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Charlottefield - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 16 / 9 / 2005

Charlottefield - Interview


Brighton-based band Charlottefield's music is an abstract and unqiue take on post-punk and post-rock. At a gig in London, Mark Rowland talks to them about their new debut album 'How Long Are You Staying'

It’s ten minutes until the Garage in Highbury in London opens, and Charlottefield are running late. They’ve only just arrived at the venue and are about to do their sound check – the other bands on tonight's bill sound checked ages ago. Tensions are riding high between the band and the sound engineer seems to be growing increasingly impatient. The band are desperately trying to sort out their bass amp, which blew as soon as they plugged it in, and ask if they could have a bit of time to fix it. "No, we’re running late as it is, just play your bass" is the response they get. Charlottefield have been busy today. As well as the gig and this interview, they’ve done a session with Resonance FM to promote their debut album, ‘How Long Are You Staying’. A long time coming, the record is a great introduction to the band and their abstract, unique take on post-punk and post-rock. Charlottefield releases are incredibly difficult to review; it’s very hard to draw comparisons with them and other bands. The closest you can come is their Brighton associates I’m Being Good, Cat On Form et al, and their label-mates on Jonson Family records. That said, Charlottefield don’t really sound like any of those – they just sound like Charlottefield. The band – singer/guitarist Tom House, bassist Chris Butler, guitarist Adam Hansford and drummer Ashley Marlowe – are now sitting backstage. All of them look shattered, but still seem pretty cheerful considering. They’re currently being followed around by a camera crew for some kind of documentary. The filmmakers seem extremely enthusiastic and film us as we sit down to do the interview. The venue is now open to the public and music from the main room fills the tiny backstage area which we currently occupy. Charlottefield will play a short but intensely energetic set to the Garage’s clientele in about 40 minutes, somehow managing to pull themselves out of the state of exhaustion they are in as we start talking. PB : Seems like you’ve had a stressful day – what’s happened to you so far? CB : It’s not so much that. It's just that we left a bit later than we should have, and it was a bit of a nightmare getting into London. AH : That was the main source of stress really, getting here. AM : With doing the Resonance FM session as well, you have to get off the road and find parking, and get all your gear out and set it up and play and it leaves you with no time at all. CB : We were told by ten different people that we were going to get a parking ticket if we were not careful. TH : That sound woman really harshed us out as well. AM : It’s probably just her way of getting the job done and stuff. You’ve just got to get used to the way different people do things. PB : I’d like to ask you about your album ‘How Long Are You Staying’. How difficult a record was it to record? TH : We sort of did it in stages; it wasn’t done in one session. In fact some of the songs were recorded for a radio session, which we did at the studio, which was the first time we were in there and we liked the way they came out, because it was basically live, and we just touched up the vocals a bit and they were done. The second session was a lot harder though. AH : Yeah, the first time we had to do like four songs in a day, because someone had kindly put up the money for the studio time, and that was all they could afford, so when you’ve got a limited time to get stuff done you just do it. Whereas with the second session, we set up in pretty much the same way, but we had more time to do a few takes and then see which one was the best. TH : At the first one, the atmosphere was was well hot. The first session was recorded in about May, so it was starting to get quite hot then, but because it was for a radio show and we only had one day to do it the session was more relaxed, because everyone was just getting on with it. With the second one there was more days to record the same amount of material, about three days, and it was later in the summer, so it was a lot hotter then. We definitely felt more pressure then, and mixing it took ages. PB : What do you think of the completed record? AH : It’s alright. CB : Obviously, you listen back to it and you can hear things you could’ve done a bit better, but we spent enough time making it and I think we’re all pretty happy with it. TH : I think it’s alright. AM : We’re quite satisfied with it as a first, slightly longer format statement. AH : I think there’s still some room for improvement. TH : You’ve got to put some things down to experience, haven’t you ? AM : I think some songs have come out really well and other ones less so, but there you go. PB : This record was a long time coming. What took it so long – did you want your sound to be at the right point? TH : I don’t think we were trying to make sure our sound was at the right point, but it just kind of happened that way. We changed personnel at one point which really changed our sound, at we tried to record then, and then we did a tour, and… AH : Touring