Charlotte Hatherley
Live @ Oxford Zodiac
March 5, 2007
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman


Fans of Charlotte Hatherley, will undoubtedly be familiar with her musical past - from her love of playing piano and guitar at an early age, to her first band Nightnurse, to joining Ash in 1997 for a successful tenure which was to last for nearly a decade. In fact, in a recent glowing NME review for Charlotte's second solo LP, The Deep Blue, the writer concluded, "So thanks are due to Tim Wheeler. When he drafted in a sultry axewoman all those years ago, who would have known he was going a long way to creating a lasting star?"

And now, after having already laid the foundations for her solo career with debut album, Grey Will Fade in 2004 (at the time a side-project recorded in 2 weeks), and following her "amicable but very upsetting split" with Ash at the beginning of 2006. Charlotte has finally found the courage to spread her wings and go it alone - which in all walks of life, especially in The Music Industry, takes great self-belief and strength of character!

But perhaps what's even more admirable about her decision, is that along with her manager Ann Marie Shields, Charlotte has also set up her own Indie label, Little Sister Records, which was "born out of the belief that there is a much greater potential for excellence, when artists remain at the centre of their own careers."

Charlotte's Press Release continues: "With her own label, Charlotte has full creative control, and has been able to surround herself with a fantastic team of people who can help her realise her creative vision in music, video, artwork and live performance." Charlotte is equally as enthusiastic about the project, adding, "Little Sister can choose what labels and distributors we work with around the World to release our records." And as from March 5, you can get hold of The Deep Blue in all good record stores - which comes hot on the heels of its catchy taster singles, Behave and I Want You To Know.

The majority of the album was written in Australia and San Francisco, then recorded at The Red House Studio in Senigallia, Italy, during the Summer of 2006, and showcases a collection of all-encompassing and spacious songs, which are an exquisite distillation of Charlotte's magpie musical tastes. Where Grey Will Fade is characterised by sun-shower pop hooks and is peppered with post-punk melodies. The Deep Blue is an all-together different affair, and is largely informed by Charlotte's love of adventurous and experimental artists, such as David Bowie, Kate Bush, Mercury Rev and XTC.

In her own words, "It's like you're going on an adventure. It's an album from start to finish, and really conveys a mood and has a particular vibe to it. It's a record, in an age of downloading songs on their own." The lyrics also have a deep-rooted emotional quality and soul-baring maturity to them, and by thoughtfully blending the interplay between melody and meaning, they provide the perfect match for the LP's lavish production and epic musical arrangements.

Produced by Eric Drew Feldman, Rob Ellis and Charlotte - then mixed by Ben Hillier - it's not hard to see why this ambitious, fresh and intoxicating effort, was nearly a year-in-the-making! With painstaking attention to detail, some music critics have even called it "a new direction." However, it seems more likely that this is the type of album that Charlotte always wanted to make. As when I caught up with her at the Oxford Zodiac for the penultimate show of her 13 date UK Tour, she was gracious, jubilant in mood, and seemingly overjoyed with her current status!

So, the release of The Deep Blue has proved Charlotte Hatherley to be a blossoming and gifted singer-songwriter in her own right. And by soothing the soul and awakening the senses, her instantly recognisable music and distinctive vocals, will surely creep into the lives of many a discerning music lover…


1. To begin with, if it was R*E*P*E*A*T's round, what drink would you have and which song would you choose on the pub jukebox?
"Ooh (thinking), I usually go for a Vodka - that's the only spirit that I really drink, or a Tequila… a Tequila right now would be great (laughing)! On the pub jukebox, I would probably choose This Is Pop by XTC."

