From his musical beginnings in pop-punk boy band Busted, through to his more recent rock reinvention in Fightstar, Charlie Simpson has displayed a wide range of styles and incarnations in the 10 years since he entered the music industry. His latest venture is a solo project under his own name, which sees Simpson turn his hand to penning American-inspired singer songwriter stylings on his new album ‘Young Pilgrim’, out now on Nusic Sounds/PIAS.
Here Gigwise chats to Simpson about his thoughts on illegal downloading, how his previous bands and experience have lead to this solo venture, cheese and his aspirations for ‘Young Pilgrim’…
You’ve been in this industry for over 10 years now. How would you say that you’ve seen it change yourself over the years?
It’s in a very different place to where it was. I mean it was 2001 when I first became familiar with the industry and it’s just so different now. I think that the turn of the millennium was the last point at which the whole model of the industry was going to stay that way for about 50 years. And you know, some people look back and think that musicians were making too much money and that it was all too much. There was a lot of money in the industry, so maybe it was a weird karma thing, but I think that the fact is that now people can get hold of records without paying for them and it’s changed the entire infrastructure. And I think that at the moment it feels very rudderless and no one really knows where it’s going and I think that it will probably be about 10 years until they do.
I think that ultimately it will just come down to the format in which we can give music to the public, which I personally think will be in a licensing format, almost like Spotify but on a massive scale and probably through mobile phones. There just needs to be some infrastructure that splits the money up between the artists. I don’t know how they’re going to do it, but it is very, very different now.
Why have you decided to do the solo album at this particular moment in time? Is it something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time?
Yeah, definitely. It’s something I’ve always imagined that I’d do actually, but the timing came about purely because Fightstar wanted to take a break. I was kind of burned out from the last Fightstar record and touring and non-stop writing, as we did three albums in as many years. We just wanted a break. I was going to take a break anyway, and I just needed to chill out, and so it became a great time to do it. I started writing at the beginning of 2010, so it’s been a year in the making. So it’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited about getting it out!
So Fightstar are still very much together then?
We’re just on a hiatus. I’m doing this, two of the band are doing a new musical project called False Flags which is electronic stuff with a female singer, our drummer is managing a death metal band, who are called… and are awesome.
Did you know musically which direction you were going to go in when it came to writing ‘Young Pilgrim’?
Yes. I always had at the back of my mind that when I did a solo album it would be acoustic driven and that it would be around the American-like vibe. I’ve always had that as a musical influence. I tell you what record I re-discovered yesterday, Nada Surf ‘Positivity Effect’ it’s just awesome! When I was like 12 or 13 I was listening to much heavier music, but I’ve always had this thing for singer songwriters and for that type of music. Pete Yorn was a massive inspiration for me and even loads of 70s records that my dad would listen to like Jackson Browne and Cosby, Stills And Nash and Beach Boys. That was always going to be the founding influence when I finally did something myself, it was always going to sound this way.
Are there any tracks on the new record that you’re particularly pleased with?
I’m proud of it as an entire piece of work to be honest, but the end of the last track is something that I’m really pleased with. I had this vision, I really wanted it to go off on this crazy post-rock ramble, and I said to Danton – the producer – that I just wanted to play the chords and then just chuck as much of this as we can into it. Literally, I just there putting pianos through distortion pedals, just all sorts, anything that we could try we tried. And I think that it’s got a real grand nature to it, which is cool cos I wanted it to go out on an absolute high and it was really fun to record that as well, so I’m really pleased with how that came out.
You played every instrument on the album apart from the drums. So was this a conscious decision, to emphasise that ‘Young Pilgrim’ is definitely a solo album?
Yeah. I mean I would have done the drums but I am so meticulous about drum parts so I kind of wanted to be in the producer’s seat for those, because otherwise I’d be playing the drums and then I’d have to go into the control room and listen to them and it would just be like a yo-yo and there just wasn’t any time. And so I got a guy called Reuben in and it was actually great that I got him in, as it was through him that I met my entire live band, apart from one of the guys I went to school with, so that worked out very well.
