Wednesday, 3 April 2013

INTERVIEW: Charlie Clark

Charlie Clark is a Scottish musician from the Isle Of Lewis. He now resides in Los Angeles, where he has crafted his debut solo record 'Feel Something'. Comprised of five wonderful, well arranged songs, it's a charming piece of work. Extra colour is added to the songs by the enticing backing vocals and superb arrangements, while the songwriting is instinctive and brilliantly accomplished. 

You can listen to the whole record via the media player further down this page.

You may remember Charlie as one half of the creative force behind much-loved late 90's indie popsters Astrid. He was also a core member of Scottish supergroup The Reindeer Section, and has appeared on records by The Zephyrs, Arab Strap, Mogwai and Snow Patrol.

The April 29th 2013 release of 'Feel Something' once again finds Charlie under the wing of Scottish indie legend Edwyn Collins. The record will be released by Collins' label AED. The label described Clark as "a fascinating study with an interesting story," adding that "it’s been a pleasure to discover his development as a solo artist."

One night in 1998 I was listening to The Evening Session on Radio 1, when my ears were alerted to a perfect slice of indie pop entitled 'Distance'. Using only a handful of very basic chords and a lot of heart, they had somehow crafted a beautifully simplistic mini masterpiece that was impossible not to fall in love with. The song was by a Scottish band called Astrid, who hailed from the Isle Of Lewis, and their excellent 'Hi Fi Lo Fi' EP was the first in a line of fondly remembered singles and EPs produced by the legendary Edwyn Collins. The former Orange Juice icon also produced their 1999 debut 'Strange Weather Lately', which was the first ever album release on the Fantastic Plastic label. 

Melody Maker wrote "Astrid write songs so great they sound instantly familiar the first time you hear them. Songs so instantly infectious you'll be able to sing along by the time the second chorus appears. Songs so utterly ace that if you give 'em a chance, they'll soundtrack your entire summer and beyond". The band gained a keen fanbase, toured the UK and Europe extensively, and their songs could often be heard on Radio 1.

But the underrated and under-promoted follow up album 'Play Dead' was a commercial failure which led to the group being dropped by their label. Their friends Snow Patrol had also been dropped by their record company, and it was then that frontman Gary Lightbody asked Charlie, vocalist Willie Campbell and bassist Gareth to be a part of his new project The Reindeer Section. Eventually all four members of the band were involved, and the money made from the project was used to fund Astrid's third album 'One In Four', an LP that Clark refers to as "my favourite". But by this point, interest in the group had waned. "I honestly think by that time nobody cared about the band anymore," says Charlie "and I can only speak for myself, but I was fucking mental with drink and drugs back then. Doing way too much of everything!"

When Snow Patrol's fortunes changed with 'Final Straw''s commercial success, Astrid were invited along as a support act. But the band had no money, and were travelling to gigs in a Ford Focus. Charlie remembers it as a bleak period: "It was unsaid, but I think we realized that we were flogging a dead horse, and our friendships were pretty fractured. It was actually really depressing". They toured Spain and Japan to support the album but after Campbell quit, the remainder of the band soon decided to call it a day.

Afterwards, Charlie joined The Zephyrs, playing guitar and mandolin on the 2005 album 'Bright Yellow Flowers On A Dark Double Bed', and toured with the band before starting a project called Cold Night Song, which won an award at Celtic Connections. In 2005 Charlie formed a band called Our Lunar Activities at "a very weird" point in his life. "I broke up with my girlfriend, was doing too much of everything, had no job and I was pretty lost". He describes Our Lunar Activities as "the sound of my despair". But it was to signal the start of new beginnings, as Charlie met his wife at SXSW when the band played there in 2008. He soon moved to Los Angeles, and the following year the group split. 

Although Clark took a much-needed break from creating music, he was still very much involved with it in one way or another. "We ran away and got married and moved back to Stornoway. We ran a music promo company called Kiss N Kill, where we'd take indie bands from all over to come up and perform on the island. We helped run a venue called The Jager Room and managed a 2 piece hardcore band from Inverness called Bronto Skylift". In 2010 Charlie and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where he began working on his own music again, as well as running the regular live music night Mad For Sadness at a venue in Silverlake. 


'Feel Something' will come as a treat to fans of Clark's previous work, a blissful record where the naive innocence of Astrid has matured into world-wise introspection and bittersweet melancholy. It's the sound of a man whose journey through life has helped him grow as an artist and develop as a songwriter. The opening 'Don't Let Me Down' is a sublime toe-tapper blessed with wonderful harmonies and dreamy pedal steel. "It's a song about learning to trust yourself and being present" says Charlie, "and it's about learning to take the stick out of my ass and get on with it!"

