The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess must be the busiest man in music. He has announced news of his new solo album 'I Love The New Sky' released 22nd May via Bella Union and shared a fiendishly brilliant video for lead track “Empathy For The Devil”.
With all that he has recently published his third book 'One Two Another: Line By Line: Lyrics from The Charlatans Solo and Beyond' and this year The Charlatans celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their classic debut album 'Some Friendly.' Mark Millar caught up with Tim to talk about new music, writing books Malteasers and going to the gym.
You have announced your fifth solo album I Love the New Sky released 22nd May via Bella Union. It's the first of your albums written solely by you. When did you start writing it and how long did it take?
It took a year with the writing and then going to our various studios in Britain. We did a little bit in Eve Studios in Stockport and Rockfield in Wales. We did some writing and recording and let it all unfold quite naturally. It took a while. (Laughs)
‘Empathy for The Devil' is the first track from the new album; the video is excellent, too. What can you tell me about the song?
I feel that we should all have a little bit more empathy and try and find out how people are feeling because there might be something that we can do to help - even Lucifer. (Laughs) That is the message at the end of the video put on the shoulder of the Devil. (Laughs) It was great doing that video; it was such a buzz.
You recently published your third book One Two Another: Line By Line: Lyrics from The Charlatans Solo and Beyond. Each of your books has been entirely different. What inspired you to write this one?
The first book that I did (Telling Stories) I had thought about it very fleetingly and then an agent asked me if I wanted to write a book. I let him take me out for coffee and really let him talk me into it. So, I decided to do it, and it took me about four or five rewrites to get it right because I tried to do it with other people. After all, that's what I thought that you would do. I figured that I would have to have a ghostwriter and all that. Still, something told me that it wasn't the way to go. So, I had to keep going and eventually, after about five rewrites, I wrote the first thirty thousand words in capital letters with no punctuation, and that was the first thing I handed in.
Then I got into it and learned how to dissect and tell a story. Even if you transcribe something, it doesn't really jump out of the page. You can dance around the room talking into a tape recorder, but it doesn't jump out off the page, so I had to learn how to write. But once I got that then writing the second book (Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco) was quite easy and I came up with the concept of asking my friends to get involved and get them to pick a record. Then I would go and choose the record in a record shop, so it became like a state of the nation about how our record shops are doing and whether they were doing well or whether they were all collapsing. I came to the conclusion that it was a bit of both: you have to adapt with the times to have a good record shop and maybe you have to have a coffee shop in there as well or do other things. And that book was a success as well.
When I was touring that book, people kept coming up to me and telling me about their experiences with The Charlatans and with me as a lyricist. And how the lyrics had touched their lives, and how a lot of the songs had been a part of their lives as they have been getting older. At that point, I thought well, maybe a lyric book is the next thing to do. To write some stories around the lyrics and giving them a bit more than a set of words would be something that I would want to do.
Watch ‘Empathy for The Devil’ video - BELOW:
Do you use the same discipline for writing your books as you would for writing lyrics?
No, because obviously, the lyrics for The Charlatans have changed over time. I always try to leave everything open and maybe more universal. In my head, I'm thinking to leave it open and then people can make of it what they want to. With a book, you've got to be more specific. Then you have got to go into detail and then further detail and go off on one for a bit and later try and find a conclusion to the story – it’s very different.
I think learning how to do that has changed the way some of the songs are written now because I believe they have more of a narrative than they used to. But I can go back to the other way of writing, and I have done so with a drop of the hat. Certainly, for sure on the Different Days album, there were some songs that had a narrative, and some were a little bit vague, and some were more open.
Do you have any ideas for a 4th book?
Yeah, I think there will be a fourth book I have a few ideas kicking around. I think the first three are part of a trilogy and I’ll have to do something different next time.
What was the first song you wrote that you thought, “I’ve done it! I have written a great song.”
There was a couple of tracks when The Charlatans first started either ‘Flower’ or ‘Always in Mind’ and then when we recorded ‘Indian Rope’ I didn’t think we would better it. It’s thirty years old now and it is funny to think that at that time I felt that – it's mad!
I love the demo of ‘Indian Rope’ that you have just released online.
Oh yeah, it's great. It’s so amazing hearing Rob Collins playing on it and Jon Brookes, too. You forget how unique in lots of ways we sounded.
You have written many great lyrics, but my favourite is still, “Life's a bag of revels, I am looking for the orange one,” from the Some Friendly track, ‘Polar Bear’ Where did that line come from?