2. As both a musician and a music fan, what do you like music to do for you?

"Well, I'm really kind of into trashy pop stuff, like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears - I love all of that! And Gwen Stefani - I really love her album! But then I also really love Prog Rock and things which are a real challenge, like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Yes. So yeah, I'm kind of torn between really amazing pop melodies, and music that's complicated and challenging."
*Although Charlotte doesn't really have any guitar heroes, and is "more influenced by production and sound," in past interviews, she has unveiled how she hopes she can inspire girls to pick up a guitar and form a band*

3. 2007 is obviously a very exciting time for you, but if you could be magically transported back to any other musical year, which one would it be?
"Um (thinking), I'm going to say the year that I was born, which was 1979, because it was a really momentous year for Punk! Because I don't really like '77 - the early Punk - but it gets really interesting from '79 onwards, like all of the Post Punk stuff. It's just such a good era! And then of course, Bowie was doing all of his really cool stuff around then as well - in 1980 he did Let's Dance. So I guess '79 was almost kind of his Eno era. Yeah, I think that would be a great place to be (smiling)!"

4. Today, is the penultimate date of your UK Tour - how do you feel it has gone?

"It's been wicked (smiling)! It's a brand new band, there's 6 of us, and there's a lot going on. We took about a week-and-a-half to get it together (pausing), I kind of thought from the first gig onwards that it might be a bit ropy, but actually, every single gig has been fucking great! I mean, it's difficult trying to get your head round playing to people who just feel like standing there and looking, because with Ash gigs, I'm used to people going absolutely mental and there'd be a mosh pit (laughing)! So, it's kind of taking a step back from that, and suddenly, everything's a much bigger challenge. But that's fine and it makes it really exciting! Last night we were in Portsmouth, and Tim Smith, the singer from the Cardiacs came down! I'm a massive Cardiacs fan and I had a really good chat with him - he was really into it! So that's been one of my highlights of the tour (smiling). But yeah, it's been great, it's been really good - I'm loving it (laughing)!"

5. Songwriting seems to be a labour of love for you, and I know that you're very proud of your music, in particular The Deep Blue, because "it's the best album that you could have made." But is it difficult letting your songs go?

"Yeah, especially as I have a tendency to layer songs up - I have so many harmonies together, and I have lots of different guitar lines and space for keyboard ideas. So I kind of need a producer to help me cut a lot of shit back - because I'll just throw everything at it and see what sticks (smiling)! That's kind of my style. So in that respect, everything is definitely a massive labour of love, and every single part that's on the album, is there for a reason! There are a lot of different ideas going on, and I think that you can hear that it's an album which took about a year to make."

6. When speaking of her lyrics, Cat Power has stated that, "Writing is like your subconscious tapping you on the shoulder" - that essentially, you are what you write. Would you agree with this?
"Yeah, it's funny when you look back on lyrics (pausing), I mean if I look back at the lyrics on Grey Will Fade, I think, "Well that's interesting," because I obviously felt that way at the time. I mean you don't realise that you're doing that at the time, and also on the first record, I put a lot of my thoughts into metaphors that nobody else would understand but me. Whereas with this album, I forced myself to be more honest and a bit more vulnerable. Most of the lyrics on The Deep Blue were written after I left Ash, and are about someone trying to figure out what they're going to do next, and how they're feeling about their life you know? It's good to look back on your lyrics, because it's like writing a diary - you kind of look back on it and think, "Well that's how I felt at the time." Because a lot of the time (pausing), I'm not the greatest communicator with people - I can bury a lot of my feelings. And so when I look back on a song that is very honest for that time (pausing), I mean I appreciate lyrics a lot more - I never really used to give a shit, but now I've realised how important they are!"

7. In Kim Wilde and Cousteau, both Grey Will Fade and The Deep Blue have very memorable opening tracks. But do you have any favourite album intros?
"Yeah (excitedly), I love Scary Monsters' first track, It's No Game. I think it's fucking genius! It's my favourite Bowie song, and he opens the album with it and he closes it with it. The first version is really frenetic and really manic - he's essentially screaming rather than singing, and then he ends it with a really chilled out version, which I always thought was really cool! And also the beginning of Station To Station, where it takes forever for the title track to kick in - you know you have that really long train signal? And also, the first track on Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush (Running Up That Hill), is genius! But I would say Station To Station is the best I think, because it really draws you in. It's brilliant (smiling)!"

