Contactmusic.com spoke to Tim Burgess and Martin Blunt from The Charlatans on many manner of subjects from Christopher Lee, being suspended upside down for video, drinking white spirit and of course their anticipated new release "Simpatico" which mixes classic Charlatans, with a new Reggae/Ska/Dub influence.
On meeting Tim (all in black, from his sunglasses through his shirt, waistcoat and trousers) and Martin (casual in shirt and jeans) residing over a table fit to bursting point, layered in drink and food. I'm greeted like an old friend. Handshakes and conversation of the recent weekend ensues before I start to dig at this new found happiness.
I can't help but to start though at the recent split from Universal, a time which the band found hard. Tim is happy to discuss, "We recorded the first album ('Us and Us Only') with them, which was great. The second one, which was 'Wonderland', changed them. I think that's when they suddenly decided they didn't like us!" He laughs, but you can sense that there is a rooted hatred for a label who promised the band so much and then decided it wasn't for them, and definitely doesn't mince his words when he says "I think Universal almost broke our spirit. To the point where we started ignoring each other." There's a seconds silence as he thinks and says, "But we don't have to dwell on it." He then lightens the mood with, "I had fire extinguishers fired at me!"
The new found freedom in direction seems to have coincided with the move over to Sanctuary, and Tim is in unquestionable agreement, "Yeah, yeah I think it was! We felt we were able to write how ever the hell we wanted, which is a great way to feel when you're in a band. And as a five piece, we felt we didn't want to necessarily make an experimental album, it was just something new."
I was curious to understand the transition into the latest Charlatans sound, and as Martin ponders Tim starts in, " We wrote a track for the new album called 'City Of The Dead', and it kind of had all those flavours. It just had that unmistakable groove but at the same time sounded very, very serious. After that, we found it difficult to write in other styles because it was so serious but at the same time so much fun."
Having said that, there are still tracks like 'Black & Blue Eyes' that retain their distinctive Charlatans sound. I wanted to know if they had been purposely done to keep a sense of familiarity at the same time as experimenting with new areas. "Mark came over to LA to visit me, and brought the track over with him." Tim starts, "It was obviously an instrumental. But it was pretty much fully formed. So I wrote the words for it, and I thought, this does sound very Charlatans, but it was never something we consciously did to keep anyone happy, I just thought this is good!"
Martin starts to tell a story, "I had a mate who called me up after hearing it on the radio for the first time. It was the first 4 bars or so before Tim starts to sing, and he said 'There's a band on the radio ripping you guys off', which I took as a compliment."
When it comes to expectations of how the album will be received, Tim's in no doubt that the reaction will obviously be "mixed", and has "no pre-conceived idea's of how it will be received. I just want as many people as possible to hear it, because we believe it's some of the best work we've done for years. It's frustrating because so many people want us to be how we were when we were 21."
"The last thing we want to do is regurgitate." Interjects Martin. "When we were finishing off 'Up At The Lake', on the tour bus and that, we were playing a lot of Studio One, and LCD Sound System. And that seeped into all of us."
"Nothing like a bit of dub in the morning!" Announces a smiling Burgess.
Both are in harmony when it comes to their perception of the finish product though with Tim questioning, "I don't see how the album could not be liked personally." And Blunt added, "I think there enough in there to say, yeah, we've moved on again."
The band had on the last few albums struggled to finish off their work ('Tellin' Stories', took close to 9 months and 'Up At The Lake', was 6), so I was curious to ask Martin what had been the story this time round. "It was 4 weeks, it took us to record and that. We were well aware at what had happened with 'Up At The Lake', and as Tim said, Mark and him wrote 'City Of The Dead', and everything just seemed to point from there. And by the time we'd booked the studio, virtually all the songs had been written or just needed that final studio tweak."
Tim is also quick to point out that the band write collaboratively and everyone has their input; "We all bring in ideas, some more fully formed and some not. We share it." He pauses to laugh and sip on his coffee before continuing. "Just getting back to the Reggae and Ska thing. I remember when we did 'Wonderland', I think the first song was written was 'A Man Needs To Be Told', and I had this falsetto thing going on and then we decided the whole album should incorporate that kind of thing. We just get carried away which is great! Bands should get carried away and creative, it can be amazing."
In recent past, the guys have produced their own work except 'Wonderland', where they collaborated with Danny Sabre. So I was surprised at the link up with Jim Lowe. "This one we got in Jim [Lowe]. That helped to get a lot of things nailed down quickly, instead of five men arguing over a desk in front of an engineer, with an audience watching!" Offers Martin. "So it stopped a lot of axes being pulled and steadied the ship. He's always been a big fan of the band."
And the pair aren't lacking in their praise of him, talking over each other to say, "Oh god yeah." (Martin), "I really rate Jim." (Tim).
I've heard rumours that there is a connection with Christopher Lee tangled in here as well. It turns out Tim is a big horror movie fan, and Jim Lowe once recorded with the Hammer legend! "Yeah!" Starts Martin, as Tim giggles away, "Jim recorded a load of Opera stuff with him. He [Lowe] said that this guy [Lee] is just a massive presence when he walks in the room, just big! It was good enough for us."
"If he's good enough for Christopher Lee, he's good enough for us!" Tim adds.
The band managed to come down from an impressive 30 demo songs to recording 13, which was then whittled down to the final cut of 12. Blunt offers an exclusive piece of inside information; "I think at some point on the website, we will put on the basement tapes of this session. There about another 12 songs which are demo'd up."
The Charlatans are synonymous with the Summer festival season, and have recently come back from playing South By South West in The States. "It was good fun." Nods Tim, "It was tough, I came down with flu straight away. But, a lot of people got to see the band who've not seen us for a while. We played some of the new stuff like 'Black And Blue Eyes', 'NYC' and they went down well."
But the front man is sure what his favourite part of his job is, "I actually love the writing. I enjoy being artistic and creative, but at times you can end up pulling your hair out. But it's good to internalise the mind. You just sometimes have to go to the depths of your soul." Something that has helped he feels, was his move to LA some years ago. "There are some songs that I could only have written over there. It follows me round all day, it's a crazy place! It's a sprawling metropolis."
We digress into a number of different topics including up and coming bands who the guys like, such as the Arctic Monkeys who they describe as "Cheeky chappy's" and "Alan Bennett prose with guitars!" and how the sandwich spread on offer is not dissimilar to their normal gig rider, only lacking in sweets and either black or white spirits!
All in all, they are in positive mood and rightly so. After all they have been through together over the years, and on the eve of their new release, The Charlatans have been given a new lease of life which is healthily embodied in 'Simpatico'. Only time will tell whether the listening audience have the same passion for the new material, but by then, The Charlatans will have probably decided to push new boundaries.