“I’ve been in the music industry ten years and I’m only getting to grips with it now.” An Interview with Charlie Simpson (7/11/12)

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The Edge had the amazing opportunity back in November to interview the music industry veteran Charlie Simpson on his latest support slot on tour with Twin Atlantic. With album number two being recorded this year I was excited to find out how his acoustic solo work is being received and what it’s like to have been in the music industry for 10 years. So as a ‘Happy New Year’ present, here it is:

How have you found touring with Twin Atlantic?

It has been awesome fun. It’s funny because I’ve always liked them and their album came out about 6 months before mine did, I remember listening to that record and thinking ‘this is such a good album’. They’ve been one of my favourite British rock bands, definitely for the past couple of years. I finished my last headline tour and I’ve just been writing for the last four months. So I wasn’t actually planning on going out on the road again until I started recording again but then they rang me up and said ‘Do you wanna come out on the road? Cause we’d love to have you out’ and I just thought, you know what, it sounds like really good fun. We only decided to do it like four weeks before they went out so it was kind of off the cuff, last minute, but it’s so fun man. Twin are a pleasure to tour with and I think the crowds work really well.

What can we expect from tonight’s show?

Erm, well we’re playing the more up tempo, upbeat tracks. We’ve just been putting a lot of energy into the show. It’s funny, at the start of the tour we had a couple of new members, I’ve had the same line up in my band since I started but we’ve had a couple new members, so that was a bit different getting used to that but you can expect a very high energy show and we just have a lot of fun on stage.

With reference to your solo music, what were your influences and how do you think they shaped your solo album?

Erm, I’ve always been a fan of acoustic music, since I was very young. My dad put me on stuff like Jackson Brown, I was always a big fan of Elliot Smith and Pete Yorn. I was listening to the heavier bands in tandem with the acoustic music I loved, I’ve always listened to other singer/songwriters. I guess the influences I was drawing on were just those that i’ve had all my life. I went back and listened to a lot of 70s records with big harmonies. Harmonies are one of my favourite things in music you know, so I’m listening to The Beach Boys and listening to The Eagles. I just love that big West American 70s sound so I was listening to a lot of those records. But it was nice man, it’s obviously the first time I’ve been in the studio on my own without a band and it was a really nice process, not worrying about anything just trying what I wanted to try it was just me and the producer, it was a great, kind of freeing experience.

Moving from Fightstar to the solo album did you feel it was a natural progression? Did you just sit down and write and that’s how it turned out?

Yes, yes, definitely. I don’t think it would have worked so well if it hadn’t have been that. I mean, to do a solo album for the sake of doing a solo album is a stupid idea. I think some people will do that. I mean, the only reason I did it was because I love that kind of music as well, it’s a natural progression for me. So it wasn’t like ‘right, i’m gonna sit down and write some acoustic songs’. I’ve written songs like this all my life, I’ve just never really shared it with anyone. A couple of songs that i’ve used are older songs, so it’s a very natural progression, yeah. 

Where do you think is the best place you’ve played in the world? Have you got the ultimate best show? 

That’s a good question. Erm. That is a GOOD question! One of the favourite shows I ever did was the last time Fightstar played Reading on the main stage, that was absolutely awesome! It was just crazy man, the crowds went mental, it was a really hot day and the dust plumes just came up and Reading is one of my favourite festivals. But with regards to my stuff one of my favourite shows has gotta be a few months ago when we played KOKO. Headlining KOKO, by myself and just in the end I remember looking up and it was completely sold out and it was such a special moment. You know, this is actually happening and people are digging stuff that I’ve created by myself. Thats one. I’m just about to go and play in Germany after this tour finishes, we’re playing with Amy McDonald over there which will be cool as i’ve never really done an extensive tour of Germany before. Then we’re looking to go to the states to release the record next year.

Cool! That’s exciting. So when did you start writing music? Has it always been something you’ve done?

Yeah, I think I wrote my first song when I was about 11 and it was really bad. It was a song called ‘Desolation of Angels’.

At 11?

Haha, I know! I’ll tell you why. My older brother’s girlfriend was in a band and they were called Desolation of Angels so I remember thinking ‘that’s such a cool title, I’m gonna write a song about that’. I still have a tape somewhere, it’s funny cause Nick, who’s in my band, we started a band together when we were very young as well called The Spleen. It was funny cause I was in like four bands at school and three of them were just covers bands, like Blink covers. But we were like ‘no, we’re not gonna do a covers band, we’re gonna do original songs’. So we were playing the Sixth Form Centre, people were coming down and thinking ‘I don’t recognise any of these songs’. But we wanted to stay true to doing original stuff. I’ve been writing, in one form or another, since the age of about eleven, it’s funny cause it’s just around the time when a kid can access the means to record it, so I have a progression of demos, it’s funny how shit some of them are. [Laughs] It’s good to keep it for nostalgia. 

With reference to your solo stuff what’s the strangest thing you’ve read about it? Like people writing about it now in the press have you read anything odd?

I don’t think so! I mean you do sometimes read odd things but I can’t think of anything right now. There have definitely been times when I’ve thought ‘what is that about?’ some weird rumour. 