8. What is your idea of heaven?

"My idea of heaven? Um (thinking), at the moment, I'm distraught that the tour is ending tomorrow. So for 2007, my idea of a really amazingly great year, would be to just keep going with this album and to keep touring, because it's like a party every night - and when you die, I hope it would be a bit like that (laughing)! It's like a party every night with your best buddies (smiling)!"

9. And are there any things that you would like to banish to Room 101?
"Um (thinking), the London Underground. People who rustle in cinemas - they infuriate me! And who do I really dislike? Probably James Blunt (laughing)!"

10. What has been your biggest challenge to date?
"I think setting up my own label was a massive challenge. It's been really hard work, but I think ultimately, it will pay off and it's definitely the right thing to do. But it's been quite tricky because I kind of financed the album myself, and the lure of a record label coming in and helping you to pay for stuff, is really appealing you know? But, I've managed to get this far without it, so I'm very proud of that. But it's not been easy."
*I ask Charlotte how Little Sister Records operates within the mechanics of The Music Industry*
"Well, you employ people and you have to have a massive amount of communication between everyone. So everyday, you have to make sure that every single department knows what's going on, whereas a label will have all of that in-house. My manager and I, have lots of different people working for us, but it's just the co-ordination which is tricky. And then touring - because I don't have any tour support - that's really hard, especially as there's 6 of us on the road. So yeah, it's quite challenging (laughing), and it's different to touring with Ash - it's very different! But it's fun (smiling), it is really good fun and it's much more rewarding!"

11. Would you like to eventually release other artists' music on Little Sister Records?
"I don't know? I'm not really that interested in the business side of The Music Industry, and fortunately, I don't have to deal with that. My manager takes care of it and I do all of the artistic stuff, like videos, photos and anything music related. And the thing with running a label is that it's like 90% business and 10% music. So I don't know? If it could be fun, then yes, but I don't think I would enjoy it (laughing)!"

12. Are there any artists or bands, who you would like to see cover / reinterpret one of your songs for Jo Whiley's Live Lounge?

"Fucking Hell! Um (thinking), I would love Kim Wilde to do a cover of Kim Wilde - I think that would be fucking brilliant! I asked her a couple of years ago to come on stage at Reading Festival with me and sing it, but she was too busy - she was doing The Chelsea Flower Show (laughing), she's like a gardener now! We kind of became e-mail buddies, so I keep meaning to ask her, because I really want her to do a version of that - that would be awesome!"
*The song title Kim Wilde, was originally only intended as a working title, as the track reminded Charlotte of Kids In America, but it eventually stuck*
"Or XTC - they could reform and do one of my songs. But some of my songs sound more like XTC than XTC themselves (laughing)!"

13. Who for you, is an underrated musician or group that more people should listen to?

"Again, I think XTC are incredibly underrated and have been treated really unfairly by The Music Industry. Andy Partridge is one of the most underrated British songwriters - definitely! I know that's not very recent, but I haven't listened to any new bands (laughing)! The only music that I can listen to when I'm writing and recording, is Classical Music - where there's something that I don't understand, or my competitive streak won't come out you know? But now that I'm touring and the album's out, I really want to listen to some new music, but I don't know where to start really, as there's so much out there (smiling)!"
*I recommend Howling Bells to Charlotte*
"OK, I'll look them up!"

