Charlie Horse are currently playing East Coast shows to celebrate their well-received debut album, I Hope I’m Not A Monster, even though the recording of their next one is already underway. We discussed the creative process, the music industry and more with guitarist Paul McDonald and singer Crystal Rose.
How have the rehearsals been going for this run of album release shows?
PM – We’ve tried to hone down our rehearsals to make the most out if it. Our latest rehearsal was fantastic. I’ve been reading the Neil Young memoir and he talks about how they find that special place and stand in a circle and play and we do hit that occasionally in Charlie Horse. Yesterday we got into that place where everything harmonically gets this buzz and has this warm distortion to it and its loud and humming in a good way.
You’re billing the upcoming shows as album launches, what was the reason for the big gap between the album coming out back in March and playing these particular shows now?
CR – It was about finding the right avenue and the artists we wanted to play with. Recently we got Footstomp Music on board which opened a few doors and has allowed us to play some bigger venues. We’re not the kind of band where you can sit down and have dinner and a conversation so we need to find other artists and tap into larger venues with them and vice versa and have a good night. We also needed to work out what we wanted to do and Paul has been pushing the envelope further with regards to where we are going to go with the band. It was going to be a one night launch but with other people jumping on board and getting good contacts and reviews it has grown to be bigger than that.
Do you find writing and recording is the most enjoyable part of the music making process or is playing live just as important?
CR – I enjoy recording because of the ease of it within our house and logistically we don’t have to pack up all the gear. There is only so much you can give playing to a blank wall at practice so the power of the band when we are performing in front of an audience is when things kick into gear. Then we can take that feeling into the next album and it is a nice thank you to them from us for sticking with us.
You’ve mentioned online that you are writing new stuff at the moment, are there any plans to play the new songs live or are you still sticking to the album tracks?
PM – Yes we’re doing a new one. It’s very much a rock n roll song in the way Springsteen does them. We’re trying to get away from the alt-country thing despite loving Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams and the like. A lot of people do alt-country as a fashion thing, they love the idea of it, they love the clothes and you get to grow a beard and play a Telecaster. I don’t think those people listen to Waylon Jennings and the real country music. I think it has really become a fashion tag to wear skinny jeans and Wayfarers.
From what I’ve heard of the new songs you’ve posted online Shaking Dog Dead in particular sounds a bit more atmospheric and textured, particularly in the guitars – is there a different sound emerging or planned for album number two?
PM – Yeah we are developing the sound a bit. In all the interviews I’m doing I’ve been mentioning Jack Ladder’s Hurtsville record, what an album, I’m absolutely floored by it. I don’t know them personally but I know most people who worked on it secondhand and there is so much on it that I can’t figure out how they did it. We are heading out into that territory and not trying to hang our hat on being alt-country or trying to write just for Crystal’s voice all the time. A lot of the first album was written so Crystal could sing it and now we have a live band, friends of mine, it is our social event going to practice so there is much more of a communal spirit to things. Crystal’s not a rock singer, anything that is acoustic she thinks is fantastic. like with Neil Young stuff, she loves the Sugar Mountain type songs and whenever Cinnamon Girl comes on my eyes light up. The new stuff is really getting more towards the widescreen stuff that Springsteen did on Darkness at the Edge of Town. Kind of like what the Killers are trying to do but not quite hitting it on the head. We are doing a song live similar to that stuff and a couple of others that aren’t on the album.
What’s the writing process for the two of you? You have a fairly big widescreen, electric sound – do the songs start off acoustically?
PM – I always used to write with a guitar and ended up with different tunings and capo’s on the 5th fret and I ended up wondering what am I trying to achieve here, am I just trying to be clever and be Thurston Moore and is it really serving the song. Now it tends to be a case where we have a few wines and we’re sitting around watching something on TV and a song or melody will come into my head and I’ll work out the chords to it and nine times out of ten it is something basic like EAD or EDA and if you wrote that on guitar you’d think it was just ridiculous and boring but if the melody comes first and the guitar is going to support the melody then it works. That is how the first album happened but the next one is a bit more rockier and going for a different attitude. It will still be fairly major chord changes but we just want to bring out a little more desperation in the vocals. We tend to have a chord sequence and I’ll put down a demo and hum a melody to Crystal and she improves it x 1000. I never kid myself that I’m a singer, like Bono shouldn’t try to be a guitar player. I give it over to Crystal to add that X factor that sells Charlie Horse with the melody and lyrics.
