The musician discusses queer identity and moving through grief for her latest album, ‘Cyan Blue’

Blue has famously been described by Goethe as “a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.” The title of Charlotte Day Wilson’s sophomore album, Cyan Blue, feels particularly apt, standing out even among the numerous other artworks imbued by the color. Inspired by some of the greatest works devoted to blue, from Maggie Nelson’s Bluets to Miles Davis’s Some Kind of Blue, the Toronto-based singer’s emotional lyrics tug at the heartstrings, and when layered over Jack Rochon’s ethereal production, result in a peacefully wistful aural atmosphere: a little bit melancholy, but equally soothing. My initial impression was that of the ocean—blues and greens in various shades, waves that gently lap at shores as easily as they can terrorize, an idyll with edges. The swimmer floats around, only to realize they’ve been pulled in so far that they no longer know where they are. Fittingly, Goethe posits that blue, like the ocean, “draws us after it.” I wasn’t alone in associating the album with the oceanic imagery: Day Wilson says her mother, upon hearing its title, exclaimed that it was just like “the color between a green sea and a blue sky.” The next day, her nephew picked up a cyan crayon and pronounced that it was just like his eyes.

And so the title stuck, reflecting the emotions that went into the album’s making, as well as a series of serendipitous moments that reaffirmed Wilson’s decision to enter the canon of creative endeavors named after the color. Despite the heartbreak that inspired much of the music, Day Wilson is emphatic that “it was just pure fun to make,” having recorded it with her friend and new collaborator Jack Rochon. Below, Day Wilson gives Document a glimpse into Cyan Blue’s making.

Sabina Latifovic: What were your biggest sources of inspiration for this album?

Charlotte Day Wilson: You know, sometimes I want to resist saying that it’s love and relationships, because that feels cliché. But that is the most inspiring thing for me most of the time. Relationships not only romantic, but also platonic and familial, and also my relationships with myself past, present, future.

Sabina: I mean, that makes sense, right? That’s what takes up most of our brain space. I was also wondering how, if at all, queer identity has shaped your music-making process?

Charlotte: I think it has evolved a bit. But I mean, obviously, it’s hard for me to know, because I’ve only ever existed in this body as a queer person. I was thinking recently, I wonder if I would be as encouraged and nurtured in an emotional space as much as I am in my queer relationships as if I were to be straight; would I have as much space and encouragement to be as emotive as I am, you know? There’s something about lesbian relationships that really allows and encourages a lot of deep feeling, so I feel like that probably is in my music. And I think over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable speaking openly about who I’m singing about, because when I first started, I actually wasn’t. In my first EP, I really consciously didn’t use any she/her pronouns. And so it’s nice to now be at a place where I don’t even think twice about using those.

Sabina: I saw that you had previously described this album as coming together a bit more naturally and quickly than previous music. I think in part because this time you’ve worked with more people on the project. How did you find this change?

Charlotte: Over the years, I’ve resisted working with producers, largely because I couldn’t really feel comfortable [letting] my freak flag fly around other people. So much of a creative and songwriting space is about making mistakes and sounding bad, actually. And I think I was always scared that I would somehow be exposed in sessions with other people if they saw my process, you know? So I used to do the thing where I would go into my own space and come out fully developed. Now, I’ve learned that I just have to work with people who I’m really, really comfortable with. Jack Rochon is one of my old friends and someone who I’ve been growing with musically and creatively for many years, and we just finally found each other and locked in at the right time and figured out how to create a space of freeness together. He would hear my mistakes and my bad lyrics and my bad bunk notes. And he would just be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was bad.’ And it was really liberating for him to be like, ‘Yeah, that was bad.’ You’re not shying away from it. And mistakes are human, you know?

Sabina: Yeah. That reminds me of the meme that’s like ‘the mortifying ordeal of being known.’

Charlotte: Literally. Like, don’t perceive me. This is me growing out of that phase. Like, I’d rather be cringe and free than stoic and imperceivable.

“I think we all as artists just strive to make something true, and that felt true to me.”

Sabina: In thinking about how blue is a color that appears so often in music, literature, film, etc., I was wondering, why did you want to associate your album with cyan blue specifically? What was it about blue that resonated so much with you?

Charlotte: Well, first and foremost, it was the fact that I was experiencing synesthesia with blues and greens. So I had this creative tool, like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t sound blue [or] green enough. It doesn’t. It’s not in that world.’ My visual brain kind of just kept guiding me in a certain direction. As I started to really hone in and fixate on that and lean into it, I realized that there [were] a lot of connections that I was finding in the world around me with that color. My first girlfriend told me that I had eyes the color of cyan, and being in your first queer relationship, everything feels so intense. And then a big thing that I deal with, in all my music, is talking to younger versions of myself, because of some of the struggles that I went through being a closeted kid and closeted teen. I sing a lot about wanting to impart wisdom and knowledge on that little girl, and then also wishing that she could see through my eyes now. There’s so many layers of meaning for me with that title.

Sabina: Are there any specific blue works that influenced you, not even necessarily just in the making of this album, but over time that stood out?

Charlotte: Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is a really influential book for me. Miles Davis’s Some Kind of Blue, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, what else—there’s so many good blues. Those are some of the deeply influential ones for me.

Sabina: Listening through it, the songs feel like they go through the full spectrum of grief—from a breakup, afterwards, and before. How has your time recording the album shaped how you view it now in the aftermath?

Charlotte: It does capture all of the different phases of a relationship, beginning, middle and ending, and the different stages of grief once it has ended. It was definitely the first time that I’ve written through anger. And that’s something that I was really unsure about on this record, I don’t know if it’s nice to sing angry lyrics. But my whole M.O. with the project was to just write whatever was coming to me and not really edit it. I think we all as artists just strive to make something true, and that felt true to me. But, after, once we really process anger, anger is usually just misplaced hurt, or sadness. And so once those high-cortisol versions of sadness subside and you’re left with the reality of the pain, then songs like “I Don’t Love You,” or “Walk With Me” emerge and feel a little bit more respectful to how a relationship deserves to live in the afterlife.

Sabina: Some of the songs felt very yearnful—“Forever” really stuck out to me. Are there any touchpoints or influences there that you’ve returned to? I know yearning is such a big emotion and feels kind of all-consuming in ways.

Charlotte: It’s funny, I’m remembering now that a big theme for me when I was writing a lot of the music was [the idea of] how when you meet someone who you could see spending the rest of your life with, you’re really faced with your mortality. It’s like one of the most beautiful feelings in the world to be like, ‘Oh, I actually can see myself spending forever with you.’ But that’s what “Forever” was about. It was twofold. It was about [how] forever isn’t enough, why can’t that life and that love be eternal? But also, you’re faced with seeing what the trajectory of your life could look like, because you can see who it would be spent with and there’s something oddly morbid about that for me. Even though it’s so beautiful. It’s such a juxtaposition of feelings. No matter what I’m yearning for, I’m always a little bit critical of what it implies for me. I can’t just feel emotions without also examining those emotions.