On her highly anticipated (and utterly stunning) debut record Bullseye, Charli Adams takes aim at sugar daddies, Archangels, her adolescence, and more.
In James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man his character navigates his internal conflict regarding his identity and its ties to his religious upbringing, along with gaining the courage to leave his family and friends after having an artistic awakening. If we were giving this tale a 2021 modernized take, it would include getting propositioned by a sugar daddy, an Archangel seeping into a dream, and playing darts with an indie legend — all experiences singer-songwriter Charli Adams explores on her debut record Bullseye.
Discovering music was the catalyst for a series of dominos swiftly toppling over throughout Charli’s life, whether it was leaving her home & family at 17 to move to Nashville to pursue music, grappling with her disillusionment in regards to her religious upbringing, or finally getting tired of feeling like she was in a constant cycle of appeasing others at the expense of herself. Bullseye is not a coming-of-age record, nor is it one that exists in a nostalgia-induced, romanticized bubble. Instead, it lives in the present & we get to experience Charli as she begins to breathe for the first time after waiting with bated breath for so long for someone — God, a man, someone on social media — to give her the validation she desperately ached for.
Equal parts punchy & poignant, Bullseye is described by Charli as being a true introduction to who she is up until this very moment: someone who, despite reeling from the aftermath of using everything as a crutch, is confident in who she is becoming… despite still not having it all together. Although there’s still another 5 months left of the year, we have no qualms about already calling Bullseye one of the best debut records of the year.
1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes spoke with Charli Adams about her debut record Bullseye, navigating toxicity throughout her adolescence, dreaming of Archangels & defending Taylor Swift, and more.
First, I have to say discovering your debut EP when the pandemic first started was really grounding for me. It was quite literally an escape when I was stuck inside. I wanted to start by asking how you would say you’ve grown and developed as a songwriter between your debut EP and your debut record?
Thank you for saying that! It’s crazy because it’s not even just growing up — I feel like I don’t even recognize her, both as a songwriter and as a person. 2020 was very, very monumental for everyone in a life-changing way, and I channelled that even more with this album. I’ve been obsessing over it since I started writing it at the beginning of 2019 throughout 2020. I didn’t even know that’s what I was making when I was working on it, so when I decided that’s what I was doing I crammed in as much of my story as I could. It feels like a true introduction to who I am; it’s unpacking my childhood and my spiritual awakening and transformation.
Correct me if this is a cheesy thing to say, but your debut EP felt like a body of work that charts a coming of age experience and your debut is you figuring out your identity after being told for so long not to step out of line or question things, whether those things are toxic men or a conflicting relationship with religion.
Absolutely. The EP was written from a place where it naturally just fell into the coming-of-age category and I was writing from the perspective of the dreaminess of growing up. When compared to this album, it’s more like me existing right now, as we speak, and reflecting on the person I became when I was coming of age and thinking about all of the experiences that brought me to where I am today. I don’t feel like I’m done learning these lessons; they are still happening and I’m still working through them.
Speaking candidly, you’ve gone through some pretty messed up stuff in regards to religion, toxic men, and the like. Was it something of a domino effect when you started allowing all of these emotions that you’ve pushed down from writing about them?
Yeah, definitely. I realized in therapy that my childhood is the reason I dated the same guy over and over again that did the same toxic shit. It was because I had zero boundaries for myself; I was a serial people pleaser and had no trust in myself. I was constantly seeking validation from someone, whether it was my mom or God or men. I had no sense of self and that made me have a saviour complex and made me date the wrong men. That’s really what the catalyst of what the song Bullseye is about — it’s about saying we’re paying attention to me for once! I am the target! Growing up in the south means that you’re constantly reminded that a man is going to save you — whether it’s God or your father or your husband. That entire song is about finding empowerment despite all of the stuff I went through. It’s me recognizing that I did it and I have so much more space for myself and I’ve broken so many patterns and that’s great! [Laughs]
I wanted to touch on Bullseye because it closes the album and it’s so empowering and a bit of an f-you, whereas the album opens with Emo Lullaby which is a pretty vulnerable and poignant track. Were those tracks juxtaposed in a way?
