Charlotte Hatherley
Live @ The Limelight, Belfast.
February 25th, 2007.
Interview & Pix: Sarah McDonald.

Charlotte Hatherley has grown up in bands. At the age of sixteen whilst studying for her A' Levels, she was also performing and writing songs with 'Proto-Riot Grrl' group, Nightnurse. Having slogged her way 'round London playing loud, scuzzy gigs, perfecting her signature pop riffs and crediting fellow Nightnurse Ellyot Dragon with teaching her how to be a rock star. The student by day, punk rock princess by night was spotted by Tim Wheeler of Ash. He was obviously impressed, as he asked Charlotte to join the band.

At the age of seventeen Chaz left Nightnurse to join Ash and become a full time rock star, adding depth to the sound of the band with her own brand of spiky pop riffs and bubblegum harmonies alongside a 'cool as Kim Deal' stage presence.

During her nine years with Ash, Charlotte managed to survive wrecked jeeps, hangovers from hell, modelling for Calvin Klein, bus crashes, kidnapping and interrogation (in the 2003 short film 'Love and Destruction') and the wrath of Westlife fans everywhere (following Ash burning three hundred of their CDs in front of the tabloid press).

Having previously contributed her own songs as Ash B-sides, most notably 'Grey Will Fade', she decided to write an album. Writing, recording demos and organising the LP had to be juggled with her Ash duties. So when Ash decamped to Los Angeles for a few months to record Meltdown in 2003, Chaz found time to record the ten tracks that would become her first solo album also entitled 'Grey Will Fade'. From the fizzy 60s vibe of 'Kim Wilde', through the hooks and handclaps of 'Summer' to the incredibly catchy yet cautionary tale of one night stands of 'Bastardo' the album was received with critical acclaim.

In February of 2006 Ash and Charlotte came to an amicable parting of ways. So the time was right for R*E*P*E*A*T to catch up with Charlotte as she tours her eagerly awaited new album 'The Deep Blue'.

(S)So Charlotte, How's the tour going?
(C) Yeah, it's going really good. It's only a week today since we've been over here and it's only our fifth gig tonight, the whole idea of coming to Ireland was to see how we gelled together as a band, to make sure we weren't playing like idiots before playing the later dates on the tour. So far so good, I kind of knew that there weren't going to be packed out venues, but it was more a case of getting the band broken in.
(S) So how did that go on your first gig?
(C) Oh Yeah. That was in Cork!
(S) In reference to Cork and other Irish towns, I read on your tour blog that you'd find yourself looking up and thinking 'that corner's where I threw up on Rick's lap'.
(C) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! There are all these familiar places. I can't remember specific things, like walking 'round Derry, I know I've been to Derry and I know I've played there a few times, but I can't actually remember. It's not until you walk into a club or a bar and you suddenly think oh yeah. Everything just blends into one when you're on tour.

(S) So is this your second or third solo tour because I know you did one in support of 'Grey Will Fade' while you were still in Ash?
(C) Yeah, I did one UK tour with 'Grey Will Fade' which ended in playing the Reading festival, it was kind of annoying because by the time I got to Reading I was really into it, I was over the nervous stage and then that was the last gig. So now it's almost like starting all over again with a brand new band.
Actually, this time around I'm much more confident and I'm sure that's to do with not having to juggle the two band thing. Before I think it was a bit vague, you know, I wasn't really a solo artist, but what I was doing was better than a side project. It's almost like I was playing it down the whole time, so I just had to step out there and say this is it, this is what I'm doing.

(S) You've talked about feeling you had to play down 'Grey Will Fade' when it came out, but it got loads of really good press and even when I played it to friends who didn't listen to Ash it got a brilliant response. Did seeing the reception that the album met prompt your decision to leave Ash or was it more a case of being time to move on?
(C) Well, it definitely helped but in some ways the fact that the album got such good reviews made it a little bit awkward to be with the band, and although they were supportive, I was always a little bit embarrassed by the fact that everybody really liked it. So, I guess, it was quite a weird feeling and when I left the band it was definitely a relief that I could take it much more seriously.

