Charity Children started out as a duo comprised of Chloe and Elliott, who up and moved from New Zealand to Berlin together a handful of years ago, but now the band has up to five times as many members at any given time! Currently on tour in Austria, Charity Children took time from their busy show schedule to chat with us at the Encyclopedia of Music about the evolution of the band, their adventures together, and upcoming plans for their music.
FDRMX: Your Facebook page includes a quote from Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” between the Charity Children and the Mathematical Master. I’m assuming this is where you got your name from, but I want to ask what was special or significant about this quote from your favorite children’s story that made it stick with you?
Chloe of Charity Children: ‘The Happy Prince’ is a children’s story by ‘Oscar Wilde’ that has a particularly special history with Elliott and I…. A few days after we first met, Elliott read me the story. Soon after that, we accidentally came into the possession of a decrepit, but charming, slightly melancholically flat piano that was being thrown away. We gave it a home and we called him our ‘Happy Prince’.
A few months later, Elliott persuaded me to join him on his move from New Zealand to Berlin. I was feeling pretty uninspired at the time and the thought of taking a risk and moving my life to a foreign country with my new love was an opportunity I had to take. When we got to Berlin we had no idea what we would do, whatsoever. We were both actors and filmmakers back home, and we couldn’t speak a word of German, so getting work proved to be rather difficult. We always played little songs together on the ukulele in our bedroom (we both started learning just before we moved to Berlin). We worked up the confidence to play a few tunes on the street one night. It turned out to be a blast – we made something like ten euros and people were really lovely and supportive towards what we were doing. After that night, we continued to busk our way around Berlin, that’s how we got to know the city. We were writing songs all the time because when you play everyday, all day long, you very quickly grow tired of your tunes, and so you are always writing something fresh to play. So it was a good challenge in that way and still is for us, since we still play on the street at least once a week.
But really, at that time, we truly did not consider ourselves to be musicians – we were extremely new to it all, we never trained or learned music or anything like that, so we thought that by calling ourselves musicians we would somehow be cheating the system a bit. We had only picked up a ukulele a few months prior to our move, and we were pretty timid about singing in public. But then one day someone was like, ‘What are you called and where can I find you?’ We we’re like ‘Ok, maybe we better think of a band name then!’ We went back to our trusty story ‘The Happy Prince’, and there was a quote about the ‘Charity Children’ being told off by their mathematical teacher for dreaming. We somehow felt like we related to the children in the story. We were a pair of lost dreamers in our early 20’s, still very much so feeling like kids, trying out this little idealistic life that we could have only dreamed about. So we started a Facebook page, we heard that that’s something people do…. We added the ‘Berlin’ to our name so that people could find us easier. But we’re officially just called ‘Charity Children’ now.
Although the band started out as a duo, over the past few years we’ve gathered a few very special ‘actual musicians’ (as we like to put it). We’re between 6-9 members now, electric guitar, cello, bass, drums, trumpet, violin, to name a few – and together we are all the ‘Charity Children’. The band comes from all around the place, we’re a little microcosm of the world and every single member has some mad story of how they ended up in Berlin and how we found each other.
FDRMX: Your website currently features the video of your 2013 single “Elizabeth,” but tell me about the making of video for “You Want Me.” Why did you choose an abandoned hospital by Weißensee for a love song?
C: We’ve always had a fascination with abandoned buildings, especially in Berlin. There’s surely nothing like that in New Zealand. But there are still quite a few spots that you can sneak into in Berlin – they are the city’s gems. The abandoned children’s hospital where we shot the little live video for ‘You Want Me’ was a place we stumbled upon one day. That hospital is literally in a central Berlin suburb and the gates are always wide open, which was very tempting for nosy, eager trespassers such as ourselves. We had to film somewhere inside as it was the middle of winter and minus five degrees outside (don’t be fooled by Elliott’s t-shirt, it was bloody cold)…. We play on the street, so we’re rather used to playing our songs in perhaps mismatched locations as opposed to what our music might suggest.
FDRMX: Why did you pick Berlin of all places to move to from New Zealand? Why not stay and busk in New Zealand?
Elliott of Charity Children: In our experience, there’s just really not the culture of busking in New Zealand like there is in Berlin. We’ve received an overwhelming amount of support and love from the streets of Berlin – that’s why three years on we still play on the streets whenever we can. But sure, there’s been many difficult days too – like when the police shut us down because busking with any amplification is officially illegal actually…this happens rather often. A few tricky elements have to really line up to make a good day out busking. The weather has to be fine, the people have to be in a good mood and there can’t be authorities around shutting you down. Sometimes things don’t pan out, but when everything works out, and it seems to work out more often in Berlin than other places, busking can be one of the most beautiful experiences possible for a musician. Such a wonderful way to connect with people.
FRMX: What would you say you are trying to express with your music and your particular sound?
C: We want to move people, to make people think, to make them stop on the street and bob their heads or give us a euro. Hopefully two. Ha…. No, we’re just trying to be truthful and have fun so the audience does too…. It’s a beautiful moment when we play on the street and we look up and there are toddlers dancing all the way up to elderly folks and all in between. We’re not trying to achieve any sort of particular sound for a particular demographic of people. We just try play our songs and hope that we stop people on the street because we connect with them somehow.
FDRMX: You have tour dates lined up this year all the way through October. What do you plan to do during the winter (besides hole up and try to stay warm)?
E: We will be working on our next album, which we hope to release early next year. We are very excited indeed about getting back into our little living room studio with our producer Enda Gallery, who is a good old friend of the band and a super talented chap. We’ve got so many new songs that aren’t recorded yet.
6. FDRMX: What’s your favorite place for a beer and brat in Berlin?
C: This beautiful bar on the top of a carpark in Neukölln. Can’t say we’ve ever tried a ‘brat’ as we don’t eat meat but we’ve had our fair share of Berlin’s very popular cuisine…. Falafel kebabs. They are cheap and sehr lecker (very yum!).
FDRMX: Are you constantly writing music in your free time or do you like to explore and go on adventures without your instruments in tow as well? What’s the most exciting adventure you’ve had together?
E: A ukulele or a travel guitar usually follow wherever we go. We’ve had many adventures with the band, perhaps a few too adventurous to mention…. But one recent moment that sticks out in our memories is strolling along the canal in Zürich after a gig, singing altogether with the whole band, with our guitarist Nick’s handmade African drum that he made on a recent trip to Senegal.
FDRMX: What do you miss most about New Zealand?
C: Waking up to the sound of the ocean, the coffee, the nature, friends, family! It’s all very far away, about 30 hours on a plane. Which is disgusting. We haven’t had a family Xmas in four years and of course we miss certain things, but Berlin is very much so home now. We recently adopted a puppy from the streets of Spain, a street dog just like us! So that determines that we’ll be in Europe for the next fifteen years or so. And of course, our band and all our friends that we have made from playing on the street have very much so become our loving second family now.
FDRMX: Do people in Berlin consider the ukulele a novelty instrument?
C: A lot of people think it’s a funny looking guitar, but most people know what it is – lots of kids are learning it in school these days so it is surely becoming more and more popular. It’s one of my favorite instruments to listen to. There’s equal amounts of happiness and melancholy in a ukulele.
Check out Charity Children’s music video for “Elizabeth” on FDRMX here. You can also view their video “You Want Me” and more on the band’s website. For those interested in busking, read our article 5 Reasons Why You Should Listen to Street Musicians.