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Charlatans - Interview

  by Jonjo McNeill

published: 7 / 1 / 2007

Charlatans - Interview


Since forming in the late 80's the Charlatans have released nine studio albums. With a singles compilation 'Forever' being released at the end of the last year, Jonjo McNeill chats to front man Tim Burgess backstage at a gig in Newcastle to promote the new collection

Over 16 years on since the release of their first LP ‘Some Friendly', the Charlatans still inspire huge passion amongst their devoted fanbase, and their constantly evolving sound is still winning new fans. Since releasing 'Some Friendly' in 1990, the Charlatans have gone on to record another eight studio albums, 'Between 10th and 11th' (1992), 'Up to Our Hips' (1994), 'The Charlatans' (1995), 'Tellin' Stories'(1997), 'Us and Us Only' (1999), 'Wonderland' (2001), 'Up at the Lake' (2004) and 'Simpatico' (2005). They released a singles collection, 'Forever', at the end of last year. The band supported the release of ‘Forever’ with a sellout tour of Britain and it was the night of the Newcastle gig where this self-confessed Charlatans fan met Tim Burgess to talk about the past 16 years, living in LA, going on the wagon and not growing a beard. PB : Tim, we’re here because the ‘Greatest Hits’ is out. A lot of bands these days feel the need to release a compilation after two or three albums, so well done on leaving it 15 years. TB : Yeah! (laughs). We did one a while back called ‘Melting Pot’ and were a bit embarrassed about it. We didn’t like the idea of doing a greatest hits. Now we’re quite into the idea really. It seems like we’ve got more to show off now. PB : Did you think you’d make it this far down the road? 16 years is a long time in any band’s life. TB : Didn’t really think about it too much. We never had a master plan. Listening to the first two tracks on ‘Forever’ (‘Indian Rope’ and ‘The Only One I Know’, both 1990-Ed) it’s pretty obvious we had our shit together straightaway. So I knew that we were good, but it was never a plan. We were so naïve, but we just wanted to make a record. We got a deal and that seemed enough – walking down the street thinking we’re the bees knees and all that! The whole thing has been a trip, you know, there’s been times where we’ve gone to do an album and had no ideas and times when there were too many ideas. PB : Hearing the singles together is incredible - the way you’ve evolved over the years is remarkable. You always sound like the Charlatans yet your sound has developed and morphed into so many different styles over the years. TB : You have to have a survival instinct in every part of your life. Whether you’re streetwise, or wondering if you can make it into the next millennium with your music, it all counts. PB : Is the constant change in the sound something you deliberately aim for? TB : It has been sometimes. ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Simpatico’ were records where we wanted something different. We didn’t have any ideas for what we wanted with ‘Up At The Lake’ and ‘Up To Our Hips’ - we never had one single idea when we went into the studio for those. We’re all chancers at times, in music and in life really. PB : Are you aware it sounds different? TB : There have been times where, say we’ve wanted to sound like the Meters or something. Recently we wanted to sound like the Prisoners, a garage band from the 80's. When we did ‘Feel The Pressure’ I wanted Jon (Brookes – Drums) to do a drum beat like Bow Wow Wow. Really cheesy, like Adam and The Ants. It’s instinct. Even something you hear in the car on the radio, you just have to listen and ideas find you. Our influences are really diverse I’d say. PB : You meld them together well. TB : Well, you see Martin (Blunt – Bass) – and I’m not having a go at him here – he’s a mod and he has a permanent direction in his life, so he always has to get a bit of Small Faces in there. No matter how far out we get the sound, I think that influence always brings it back to sounding like the Charlatans. PB : Your voice has developed over the years; you ‘play’ it like an instrument. TB :It’s definitely evolved since the early days – it was really weedy and soft. It was nerves I suppose. PB : Yeah, but it worked for those records. TB : Oh definitely. Some people like it. I remember when I did ‘The Boxer’ with the Chemical Brothers and they were asking to get me singing like that for the end bit. PB : Are you going to carry on what you started with 'Simpatico' ? TB : Nah I don’ think so cos we want to carry on where we left off with the greatest hits. Make something as ‘up’ as that. You always have to beat your last record, so we’ve got to beat our greatest hits now. We were in a dark place making ‘Simpatico’, lots of drugs going on and that kind of thing. Too many dark thoughts around so we want get away from that. PB : Why was ‘Just Lookin’’ (1995 single-Ed)missing from ‘Forever' ? TB : It’s weird. It went to a committee. The band wrote down what they wanted, and everyone’s is different. Martin wanted B-sides – he didn’t quite get the concept that it was singles! And then (Alan) McGee got involved, and Universal got involved. If you think about it without your favourites, cos I think the people who’ve followed us from the start would love it – ‘hands in the air’ you know, perfect Charlatans song - but jumping from ‘Weirdo’ (1992) to ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ (1994) to ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ (also 1995) does make giant steps, in term's of the bands progression. I just think it doesn’t matter too much to this record. PB : Yeah, I was gutted it wasn’t there initially but the record is so good that it’s not badly missed. TB : It doesn’t miss it. I love it, and Mark was pissed it wasn’t on it ‘cos it’s his favourite. But you know, it