It was nice to know that people were really into it and that they found it interesting. Also, I think the fact that I was able to record with other musicians and then play with other musicians on tour, just made me think, maybe it's time to do something else. Because when you're in a band you kind of fall into a role, you think, well I do this, Tim does that and then when you play with other people suddenly you find it's much more challenging.
(S) It sounds a bit like a relationship gone stale…"You used to bring me flowers but now all you do is leave the loo seat up and squeeze the toothpaste from the middle".
(C) Yeah, it was like bad sex for the last two years (laughs).

(S) You've obviously worked really hard writing and recording the new album, so it must be great to finally tour with it and see people's reaction.
(C) Yeah, I've really been enjoying the way that you can change things live, like slightly changing the arrangements to suit the live thing better and there are even guitar parts now that I wish I'd put on the record. Even playing with other musicians is amazing, because when I record I do all the guitars and it's very studio based, I never record it live, it's all quite layered up, mostly by me, so I'm loving it.

(S) When I first heard the post punk, off kilter pop of 'Grey Will Fade', I was really struck by how different the arrangements were to almost anything I'd heard before. With this album 'The Deep Blue' you seem to have progressed to a more lush orchestral kind of sound.
(C) In lots of ways there's more going on but I think there's also more space than there was on 'Grey Will Fade', it's just a bit more thoughtful in places and it's not like overload, which I think elements of 'Grey Will Fade' were. Even playing 'Kim Wilde' compared to playing some of the new songs, I mean 'Kim Wilde' is just mental. It's just all over the place - but in a good way. 'Grey Will Fade' was a product of songs I'd written when I was eighteen, whereas this album is the product of a twenty seven year old. It's just a different approach to song writing and I think it's a better one.
(S) Well it's out soon, so we'll see. It's already had a brilliant review in the NME.
(C) Yeah. It was really good! You're right about the whole orchestral stuff too. The guitar takes more of a back seat to strings and pianos, there's all sorts going on.
(S) I always think that if a song's good then you could play it on a Casio keyboard backed up with an army of kazoos and it'd still sound ace.
(C) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, exactly.

(S) Your first album was released on 'Double Dragon', but you've released this one through your own label 'Little Sister Records'. Has the way that the record industry, (particularly the major labels) appears to be crumbling under its own weight played a part in your decision to start a label, or was it more that it allowed you to have more freedom over what you do.
(C) Yeah, there's more control over my whole career, 'cos I think that when you sign to a major label these days, there's no guarantee that you're gonna make it past the first album. You'll probably never be able to pay off the debt that you owe them and after being in a band that was extremely successful at that time, I just knew it wasn't the way to go really. Luckily, it wasn't like I was starting from scratch, so I was able to pay for the recording myself and I didn't have to rely on somebody to help me out. Also, because I've already got quite a decent fan base, all I really needed was a good website and a MySpace. We've got amazing distribution in the UK with Vital. So it's not such a massive leap to just do it on your own.
(S) So do you think the whole D.I.Y thing is as relevant now as it always was?
(C) Yeah, well it's got to the stage now that there's not very much that I can't do for myself that other independents could offer me, I mean, they're probably offering you something slightly better, but the gains for me doing it for myself make much more sense. It's not easy, it's difficult (laughing). It's very time consuming and it doesn't leave much for the writing to be done, but that's fine at the moment 'cos it's all about the new album, but I'm not really interested in the music business side of things.
(S) I don't think anybody's really interested in the music business side of things, apart from the people making money out of the whole thing.
(C) Yeah. I don't think bands are interested in it either.
(S) I was thinking more of people sitting behind desks at EMI or whatever, sending bands out there and feeding off them, so I think it's good when people take their destiny into their own hands.
(C) Yeah, exactly, but you still need somebody, I couldn't have done this without my manager, I don't really deal with the really boring side of things, I just deal with all the cool stuff.

