We caught up with the genre-hopping Charlie Simpson to talk about going it alone and the fantastic new record ‘Long Road Home’.
To many of us, singer and songwriter Charlie Simpson was just the ‘boy that quit pop powerhouse Busted’ during it’s heyday.
Having first ruled the pop charts with the Brit Award winners, Simpson won approval and praise from rock critics when his next outfit, alternative rock band Fightstar, appeared in 2005. Since his debut solo album Young Pilgrim, he’s taken a brief hiatus, got married and penned his most personal and credible new record to date. We caught up with the bushy-browed musician to talk McBusted, vulnerability and his forthcoming solo show at Camden’s Roundhouse.
How easy / difficult for you was it to cross genres? You switched from pop to a slightly more heavier sound with Fighstar, whilst your solo works remains quite organic and folky in nature?
I think it’s always hard for any artist to come out with something that is hugely different from the stuff they have done before, as people tend to build up pre-conceptions. In the end though I think the music will always speak for itself and as long as it’s genuine, I think that’s all people really focus on.
How does it feel to work as a solo artist rather than part of a band? Do you prefer to maintain full creative control rather than compromise with other members?
I have enjoyed having complete creative control whilst making my last two solo albums. There is a sense of freedom you get when your writing on your own, to take a song wherever you want it to go, without needing to worry about other people’s opinions. However on the flip side, I do also really enjoy working in a band environment as you can react off other people’s ideas and it can be a very creative process.
Who would you cite as your main musical influences and how do you think these influences have altered since you were younger?
When I was young I was subjected to a lot of west coast 70’s music that my dad use to play me, Jackson Browne being one of the biggest influences. When I got to about twelve, I discovered Metallica and from there got in to much heavier music. Deftones have always been a massive influence on me. Now I tend to listen to a very eclectic range of music, anything from Daughter to bands like Lonely The Brave.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Any songs in your collection that you only break out in private?
I think ‘We Found Love’ by Rihanna and Calvin Harris is an amazing song. I usually listen to dance music bit I think the melodies in that song are awesome.
You seem fairly style-savvy. Do you favour any particular brands or designers? Where do you shop for clothes?
I recently got some really nice shirts from Mr Start, which is a great tailors in Shoreditch. I usually get my jeans from places like Banana Republic or Lucky Brand. Ollie Sykes from the band Bring Me The Horizon has a clothing label called Drop Dead and I like a lot of their jumpers. I also think Reiss are great for winter coats and formal jackets.
How does the new album ‘Long Road Home’ compare in sound to your previous releases?
It’s a more Iive sounding record than anything I’ve recorded before. We recorded a lot of the album in a live environment, as I wanted to create the warmth you hear on some of the old 70’s records when everyone just use set up in a room and start playing together. I think modern recording techniques when everything is layered can sometimes make things sound a bit to clinical.
Do you have any personal favourites on the record?
I think the title track Long Road Home is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album. It gives a great representation of what record is about to someone who hearing it for the first time. I also love playing this track love because of all the harmonies.
Would you say that falling in love and being married has affected the way you create the lyrics and body of a song?
I would say that being in love and married makes for a happier sounding record. I usually find it easier writing more melancholic songs but this is definitely a positive album.
You must feel quite vulnerable singing such personal lyrics to hundreds and thousands of people to hear?
Yeah I think as a solo artist you feel more venerable in general as everything rests on your shoulders. My solo music is also a lot more introspective lyrically, so it does feel more personal but it’s a great feeling when your playing a show you get a great reaction from the audience.
What is the creative process for you at the starting blocks of a project / album? Do you have a favourite place to go and write?
I have a home studio in my house so I like to do a lot of writing there. I will usually always take my guitar with me if I go abroad on holiday in case I get any moments of inspiration. My wife grew up in Kenya, and so I have spent a lot of time over there and write a bunch of songs there while I was writing Young Pilgrim.
You’ve been in the industry for a while – what are you career highlights, thus far?
There are lots of highlights over the past twelve years. One of my favourites was Reading Festival 2009 on the main stage with Fightstar, that was one of my favourite live performances. I think my Roundhouse show in October is also going to be a big highlight as it’s one of my favourite venues.
Was it a tough decision to steer clear of rejoining the other Busted boys on the recent McBusted collaboration – and have you been to any of the live shows to support?
We were touring at the same time and then I was on honeymoon, so I couldn’t make it down to see a show but my brothers went and said it was great fun. There was never really a question of me being involved, as I was in the middle of recording Long Road Home when they decided to do it. I do speak to Matt and James though and I’m really glad they seem to be having a great time doing it.
If you weren’t a musician did you have a plan b?
I would probably have thought about going into music journalism. I listen to music all the time and love going to shows, so i guess that would have been a logical second choice.
Barring the new record, what else’s a can we expect from you for the remainder of the year?
I have my biggest headline show to date at the London Roundhouse onOctober 14th which I am super excited about. I’m also playing I-tunes festival in September. The next few months will mainly focused on getting out and playing as many live shows as possible, I’m also looking forward to doing some festivals next year.
Words: Shane Hawkins