YS: Describe your upbringing in LA. How did coming from a working class family help get you where you are now?
CL: Both my parents worked: my father owned a scrap metal business and my mother worked in cosmetics. My father would take me to his work when I was a kid and I saw how much he loved being his own boss. I also understood if you work hard, you can achieve success. My mother, on the other hand, always complained about her work…money was never enough. I made a promise to myself that I would always work hard, get an education and never complain about money.
I would write and sing and perform for my mom when I was little and she was very supportive and encouraging but she made a point to tell me getting an education was number one. My father was not encouraging. My parents divorced when I was four years-old. When I’d see my father and tell him I wanted to be a singer, he would tell me that’s not a suitable career path for me. I didn’t realize until much later, I had interpreted his words to mean I wasn’t good enough to pursue a career in music.
YS: You mention singing and performing was not encouraged in your family. When did you realize that was your life path?
CL: I had such a strong desire to sing. I loved Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and I memorized every word of every song of theirs. I would audition for musicals in Jr. High School and was always encouraged by the teachers and my friends to sing. I also was a shy kid growing up but when I would sing, something allowed me to be bigger than myself. And people would stop and listen. Singing made me feel like I had a purpose. It made me feel like I was powerful. I knew if I continued to pursue music, it would lead me towards something wonderful.
YS: What musicians inspired you early on? Is there any one performer you set out to emulate?
CL: First, it was all Whitney. Her voice gave me chills. She taught me to sing with power and emotion and she was such an incredible performer. I just couldn’t get enough of her. Then, Mariah… I was obsessed with the best vocalists. I wanted to be just like them. I was always told I had “potential” as a singer and as soon as I could, I took voice lessons to try and be the best singer… like my idols. But I learned you can only be the best you.
I discovered Sarah Mclachlan in college. She blew me away. That was the first time I discovered I wanted to be a songwriter. She was a storyteller. She was singing about something that I related to on a much deeper level. And she had such grace and beauty as an artist. She inspired me to want to write songs where I can express my thoughts and feelings. I felt that would be the ultimate sense of fulfillment. She got me ask myself questions, like, what kind of an artist do I want to be? What do I want to say? What do I want to sing about? And so began my journey into songwriting…
YS: In 2003, you spent some time as a street musician at the Sundance Film Festival. What did you gain from that experience?
CL: At that time, I was working at Sony Music as the assistant to the Film/TV Licensing dept. I had just made my first 3-song demo and played it for my father for the first time. I said, “This is me… this is what I want to do with my life”. He about fell off his chair. He couldn’t believe that I made this CD, wrote these songs, sang them and paid for it all myself! At that point, music was a secret passion and I knew the only way I would get him to realize I was serious about it was to say nothing and show him. So, I played the CD and he said he wanted to be my manager!! He said he would take me to Park City, UT for the Sundance Festival and we could hand out CD’s. I took my friend with as well and that was even better because she got me a gig opening for some band. I sang for the people waiting in line for the movies. We handed out CD’s. And then I sang outside, in the cold while my Dad and my friend handed out CD;s. People stopped and took pictures and asked for my autograph. It was hilarious. It just made me a better artist. And when I got back to LA, one of the filmmakers came to my show and wanted to use one of my songs in his film. It was a great experience.
YS: Tell us about the Dream Diaries. What are they and what motivated you to create them?
CL: It was around 2004 and I was pretty involved in the Open Mic scene in LA. I would go three times a week to get better at playing guitar (I picked up the guitar at 25 and taught myself to play). I was always amazed by all the other artists I would meet there. It seemed to me that the more I knew them personally, the more I wanted to support their music. Around this time, I watched a documentary film by Jerry Seinfeld called, “Comedian” and that’s when I had the idea: I’m going to make my own documentary about the pursuit of my dreams. So, I bought a video camera and started taping.
I had no idea when I started in late 2004, at age 29 that I would quit my job, move to NYC, go back to a corporate job, then quit again, and become a Yoga instructor. I had no idea that I would continue for seven years. I kept taping and talking and recording because I believed in the process. I believed in the journey. And I learned to believe in myself again.
“The Dream Diaries” is for everyone who has ever let go of their dreams because you needed to pay rent some other way. It is for anyone who subscribed to the theory that your dreams aren’t worth pursuing if you didn’t make a certain amount of money. It is for the child inside who used to dream BIG. Keep dreaming BIG. Believe and honor what lights you up inside because who you become is worth it.
I also started a new social network called, www.dreamdiaries.me – dedicated to inspire & share in the journey of pursuing our dreams. You create a profile, just like facebook, but you write your dream at the top of the page and then share in the journey of pursuing it via gratitude lists, video diaries and blogs. I want to build a community of rockstars all pursuing their dreams. How awesome is that!!!
YS: Where can we find out about your next gigs?
CL: on my website: www.charlenelite.com – under upcoming shows!