For nearly three decades, The Charlatans have kept fans dancing with their blend of ‘60s influenced baggy alternative rock. Hot on the heels of their critically acclaimed 2017 LP Different Days, Tim Burgess and the boys kicked off summer 2018 with four nights of hometown shows in Northwich, England and the release of June’s Totally Eclipsing EP.
The whirlwind of new music finds The Charlatans back on the road, and they begin to wind down a North American run with a Monday (October 1) appearance at Brighton Music Hall in Allston. Vanyaland caught up with Burgess in advance of the show to discuss the new EP, his role in the wildly popular Twitter account Bands FC (we hyped that up back in June), and his very own Tim Peaks coffee line.
Kayley Kravitz: Congratulations on Totally Eclipsing. We’re absolutely loving it! I would say “Hopelessly Hoping” is my favorite track so far.
Thank you very much. The great thing is that everyone seems to have a favorite.
Now that you’ve been playing the new songs on the festival circuit this summer, have you felt like there’s been a good reaction from the crowds and the fans?
Yeah, we’ve only managed to play two so far from the EP, “Indefinitely In Your Debt” and “Totally Eclipsing”. I think the reaction is as good as you can ever hope for. We’ve pretty much played all the songs from Different Days now. There’s only a couple that we’ve not managed to learn yet so the set is made of half old material, half new material, and in that we’ve kind of included Modern Nature as well, the album before Different Days. The set is made up of the last three releases and then our back catalog makes up the rest.
How do you build setlists with such an extensive back catalog? You guys could play a full day’s show and probably not get through everything that you’ve written. So how do you determine, okay, on this tour we’re going to learn and make sure that we have these songs down. What’s the process for that?
I’m not sure if it’s a process, but maybe it is a process because we can’t sing the same songs all the time. We just have a few things we can’t leave out, say “The Only One I Know,” “One to Another,” “North Country Boy.” It doesn’t feel like we’ve played a gig, really, unless most of them are in it. Then you have to feel very excited about what you’re presenting, so you have to play new material as well. The last couple of albums have come along really well. That’s pretty much the process, really. When we did the event in Northwich, we played four nights and each night we did a different set. We always finish with “Sproston Green.” But, all the other times are different, so right now we manage to go through the back catalog and think, “Wow, we haven’t played this in so long! Or, we’ve never played this. Or, we should try that.” It’s quite indulgent.
Can you tell me a bit about the songwriting and recording process, and how that’s really evolved over The Charlatans’ 30 year career?
When we first started out with Rob [Collins] and John [Brookes] in the band we used to do a lot of improvising and jamming, or whatever you want to call it, and we did creative stuff like that and that’s how we got through the first album. Just repetition but risks were taken. That was good for a couple of records and then we actually began to start thinking more in terms of songwriting and that became a challenge: Trying to write the best songs as a band. And then we would go off in twos, like couples, so Martin [Blunt] and Mark [Collins] used to write together a lot and then me and Mark started to write quite a lot and then Tony [Rogers] had joined the band. Martin and Tony did things.
It’s been a bit like that for a long time and then with Modern Nature, after John died, it was quite a regrouping time for us. We tend to net the writing separately to the extreme. John was ill for five years, and after he died we all sat down together and wrote the first song that we’d written as four people, maybe ever. That was a song called “Keep Enough” from Modern Nature and it was just such a release. Modern Nature is quite a group effort and I think we felt that it had been more like that for a while now. We were all just walking through it together and trying to stay in the ring together as opposed to just disappearing.
It sounds like your songwriting process has almost come full circle. When you were describing those early days in a rehearsal space together jamming, it sounds like it’s almost come back to that.
Yeah, it has kind of come back to that with all the knowledge that we have learned or unlearned as we’ve gone along. It seems like there is a freshness there. So obviously we have unlearned the right things and learned the right things.
Especially after touring and playing together for as long as you all have, I’m sure you all feel like “Wow my musicianship has improved a lot in thirty years,” and things like that. So it brings new elements to the songwriting process.
Yeah, with Different Days we brought other people in and it felt quite like the album before the EP. Johnny Marr came and played on a few songs. I brought my friend Sharon Horgan in. She is a writer, actress, and comedian, and I decided that she should be a singer for one night. She helped us come up with the title for the album. Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Paul Weller played on it. Ian Rankin, the author, added a spoken word section. So it was a nice way to add a new way of doing things. And with the EP, again, it was just back into the rehearsal room with the four of us together with Pete Salisbury on drums.
Where did you record the new EP?
In Konk Studios. This is Ray Davies’ place in Muswell Hill, London. It is so beautiful there. We recorded with a producer called David Wrench, who is a wonderful guy. He has worked FKA Twigs and The xx.
Speaking of Different Days, a you guys did some really cool, innovative marketing campaigns where you married music and technology. Are you planning anything similar with Totally Eclipsing?
The Northwich gigs happened, and those were kind of meant to be the promotion for Totally Eclipsing. But I suppose the answer is, not really. Although at the moment, Bands FC has been taking up a bit of our time. Not everyone in the band, but you know, most of us.
We love Bands FC! Can you tell me a little bit more about how this idea came to be and how you got involved?
It was me and my friend Nick who work together quite well, Nick Fraser. We did quite a lot of work on Charlatans’ stuff and we worked together everyday on Tim Peaks, a traveling coffee shop/venue that we take around festivals. We were just talking about the World Cup. Any band who doesn’t get “footballed” over the World Cup, we thought, was a rubbish band. You can’t be upset if you were footballed over the World Cup, so from that came the idea of splicing the two things together, the bands and football. It was just that simple. And I think the first one that came about was for one of our favorite bands, Echo and the Bunnymen.
They’re such big Liverpool fans, it made sense to somehow splice Echo and the Bunnymen and Liverpool football club because they support them. It started there, really. There’s no real rules, but then there are rules because it’s like, “No, no, no, no, no, that’s not gonna work, or this is gonna work.” It has to be the band font or it has to be the football font. The level of detail that has gone into it has caused endless sleepless nights. It has been such a massive project.
— Bands FC (@_Bands_FC) August 1, 2018
You mentioned your Tim Peaks traveling coffee shop project. How does that work?
It came about because I wanted to do a coffee shop within a festival. And because I like Friends, you know, the show. I wanted to find bands that would play this coffee shop. They could be small bands or bands that I love. The first two that came along were Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame. I also have my own brand of coffee. The proceeds go to the David Lynch Foundation for Transcendental Meditation, which is something that I do. If we were going to do something so fun, then the money had to go to something that was important to me. Over the last 10 years, we have raised about £20,000 in coffee sales from one festival alone. It’s something that I’m really proud of. We threw it for three days at a festival called Kendal Calling.
Did you bring Tim Peaks to just that one festival, Kendal Calling, or is this something that you took to multiple festivals around the UK this summer?
It has been at Kendal Calling for eight years now. We have also taken it to the Isle of Wight Festival and Field Day Festival in London. It gets around. It’s also been at this festival called Festival Number 6 in Wales for six years.
Do you have plans to take Tim Peaks international?
I would love it to go international. The same people that make Yorkshire tea make my coffee now.
Speaking of touring internationally, I was reviewing the Charlatans’ gigography and noticed that you haven’t played Boston since 2010. Are you excited to play here again?
I really am. I know we missed you last time that we played. I’ve always had a good time in Boston. I’m looking forward to coming back, seeing what’s going on, and checking the city out.