The Charlatans UK are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut full length Some Friendly as well as the release of their 11th album Who We Touch. They reference The Sex Pistols in their single Love is Ending, as they referenced New Order and Carly Simon in the past. The band sounds passionate and the songs are dynamic and varied, employing Youth to aid them sounding like “Europe in the Autumn” as the songs snap with classic pop and dirty punk songwriting (Check the yelled gang chorus on Sincerity for brashness or Your Pure Soul for classic Charlatans at their most mature). I had the pleasure of digging under singer Tim Burgess’s bowl haircut and find out a little about what makes him and the band keep at it. And don’t miss the two jabs at a certain ex-singer.
Highwire Daze: What do you attribute your longevity to?
Tim Burgess: I have never been happy with our historical depiction, that’s what drives me.
What does each band member bring to the band in music and personality? How have your roles in the band changed/stayed the same and evolved over the years?
I think the roles have stayed the same! Of course they evolve. I have definitely become more of a “singer” and Martin has definitely grown into the role of “bass player” very well. In the beginning the lines were a little more blurred.
Many of your albums have stylistic touchstones of rhythm & blues, dance, soul, reggae or some band we might not be aware of. Do you talk about writing a Traffic-like album or a Bob Dylan goes country type album or how does this come about?
When you form a band you decide what you’re going to look like and what you are going to sound like. With every album we have made (the good ones at least) there have been loose conceptual line: Who We Touch (Europe/Autumn); Wonderland (L.A./Sunshine/Cocaine); The Charlatans (Grimey Film Soundtrack); Some Friendly (West Coast Psychedelia); You Cross My Path (Manchester/Post-Modern/Post-Punk). These were brief outlines to our music at that time and then as soon as you begin, threads come in the the individual songs and over time the concept becomes more apparent and the picture more defined.
What are some of your favorite bands old and new and why?
Factory Floor, The Horrors, Airel Pink, John Maus, Electricity in Our Homes, Flats, Crass, New Order, Glen Gould, The Beach Boys, Psychic TV, The Beatles, Section 25, Brian Jones era Rolling Stones, Madness, John and Yoko, Curtis Mayfield and Gram Parsons.
These are just favourites off the top of my head. Why? They change the world. If not the whole world at least the world they live in.
You’ve worked with some big name (in my book) producers in Flood and Youth. What songs would have sounded completely different without their aid? What have been some of the biggest successes based on their influence? Who would you like to work with next and why?
Well, Flood did an awesome remix of Opportunity 3 and completely reworked Weirdo to be the song you all know and love. Youth really helped on Oh (from Who We Touch) more than I could’ve dreamed. Both brilliant producers, both very different. I would love to work with Eno, RZA, (Steve) Lillywhite. My fav of all time is (Joy Division producer Martin) Hannett. It was Hannett who said bands should produce themselves but I think he was going through a lazy phase when he said that.
You shared stages with The Who and The Rolling Stones. Is this validation for you, like you can finally tell your unapproving parents “See, I’m doing something real and important with my life, people actually know who we are!” At what point did you and the rest of the band say there was no going back to an hourly job?
I don’t need validation, just the truth. Everyone else seems to need validation from me. I don’t give a shit.
In several of the interviews I’m doing right now bands are finding different ways to release their music. What are a few things you’ve learned about the business side of what you do that you can teach to musicians on their way up the ladder?
Keep an open mind, get a good lawyer, listen to your heart and get rid of the unibrow. The only four things that matter.
When the band began there were record stores and print magazines, now we have online, fewer physical record stores and less print, MTV doesn’t play music videos. I went to YouTube and saw you in front of the Roundhouse talking about the album and tour and I think this is a great way to reach the fans. How do you promote and market the band now that’s different or the same from 20 years ago?
The ways you just mentioned. There are always new ways taking over the old. It’s easty to get caught up in the net. Keep searching for ways to escape being trapped.
How has The End Records treated you so far? We’ve dealt with label head Andreas since close to the start when he was only a few miles away from us in greater L.A. (now the guy’s in NYC!) and he’s signed some quite interesting bands. Have you given a listen to some of the artists like Helloween, Danzig, Tarja and Lordi? Sleepytime Gorilla Museum make odd and engaging music too.
No I haven’t, but I really like Andreas, he is being nice to me at the moment.
How was the night at the Roundhouse playing Some Friendly? How was the audience response? Any memorable moments? How high were you all, your overall mood?
I was really proud about the fact that our 20 year old songs propelled me right here into the present. I was expecting to be taken on some weird nostalgic boat back to Manchester but halfway through the set I thought this is really original even now. We were way ahead and no one knew it or would even admit it, not even now, but I know!
Tim, at the end of your tour you will be at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles. While everyone else has to fly home, you’ll get to drive home. Will you be hosting an end of tour party at your place or what? What are some of the things about Los Angeles you’ve enjoyed since moving here 10 years ago and what do you look forward to doing?
I Loooooooove my house, it is filled with genius records. Also, I love my dog and my view is opposite the Hollywood sign. I would have a barbeque but I am in a band with fussy eaters: no meat for these hunks.
The new album is very immediate, very confident and just wonderful to hear you sound this good after all these albums. I just saw a talk show with a singer from a Canadian band called Alexisonfire who has his own solo/acoustic guitar project. He said that he’s rather much happier not getting extremely popular and burning out but rather having a longer, stabler career. I’m just happy to see you’re still plugging away and making such vital and exciting music! And I look forward to seeing you at the El Rey!
Oh! I am very competitive and it kills me not being as popular as Kings of Leon, but then I am much happier that my contemporaries are more likely to be BRMC, BJM, MBV, The Horrors, Ladyhawke, Primal Scream. Much better to be black and blue than Pretty Green.
Thanks for your time and for all the great music over the years!
(Interview by Bret Miller)
The Charlatans UK on Myspace