definitely helped. TH : Yeah, it sharpened us up. AM : When we tried to record the same songs, the list of songs changed slightly, but we went to record it in a different session, and if we had gone with those tracks for the record it wouldn’t have been half as good. And even though we feel there’s room for improvement, this is the happiest we’ve been with our studio stuff so far. It’s all just a big learning curve; hopefully our next record will be that much better. PB : This is a question for Tom: what lyrical themes are explored on the record? TH : Sometimes I do want to talk about it, and sometimes I’m not so sure, and when I do talk about them I read back what I’ve said and it always seems to come out wrong. PB : That’s fair enough. What kind of process do you go through when writing songs? CB : Time kind of writes the songs for us. We kind of learn the complete arrangement of a song and as we play it and practice it, it kind of becomes the finished song. It depends though. Sometimes we just learn a song straight from the demo and that’s it. It doesn’t really change the more we play it. TH : There’s a few songs where it’s opened up a lot more. There's been huge chunks that we’ve re-worked. AM : We’ve certainly written stuff when we’ve been under pressure. We’re all in a band together, but Tom is the one who’s more likely to spend time at home with a four track actually pouring out ideas and things. So we’re in a unique position where Tom will bring us a tape with a number of songs on it, and we go; ‘we like that one and that one…not so keen on that.’ Then sometimes ideas come from different people, or Tom hasn’t got a second guitar part worked out, or there’ll be a basic drum part from a drum machine and I’ll embellish it or change it, so it all get gradually refined over time. There has been occasions when we had a deadline, like when we did ‘Stand Up Johnny No Legs’ and we came into the studio to record that for a compilation, and we’d put that together in about the week beforehand. TH : (Laughs)Yeah, about that. AH : Some of it in the studio, I think. AM : Of the original demo, I think there’s only… TH : Yeah, only a few bits. That was one where there was an original song, but it wasn’t very good basically, and we went ‘that bit’s alright, that bit’s alright’ and we just re-wrote it. AM : And everyone put in their own ideas for their own parts. TH : That’s one my favourites. CB : Also, there’s more improvisation going on these days. With some of the newer songs, we’ve left room for things to be completely free really. AM : Like we did a release on Noisestar that was completely improvised live in one take, with no communication at all between us. TH : That’s my other favourite (Laughs). AM : I don’t know if you’ve heard that but it’s a bit different from our other stuff. It's a bit more out there and abstract than our other songs. So that’s the sound of us creating as a band basically. PB : You used to be located in Hastings, but moved to Brighton. What is it about Brighton that makes it attractive for bands? TH : One of the things is we used to practice in Hastings. Adam and I lived there and Jay our old bass player, and Ash used to come down, but we never played any gigs in Hastings ever because it was really hard to play gigs there. We played most of our first gigs in Tunbridge Wells and we played the Bull and Gate in London and the odd gig in Brighton. Ash and I moved to Brighton initially, and there were other things going on in mine and Ash’s lives at the time that kind of lead us down there. Personally, I moved down there because it seemed like a sympathetic environment to live in and do your thing, which is what’s good about it. There are other things about it that aren’t so good as well. PB : Like What? TH : Like it’s got a scene (laughs). There’s a bit of a scene, which is nice when there’s like a few other bands that are fun to play gigs with, and people that you would spend your time with anyway. CB : There’s some really good bands from Brighton, that we really enjoy playing with and get on with. AM : We’ve made a lot of friends out of that. CB : Yeah, we’ve made a lot of friends from that and stuff as well. AM : There’s no shortage of social opportunities at all. CB : But also, there’s a lot of bands in Brighton, and you’ve got to question a lot of their motives. It’s difficult to be seen in the right way by everybody. AM : Maybe it’s because we’re based there a lot of the time. We live there and rehearse there and stuff., I’ve seen a lot of people talking about a Brighton scene, but I don’t really see that. I kind of see a lot of small scenes of different bands making different music and they don’t really cross over too much, but in terms of one big Brighton scene, the way it’s been put across in the media a little bit, I don’t really see that. TH : It’s probably the same for most bands down there where there’s about three or four other bands they share an affinity with, whether it’s musically or socially, but it isn’t really one big happy scene, and some people play it up to be that way, which is kind of difficult to deal with, because you feel like maybe their intentions are kind of cool, but really it seems like over-enthusiasm, or maybe even some questionable motives. You have to be well careful, in Brighton. AM : Like I say, I think there has been kind of a media spotlight