50 miles off the coast of mainland British Columbia, you’ll find Haida Gwaii. This collection of islands serves as home to just shy of 5,000 residents who all contribute to its quiet magic. Seemingly removed from the rest of the world, yet intrinsically connected to its rawest essence, Carsen Gray calls this place home. Born of Haida Indigenous and mixed descent, the award-winning singer and songwriter commutes the peace of her surroundings into a soulful sound spiked with R&B energy, pop universality, and a twist of local spirit. After making waves across Canada, she introduces herself to the world on her 2022 debut EP for Nettwerk Music Group.
“It’s very chill, beautiful, laidback, and peaceful,” she says of her home. “The people are nice and welcoming. We all support one another and cheer each other on. Because of where I’m from, I feel like I was able to come out with such a warm project. We’re in a safe little place up here. I’m proud of my heritage, where I come from, and the land I live on.”
Growing up in Haida Gwaii, Carsen’s mother recognized her talent early on. During a trip to Ontario at nine-years-old, she recorded for the first time. Immediately, mom called her uncle Bobby Taylor who not only fronted Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, but also famously discovered, mentored, and produced The Jackson 5’s 1969 debut, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, and the follow-up, ABC. Under Bobby’s wing, she performed around Vancouver. Among her fondest memories, he often sat down with her at the piano for hours on end, fostering her passion for gospel and soul. Inspired by Motown icons as well as Céline Dion, Mariah Carey, and Alicia Keys, she cultivated a signature style of her own equally steeped in singer-songwriter tradition and full-bodied R&B.
Turning heads, Carsen’s 2017 self-titled debut earned “Best New Artist” at SiriusXM’s Indigenous Music Awards, while 2018’s “Wanna See You” with JUNO Award-nominated DJ Shub received “Best Radio Single.” Along the way, she performed on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and at JunoFest. During 2020, her single “Sah ‘Laana” and its intimate accompanying music video caught the attention of Nettwerk Music Group, and she signed to the label.
Throughout 2021, she assembled the EP with her husband, primary collaborator, and producer Joey Stylez. After their kids fell asleep, they often recorded late into the night.
For as much as the music embraced a myriad of sonic vibes, it clung to a primary theme.
“The driving force is gratitude,” she explains. “At this point in my life, I’m in a really good place. With COVID-19, I thought about all of the things I’m grateful for and what I’ve been blessed with for my family, for the life I’ve built, and the creative space I have. Being home in Haida Gwaii, I had the opportunity to create at a Zen pace. We’re all born with a God-given gift. I believe I found mine with music. The project is reflective, because I’m talking about God, my partner, love, and home.”
Following the wistful “Someplace,” she teased the project with “Colours Like Yours.” Backed by a head-nodding bass line, her breathy vocals glide towards an upbeat and anthemic refrain.
“The message is we’re all unique in our own ways,” she states. “Beauty comes from within. What one person may see as a rough or unattractive exterior, another person sees a bright and colorful masterpiece.”
The single “Each Moment” threads together delicate vocals and lithe finger-picked acoustic guitar as her voice takes flight on the chorus.
“I’m touching on how I’m very grateful for where I live,” she adds. “It’s about putting your phone down, getting off social media, and being in the moment.”
Handclaps underscore the Biblically-inspired lyrics of “In The Garden” as she ponders the story of Adam and Even in the context of “wishing we could go back and change the mistake we made.” Then, there’s “Heaven’s Touch” where she “explores the ups and downs of life and reminds us even though times get tough, they get better.” Twinkling piano glimmers through “Worth It,” which doubles as a love letter.
“It’s about how important it is to show love and appreciation to your partner,” she reveals. “In a busy world, we sometimes forget to say, ‘I love you’ and tell them how much we value the relationship.”
The EP concludes on “Here With Me.” Its chilled R&B folk highlights the ebb and flow of her vocals as she delivers one last impassioned performance.
“It talks about the length I’ll go to remain in the beautiful place I love with my partner,” she smiles.
When you listen to her, Carsen might just make you feel at home too.
“I’m just an artist, mother, singer, songwriter, and homeschool teacher,” she smiles. “My music is an extension of who I am.”