Staring at the Sun, and how We Are Charlie fight demons
Note: This is part two of my interview with We Are Charlie. Completists should probably read part 1 first.
I’ve been sitting down with two members of We Are Charlie at Pop Filter Studios in Pretoria. I’m intrigued by what they tell me about their recording process. Beyond their straight-cut lyrics, they even strive for honesty and reality in the music itself.
“This time around,” lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Dylan Christie says, “we really put in the effort. We said, you know what, we’re not going to go into the studio unless we’ve really put in the effort, listened to the songs, tried them out on stage, feel the song, and then we’re like ‘Okay, this one, we’re still not over it, let’s record it.'”
But that’s only the beginning. Pre-production with producer Nic Dinnie changes things a lot. “On the latest EP, that we just did now, we said no to quantizing, we said no to major editing. Obviously you have to a bit, otherwise 5FM is gonna say nay. But it was amazing. Everything was analogue – not even the shakers, none of the percussion is digital. We all had auditions with each other in the room, so we sat in a circle, saying ‘who could play the shakers the best?’ And it was Nic. Obviously.”
“And then there he is, rocking out the shakers in that room for like 3 minutes straight. His arm is just going.”
Most productions would leave something like this to pre-recorded samples, or looping a small recorded section. Not We Are Charlie. “Nic’s like, ‘that’s lame.’ Cause we were like, ‘shame dude, you don’t have to stay on,’ and he’s like, ‘nah; I’m gonna stay on for three minutes.’
Throughout the process, they also decided to stay as natural as possible – and that includes accepting some imperfect takes. Wesley Reinecke, the band’s drummer, sits on the couch next to Dylan, and explains: “Some of the tracks, you can hear me clearly hitting the rimshot of my snare. But we kept that stuff. Those few mistakes, that aren’t really recognisable, we try to keep them in the recording and not edit them out.”
“Well, if it’s hideous,” Dylan says, “we’ll take it out. Or we’ll do another take. But we just got the best takes we could get, and worked with that. And it’s great for us, because I don’t really see ourselves us these massively experienced session musicians.”
I find these kind of open, unflattering admissions about themselves fascinating. They’re definitely unconcerned with painting a super-cool, polished image of themselves. “We just wanted to be the cool guys who smoked and was in a band in high school. And that’s how we went with it. And at this point we thought that we’ve put in enough effort and we love this enough that we just don’t wanna lie about it.”
They’re also less concerned with things like radio play. “This time around we’re like, ‘we’ve been on the radio,’ and all this kind of stuff, we might actually – there was a stage where we were like, ‘we might be dying out now, so we don’t care anymore.’ We might be a one-hit wonder, so let’s just do what we wanna do from this point on. And it’s been great since then. Even better than what it was in the past.”
This attitude obviously means that they aren’t very concerned with ‘Sophomore slump’ – though they’re quick to remind me that Yard Sale wasn’t their first release (Check out their first EP on Soundcloud). “I was sulking in my room, cause I couldn’t go to America, cause I wanted to be famous, and I played wrote some songs and played them to Wes. He digged them and we released this EP.”
I asked them when they’re doing a full-length album, but that’s not in the cards right now. “I think this is just a quicker way to push out your music,” says Wesley. “You don’t have to sit on a twelve track LP which takes a year to produce, or edit or whatever, from the tracking to the final release. So doing a 6 track EP you can just kind of punt them as quick as possible – get them in and get them out.”
Dylan adds, “and you’re not forcing yourself to have 12 new songs. Cause, I mean, 7 of them are going to be terrible.”
“I mean, there’s so much new music out there all the time that the only full albums that people are putting the time into to listen to the full albums are the big bands. And we might get to the point where we realise that ‘shit, we’ve done 19 EPs,’ you know. But our first EP and our second EP was basically in the same year, so it was like a full album.”
So we start talking about their current work – their next EP is called The Sad Kind of Happy. Which is an appropriate title, since that’s pretty much how their music sounds, right? Yard Sale, for example, was fascinating for being a blue, pseudo-depressive work hidden behind upbeat indie rock, that acknowledges pain and brokenness of youth and society without dwelling on it or being miserable about it. “…Except we say it in layman’s terms,” explains Dylan: “‘Our lyrics are fucking sad, but our songs are kind of upbeat.'”
“We say to each other ‘Dude, I like you, but I do not want to live inside your head, man.’ We smile a lot, we joke a lot, we are care-free dudes who look at the positive around every single corner, but to be dead honest, we can’t fight the demons enough. You fight demons all the time. Everyone does. Some people hide it better than others, but we’re actually not even trying to hide it. I think music has been a good outlet for us.”
“I’m able to say the shit that I want to say and stuff. I also take the band into consideration when writing lyrics.”
“We write our shit to be catchy and upbeat so that the people who the song is about, listens to the song. So if we’re tuning a bunch of people in a song, ten-to-one, they’re like ‘I can so dance to this,’ or it happens to make it onto the radio. And we do that on purpose.”
With this approach, it’s no wonder that they don’t sound that much like the bands that influence them (“the people we listen to religiously”) – throughout our conversation they’ve mentioned Incubus, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Modest Mouse, Talking Heads, Talking Heads, The Cure, Sad Lovers and Giants, Queens of the Stone Age, and Cage the Elephant. On the other hand, they’ve been compared to The Strokes, Kings of Leon, Shortstraw, Desmond and the Tutus, and Two door cinema club – definitely a pretty diverse mix.
The first single from their upcoming EP, Let’s Stare at the Sun, feels like an anti-globalisation statement. And while it isn’t as specific as Yard Sale seems to have been, it contains a similar sense of criticism towards people they don’t approve of, and a wider sense of self-deprication – representing the entire country this time around. It’s equal parts groundbreaking and familiar for We Are Charlie. Their current plan is to release the EP single-for-single as free downloads over the next couple of months, and then make the whole thing available as a product to purchase.
As I take my leave, the band gets ready to continue their rehearsal session. They’re already working on early pre-production for a next EP. Luckily, it looks like they’re ensuring we get a steady stream of new music for a long time to come.
We Are Charlie is an indie rock band from Pretoria. They recently released Let’s Stare At The Sun, the first single of their latest, yet-to-be-released EP, The Sad Kind of Happy. Let’s Stare At The Sun is available on iTunes, or free download from Soundcloud (for the time being), and you can check out the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.
Floris sometimes writes things when he’s not watching movies or playing video games or editing videos or folk-rock singing/songwriting.