Tim Burgess Discusses His Upcoming Book, Next Solo Album, Tim Peaks, and More
Renaissance man that he is, Tim Burgess is known the world over for a multitude of reasons. While millions of music fans around the globe are familiar with his storied career as The Charlatans’ frontman, Tim Burgess has diligently created a parallel creative universe that includes authoring three books, writing and recording solo albums, running his record label O Genesis, and seemingly indefatigably exploring and championing new music. Here at WMF, Tim’s presence is a strong one that includes past conversations, shared playlists, a video premiere, collaborations with R. Stevie Moore, and an imperative inclusion on our Top Tracks of 2018 list.
This past summer, WMF had the distinct honor and pleasure of attending yearly UK music festival Kendal Calling, within which Burgess’s non-profit Tim Peaks Diner plays a central role not only as a key performance space, but also as a vibrant and effective contributing community to the David Lynch Foundation. And while this year’s installment of Kendal Calling was uniformly stellar, the weather was capricious, ranging from record-breaking heat to torrential downpours. That being said, nothing could dampen the overall spirit and experience of this remarkable festival in the Lake District, and the rain afforded us an excellent opportunity to sit one-on-one with Tim Burgess in the comfort of a warm and dry VW bus and discuss his upcoming book, a 2020 solo album, the Tim Peaks phenomenon, and much more.
Bobby Weirdo: You’re working on a new solo album these days. Does it have a title or release date yet, or are you just working on tracks at this point?
Tim Burgess: At the moment, I want it to come out in March . The reason for that is that I’m in the middle of booking a UK tour, so it really has to come out then. It’s not finished, and there’s no title for it, although I’ve been working with [album art] images.
BW: Is Daniel [O’Sullivan] the album’s producer?
TB: [He’s the] producer and arranger, and Nik Void will be doing additional production.
BW: Has Charles Hayward been doing some drumming on the album?
BT: Charles Hayward has played on one track so far. Daniel has played drums [on the album] as well -- he loves playing drums. I’ve been laying the tracks down with acoustic guitar and a vocal, and then overdubbing electric guitar, but Daniel has been playing piano, bass, and drums. It’s remarkable really, and has given it a real backbone.
So it’s mostly been us with Nik, [who has been] adding modular synths and feedback. It’s always great to have Nik – and the way she thinks – around.
BW: Rose [Keel Her] will be doing some vocals, right?
TB: I really hope that happens. I like the idea of having O Genesis people contribute the extra voices and parts. I’m hoping to have Sam from Average Sex on something, and Mark [Collins] from Charlatans, too. And if they’re not playing guitar, then it would be great if they’re singing. I like the idea of three people at the core of it all, but lots of people involved.
We’ve recorded at some amazing places as well, like Rockfield Studios. Charlatans recorded Tellin’ Stories there and Queen did “Bohemian Rhapsody” there.
BW: You feel something special when you’re in those kinds of spaces.
TB: It’s mind-blowing really, and Rockfield’s got that thing. The first day, you’re a little overwhelmed by it all. For the past couple years we’ve been recording at our own studio. You’re comfortable with it and the costs aren’t a lot.
Going to a proper recording studio like Rockfield, you have to get over the fact that it might cost a lot of money. But we’ve been very quick recording in expensive studios – I think we’ve done fifteen songs in nine days, or something like that. It’s been great.
BW: Another big project of yours coming up is your third book -- One, Two, Another--which comes out November 14.
TB: [First] I did the autobiography, Telling Stories, and there’s an amazing amount of stories in there, but it was a story of someone’s life.
Then there was the suggestion of a follow-up [Tim Book Two]. The idea [for that book] was to ask my friends to recommend a record, which was [its own] story. There was also the story of record shops opening and closing all around the world, and the adventure of whether or not I could find [the records], if at all. Iggy Pop’s recommendations, for example, were quite hard to get, and I wanted to get good copies of them.
For this [third book], I decided to write about lyrics. Not my favorite lyrics, but my own lyrics. That was a big thing, really, because what I think about my lyrics and what other people think about my lyrics are two completely different things.
