Charlatan by name, gentleman by nature

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Tony Rogers is cheerful – and well he might be. The
Charlatans are about to release their eighth album, Up at the
Lake, which marks fifteen years of Brit-rock ascendancy. The
band’s longevity is phenomenal, given the fickle nature of
the music industry and of the listening public, but their new
album proves that they find no difficulty in creating music that
sounds fresh and original, even after fifteen years. “We don’t do history”, remarks Rogers, and you
can see what he means. Each Charlatans album retains its own
identity, thanks to the fact that the music they write reflects
exactly their circumstances at the time of production. For
example, “There are a couple of sad songs on this album,
which I wrote because I had just lost someone close to me. In
general, though, I think that the album sounds very English,
because it was recorded here and that’s influenced it.”
So what exactly makes the album sound ‘English’? Rogers
thinks that it’s the mellow truthfulness of the words, the
way that it talks about love and loss and life without flinching.
“It’s pretty realistic about things like that,” he
says. “Basically, the album does exactly what is says on the
tin.” Their previous album, Live it Like You Love it, bears little
relation to the relaxed and melodic stylings of Up at the Lake.
Rogers points out that “it’s got a sunny, upbeat kind
of sound, which is probably because we recorded it in California.
It definitely sounds Californian, and I think that tradition
influenced us – you know, The Beach Boys and that kind of
thing.” Fair enough then – it’s clear that The
Charlatans’ sound is defined by what they experience. But who, exactly, are The Charlatans? Rogers describes the
band as “just four other blokes who are on exactly the same
wave-length as me.” And what wave-length might that be?
“We don’t want to change the world. We just want to
make better records,” he enthuses. “We just want to
rock and roll, and anyone who wants to join us – well,
please do!” He needn’t ask; it seems that plenty of
people have already joined in the fun. Interestingly, a large proportion of the band’s fanbase
seems to be fairly young – that is to say, it consists of
people who were tripping up in the primary school playground when
the band were just starting to make it big. “The people who
started out with us in ‘89 have gone off to get married and
have kids. They’re still with us, but they don’t really
come to gigs anymore, so it’s nice to have a younger
generation of fans as well.” It’s not hard to see why – for a band that’s
been around so long that, in musical years, they should be
resting on Fender zimmerframes when performing live gigs, the
ability to produce a record as contemporary as Up at the Lake is
no mean feat, and one that’s calculated to raise the
interest of even the most jaded teen suffering from Pop Idol
ennui. Some might say, about bloody time too – Up at the Lake
comes nearly two years after their previous release. In the music
industry, such a break would have shot a lesser band into the
apocalyptic oblivion of daytime TV interviews and the bargain
shelf in HMV. But not so The Charlatans. “We just had to
recharge our batteries, to find a new direction,” Rogers
explains, “but it was worth it – I love the new album,
I actually think that it’s the best one we’ve ever
done.” During the hiatus, the band embarked on various solo
production projects, but mostly they just rested from the
gruelling schedule of gigging and recording that had been their
lot for the last decade. The Charlatans are lucky, in comparison
to most bands, in that they have the luxury of taking a break
when they like – having assumed control of much of their own
recording and production, the whims of ‘evil corporate
giant’ record companies don’t play much part in the
band’s life. “Get a day job!” is the advice that Rogers would
give to anyone thinking of following in the band’s
footsteps. “Record companies aren’t interested in you
or in your music, they’re only interested in the money it
makes them. They’re all looking for the new Bright Young
Things. It sounds clichéd, but you have to do what you want, not
what they want.” Perhaps that’s all to easy for a member of one of
Britain’s top indie bands to say, but Tony Rogers says it
like he means it. His devotion to creating quality music is
obvious, and is representative of the rest of the band. “We
don’t have a message to get across; we’re not
political. To be honest, all we want to do is have fun and to
make lots and lots of great music – that’s what The
Charlatans are about.” He gives the impression that The Charlatans exist as a musical
entity, rather than a collection of individual musicians.
“It’s more important to carry on the name of the band
– the name itself implies that. In fact, there are only two
founding members from ’89 still in the band – I
didn’t join until 1997. What we’d all love is for The
Charlatans to be playing in 50 or 100 years time, without us of
course, but still a group of musicians keeping the flag flying,
so to speak.” So what is the best thing about being a member of this open
musical collective, as it seems to be? “Waking up in the
morning and knowing that I can do whatever the hell I want,”
he chuckles. And the worst? He pauses – there can’t be
much wrong with being a member of The Charlatans. Finally,
“Probably the fact that I’m still single!” he
says, bursting into laughter so infectious I can’t help but
join in. A charlatan by name, maybe, but a gentleman by nature.ARCHIVE: 1st week TT 2004

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