Journalist and rom-com queen Nora Ephron once gave a group of graduating Wellesley College students a piece of very astute advice: “Be the heroine of your own life, not the victim,” said the brains behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle. In other words, don’t let other people have power and control over your life. It’s a quote that’s been cited often in the 20-plus years since Ephron uttered it, but one that feels remarkably relevant when listening to New York’s Charly Bliss’ sparkling second album, ‘Young Enough’.
Although there are other subjects nestled within its punchy pop walls, the record largely tackles lead singer Eva Hendricks’ experiences of being in an abusive relationship. Where it could have been a sombre, heavy album, it’s instead vibrant, colourful, and euphoric – the sound of someone learning to own their experiences, reclaiming their power, and celebrating making it out the other side.
“I think that’s the whole message of the album,” Eva says, sat next to her brother and bandmate Sam in a shady corner of a quiet Brooklyn bar. “Something really wonderful about getting older is this sense of perspective that you gain. You can look at your experiences an, even if they weren’t great, you can feel grateful and be like, ‘I really was an idiot then. I’d just love to give her a hug, she really had it all backwards.’”
“Grateful” is a word that Eva says often while talking about the things that inspired the follow-up to 2017’s ‘Guppy’. That debut album documented the singer and guitarist’s first experiences of falling in love but, as she puts it herself, “when I was still really angry and frustrated and feeling sarcastic and bitchy about it.”
Now, on ‘Young Enough’, her outlook is more in line with a more recent (and likely even more quoted) sentiment than Ephron’s – that of Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’. “I think I just reached a point where I felt grateful for it,” Eva says of the relationship she revisits on the slow-building, sky-scraping title track of the new album. “Grateful that it was over, grateful that I was in a different place, but also grateful that I’d had this relationship that, even though it wasn’t working, was very sweet.”
That thankful attitude extends across the whole album, but making the initial decision to be so upfront about some of her other experiences wasn’t easy. Writing about the sexual assault she’d gone through meant not only being comfortable talking about it with those close to her, but with strangers too. The choice to be specific in her lyrics now feels “a really gratifying moment” to her. One that feels that way every time someone reaches out to her to share their experiences. “That’s been such a huge help,” she says. “That response always makes me tune out my bullshit and my own fears.”
“My mantra to myself was, ‘All I can do is tell the truth,’” – Eva Hendricks, Charly Bliss
On their debut, ‘Guppy’, the band (completed by guitarist Spencer Fox and bassist Dan Shure) often hid the real meanings of their songs behind sharp humour and larger-than-life personas. Now, the stories behind them are illuminated. “My mantra to myself was, ‘All I can do is tell the truth,’” says Eva.
There are more changes between the Charly Bliss of 2017 and the band exhibited on ‘Young Enough’. Back then, Eva and Sam say they were still trying to figure out who they were as a group, but also fell victim to the excitement and naivety, one that made them record their debut album earlier than necessary. “We were really trying to fit in here in New York and find an identity,” Eva says. “Hearing back the first version of ‘Guppy’ really makes you realise that.”
After recording their debut twice and writing a whole other album’s worth of songs, they realised who they were – a pop band who want to make “massive and cathartic” records. Free from the nine-to-five jobs they’d been toiling at while making ‘Guppy’, they also had way more time to really master writing songs that fit that ambition.
‘Young Enough’ might now sound like a completely cohesive and assured record, but Eva says there was a long period of time where that wasn’t the case. “None of the songs sounded cool, nothing was working, and we were trying things and failing,” she recalls. There was a lot of “blowing up” songs and trying to put them back together.
They credit producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, The White Stripes) as being the missing piece to their jigsaw, allowing them to “see the forest through the trees”. Eva calls the process “a really special and adult life-defining moment. The more we perform it the more I just feel like this person has no control over me.”
“People just love to have big reactions to things and the internet is just a toilet bowl” – Eva Hendricks, Charly Bliss
Lorde’s 2017 album ‘Melodrama’ and Kesha’s comeback ‘Rainbow’, proved revelatory for Eva. The latter album helped her through her own hard times, she says. “Something I love about pop music is it makes me feel invincible,” she explains. “Even if you’re writing about something that feels really difficult to write about, it’s so huge that it feels like nothing can touch you, so that was an inspiration especially on ‘Chatroom’. It took a really long time for me to get to a place where I wasn’t blaming myself and I didn’t feel ashamed and could talk to people about it, even write about it and admit to myself that it had happened. I think of that song as a really celebratory one – it’s celebrating the ability to remove toxic bullshit from your life.”
As well as detailing that realisation, ‘Young Enough’ also finds the singer growing stronger in other areas of her life, too. “I’m at capacity, I’m spilling out of me,” she sings in her distinctive rasp on the dazzling ‘Capacity’, a line she says reflects how trying to please everyone all the time made her feel. Her childhood was spent being adored by everyone she met, but being social and outgoing became harder and harder for her. “I started realising I was becoming this very flaccid person who, depending on which situation I was in, would find myself saying things and being like, ‘I don’t even believe that – why am I saying that? Just because I’m trying to make this moment easier?’”
‘Guppy’ was still at its heart a pop record, but that nature was hidden under abrasive guitar hooks and scrappy sounds. This time around, Charly Bliss have cleaned up their sound and added some extra gloss to it. “I’m quite excited about pop music at the moment because I’ve listened to indie music my entire life,” says Sam. “I was in a box for 15 years of the same bands – great bands – and I think all of us are ready to move out of that.”
Although they don’t see it as a “wild shift”, some of their fanbase have been struggling with it, if the comments on their Facebook posts are anything to go by. “You just have to laugh a little bit,” Eva smiles. “When I was in high school, Rilo Kiley put out an album called ‘Under The Blacklight’, which is a very pop record and it was a totally different sound for them. I remember being like, ‘This is bullshit! They changed everything that’s good about them and it’s bad now!’ After month and then I was like, ‘Actually, this album’s amazing and I listen to it all the time.’ In some way, I just have to think about it as in some way people just love to have big reactions to things and the internet is just a toilet bowl.”
Charly Bliss aren’t going to be discouraged by what “a select group of grumps” think, though. In ‘Young Enough’, they’ve made an album that turns negativity into something completely the opposite; a radiant beacon of positivity that encourages listeners to take strength from it and become their own heroes.