With a music career spanning 30 years—thriving in the face of Madchester’s withdrawal, Britpop bursting, and now NME’s print edition folding—UK alternative veterans The Charlatans and frontman Tim Burgess just might outlive us all (or at least be keen enough to tweet through the end of days). Burgess runs his own label, O Genesis Recordings, with partner Nik Void of Factory Floor among others, constantly shares witticisms on social media, and is gearing up for an “all over the world” livestream of The Charlatans’ Northwich hometown gig in May. As much as Burgess’ eyes under his signature blonde bob are set on music’s future, his upcoming solo record is a helluva rogue’s gallery from his past.
Featuring members of My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The Horrors, Klaxons, and Ladyhawke, Burgess’ third solo effort As I Was Now is a freewheeling, eclectic album that spans as many styles as its collaborators. The upcoming Record Store Day release is actually a gem from the O Genesis archives, a 2008 holiday season boredom-killer between Burgess’ friends one December. We’re premiering Burgess’ shoegazer “Many Clouds” that boasts MBV’s own Debbie Googe on bass and The Horrors’ Josh Hayward giving his best distorted, careening Kevin Shields riffs so yes, it’s extremely good.
Burgess caught up with us over email to talk My Bloody Valentine, As I Was Now, being a label boss, and more. Crank “Many Clouds” all the way up and read our conversation below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Noisey: MBV fans will especially be into this track or outright envy that you worked with Debbie Googe. How did you two strike up a collaboration?
Tim Burgess: I’m a big MBV fan myself so I’m hoping other fans will see this as a chance to have a listen to Debbie in the context of different music. Kevin and I played together at The Union Chapel so I’m ticking them off my list one at a time. There’s definitely room for a winky eye emoji there. There’s nothing sinister about it—they are joining in willingly, or at least I think they are.
I have known Debbie for a long time and we were hanging out a lot in 2008 it seemed natural for me to ask her to play on the bigger-sounding songs on the album—there is a missing track that she remembers only as the “slidey” one—I played her all the outtakes and we still have never found it. I think Debbie and I had looked around for the chance to work together and it was all I hoped for when the chance came along. It’s almost a kind of homage to MBV that it’s taken a while to see the light of day.
Josh Hayward does a convincing Kevin Shields impression on guitar. Who had the idea to fully turn up the MBV to 11?
I think technically MBV actually go up to 14 but they break the measuring devices so nobody is exactly sure. Josh has lots of homemade pedals and is definitely his own man when it comes to the sounds he makes. It only really sounded MBV when Debbie played on it.
From what you’ve already put out, no two songs from As I Was Now seem to sound alike. “Inspired Again” sounds worlds and pianos away from “Many Clouds.” What was your favourite genre or style to try on throughout the album?
I like it that, they are hard to pin down to an exact style—it sounds like a cop out but I love them all together. “Inspired Again” is more of a twisty psyche ballad about getting too close to the flame, I think all songs about getting too close to a flame need to be considered in tone aka slower. On the track with Ladyhawke [“Just One Kiss (One Last Kiss)”], there’s a kind of French 60s pop style to it—I’ve always loved those records, and they work best with a female lead or as a duet so seeing as you asked the question and I don’t want to be seen to dodge it completely, I’ll say my favourite genre, right now only of course, this will undoubtedly change, but I’m going for the Franco Antipodean filmic pop of “Just One Kiss (One Last Kiss.)”
How has running your own label, O Genesis, shaped your relationship with music?
It’s made me love people who make music even more than I already did—I am inspired by people I make music with. It has also been an outlet for exploring the outer edges of what a record can be. We worked with Professor Tim O’Brien from Jodrell Bank [Centre for Astrophysics], making a 7” techno-style banger that only uses sounds from the archive of their radio telescope. You get those labels that musicians have as a bit of a vanity project where they sign some bands that sound a bit like their own band and they never seem to work—from the get go, O Genesis was always going to be a standalone label.
I used to just listen to other artists and think whether I enjoyed listening to their songs. Now there is an element of whether O Genesis would be the best home for that music. Bands like The Silver Field and Average Sex have upcoming releases and we’ve recently put out albums by Richard Youngs. I am hoping people see O Genesis as its entity. I like it when people don’t know I’m involved. It leads to fewer arguments when I put a record out too. Well, maybe the same amount but they all happen in my own head.
The Charlatans are doing an ambitious gig livestream next month, have an app full of your past music, and both you and the band always have something to say on social media. Do you feel technology and music getting in bed with each other has ultimately been for better or for worse?
It’s a double-edged sword in a two-way street. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Everything seemed harmless. We tucked into those “Which Cure Song Are You?” surveys on Facebook (I was “The Caterpillar” btw) without realizing they were harvesting our thoughts for use in the forthcoming Kenyan by-elections or whatever. Music always seemed to be about trust and I’m not sure if that trust may have been lost. I just asked Alexa, and apparently it hasn’t.
Maybe the fact we have seen several stages of the music industry means that new elements are maybe more exciting to us. Streaming a live show around the world is something that was impossible when we started. The Beatles and Elvis had done telecasts but it was only really open to megastars like them. Technology means that it’s available to us now and it’s great to think that while some people are experiencing the gig right in front of others, there'll be people watching in a cinema in Soho, a bar in Barcelona, a record shop in New York, and while someone is eating their breakfast in Tokyo. I’ve never been too keen on that Luddite approach that some people have—there’s room for everything.
From all your online chatter (and Tim Peaks Diner pop-ups), I see you’re big on Twin Peaks. That open-ended finale to the revival drove me mad. Are you caught up? What’s your interpretation of the ending?
Wow! Yes I am caught up it all drove me nuts but in the best way. Agent Cooper is in a constant loop of endings and beginnings. The fireman is the projectionist, and Major Briggs' head is in the projection room. Laura Palmer was dreaming thanks to Cooper being able to change the past and save her. Does that make sense? Hopefully not as that would be the best outcome of any Twin Peaks theory. One thing is for sure though, it was the best TV of the 21st century and only increases my love of David Lynch.
As I Was Now comes out on Record Store Day. What were the last few records you picked up?
The Transcendence Orchestra – Modern Methods for Ancient Rituals
Panda Bear – A Day with the Homies EP
NPVR – 33 33
Dungeon – 4
Holy Shit – You Made My Dreams Come True
Aldous Harding – Party
Jill’s university newspaper was called The Charlatan, so in a Lynchian fever-dream way, this conversation was inevitable. Follow her on Twitter.