I love that you asked this question because I’m someone who thinks the tracklist order is so important and that’s what I always love about the records that I love… every order matters to the artist. For Bullseye, I was just messing around on my guitar while recording it on a voice memo and I said Eye on the prize, you can call me bullseye. You can hear me gasp on the voice memo because it was that moment I knew that’s how I wanted to end the album. It felt like the right note because it’s really empowering, as you said, and it’s a bit of a fuck you. It leads in perfectly to the next album.
With Emo Lullaby :’(, there’s a bit of a funny story behind it. The album was finished and I begged them to add Cheer Captain at the last minute. They said, Okay! We’re done now! You can’t add anything else! We are over budget! And — you’re going to think I’m crazy but I’m going to tell you this story — I had a breakthrough with my medium friend and he told me, there’s going to be one more song and it’s going to come to you in a dream. Obviously, I said there is no way and three nights later I had a vivid dream about Archangel Michael.
Charli, what the hell? This is nuts in the absolute best way! [Laughs]
I know, it sounds crazy. This was during a period where I was severely depressed; I was trying to figure out what this depression loop was and I was being incredibly hyperactive and crashing and burning. The song is about a cycle that feels like it’s never gonna end. I woke up, Archangel Michael was in my room, and he asked me to come outside. He led me to my backyard and we were laying in the backyard and he turned and looked at me and said, I’ve been with you your entire life, you cannot give up now, you’ve made it really far, don’t give up now.
Oh my god.
I know! It was just really emotional and I woke up the next morning and I did a bunch of research on Archangel Michael and he’s the angel of healing and childhood trauma. The next day I had a session and I was not in the mood to write a bop, so I told everyone about my dream and we wrote that instead. I sent it to my team and told them it has to open the album. As you said, you feel the juxtaposition and it feels like the perfect opener.
I can just imagine your team is begging you to stop having dreams about Archangels! [Laughs]
My manager will FaceTime me and I’ll have my seance stuff with candles in the background trying to manifest things and he will say, you’re doing it again!
You’re getting material out of it so he can’t be that mad!
While we’re on the topic, I haven’t told anyone this but I think you’ll appreciate it and think it’s crazy, but the first time I wrote it and I was having my spiritual awakening, I was saying 333 everywhere. I recorded the voice memo of it, and it was 3 minutes and 33 seconds. I wrote the bride and re-recorded it in a new voice memo and it was 3 minutes and 33 seconds long. I went to the studio, we picked a random BPM, we chose the tempo, and recorded it. At the end, I asked how long it was and he said 3 minutes and 33 seconds.
That’s insane. It’s clearly working, keep leaning into it.
I find it so fascinating. It keeps your curiosity running and that’s good for me.
I love when artists call back to their earlier work and you did that with Get High With My Friends and the lyric “always good at being young” and Cloverland popping up again. Is that something you like to try to do, kinda like a little easter egg, or it just comes naturally because of the experiences you’re referencing?
First, I just want to say me naming a street very close to where I live was not the smartest idea I’ve ever had, but I wanted it to be my version of Long Live by Taylor Swift! [Laughs] I’ve lived in the same house since I was 17, this is the first one I moved into and I was in this DIY music scene, so the lyrics in Cloverland Drive from my first EP was all about us growing up and messing around, like after a show on a Sunday night and shooting fireworks out the window in my kitchen like a bunch of little young kids. Those were the days we were invincible. I think my entire scene grew up in my house. That song, and Cloverland as a whole, just references that music scene and me reflecting on how much we’ve all grown.
Obviously, I have to ask: how does one end up playing darts with Justin Vernon?
God, it’s so bizarre. I saw him in the bar and I knew I was not going to approach him. I just liked to know that he was real! [Laughs] He made my favourite album of all time so just seeing him in the flesh was crazy. So, we were at the bar and I was minding my own business and he slid into the booth and introduced himself. It felt like I was in The Twilight Zone. We started talking about theology and then started playing darts. My first two shots were bull’s eyes and that’s what he called me the rest of the night, so I just rolled with it!
