Staring at the Sun, and how We Are Charlie write honest songs
I met Dylan Christie and Wesley Reinecke on an ice-cold night at Pop Filter Studios in Pretoria. It’s right behind Menlyn. The third member (and bassist) of We Are Charlie, Rowan van Eeden, was away on a trip to Germany. But between Dylan & Wesley, they had more than enough to say.
“I think Pop Filter Studios is a great place,” Wesley, the drummer, raves. “I think many people don’t realise what a great place it is or actually haven’t heard of it. As for the facilities, the acoustics are flippin’ awesome. There’s not just one live room or one iso booth, or some guy’s home made studio. It’s international standard studios and spaces. And the gear here is phenomenal.”
Pop Filter has, since launching in February 2016, become We Are Charlie‘s home base, rehearsal space, and recording studio of choice. They recorded their upcoming EP, The Sad Kind of Happy, here, under the guidance of producer Nic Dinnie.
Vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Dylan explains: “Nic was a long-time friend of ours. And this EP was amazing to record, cause they almost gave us free rein with time.”
The production process started with simply playing through the songs in studio, and giving Nic an opportunity to get used to it, and maybe come up with some ideas. Only after this time did they move on to traditional pre-production and recording guide tracks. Nic’s help, along with Theuns Botha, who “was basically the drum tech of the session,” and mastering engineer Jacob Israel, provided some more experienced opinions and input.
“Just purely because we are youngsters and a little bit messed up, we lack experience in those fields. So that was amazing.”
And We Are Charlie really took their time with the process, refusing to compromise by forcing anything. “We said, if the song’s not done, it’s not done, we’re not gonna force time. We’ll finish it when we finish it. If we just aren’t feeling it that night, we’ll just mess around with one of the other songs so long. So I guess it’s safe for us to say that we just never looked back.”
Often, the songwriting process starts with cellphone voice memos. Dylan explains: “When we have a good idea, we’ll pop the phone on voice note mode and we leave it outside, and we’ll just play through. And then I’ll sort of listen to it in my car sometimes.”
“Also, the way I write lyrics, is I just talk a bunch of shit – like you can tell, I’m good at that – so I just sing a bunch of shit, you know. And I’ll listen to it over and over again, and it’s almost like I subconsciously write some of the lyrics, until I go ‘Ah, that actually works.’ And then I’ll clean it up a bit.”
“And then once I’ve got enough cleaned up to make a story, then I’ll write the rest of the song. So then I’ll listen to it in the car over and over again to pick up little bits that I might have by accident said. And then I write the rest around that.”
“I think it’s also cool that way cause then it’s honest – You’re just singing what you feel at the time.”
I ask them about honesty in songwriting, and between the two of them, they agree that Dylan’s lyrics might not always be direct, but it can be straightforward and blunt.
“Not necessarily blunt toward someone,” says Wesley. “But also towards the reality of his thoughts.”
To which Dylan provides an example: “Like that song, You’re not that Great? I just straight up thought someone wasn’t great.”
“Look,” Wesley starts. “I’m not a musicologist or whatever you call them – ” [Dylan: “please let that be a word.” Yes, it is.] “But I think the only thing a person can relate to when hearing a song is the lyrics.” In his opinion, the rest of the music helps to underscore and frame the meaning of the song, but “the lyrics are the key, dude.”
But despite having relatively straightforward lyrics, it appears as though the band’s latest single, Let’s Stare at the Sun, is the first time that the majority of people are really connecting with the song’s message.
One of their first big singles, Hey Friend, for example, is “not what most people think it is,” says Wesley. [So it’s not about post-friendzone murder fantasies?]
“It’s not just a ‘hey, I love my mates,'” explains Dylan. [Okay, maybe my theory still holds up. The guys were tight-lipped about the truth.]
On the other hand, Let’s Stare at the Sun‘s message is very culturally and socially relevant, but that’s coincidental. “It’s so weird, it came at the perfect time.”
“I mean, I wrote those lyrics to that song at the end of last year, and now all this shit that is going on around the world with westernisation. For example, people don’t give a shit if there’s a bomb going off there, but if it goes off over there, then it’s a huge problem. And that’s what I hate. I hate that kind of stuff.”
He thinks of another example. “Burger King opened up down the road – and it’s delicious – but I’m like ‘FUCK! We never used to have Burger King and we used to be special because of that for a weird reason.’ Now everything is the same. It’s almost like they’re trying to make it all one thing.”
“It’s death of culture,” adds Wesley. “And of being yourself.”
But is this a thematic and lyrical change of course for We Are Charlie? Are they going to start writing anti-war protest music soon?
“I mean, we’re not necessarily the biggest fans of society and what the movement is of westernisation and globalisation, but I don’t think necessarily that is going to be the direction of what is to come in our lyrics.”
“I think we’ll continue being honest,” Dylan adds. “We’ll get more honest as we go, as well. Especially now that we’ve played cool venues, we’ve had a bit of the vibe, we’ve toured a little bit, we’ve gotten it out of our system.”
“We’re going to be writing music and lyrics where it’s an opinion that we believe in,” Wesley says. “And we’re going to be very opinionated. So it’s going to be about a certain situation. It’s going to be something that Dylan really believes in. And that, to me, is an ingredient for a good song.”
We Are Charlie are the first to admit: “We talk a lot of shit.” But it’s entertaining and informative, and have therefore turned this piece into a two-part interview. Check back on TheFlow.co.za soon for part two, where the band reveals why they haven’t made a full-length album yet.
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.