14. And as the NME sometimes asks, Who Is 'The Coolest Rock Star Of All-Time'?
"Ooh, so many answers! I mean for me, David Bowie is the most obvious one, and I think what's so cool about him (pausing), I'm just intrigued by that era when he was in his 20s, where he just made so many amazing records, one after the other! I think Scott Walker is also amazing - I've just watched a film about him and he's clearly the coolest motherfucker ever! And then Kate Bush is a huge inspiration! I think one of the reasons that makes her so special, is that she does things exactly the way she wants to, and you never get the impression that she's bowed down to any label who's telling her what to do. She's very much the woman in charge, and that's really inspiring!"
*I ask Charlotte if she has ever met any of these artists*
"I met Bowie! Ash toured with him (pausing), it was actually a Moby Tour (Area 2 - 2002) in the States, and I met him really briefly and said (adopting a comical voice), "I'm a really big fan," and just made a complete arse out of myself probably (laughing)! But although it was brief, he was very nice! And I got Kate Bush's autograph for my sister as well (laughing)!"
*I mention Bowie's appearance on the TV show Extras with Ricky Gervais*
"I did see that and I thought it was great, I loved it - he's a good laugh! Bowie these days seems so jolly, he's always cracking funnies on stage you know? He's like an embarrassing uncle (laughing)!"

15. Do you have any prized-possessions or favourite gifts from fans?

"Um (thinking), not really by a fan, but one of my ex-boyfriends met Patti Smith once and got her autograph for me! She wrote:

Dear Charlotte, Good Luck With Your Music. Patti Smith

I keep it on my wall above where I do all of my writing at home, as a little bit of inspiration. That's probably the coolest thing anyone's ever given to me!"

16. When I first saw the animated video for your single Behave, it instantly stopped me in my tracks. What was the last music video that had that effect on you?

"Ooh, let me think? Michel Gondry's videos are always amazing, like The White Stripes one (Fell In Love With A Girl). I mean obviously it can be incredibly expensive, but with animation, as long as you have a simple idea, it's a really easy way of making an interesting video on a low-budget, and I think he did that really well! I really like the Kaiser Chiefs last video too, for Ruby! I suppose I like videos that just kind of do their own thing you know, and I think low-budget videos are always much more interesting!"
*I say to Charlotte, that I really like the video for Snow Patrol's Open Your Eyes single, which uses footage from C'était un Rendezvous. A cult-classic short film made in Paris in 1976 by French filmmaker Claude Lelouch, which controversially features a car speeding through the city streets without even stopping at traffic lights*
"Ooh, I'll have to see that!"

17. Can you tell us more about the artwork for The Deep Blue?
"Well, I wanted it to have an underwater theme, and the shots were taken in the photographer's (Marius W Hansen) bath. I think it also looks kind of spacey - I love it, it's brilliant! It's great when you start seeing the singles and album together as well, and I can't wait to see the gatefold vinyl of the album, I haven't seen that yet. It makes you proud (laughing)!
*I mention to Charlotte, that I once read that she's interested in Photography*
"Yeah, I go through phases. Like sometimes, I'll take my camera everywhere with me and take loads of photos, and then other times, I just won't touch it for months. I've got my little shitty one at the moment, but usually, I have my big camera. I'm a bit of an amateur, but it's good fun! I've got Photoshop as well, and where I've been sitting around for hours on tour doing fuck all, I've got really into it!"

18. Did you enjoy re-recording Kids In America with Kim Wilde, for her 2006 comeback album Never Say Never, and are there any other musicians that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah - it was awesome (smiling)! She initially just asked me to come down and play some guitar on it, and then once I got there, she was like, "Oh no, it's a duet!" I was like, "Really (surprised)?" So we did a verse each and I did some harmonies, and that was good! I mean she's such a laugh (pausing), she's very similar to Kate Bush actually, in that they're at that kind of age where they're both absolutely gorgeous, but they're mums, but they're still very much rock chicks, just a bit more mature - like a tasty mum (laughing)!" But yeah, it was a good laugh working with Kim! In terms of other collaborations, I don't know? I've been lucky, I wrote a song with Andy Partridge for the new album (Dawn Treader), and I did the Kim Wilde thing. Um (thinking), I don't know? I'd like to do something with Tim Smith from the Cardiacs, and also, do you know the band called Clor? Luke Smith is playing guitar with me on this tour, and I've got my eye on doing some writing and recording with him. I'd also like to make an album with Nigel Godrich, because I think he's one of the most amazing producers - so I have my eye on him as well (laughing)!"