Or a ‘I really didn’t say that’ moment

That’s the thing! You’ve got to be careful. I’ve become wise to it now because I’ve been doing this for a while. I know how I say things to people and how naïvely they can be misinterpreted and spun. At the end of the day the press are out to make stories, you’ve got to be very wary. Twitter is the new danger! You can say something that is taken so far out of context. You can say something when you’re drunk. Stay off twitter when you’re drunk! It is dangerous, especially for people in the public eye, they can say something when they’re drunk, or something they don’t mean and as a joke that doesn’t come across as a joke and people can pick up on it. You do have to be wary.

Going back to this current tour, how have the crowds been? 

They’ve been really good! I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, Twin are a rock band! But when I was announced on the tour I went on Twitter and looked at the forums and there was a lot love, people thinking it was a good pairing. Initially I thought it would be, I thought there might be a crossover there but I didn’t know for sure, so I was like ‘this’ll be interesting’ but you know what, every crowd has been absolutely brilliant and there have been a lot of people in the audience that know my stuff. Last night in Bristol was probably the best crowd we’ve has so far and Norwich was good cause that’s near my hometown and I can’t wait for London because it’s my hometown now, so that’ll be great. I’ve only played this venue once, I played it on the Kerrang! tour with Coheed and Cambria and it is an absolutely awesome venue! From the grandeur point of view, one of the best venues in the country I’d say.

Charlie-Simpson-300x298Why did you choose ‘Down Down Down’ as the first single? 

It’s weird, I had a bunch of songs recorded and my friends would come up to me and ask what my solo stuff was like, and for some reason I would always put that song on. That’s the song I naturally gravitated towards to portray what I was doing. So I thought If I’m doing that to my friends and my family then that should be what I show for everyone. Originally the label weren’t sure that it should be the first single, then my radio plugger was like ‘I think it should be as well’ so I actually stuck to my guns because it felt right, I felt like that should be the first song. It was just an instinct thing.

Going back to people’s reactions, have you had any weird fan experiences recently?

Hmm, I’ve definitely had them in the past! On this tour it’s been pretty cool man. But yeah, you get some weird things, weird presents and stuff. I got a giant muffin on the bus, which was kinda strange. You get some odd presents, but it’s lovely man, I love meeting the fans. Only thing is on this tour it’s been harder to meet the fans because Twin are on and we finish, pack up and we usually go. So when I’m doing a headline show it’s much easier to come out and meet the fans afterwards. They’re so polite and it’s so lovely to meet people that are really into what you’re doing, I think that it’s a real privilege to get that opportunity. At the end of the day you wouldn’t be shit without those people, you couldn’t do it without them, so I think it’s really nice to have fan interaction, some of them are a little crazy but in a good way.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?

Erm, I have a nostalgia track that means the most, and that’s the track ‘Thorns’ cause that’s the first track I wrote for the record. I dunno man, I’d been writing tunes and I had a few tunes before I wrote that song but that was the one where I was like, this is the start of the record. So everytime I play it, it just takes me back to me in my studio just thinking ‘this is it man, we’re off now’.

How about live?

‘Riverbanks’ There’s a track called ‘Riverbanks’. The end goes into this post-rocky thing. Are you watching the show tonight? 

I’m not! Someone else got the ticket allocation. I’m gutted.

Oh no! Basically at the end of the track, we just surge and go crazy and it’s so fun to do live.

Can you briefly explain the writing and recording process of the album? You played all of the instruments yourself didn’t you?

Yeah, on the first album. It was always something I wanted to do and this was the first chance to do it, to completely take control of everything, I wrote all the drum parts but I didn’t actually want to play the drums because I wanted to take a producer role and be able to watch the drums. That’s how I met our drummer Ruben, it was absolutely phenomenal, he basically put all the drum tracks down and then I just wanted to try different things, be on my own, without the pressure of having anyone else there. I just sat there and did it. So I pretty much built it as a band, you know, we play bass we play guitar and that sort of thing but we just did it stage by stage. I think it’s interesting because on the new album I’m gonna go the other way, I actually want the band to play on it, It’s nice to have that feel on the first record but I think it would be nice to have the different vibes from the band.

So is that what you’re doing now? You’re in the process of album two?

Yeah. I’ve been writing and looking to go in pretty much second week of January to the studio. 

That’s exciting! As you’ve been in the music industry forever! Do you have any advice that you would give your younger self, ten years ago?

I don’t know what I’d say to myself! I think I’d just say try to be as open-minded to learn as much as possible. I think if you go into the music industry at a young age you’re blinded by it all. I’ve been in the music industry ten years now and I’m feeling I’m only getting to grips with it now. Really understanding it. There’s so much to take in, there’s a lot you’ve got to be wary of, but if I was speaking to someone younger now, I think the message would be… the funny thing is, the music industry has almost completely changed its face since I joined it, with new media and everything, it’s a different place. I think that bands coming up today have to take control of it and not be scared of using the whole new media thing to their advantage, by using Twitter and Facebook to get yourself out there. It was all about trying to get an A&R guy to come down to see a band for a band to be able to function and go places. I think bands can take a DIY approach now and get to a certain level without needing anything! I really encourage bands to do it. You really can build a fanbase now without anyone but yourself by using the tools available to you. Then when that happens you can look into getting management and a label and you’re already half way there and I think it has become a lot easier, people just have to take advantage of it.

Charlie Simpson’s album Young Pilgrim is out now.

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About Author

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I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

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