That came to me when I was on my way home from the Hacienda probably. (Laughs) I was with my mate, and we were talking about things that were misheard and crazy sayings at the time. And that was one that came out in the early morning walk home from a great night out the night before. It became a fantastic T-shirt; it was a possible title for the first album, and it was a fanzine - that lyric indeed travelled. I wanted to do a song about Minstrels and Maltesers as well. (Laughs)
The Charlatans classic debut album Some Friendly is thirty years old this year. Can you believe it’s been that long?
No, it doesn't really feel that long especially when I look at the album and think of thirty years ago. I remember where I was I was in London sharing a flat with two girls who worked at a record label in London, and one of them came in and said, "I think you are going to be number one." And I said, "You are crazy, how can we be number one when Status Quo has got an album out?" and then a few hours later I was looking through my records. I think I was playing Disintegration by The Cure when my friend came in and said, "It is number one!!” And I said, "Wow." There was no champagne or a big night out to celebrate it was kind of like a bit of a stunner really.
It definitely set a tone; people were saying it was the first album to go to number one by a new artist for a long time – it was quite a big record. We were a working-class band, and it just didn't happen to a band like us. It’s always been something manufactured in the past who had done that. I remember talking to Martin from Heavenly Records, and he said it made it possible for people. After Some Friendly, people were charting all over the place. Everyone got in the charts in the early nineties.
Does the band have any plans to mark the anniversary of the album?
I think our original label Beggars Banquet are doing a few things throughout the year. We have got plans, and we must go through a lot of stuff and an archive restoration process. Which is what the 'Indian Rope' demo was part of and lots of things like that will surface throughout the year. I’m not going to announce anything now, but things will come up, and people will be like, "Oh my God, this has never been heard before." Some of it will be exciting artefacts that could go with someone who is celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, and maybe there will be shows. But we've got nothing confirmed.
Listen to 'Indian Rope' demo - BELOW:
The Charlatans have reissued most of the back catalogue, but why was your second album Between 10th and 11t’ overlooked?
I’m not saying anything but that might all change.
The Charlatans have achieved great success over the past thirty years but also suffered terrible trauma with the loss of Rob Collins and Jon Brookes. Did you ever feel like packing it in?
When Rob died it was such an incredible loss, he was such a major talent, he was the principal songwriter in the band. Rob and Jon were the most naturally talented. Rob could sing better than me, and he was a fantastic keyboard player and Jon was a real force of nature, when he had to, he led from the back. When we lost Rob, I think everyone was worried how we were going to write songs, but because of Rob's past when he went to jail Mark and me realised we were going to have to write some songs and we had to learn how to write.
When we lost Rob, I was thinking, how can we go on, not I can't go on, but how can we go on? With Jon, it was very different; it was over a very long time. Rob was taken away in a flash, but with Jon, it was a long time. We kind of knew what the outcome would be – it was very sad and very different. After Jon died the feeling that we had was to make an album that he would be proud of. That was the real driving force even though he wasn't here in this world that helped us to make Modern Nature – even though he wasn't playing the drums. We didn't feel like giving up at all, and we still don't.
What kind of records do you play in your DJ set?
Mostly songs that don't fail to get people going crazy. It depends. I can DJ on a big night with big tunes, and I like to DJ with friends and play obscure psychedelic records and punk records or post-punk records maybe things that people haven't heard. It depends on where I play. In Belfast recently I played 'Born Slippy’, ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, “Bizarre Love Triangle’, and ‘I Feel Love’ just amazing joyous foolproof bangers!
Do you have certain records that you always return to?
Any album by The Fall or Arthur Russell or Ariel Pink. I'm different now than I used to be. I go to the gym now, and when I'm there, I like to listen to punk, so I listen to Dead Kennedys a lot it keeps me going. I can only exercise in the gym if I've got my headphones on. If I turn up and if I've forgotten my headphones, I just walk back. (Laughs)
What music blew your head off in 2019?
A band called The Garden. They are two brothers from LA, and I really like their song called 'Egg'. It is really good.
‘I Love The New Sky’ Tracklisting:
1. Empathy For The Devil
2. Sweetheart Mercury
3. Comme D’Habitude
4. Sweet Old Sorry Me
5. The Warhol Me
6. Lucky Creatures
7. The Mall
9. Only Took A Year
10. I Got This
I Love The New Sky released 22nd May via Bella Union and available to pre-order here.