- Mon, 2011-03-28 10:28
An eleven album strong discography is but a small part of The Charlatans' magic, having captured the attention of brit-pop / indie fans in the early nineties and continuing to enthrall audiences with passionate live shows throughout their impressive 22 year career, maintained with an unswerving dedication to their sound and their fans alike.
With the deluxe re-release of their sixth album this week, 1999's seminal Us and Us Only, I Like Music caught up with The Charlatans bass player Martin Blunt to chat about the history of the band, putting Us and Us Only together and their plans to start work on a new album late in 2011.
"I Like Music because… it feeds my mind.” Martin Blunt, The Charlatans
ILM: The deluxe re-release of Us and Us Only comes packaged with some exciting extras, can you tell us about those?
Martin: There were a lot of live tracks from the album on the shelves that were really good quality, so we wanted to attach them to the deluxe edition of Us and Us Only, originally released in 1999. Last year a re-mastered version of our debut Some Friendly came out with other stuff on it. When Universal suggested doing Us and Us Only last July we had some of the live versions sent up. They just have the right dynamics. Although we were quite pleased with the record, if you listen to the live versions recorded three or four months after the album came out, they have a different dimension to them. The last track on CD 2 is The House Is Not A Home, which we played on the BBC programme Later [with Jools Holland] which is absolutely stunning. So it all came together like that. The thing about The Charlatans is that it hasn’t always been about the singles. We have such a following that it’s not just about what came out for radio, it’s actually album tracks that a lot of people hold to their hearts, which is always quite refreshing.
ILM: Where do you see the record fitting into your journey as a band?
Martin: Previous to Us and Us Only we’d done our final album for our first label Beggars Banquet, Tellin’ Stories. That was an absolutely huge success but mixed in with it was the unfortunate and untimely death of Rob Collins, an organist/songwriter within the band. We finished Telling Stories and just thought ‘where do we go from here?’ Fortunately we met a guy called Tony Rogers who we thought would fit perfectly into the band. After six months we knew he was the right decision as the ideas had started flowing and we connected again. He was quite influenced by country and by Bob Dylan while a lot of the band still had its psychedelic rock roots. The first tracks we recorded for it were Forever and Impossible. We didn’t think our studio was up to mixing at the time, so we took them to Great Linford Manor in Buckinghamshire; an 18th century old manor house. You’ve got all these fields next to the manor house but when you turn the corner basically you’re in Milton Keynes!
ILM: Could you talk us through your process of making music together as a band? How has that changed and developed over the years?
Martin: The first two albums were very much written in a jamming situation, then we went off into a couple of camps to bring in some influences. They helped our third record Up To Our Hips, which helped the band. That put us on the map as quite a credible group, we developed interest and started to amass quite a hard core following. 12 months later we went back to South Wales to record The Charlatans, which absolutely opened the doors. For our seventh album Wonderland, we split our time between Los Angeles and our studio in Northwich. The developments of technology made things easier, at one point two-fifths of the band were in L.A and three-fifths were back at our studio working on ideas which really helped. After that it became a bit of a blur. Up At The Lake had its moments. I don’t think we were really focused on that. Simpatico has some really good tracks and there’s a lot going on. You Cross My Path was taken around L.A, Ireland; we toured a lot with that one. We just recorded it onto laptops and then mixed down in London. We actually recorded 18 to 20 tracks in about 17 days so we didn’t need to get together and stand in the studio together. We haven’t done that in quite a while. I thought the way we approached that was really good. It was a good system for everybody. It actually took longer to mix than record...
ILM: With so many releases, you’ve gathered a lot of experience playing live. What do you look forward to the most about getting up on stage?
Martin: It’s a really euphoric feeling. A lot of us still get quite nervous before we go on stage which I think is a good sign. We still get a very good buzz about things before playing, whether it’s a festival in Europe, a city hall or a club in Australia. Last year was our second time playing Australia and we played all the major cities. I’m glad we were invited! It took 18 years for the band to get to Australia. We’re always asked why it took us so long to go over to that part of the world but when you look at logistics and cost... we took all of that on our shoulders. We did the books and we managed to get to Australia and New Zealand. The turn out was incredible!
ILM: Looking back on your time with The Charlatans, what have been some of the most memorable moments?
Martin: The inception of the band in the late eighties and early nineties. Playing our first Reading Festival in ’92, that was pretty amazing! I love the sense of our gigs being an event more than a gig. I still get that vibe. No matter where we play really, 90% of the time it’s an event. People know they’ve been to a gig after one of ours! Up to a point, the band’s work in progress. Wonderland was quite a seminal album for us. As was Us and Us Only really. That was another shot in the arm to give us that drive to move forward.
ILM: Following on from that, what would be your advice to younger musicians starting out today?
Martin: Communication. I think that’s what helped us, playing music together and pushing the group to become better. You just forget sometimes when you have individuals in a group, that the connection is so unique. And of course, make sure you decide what kind of haircut you’re going to have...
ILM: Excellent advice! What music have you been listening to recently?
Martin: I quite like Miles Kane; he’s pretty good. And The Streets album Computers and Blues is good. I can feel everyone coming back to guitar music with a bit of a vengeance you know? Hopefully this year and next year there’ll be a growth of guitar groups...there’s been a bit of a lull.
ILM: What are your future plans? Is there another album in the pipeline?
Martin: We’ve been talking about influences a lot, what new records are doing and we’ve bought bags full of CDs from certain record shops around the country. After all these years we’d love to do something acoustic. I’m surprised it took that long. We should have done it years ago. So we’re going to do that in a couple of weeks. We’ve been talking about our direction and where to go musically. We were in Zurich last Saturday and we’re playing in Spain this side of April. We’re off to Istanbul this year where we’ve never been. We had a promoter call in saying ‘I’ve been trying to get the band for years’. He by-passed the record company and contacted the band and the management directly. We’re also at the Capesthorne Hall in May headlining the Fom Fest which we’re really looking forward to! For an album...I’m sure during the summer we’ll be knocking some ideas around. We’ll have something recorded by the end of the summer anyway, with a view to an album. It won’t be this year. We’re progressing, we’ll find time! It’s just started to flourish now, I know we’re itching to do something!