I’m really excited about the things I’m working on now. I have to keep it at bay. I’m working on what I’m planning to be a six song EP, I’m not sure where that’s going to go, but I have three songs well under way, and I’m pushing to break the rest.
What do you hope people are doing while listening to your music?
That’s hard because living in New York, it’s hard to remember what people in other cities or states are doing while listening to music. In New York, you’re always in transit, it’s kind of this background noise or soundtrack to your commute. It feels like those moments when you’re alone and are really focusing on the sounds. I have those moments where I really want to listen to music, and I sit down and really listen to Twin Shadow. I don’t just want to be party music, I really want people to listen to what I’m saying.
Twin Shadow, that would be another cool collaboration.
I actually went to high school with him. His sister was a dancer and we danced together. I actually knew him because he was in the theater department when I was in the theater department, and then, funnily enough, he dated my first roommate in New York. We knew each other through that same ex-boyfriend. Small world. It would be cool, it would be interesting. I read an interview recently where he said something about not collaborating very often because he can sing like a woman better than most women he knows. I was like, "Okay, George."
I guess he’s focusing on his novel, too.
Which I am so stoked on, especially when you watch the music videos. Especially the "Five Seconds" video, I love the storyline and I love the muted colors that he chose. I was really blown away by that. The second single, the choice for the main woman was a little weird because if she was supposed to be this intense beauty that two friends are willing to separate over, she should be really fucking beautiful. She was cute, but she should be like, striking.
Do you want to do something that high concept for one of your songs?
Yeah, we’re talking about doing another video for a song from the mixtape, and I would really love to do "Dream Lover." I would really love to do something conceptual, I’m such a fan of Woodkid’s style and beautiful imagery. I would love something with a really awesome storyline or really intense, beautiful images. It’s just a matter of it’s all coming from me, the budget is all my budget, and it’s hard.
Would you want to come up with the treatment yourself?
I’m open to it. It’s also hard when you come up with the treatment yourself, I think it’s easy to become really controlling over the product. Part of my hope’s to work with really talented directors to hopefully have someone who I can marry my vision to with a smooth transition. I work with music producers who are really able to pull my ideas out of my head and make that something, so I look forward to working with a visual director who would do that as well.