So the record was produced by Danton Supple, whose also produced for Coldplay and The Doves. How did all that come about and what did he bring to the record?
He’s a great person in the sense that if you describe how you want something to sound then he just knows how to do it. And he’s done so much great stuff in the past, he’s a real seasoned pro, so when I had lunch with him about a month before we started, we discussed what I wanted to achieve. And I just said that I just wanted a really authentic sounding record, I don’t want it to be over-polished I want it to be real sounding. Just the way that he did all the technical things, such as micing and choosing which mic he used, he just had such a great, meticulous way of doing things and nothing was ever forced.
It was a very natural process and I think that you can hear that in the tone of the record. And then cos I did everything myself, it was just me and him in a room for three months, so we got on really well too, rather than having loads of people and loads of distractions we were just very, very focused. We recorded a lot of the instruments in a place called State Of The Art by Tate Britain. It’s this awesome studio, it’s like his playpen, with vintage guitars and vintage amps so it was just amazing to be able to sit in this room and be surrounded by this incredible equipment and just play with it. We found some crazy instruments, and because it was just me on my own we had time to be like ‘Well, let’s just try this out and test this weird little African instrument and if it sounds cool then great, if not we just won’t use it.’ I always think with recording that it’s better to try something out and realise it sounds stupid rather than not. You might as well try it out!
Has the material gone down well so far when you’ve been previewing it during your live shows?
Yeah, it’s been going really well. I mean it is difficult playing to a crowd that don’t know the songs and it was always going to be that way, so I can’t wait for the October tour when everyone knows the album. It’s good though, it’s interesting because when you’re playing songs you can then gauge the crowd’s favourites already and there’s definitely some that are going down really well.
So what’s your live set up like?
It’s a full band set up. I mean, I don’t think that I would do a tour just on my own, because even though this is a solo record, it’s not a solo project. And not just in terms of the instrumentation, because you could just do it acoustically, but you need those harmonies. A lot of the time it’s four-part harmonies. And also, I’m not sure that I’d enjoy just going around the country on my own! It’s nice to have that camaraderie, I think that you’d just get very lonely being on your own.
It was quite a hard transition period from Busted through to Fightstar. Do you think that it’s going to be easier this time?
Erm, I think it’s definitely different this time around. What’s interesting about this is that this is something completely new again and I’m going to appeal to people who don’t know anything about what I’ve done before, which is quite an exciting prospect, you know? But I think that it’s always going to be a daunting prospect putting something out there on your own, but it’s been good so far and it’s a really nice feeling when you get good feedback from something that you know that you’ve built up from the ground on your own.
What sort of music were you listening to during the Busted era, as you’ve said since the split that the music you were performing with Busted wasn’t necessarily what you were listening to or enjoying at the time?
I went through a massive pop-punk stage. Like Blink 182 and New Found Glory, when they came out I was listening to a lot of that. I mean it’s funny, I was listening to the first New Found Glory record the other day, and it’s just so good, it was such an awesome record! Can you remember when pop punk broke? I mean New Found Glory were one of the ones who really made it explode over here at least, so me and all my friends were definitely listening to all of that.
So you’ve got Harvest Festival coming up in the next month before you embark on a full tour. Are you excited about it?
I’m really excited about Harvest Festival, as it’s also a food festival as well as one with music, and so you walk around in the day and it’s like cheese, wine, I mean that is awesome. Although it’s Al from Fightstar’s wedding the day before, I’m being an usher and I’ve got to do all that and I imagine that it will be a busy night, so I might be a bit worse for wear the next day! Maybe a nice cheese will sort me out in the morning?
Finally, what’s next then, besides the album launch?
Just touring really! For me it’s just focusing on the touring and I’d love to release this internationally if I can, so that will be the next step. But it’s just going to be all about getting it out to as many people as possible really. In a way I think the hard work’s done on my part now: it’s funny cos the management were like, ‘Go and do your record’, it’s like I’ve done my thing so now it’s just time for me to enjoy it all really.