on Brighton, not a huge one, but I’ve seen it kind of depicted in that way, where it’s ‘Look at all these cool bands coming from this scene in Brighton’, but from our point of view we tend to kind of stay pretty much out of it. Not because we’re anti-social, just because there are only a certain amount of bands that we feel any kind of affinity with. There’s quite a lot of politicised stuff out there at the moment. TH : I think that’s becoming unfashionable now though. I think that’s died down a little bit. AM - I mean that, I don’t mean to hang myself by saying this, but there are bands that are really into a political ideology and they hype it in their lyrics, where I’d like to think we’re just four right-thinking people, we don’t need to go out and say these things. We’d rather leave things a bit more abstract, a bit more open to interpretation rather than just being like… TH : This is what this means. This is what this is all about. AM : Yeah, so I’m kind of suspicious of that. There’s a lot of other scenes exist because everyone’s on a similar soapbox. PB : You do seem to be a band that is more music oriented than most. TH : I think we all put something of our experience and ourselves into what we’re doing, and beyond that we’ve never really discussed what we’re about, but I think all four of us are happy to leave things a bit more ambiguous and that’s… AM : Can I say one thing about the lyrics though, because they are considered. They may be a bit lower in the mix than most bands, because we don’t particularly want that kind of sound you get with a lot of bands where the vocals are sort of loud and detached and we want them to be part of the overall group dynamic, not dominating themselves, but the actual lyrics themselves, though Tom doesn’t wanto to discuss what the lyrics are about, they are considered and though you may not be able to make them out, a lot of thought does go into them. PB : I’d like to talk about influences. You’re a tough band to place, because although your songs are vaguely based in post – punk and post-rock, it’s difficult to hear any specific influences. AH : Cheers mate! TH : That’s cool man. That's a nice thing to say. AM : I think if everyone in the band only listened to stuff on Discord or Slint or whatever, then our sound would be a lot less interesting. TH : That’s the two things we get compared to the most actually, and it’s really frustrating. Like one reviewer said something about us sounding really like Unwound, and I kind of like Unwound, but I think it’s sort of, I couldn’t really see it, because they sound quite derivative to me. They sound like a conscious drawing of influences, whereas with us, I don’t think, obviously you’re influenced by stuff that you like, but we don’t ever think ‘Let’s do something that sounds like this, or take some of that.’ AM : I think our inspirations that come from things that are beyond post-rock are what gives us our uniqueness. If we were only listening to bands within the post-punk, post-rock field then we’d… TH : They’re the kind of things we’re most likely to agree on, to listen to collectively. We don’t listen to music together very often, we’re all into different things, and we don’t listen to a lot of guitar music, and we all introduce each other to other stuff. AH : There’s always the Fall. TH : Yeah there’s always the Fall, and our mates' bands like I’m Being Good. Their latest record gets played quite a bit. CB : It’s people that we know that inspire us the most I think, rather than records we own, definitely for me anyway. People inspire me a lot more than my records do. Even the others in the band, the way you see people creating their music is a constant inspiration. TH : Chris really kind of swayed the way I think about things. He said a while ago that you can’t really tell from listening to a record whether you really like a band or not, if you can really kind of get with it. CB : It’s more about live. TH : Yeah, it’s more about live, because you can really get a feel for where they’re coming from. Sometimes, you’ll get a record and you’ll think it’s really good, then you go see them live and you get a kind of weird attitude or it doesn’t sit right or it looks a bit forced, and it changes your opinion, and then it opens up the cracks. You still like that record, but you start to see all the contrivances or whatever. The most remarkable or vivid memories of music that’s genuinely affecting are usually live shows. You get to see whether a band’s really unique, whether it’s their own thing. That’s the best thing, music that seems to be coming from something personal for the people involved, rather than something contrived, pulling influences in to fit in with a scene or doing something that’s fashionable. CB : You can kind of see what the people are about, where their music is coming from and stuff. TH : That said, obviously none of us have seen Captain Beefheart or anything. CB : Well, obviously there are exceptions. TH : Or even the really good era Fall. AM : I reckon there’s about 40 people. TH : Who saw the Fall when they were good? AM : No (points out to the venue) out there. PB : Okay, good luck with the show. ALL : Cheers PB : Thank you.

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Charlottefield - Interview

Charlottefield - Interview

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