(S) Your videos are all amazing. I've just seen the one for 'I want you to know'. With the two ninja drummers and you in a boxing ring. It goes really well with the feel and the beat of the song. Was it fun beating up loads of men?
(C) It was cool. Those three guys were like bodybuilders, they were enormous. It was cool doing that with Adam Cornish, from Adam and Joe. He's just so funny and a really, really cool guy, it's difficult when you've got quite a low budget to come up with something that looks good. I think I'm drawn to people who are especially artistic, like Oscar who did the 'Behave' video which is completely animated. Animation is a really easy way of making something that doesn't cost that much money look good. So, we were going do that with 'I Want You to Know', there was gonna be lots of cool Japanese anime on it but it was so cool without it, that it didn't really need it.
(S) I really loved the 'Bastardo' video, partly because it was just ace and partly because I'm a huge Kenickie fan and Lauren's in the video. How much fun did you have making that?
(C) It was great. There was a lot went into that video.
(S) Did you get to keep the mocked up 'Jackie' annual, ('Charly' in the video)?
(C) Oh Yeah, I've got that at home. It was good having Edgar (Wright - Director of such gems as 'Shaun of the Dead', 'Spaced' and 'Hot Fuzz') my boyfriend directing it, he did well. He hasn't been able to do anything for the new one cos he's been too busy, but I'm determined to get him to do at least one.

The great thing about that video is that everyone did it for free. David Walliams did it for free, Lauren (Laverne), Julia (Davis), Simon (Pegg), everybody did it for free. So, when you meet people who really don't need to do that, it's just so cool. It's very nice; it's a nice sort of community and even Oscar, who's Edgar's brother, didn't really get paid very well for 'Behave'. People put a lot of time into things like that and they do it because they love doing it. I'm lucky because those are the only kind of people that I know, to work with.
(S) I think it's probably a case of you are what you hang with. I'm sure if you were put in the same boat, you'd do the same for them.
(C) Exactly.

(S) Right then, this is just something I wanted to ask you. 'Kim Wilde'. I don't know what you've done to the mix of that song, but whenever it's on I'm always lifting the phone, it always seems to ring but there's nobody there.
(C) What? Whenever you play that song the phone rings?
(S) No. It's just a sound buried in there somewhere that sounds exactly like my phone ringing.
(C) Right, Ok, Ok.
(S) Did you do that for a laugh?
(C) No, (laughing), no.
(S) You should have.
(C) I'm fucking with you, (said in scarily accurate Scream movie voice).
(S) It's ok, I wasn't going mad thinking that you were trying to communicate with me via song. I thought it might be like when the Super Furries had Paul McCartney munching a carrot on one of their records, you know, just an odd noise.
(C) (Laughing). Yeah, I know what you mean, but no, it's probably a really, really hideously distorted keyboard.

(S) So talking about Kim Wilde, you collaborated with her on a new version of 'Kids in America'. Were you in the studio with her?
(S) I think I actually like that version better, with the whole zhoom thing at the beginning.
(C) The latest one? It's good isn't it?
(S) Yeah, did you enjoy doing it?
(C) Originally she asked me to come down and play guitar on it. Then when I got there, she said oh no lets do a duet and I was like, really? OK. She was recording with the Scandinavian Simon Cowell and it was all incredibly un-cool, but anyway it turned out to be really good. I got to do a bit of Slash style guitar twiddling at the end. It was great though, I think it's exactly what you want isn't it?
(S) Did she approach you to do that after hearing you'd released a single called Kim Wilde?
(C) We met up for a coffee because I'd asked her to come and sing 'Kids in America' at Reading but she was too busy, I think she was doing some flower show.
(S) Are you sure she didn't think you were inviting her to come and read with you at a reading festival?
(C) Maybe (laughs), I might have confused her. We met up for a coffee anyway and she's absolutely lovely, she's really cool. She's a complete rock chick.

(S) So Kim Wilde gave it all up to be a gardener. What are you going to do when you decide to give it all up?
(C) I don't know, I just can't imagine it at the moment. I mean, Kate Bush did a very similar thing; she just had babies, went to live in a huge house in Hertfordshire and got stoned. I can see myself taking a bit of time out between albums, but not for a long time, I've got too much to get off my chest at the moment.
(S) Oh by the way, do you think your new haircut makes you look a bit like Chrissie Hynde?
(C) Yeah, I thought I might as well give up trying not to look like Chrissie Hynde.

(S) So the obvious question to ask now is… What's best, Chips or Cream Buns?
(C) Chips definitely, Cream Buns? No I don't think so.

A big thank you to Charlotte for her time, to Dino her Tour Manager and last but not least, thanks to Ian Cheek for sorting this out for me.

Words and pix by Sarah Panic!