I don’t want to give him all of the credit but, in a way, he helped you embrace a new mindset — one where you aren’t really taking any shit. Does it feel, especially with the release of this record, that you’re embracing a version of you that you’ve oppressed — whether that be because of your religious upbringing, dealing with making yourself small for men, and anything else?
That’s the reason I chose the name for the album title. That is the version all of my friends know, and that’s the version who connects with someone like Justin Vernon, who made my favourite album, and the version of me who isn’t showing off online. For years I worried about the judgment of people and cared way too much about what people thought. So, bar Charlie who plays darts with Justin Vernon and gets a bullseye is, in a way, me being my authentic self. I was deciding that from this moment on, I’m okay with just being who I am and everyone else is going to have to get used to it. That experience represents this entire change in my life.
I love that you met your musical hero and just thought, you’re going to meet me as I am rather than who I usually pretend to be.
I was always so worried about the wrong people. I felt comfortable being myself around Justin because I knew we probably saw eye-to-eye because he made my favourite record ever, and it turned out that we did. Dealing with judgement is something I’ve been working on, especially with releasing this new music. I was really worried about my family back home — I had a panic attack before shooting the Cheer Captain video because I was terrified at what they would think. That, itself, was a lesson; it’s out and the world did not burn down because of it.
Cheer Captain is my favourite track on the album! When I got the early link for it, I went on a long dramatic two-hour main character walk and listened to nothing but it. That second verse completely cut me to my core because I felt so seen.
That song was written in a 15-hour Zoom session — we didn’t eat for hours. The final vocal is from the original voice memo.
I love that because it’s going to be the rawest take.
If there was a song to do it on, it was Cheer Captain. It felt fitting when I heard the demo back because it was the right energy for the song. It’s all about me not owing people anything and being as loud as I want and be me. The second version, the one you mentioned about putting men above yourself, was something that directly happened and it just came out so easily. God, I’ve dated so many Nashville music boys that are all the same. I hate that it’s my type! [Laughs] I need to find someone with a different job.
Speaking of toxic men — let’s discuss JOKE’S ON YOU (I Don’t Want To), a track written about a pretty messed-up date with a guy that you didn’t know was a sugar daddy. When I read that you cried in your car after he offered you money, my heart broke for you. The chorus is so good and something so many girls can relate to. What was it like writing it?
To be completely honest, at the time I was broke as fuck. I had no money, I was about to go on tour, I was really struggling and having meltdowns daily about finances. He said he would give me $2,000 a week if I would be the girl he wanted me to be. By the way, when he listed off his little requirements, I laughed so hard.
Ugh, I’m so sorry. How awful.
He wanted me to go clubbing, do some sexual stuff, and go to events with him. I hate clubs. That’s why I was at the dart bar! He told me he would pay me and then chased me into a bathroom, which is when I ran out to my car and started crying. Although that entire situation was scary, the split second where I contemplated how easier my life would be if I went along with it was the scariest. It’s a terrible feeling to meet yourself there because it just goes against my entire nature. I decided to write a song about it because I needed to get it out of my system and write a women empowerment anthem after an experience like that and thought, maybe I’ll make some money off of it and that can be my reward.
I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that, but I’m glad it’s on this record and even if he doesn’t even deserve to hear it, I hope he does and he feels so ashamed.
Right! I probably am going to blur his name and put some of the screenshots because they’re just so ridiculous. I mean, he tried to lock me in a bathroom so he deserves it.
This morning I was reading some early reviews & Gigwise called “Bullseye is undoubtedly one of the greatest debuts of the year.” How do you feel about that?
I can’t even process it. I’ve never had an album review before so I’ve been bracing for impact. It’s very surreal. When you’re an artist, I think you see everyone else and you can’t see your creation in the same vein. To be described as one of the greatest debuts of the year is just… really nice.