19. From personal experience, what is the one thing that everybody should try at least once in their lifetime?
"Um (laughing), what is the one thing that everybody should try at least once in their lifetime (thinking)? Well, when we were in Sydney (pausing), I don't know? I can't think (laughing). Um (thinking), Skinny Dipping (laughing)!"

20. Have you learnt anything about yourself during the last 10 years?
"Yeah, lots! I mean I joined Ash when I was 18, and I had only just left home you know? I didn't really know myself very well, I was quite shy and very naïve, and then I joined this big rock band and toured the World for 8 years (laughing)! So, I feel like I've come out of that a much more confident person. It's taken me a while, but now I'm the happiest I've ever been and I've learnt that I can do (pausing), I think it's just finding that confidence to take that step on your own, and now that I've done it, anything seems possible! But it's taken me a while to get there, definitely!"

21. Your fans know that you will always hold the time that you spent in Ash, dear to your heart, and that you "couldn't have made The Deep Blue had you stayed in the band." But I wondered if you may have a favourite memory or story from that period, which you would be willing to share with us?

"I think the best time that I ever had, was when we went to Australia to do a Festival called The Big Day Out, it's like a 3-week Touring Festival. I was 19, single, and we all went absolutely mental - every night was a party! We used to go down to the beach, and me and Tim went Skinny Dipping together - it was brilliant! It was such a great, great time and every tour since then, has failed to be as fun really. It was really special! Because when I first joined the band, it was quite a strange time you know, it was Nu-Clear Sounds and Tim wasn't a very happy person. So on that tour, that was the first moment where I actually felt as though I was part of the band - we got on really well and had so much fun, it was like falling in love for the first time. So I hold that time as very special! What else? Touring America with David Bowie was pretty fucking amazing - I remember playing A Life Less Ordinary, and I looked over to the side of the stage, and David Bowie was standing by the monitors with his sunglasses on, nodding his head, and I was like, "Oh, My God" (laughing)! That was amazing!"
*In another recent online interview when asked about Ash, Charlotte divulged, "I haven't been in touch with the guys since the split, but they're touring now and so I'm sure we'll meet up. I look forward to it, but it's not as simple as saying we're still best buddies. It's a very complex relationship you have with people after 10 years. I'm sure it'll eventually subside into one big drinking session and it'll be fine!"*

22. Now that you are a fully-fledged solo artist and "it feels natural" - what is it ideally, that you would most like to achieve from your career?
"Just personal happiness really, I think that's the most important thing! I know I'm not one of those artists that's going to sell shit loads of records straight away, and I think for me, longevity is much more important. And that's another reason why I went completely independently, because major labels these days, have really unrealistic expectations of what bands can achieve on first albums, and second albums you know? But for me, I've got so many other things that I want to do - it's not like I want to be solo forever, I'd hate to think that I couldn't be in a band again and play guitar, or write with other people. I've got loads of stuff that I want to do, so it's important that I have that kind of freedom!"

23. Lastly, chips or cream buns?

"Chips (without any hesitation)!"
*After thanking Charlotte for her time and handing her a copy of R*E*P*E*A*T Fanzine, it transpires that when she was younger, she was "a massive fan" of the Manic Street Preachers! "I used to have a 'REPEAT AFTER ME: FUCK QUEEN AND COUNTRY' patch on my school bag," she says smiling*

A very special thanks to Charlotte, to her Tour Manager Dino, and to Ian Cheek for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

Cousteau (intro as band walk on stage)
I Want You To Know
Kim Wilde
Be Thankful
Roll Over
Very Young
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mr. Ed
This Is Pop

"Tell me is it true, what you give comes back to you?"