wasn’t a hit and ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ was. PB : You never seem to lose your dynamism. TB : It’s weird really. The dynamic is not something you find every day. It’s a special quality I think we have. Martin, Jon and myself are the only people who’ve been in it since the very start so we must be getting lucky with the people we get in to replace others ‘cos the dynamic grows. And it’s like Tony’s (Rogers – Keyboards) been in the band since the start now. He influenced ‘Wonderland’ loads with his playing, the almost 70's soundtrack feel. PB : Are you going to do another solo record ? TB : Yeah I think so. I can’t really picture it yet, but since the first one ('I Believe', 2003-Ed) there’s been a lot of people offering to help me. Joan Basset (from Joan As Policewoman and Anthony and the Johnsons), Josh Homme, Devandra Banhart – apparently he’s a massive Charlatans fan! All these people that you mee,t man. From day one, we always thought nobody gave a shit but then you do a solo album and they’re all “why didn’t you ask me to be on it ? ”. I’m just a star struck as you’d be, mate! Everyone was in the Raconteurs dressing room the other week – Tim Roth, Billy Idol, all these people – but the drummer walks straight over to me! It was brilliant. But I think I will do one yeah. I like the challenges and the freedom. PB : Do you have a different vision for that? TB : The vision of that record changed every day. I’m like that as a person anyway. It started off that I wanted to do an acoustic EP – just me and a guitar. Then I wanted to put strings on it. Then I wanted to do something with a brass section. This guy came into play trumpet on one track and it ended up on four. I wanted some tracks to rock a bit, and then more people heard it and said you may as well stick a single on it, so I just wrote ‘Oh My Corazon’, ‘Only A Boy’ and ‘Say Yes’. PB : What - you just knocked those out at the last minute? TB : (Laughs) Yeah! It was ‘We All Need Love’, starting off small and growing. It’s great how people support you. I didn’t think the band would be into it, but they were showing a bit of interest and at the end it was like “Why didn’t you give us that one?!” All the fans thought I was trying to split the band up. It sold 50,000 in Britain I think so I was happy. It was only on a little indie label, a distribution label really, so it exceeded what we expected for it. I love it man. It’s wicked. PB : So are you just going to keep doing this stuff until you’re bored ? TB : Oh I’ll never get bored with music. And I’ll never get bored of finding new ways of doing stuff. I mean, last night was the best gig we’ve ever done. And all this computer stuff, podcasting and all that, it’s all new ways of doing stuff. (The door opens then closes). It’s typical this. We’ve got two dressing rooms – that one next door has got all the booze in it and this one’s got nothing in it yet everyone’s still coming in here! Everyone just loves disturbing me! Those lot are all next door hungover while I do all the interviews! PB : Why’s that - are you taking it easy these days? TB : I don’t take drugs any more. I don’t miss it right now. My tipple was whisky and a bit of coke. I had some withdrawals at first but it’s all good now. I couldn’t imagine doing a line now, all the good stuff is in LA so it’d kill me doing stuff here. And the thought of beer doesn’t even interest me now. No hangovers. Mark (Collins – Guitar) managed to get kicked out of his own aftershow party last night! Only Mark Collins could do that man! But yeah, I just need another caffeine hit, a diet coke! PB : Ever thought about growing a beard? It’s the one thing the Tim Burgess hairstyle gallery seems to be missing! TB : I can’t grow these bits here (points to cheeks). I can grow a pretty strong ‘tache but it’s these bits. I have a kind of phobia as well. When I was a kid, my uncle had a full head of hair and he decided to grow a full beard. Three months later he was completely bald! So I keep thinking that would happen to me. PB : What’s next for the Charlatans ? TB : Mark’s coming to LA in January, I think Tony’s coming out for a week as well. Then we’re all going to get back together at the end of February and probably jam for a month. See what happens, and go from there. Recording with Youth actually. Maybe Danny Saber, although the rest of the band don’t know that yet - it’s different working with Danny because he’s a bit out there… PB : So can we expect anything from you next year? TB : Well Alan McGee wants us to have a record out by august next year. But that might be rushing it a bit. We’ve got three or four new songs on the go at the minute – plus the podcast jingle! It takes ages to put records out so August is very optimistic but you’ll see us in 2007, definitely. We’ll do another record, better than the greatest hits. It’s a long time. But as long as we don’t turn into arseholes… It’s been a long road for the Charlatans. They’ve overcome losses both financially and personally along the way, but Tim Burgess never stops grinning. He loves what he does and there’s no need for him to stop. Tonight on the Academy stage he cuts the same figure he did back in ’89, only now he’s got an enviable back catalogue and 16 years worth of changing musical styling behind him. He still looks every bit the cheeky indie chancer he always has, and no doubt always will. The band play ‘Forever’ almost in it’s entirety tonight, and every single person in the place knows every single work of every single song. After 16 years, to still have that, and to still have new stuff and new people and new ideas coming along all the time, just proves how special this band are. Sometimes we don’t realize how blessed we are, but in the Charlatans we have a band to be grateful for, so count your blessings.

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