I mean being with a bunch of boys can be… you know you are on the tour bus and you have to adapt and ‘be' on the tour bus and embrace all that life style, or you have to react and go even further the other way and be a real girl about it.
Incendiary chow down with Charlotte Hatherley, part one
The "springtime in Amsterdam" cliche is all it could be today; couples mooching through the Vondelpark, riverboats cruising in a languorous fashion down the Prinsengracht, cafe terraces full of idlers, fashionistas and bewildered tourists... Sadly, I can't enjoy this at all as I've got crushing hay fever and am in desperate need of a drink to at least alleviate some of the sneezing... what is it with these fucking trees and their irrepressible need to pollinate?
Still, sod all that. I'm off to meet Charlotte Hatherley who is stopping off in town to conduct the usual round of press and promotion for her tremendous new LP, The Deep Blue, her first solo release since leaving the band she's been in for nigh on ten years, Ash.
Despite the fact that the hotel is an "alcohol free zone" (all interviewer and interviewed can drink is still water and teas of a very dubious flavouring - enough to induce a state of pissing like the proverbial officer's horse), things crack on apace and questions get answered with brio. Now read on...
IN: The LP is a belter Charlotte, a really great pop album.
CH: Why thank you! Praise is always good!
IN: Was there a conscious decision to move away from your last solo outing (Grey Will Fade)?
CH: Not really, because I wrote the songs for my first album when I was nineteen, twenty, twenty one whereas the songs I wrote for this one are written after a long gap; I had just naturally got through this phase of using a lot of guitars and "post punk" melodies. They (the new songs) are ones I wrote when I was a bit less carefree, a bit more bitter and twisted... (Laughs raucously)
IN: So; The Deep Blue is very direct emotionally as an album and you are seemingly in an open conversation with the listener; all the songs are about situations or feelings that you openly explore through the confines of a particular song... so you have this very personal angle to it and yet you have an album that's a pop album pushing into a mainstream setting that in some ways fights against this intimacy...
CH: I actually think the music's like that as well because even though the music's quite poppy but there are a lot of quite weird arrangements; because when I got round to teaching the band their part they were saying 'arrgh... this is much more complicated than it sounds'.
But yeah... people are also quite surprised by how different the lyrics are. I didn't deliberately look out to write lyrics like that. I was a bit embarrassed at first that a bit of 'girl' has come to the fore... At the time I wrote the lyrics so much shit had happened, everything had exploded all at once, and I was writing them as a sort of test really, asking myself questions like 'what the hell is going on... what am I going to do...' whereas when I was writing Grey Will Fade everything was a lot more comfortable, I was with Ash and things were great.
IN: It's also a very feminine, sensuous album as well, which is a pretty hard thing to pull off; there's not a lot of cock rock going on is there?
CH: God, well, you know what, that is a bit of celebration of being on your own and being able to do what you want to do... I mean being with a bunch of boys can be... you know you are on the tour bus and you have to adapt and 'be' on the tour bus and embrace all that life style, or you have to react and go even further the other way and be a real girl about it. And I'm a bit of a tomboy anyway and I was totally into that lifestyle; being the party animal and rock chick and all the Chrissie Hynde comparisons and it really isn't me at all when it gets down to it. Now it feels with the new LP I'm a girl, I'm a woman... I can see myself now, definitely; I don't have to hide that away...
IN: I noticed the odd Cocteau reference on the LP, and they were the epitome of a feminine band, even though they weren't really all that feminine in some quarters!
CH: Their sound is gorgeous... Kate Bush as well, Kate Bush is all over my record. Me, Rob (Ellis) and Eric (Drew Feldman) who produced the record are massive Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins fans. I mean there's more than just the "sound of the Strokes"... there are no major guitar solos, the guitars are sort of asked to step back to create a feeling of a Cocteau Twins record.
IN: There are some incredibly good arrangements on there, the way that moods swings are brilliantly evoked in certain arrangements or instrumental changes mid song. And I'm not saying you're deliberately referencing stuff, but the trumpets on Dawn Treader are pure Teardrop Explodes.
CH: Yeah, definitely! Roll Over, (Let it Go), that's got the big change in it. I definitely like to go against doing things that are really obvious, arrangement wise. I also get bored really quickly and that's why I really like someone like XTC where the melodies are what you'd expect but the arrangements are just... fucking weird... I also like Todd Rundgren, Yes, and I'm a massive Captain Beefheart fan, I love all that crazy prog stuff...
IN: So with Eric Feldman (who was in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band readers – ed), did he have you walking like your bass guitar in a wooden cabin?
CH: (Laughs) He's full of amazing stories of Captain Beefheart in those days. When Eric joined (for the last three studio LPs - ed) he was really quite young; he's quite disciplined, he got that from Beefheart... he was telling me about doing bass parts for this song that was about ten minutes long, and none of it repeated itself, and he was stood there being told what to do! And that was his introduction to Beefheart! But Eric's worked with the Pixies and Frank Black.
IN: And Pere Ubu!
CH: Yeah! So a lot of the arrangement ideas came from Eric he'd say 'lets not do a double chorus by the time we get to the end, lets do something different'... and that really inspired me because it pushed me to do something more ambitious.
IN: I noticed the LP was written in Italy? Did that affect your songs?
CH: Mmm... the LP was kind of written here and there really... the first were worked on in Italy with Rob Ellis; the really slow ones with the string arrangements, the Cocteau Twins ones; whereas then I moved to San Fransisco and worked with Eric on the rockier ones - like So Young - and I wrote loads of other stuff in San Fransisco. It was great 'cos it was a case of getting the fuck out the band and leaving England and going somewhere completely different. I think if I'd have stayed at home and thought about being solo I'd have freaked myself out. Instead I just threw myself straight into the record.
IN: Do you think that's important to the creative process, getting away?
CH: When I did the first album it was in LA and most Ash albums were recorded outside the UK anyway. To me this album especially was a case of going away burying my head in the sand for three months - and doing it with Eric and Rob who have nothing to do with Ash - it was like a completely new palette. It wasn't until I got to the end of the album that I thought 'fuck, I'm going to have to go back home and play the album to people and get a deal...' all that shit and that's when I started to think, 'back to London and back to reality'. It was a trying time... (laughs). At the moment I've just moved house, to a completely different area and I just feel that sometimes change can do you a lot of good...
More of Charlotte's interview can be found here...