It's a record where gorgeous Americana meets Scottish indie-folk music, a marriage of styles demonstrated perfectly by the title track 'Feel Something'. It also shows how Clark understands his strengths: "Writing this song made me look closely at everything I've done in my musical career. I'd look at songs I'd written in the past, and I'd think about what point i was trying to make or what was the message was, or if there even was one? I know my own process a little better now and understand my relationship with music on the whole and why I do it. I wanted to try and capture that sense of emotion."

Then there's the humble, breathtaking 'Three Sheets To The Wind', with cello by Isobel Campbell"It sounds like it should be a boozing song and kind of is. But it's really about the fact that even when your own house is order and your shit is very much together, life is still life on life's terms and you never know what it's going to throw at you next. There an uncertainty about that song that I like." The stunning 'Sunken Ships' is a short, haunting reflection on Charlie's youth. He explains "it's a bittersweet love song about my life in Glasgow. It's a bit of a psychedelic sea shanty, as was my life in Glasgow." The record closes with the beautiful 'Grateful', again benefiting from Brandi Emma's lovely backing voclas: "I wrote 'Grateful' after my Mum and Dad came to visit my wife and I for the first time in Los Angeles. It's about family."


Living in LA has evidently been good for Charlie's artistic growth: "I've always felt such a strong connection to California, so Los Angeles and everything about living here inspired me whilst making this record. I literally went back to every album that blew my mind growing up and watched episode after episode of VH1 Classic Albums. The Doors, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, CSN, The Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, so on and so forth." As well as the music, Californian literature was also an inspiration: "When we were recording I was reading 'Hollywood' and 'Pulp' by Charles Bukowski. I've been a Bukowski enthusiast since my early 20's, so I now love being able to visit the areas he spoke about in his books and understand why Hank loved his city so much."

Charlie has recently been busy making some great promo videos, including the one for 'Sunken Ships' which can be viewed at the bottom of this page. As well as that, he's already working on the next record. "The core team who did 'Feel Something' with me are hoping to do another record before the year is out. Brandi and I have been writing together which has gone great and Eric McCann will be back doing some arrangements as well as on production duties again. It's pretty much all written, so we are rehearsing the songs right now with a full band. All my songs were written during or straight after 'Feel Something' and Brandi's songs are just beautiful."

He's got other stuff lined up too. "I did some recording last year with my friend Yohei Shikano (of My Hawaii). One of his songs and one of mine. Mark Gardener (Ride) mixed it for us and I was delighted with how it turned out so I'd like to do a 7" with those recordings as soon as I'm done promoting 'Feel Something'. A split Charlie Clark/My Hawaii single would be the idea. Mark is a good buddy of mine and one of the highlights of living here so far was going out to the desert with Mark and my wife and singing a Gram Parsons song under a moonlit sky in Pioneer Town!"


"I'm also doing a songwriting session with Ruthann Friedman this week (she wrote 'Windy' by The Association). She saw me play last year in Hollywood and has rarely missed a gig since and become like a Grandmother to me. She is also a regular at my Mad For Sadness night here. I'm really honoured and really excited about this so maybe we'll get a record out of it!"

Charlie still keeps in touch with his old Astrid bandmates. "Willie Campbell and I have been joined at the hip since we were 10 years old, so we're in touch all the time. I was Willie's best man at his wedding too. It was weird for a while after Astrid broke up, but then it was back to normal life. I feel like we talked it all out over the years." 

"I saw Gareth when he was playing bass with the Vaselines last year in LA and hung out with him after the show. It was awesome to see him, he has never changed. I haven't spoken to (drummer) Neil Payne in 5 or 6 years but would love to catch up with him as we played together in Cold Night Song for a bit after Astrid, but I was out of the game by then. He's an incredible songwriter and musician. Gary Thom was a really important part of the original Astrid sound. He was 100% responsible for showing us young ones how to be in a band and get our chops up to speed, as he had 10 years experience on us. So I'd love to see Gary again, to this day he is one of the funniest and craziest people I have ever played music with!"

"I had such a blast playing with all these guys even through times we all wanted to kill each other but they are all such talented people I would never rule out playing with any of them again. Willie and I talk about doing something together every two years or so but it is yet to happen but as I've learned through all of this, no need to rush it!"

You can buy a copy of 'Feel Something' HERE, on CD or lovely 10" vinyl...



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