“Music is that universal language that connects all different kinds of people throughout the world,” Carmen Chiles, a 2001 Elizabethtown College graduate and current recording artist, said.
Chiles released her debut album, “SOULution,” in 2007. Before that, though, she lived in Schlosser Hall. “I call it the birthplace of my on-stage experience because Etown was like a springboard for developing my musical confidence via the love and support of my friends and peers,” she said. Before she had her own guitar, her RA loaned her one. Her friends encouraged her to play her music in coffeehouses, an experience from which she gained a lot of positive feedback. “Those memories in a dorm room, in coffeehouses, those are precious memories for me, and I’ll never forget them, never,” Chiles said.
She moved to New York City without any connections but with the desire to get into the music business. She found out that it was a daunting process of commitment, sacrifice, passion and, unfortunately, rejection. When recording the album, she lived in the city and worked a full-time job and recorded in the city and in upstate New York, spending a lot of time on trains because she didn’t have a car at the time. The ideas behind “SOULution” came from Chiles outwardly looking at love and life and learning and understanding the value of loving herself. “It’s sort of a play on words, SOULution. You have to find answers within yourself, and that’s okay! It’s a positive thing,” she said.
Chiles took piano lessons from fourth grade until eighth grade, which gave her a strong musical foundation and taught her the discipline of practice. She picked up the guitar from her older brother, who was self-taught, and started playing along to her favorite artists. Chiles said that she learned to play by ear because she had such a desire to play along with great artists like Jimi Hendrix. “I thought it would be fun to try to write my own songs just to see what would happen,” she said.
Chiles is inspired by a myriad of musicians from different genres. She said, “It’s more about the passion behind their music than any particular genre they’re in. It’s the feeling a song can give you.”
She went to a show of a favorite artist, Sade, last summer. “Sade came on stage, and she has this effortless, natural, honest thing going on,” Chiles said. She remembered being at Etown listening to Sting, Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead, Tracey Chapman, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, who all inspired her to be a singer-songwriter. Once she started writing her own songs, she became more influenced by and appreciative of rock through Metallica, Alter Bridge and Joan Armatrading, the artist who inspired Sade.
These influences rely on little things in their experiences and their passion, which Chiles does herself. She remains aware of and open to her surroundings. One song on “SOULution,” “Hear Me Feel Me Understand Me,” was inspired by walking from the train station to her apartment one night when a man was washing the windows of a bank. “The line came to me, ‘oh why’d you wipe me clean like a window pane, now they see.’ I didn’t know him, talk to him, and he inspired me,” Chiles said.
Chiles is currently working on her yet-untitled sophomore album. She’s excited to show her fans how she has changed since her first CD. “I feel like I’ve grown as a person, as a woman and also as a musician. I feel like I’ll be conveying that through this album,” Chiles said. The personal and intellectual growth that she’s gone through because of her music is one of her favorite parts of that journey.
“I describe my music as soul rock, as there are elements of both in my songs. I was blown away by one radio critic; she wrote that my voice ‘flows like liquid velvet cascading over mountains of soul’ and that kind of cracked me up when I read it,” Chiles said.
Her favorite part about being a musical artist is the creative process of recording, getting to follow an idea from birth to growth to completion. Chiles often records herself on her iPad and calls her voicemail in order to capture the moments when she is inspired. Recording also gives her a sense of accomplishment. “I have complete strangers all over the world who take the time to let me know that ‘hey, I relate to what you’re saying’ or ‘that song really touched me,’” she said.
Her advice to anyone trying to follow their dreams is to face their fears head-on, which, while exciting and scary, can lead to joy and success from doing something that they truly love. “You need to research, you need to reach out. Connect with those who are further along in their journey, the people that are where you want to be because they can provide you with valuable information and possibly even help you with your own projects,” Chiles said. “You can’t be afraid to ask questions, make mistakes, write it all down, keep a journal, and stay aware and open. You’ve got to be flexible and prepared to work hard no matter what. I’ve been able to experience things I’ve literally only dreamed about.”