I believe the album was all the work of yourself and Crystal, is that going to change on the next record now that you’ve been playing with a full band?
PM – The first album I played every single note. I hate saying that because you sound like a wanker but yeah I played it, recorded it, mixed it and produced it. Everything was done in our house and then we sent the masters off to Stuart (Coupe – Laughing Outlaw Records) and he pressed it. Everyone outside of the band is telling me to keep doing what works but I’m a bit of a dreamer and not very realistic and I believe in the idea of having a band. I don’t really respect too many people in terms of their playing and it really takes a lot to impress me but all the guys in the band do things that really impress me and do things that I can’t do so I want them to add to the next record. I demoed one new song using the same methodology as the first album and took it to the guys and Matt the drummer only listened to it twice and rips into something that makes me think “fucking hell, that’s how it should be”.
Musically what are the pros and cons of living in the Blue Mountains? How much does where you live influence the music you make?
CR – We don’t have police knocking on the door to turn it down. It evolves more, we might be watching TV and then a song can just evolve and and we can just walk upstairs and go into a studio and demo it. It is a relaxed process so we can just take our time and roll with it. You have to add three hours onto a band practice in the city though but you can get into the zone for practice on the drive down.
I know you’ve played in Glide and Luxury which were from what I can gather quite different sounding bands – are there aspects of your playing in previous bands that filter through to Charlie Horse or is this a new musical approach for you?
PM – Luxury were similar to Primary, incorporating rock and electronics. We had one song and got offered a record deal from Sony. We did more of that and it was a complete balls-up. It was very much of the time. Glide wrote songs and Luxury wrote music for ads I suppose. Glide opened my eyes musically and Luxury opened my eyes to the industry. Glide was emotive guitar stuff, the darker side of the 90s before grunge took over the world. I learnt a lot of discipline from William in Glide. Charlie Horse is more about writing for ourselves and not caring about what people think and worrying as much about whether it’ll work. Writing and recording at home means that if a song falls we are there to catch it and put it down. If no songs come then you just go and mow the lawn. A lot of the songs are really written for Crystal and to support her voice and what she does and so the sound comes from the desire to have these big guitars and show off with all your guitar pedals and then have these vocals. People don’t really notice the rest of Charlie Horse. Some people do but most people notice Crystal. She sells the whole thing and we’re just four ugly old blokes up the back.
Crystal, what is your musical history prior to meeting Paul?
CR – These guys are all seasoned pros but I came from more of a cover band, rough and ready style background like the jump blues, swing scene before it was popular and we’d play places like the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba, nothing too big – until I ran into Paul. My preference is more Lady Sings the Blues (Billie Holiday) kind of albums. My dad used to listen to bands like Black Sabbath which I didn’t like but I adore now. I’m more into blues and The Animals – old simple music with a good beat and singers that resonate a vibe. I use the music to get energy out and get into a zone and go hell for leather. We try and do an array of rock music and with the band behind me its awesome. Paul is the maestro of everything and I do what he tells me.
How do you view the current Sydney music scene compared to when you played in the 90s and 2000s?
PM – People of our generation still want to consume music the way we always have and it isn’t because we don’t want to take on new technology. If something gets written about in Rolling Stone or the SMH or Drum Media it achieves a certain status and people still take notice of that and what they hear on the radio. You can still walk into Red Eye and buy a record and people like that way of consuming music. The internet and technology have certainly opened up the industry to people and made it more accessible which is a good thing but there won’t be a complete shift away from the older model. You can have 2000 Facebook friends and invite them to your show and 1000 will say they’re coming and you’ll only get 50 if you’re lucky.
Most of the album reviews I’ve seen have been really good, does a positive media response translate to album sales in this day and age?
PM – Absolutely not. It is funny trying to work out what does translate to album sales and nothing really does. Community radio does a fair bit. We’ve had three people from Ballarat buy the album because they’d heard it on the radio which was pretty surprising for us. Radio still plays a really big part. If you have a song on triple j it does make a big difference or at least it might get you past the post where they buy the album or even jump online and download it illegally.
When are you hoping to release the next record?
CR – September next year. We have the title and artwork for it already which is nice to give us a visualization for the music and where it is going. Once we have these shows out of the way we can re-focus on the recording.