“My music makes you want to move but also moves you emotionally,” says singer-songwriter-pianist Carmen Reece.” This ability to connect on a gut level with her listeners – whether she’s busting out a club bumper like “Right Here” or unwrapping a slow-burn piano ballad like “Long Goodbye” – is something she’s always admired in her heroes, powerhouse vocalists she calls “the divas.”
In fact, as she puts the finishing touches on her debut album, Love in Stereo, ground-floor fans are hailing HER as “Diva 2.0” and drawing comparisons to Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. That designation is bolstered by Carmen’s having been “discovered” by multiplatinum producer-songwriter Mark Feist, known for his work with the likes of Beyoncé, Céline Dion and Natalie Cole, among other game-changing singers.
“I’m hugely flattered when people mention me alongside those artists because they have not only incredible stage presence and technical ability, but they each have their own truly distinctive identity,” Carmen explains. “When you hear Mariah, for instance, you instantly know it’s Mariah. There’s no other voice like that. So, yes, I want to move you with my music, but I also want you to know that it’s ME who’s moving you.”
What she’s describing is a catalogue artist – a performer with such a unique, compelling talent that she’s able to remain in the public eye year after year, if not decade after decade. Which is exactly what drew Feist to Carmen. “Artists like Carmen don’t grow on trees,” he confirms. “She is without question a singularly gifted singer, but she’s also a terrific songwriter and a classically trained pianist and a dancer. I’m also amazed by the range of feeling she’s able to express in her music. She’s equally comfortable in both the urban rhythmic setting and the big pop-ballad arena. I’m very impressed by how developed her skills are at only 22.” Having contributed to the sale of more than 25 million records worldwide, Feist knows a crossover sensation when he sees one.
That Carmen’s so far along creatively at such a young age is not surprising when one considers that this iTunes-era blue-eyed soul singer began playing piano and flute in early childhood, earned a place in the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain at 11, and at 16 was admitted to the celebrated Brit School (which has also nurtured Adele, Leona Lewis, Amy Winehouse and Imogen Heap).
Born and raised in London, Carmen thinks she may have inherited her facility for piano from her paternal grandfather, an accomplished player who died before she was born. She began private piano and flute lessons at age seven. “My parents didn’t have to push me to practice,” she says. “I loved it.” Her presence as a flautist in the National Children’s Orchestra ensured plentiful performance opportunities. It was also during this period that her drive and professionalism began to emerge.
Not that she didn’t know how to cut loose. Carmen studied dance on the weekends for years, including ballet and tap, but likes to joke, “I did a lot of my dance training in my bedroom in front of the mirror.” “In school, I’d get the whole class into the gym at lunchtime and choreograph a big dance number,” she continues. “A lot of the kids weren’t interested, but I pushed them to do it!” Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” was a favorite vehicle for interpretation.
When she wasn’t corralling her fellow students into video-style extravaganzas, Carmen could be found at the piano. “I would sit there for hours, at school in the music room during breaks and after school at home,” she says. “I wrote my first song when I was 12. I think I just learned how to do it by listening to pop music. It happened very naturally.”
Vocal inspiration came from Toni, Mariah, Whitney and Céline, as well as Boyz II Men and Michael Bolton. “I just loved soulful voices,” she attests. She also believes she was influenced, particularly as a pianist, by British singer-songwriter Beverly Craven, who scored a hit in 1991 with “Promise Me.” Carmen’s real breakout as a creative force, however, coincided with her entry into the Brit Performing Arts & Technology School.
“Those were the best two years of my life,” she declares. “I’d come from a small school, and to be surrounded by all these young people passionately into music and so talented – it was fantastic. All we did all day was write songs and collaborate on performances. I was in Dreamland.” It was with a Brit School pal that she opened for Kelly Rowland at the Hammersmith Apollo – for an audience of 5,000.
On her own, meanwhile, Carmen earned U.K. radio support for the track “How Freaky Can You Get,” even performing it live on the BBC’s Radio 1 for a national listening audience. She subsequently made waves with the song “You Got Me,” the video for which enjoyed widespread circulation.
Then she reconnected with Feist, whom she’d met shortly after her graduation from The Brit School. “We’d worked on a couple of songs back then but were both busy with other commitments. I never forgot about Carmen, though,” says Feist. “It seemed like every time I’d talk to someone who’d been in London they’d say, ‘Have you heard of this singer Carmen Reece?’ Finally, the stars lined up and I was able to bring her to L.A. She played me a couple of the songs she’d been working on, and I was blown away.”
“Mark and I just click,” Carmen affirms. “We were able to make the album really quickly; I know it sounds like a cliché, but the magic just happened.” Contributing to the magic were co-songwriters Wayne Hector (Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears) and Rose Marie Tan (Danity Kane).
Love in Stereo finds Carmen exploring the kind of love that hits you from all sides (on the title track), stepping into the shoes of a girl who’s not going anywhere but forward after being dismissed by her man (first single “Right Here”), and reflecting on the difficulty of ending a relationship that’s simply run its course (“Long Goodbye”).
She looks forward to playing these new songs for fans, knowing the shared experience will imbue them with even greater electricity. “Being onstage is such a rush,” she says. “You do things you never could have imagined. Sometimes I’ll see a performance of myself and think, ‘Wow – where did THAT come from?’ I view every time I get onstage as a chance to do better and make my bond with the audience that much stronger.”
“No matter what I’m singing,” Carmen insists, “the most important thing is for you to feel it. And I don’t mean just feel it in your body; I mean feel it in your heart.”