I’ve always admired you for your songwriting; I feel like there’s a lot out there, but there’s something about the way you write where it’s obviously so personal to you but so universal in the same way. I didn’t grow up in a religious household at all, but I could see myself clear as day in Cheer Captain. Amazingly, you can do that.
Thank you. Yeah, that’s something that surprises me daily because I write so specifically about my experiences that when people will message me about how it affected them and what they’ve gone through, it’s almost as if I step outside of myself. It’s very cool to hear that it’s serving that purpose because it’s just serving a cathartic purpose for me, you know?
Yeah, does it feel like a therapy session for you when you’re writing?
Fully. I always write on improv, so I never go in when I’m writing with an idea or title or anything. I really just get into the emotion that I’m in at the moment and dealing with whatever is going on in my life and I’ll just play a chord progression that will usually sound like what I’m feeling. I’ll improv the lyrics and most of the time I won’t even realize it’s something I was feeling deep or even realize until the moment I write it. Whenever I write a love song I am always shocked and think, I didn’t even realize I was into you like that!
You say it’s not a reflective album, but one that is happening as you’re experiencing it. Now that you are, in a way, looking back at this record as a whole, do you think “this is a chapter of my life and now it’s over” or do you feel like it just exists now?
It’s very much existing around me, and I mean that in the sense that I’m breaking down old patterns. I’m very proud to say that I can recognize them much quicker than I did but I’m still learning those lessons, like self-acceptance and learning to trust myself. It felt it felt silly to say it was a reflective album because as I was releasing it, I was having very serious conversations with my manager about being my authentic self and not being afraid. Rather than saying I have everything all figured out and I am looking back at that time, it’s still happening as I release this album. This is my album about when I figured it out while still figuring it out. [Laughs]
I loved the TikTok you posted the other day about Taylor Swift and what she said about not letting anyone stop you from making art. Why did that message, in particular, resonate with you?
I love her so much. There were two parts to that video that resonated with me. In the beginning when she’s talking about not letting anyone stop you from creating your art… God, she’s someone I look up to and I would love to sit and listen to her and have her tell me everything she knows because her experience was tough. She mentions people just coming for her talent and trying to tear her down and it didn’t stop her from creating some of the best albums of all time. She was resilient through a lot of that and now she’s starting to get the respect she deserves and people are starting to recognize that most women have had internalized misogyny their whole lives. Although she’s had to deal with so much bullshit, it’s cool she has all of these records to show for it and that she wasn’t stopped in the meantime.
The other part of that clip was her talking about her talents getting diluted because of slut-shaming. Her songwriting is her songwriting; it has nothing to do with whoever she’s dated. Any time a woman gets comfortable — you see this happen all of the time — they want to see you rise and support you and claim that they are so proud of you, but the second she becomes comfortable in her success, they say, how dare you! Come back down! You see it happening with Billie Eilish.
Olivia Rodrigo, too. I see some people being snarky on my timeline for acting over the top.
Yeah, she happened so fast and people’s attention spans are so short and people get bored and want to tear people down, specifically women, and I’m so over it.
When someone is done listening to Bullseye what do you hope they feel or take away from it?
I hope they feel like they have the space to look internally… I hope my brash openness will make them feel more welcome to dig deep and think about the patterns they might be in or the people that hurt them and just give themselves the space to check in with themselves. You’re the most important person in your world — you are the main character. As cliche as it sounds, you can’t fill other cups without having your cup filled. I think the world would be a better place if everyone reflected within themselves to reflect better out because essentially your opinion of everyone in the world and everything in the world is a reflection of the way you see yourself. If we all healed within, we probably would not be so judgmental.
Lastly, because I know you love tarot cards and astrology and all that, if you could manifest something for yourself this year… what would it be? Although I am scared because you tend to make stuff really happen!
I think the biggest manifestation of my career… I would love more than anything to tour with The 1975 one day. That would be a dream come true. I would get to watch their show so many times and not have to pay for it. I’m also manifesting a nice zen cabin in Montana that I can go to and meditate whenever I get stressed out… which is always! [Laughs]
Interview by Kelsey Barnes
Bullseye is out now.