BW: You’re going to annotate them and -- and while not exactly explain them -- you’re going to comment on them in some way?
TB: Exactly. And that triggers memories of what I was doing at that time, how the lyrics came about, what certain things mean, and does anything mean anything? It helps the conversation with myself.
There are maybe fifty lyrics in there. Right in the beginning, I was in a band before The Charlatans called The Electric Crayons, and there’s [an Electric Crayons] song I wanted to talk about. “Totally Eclipsing” is about the North by Northwich festival we put on last year, and [it’s also] about that time and place. I find it quite interesting.
BW: There are going to be some lyrics to unreleased Charlatans songs in the book. How will that work – has the audio been heard to those?
TB: There’s stuff on YouTube I think. I was also going to maybe put a new track from my solo album as well, which people wouldn’t have heard by that point.
BW: You were just mentioning a festival, and speaking of festivals, The Charlatans just played an exceptionally lauded set at Glastonbury that received a lot of coverage. You weren’t originally scheduled to play the festival, and I was wondering how much of a ramp-up you need to make something that big happen so quickly. From the moment you got the phone call to the moment you were on stage, how difficult s that to pull together?
TB: It wasn’t that difficult. Not for me anyway, because we’d been playing, and had done something like seven shows over the summer already before we played Glastonbury. We were playing well and were due to play in Exeter on Sunday after we played on Friday in Glastonbury. So we were aware we were going to be playing that weekend, and it was just an extra day added. We’re like the A-Team.
BW: There was a widely-covered story related to The Charlatans’ Glastonbury set about security guard Kevin Cox. He was filmed singing along to your songs, and that in turn led to finding out who he was and inviting him to a Charlatans show to enjoy it as a fan.
TB: Oh yeah, that was funny. My friend Ally took that film of him singing along, and I tweeted it out. I think he’s done radio interviews and has a new vocation!
BW: Another funny thing Tim Burgess has made the news for lately is your 2015 prediction involving Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
TB: I know – it’s insane.
BW: Was that something that was conscious? Like you really believed…
TB: That kind of thing was going to end up [happening]? I did. It was a throw-away comment, but it was an order of events that was almost written in the stars. I mean, don’t you agree? It’s like someone else is pulling the strings.
BW: We’re here at Kendal Calling, and your part of this festival – Tim Peaks Diner – is a crucial one. You are a long-time practitioner of TM, and that’s what the David Lynch Foundation is connected to. Tim Peaks Diner benefits the David Lynch Foundation, and I’ve wondered what the process was for making that connection.
Do you approach David Lynch’s people or the Foundation with the idea, saying that “Tim Peaks” obviously sounds like “Twin Peaks”, and it’s going to be related to coffee, music, and TM, and then get their approval? Was the whole process really involved?
TB: No, not at all. It was just on Twitter. Every morning I would post something like, “Good Morning,” and people would respond.
BW: “Morning tweets”.
TB: “Morning Tweets”. And [one day I tweeted something like], “Anybody fancy a coffee?” and I got more responses to that than anything I had been posting. It was an ongoing thing for a couple months, and someone – I don’t know who — suggested on Twitter, “you need your own coffee shop.” And that became a reality as Tim Peaks.
[We weren’t] really worried about what David Lynch would think, but because we took the name, and because – like you said – I’ve been doing TM for a long time, we felt like the proceeds of the coffee should go to a charity to make the whole thing a good thing. It seemed like the right thing to do was to give the proceeds to the DLF UK, and now it’s been so many years that the check goes to good use. Every year we try to make it a bit more.
BW: There’s a video that was just recently posted online of you speaking with David Lynch via video conferencing, asking him a couple questions. When and where was that?
TB: That was Manchester, something like last week or the week before. I was doing something there about what I get from TM and how it all happened for me. David Lynch has an art exhibition there, which is really worth seeing. Manchester and David Lynch are a great fit. He’s been helpful, and [also] recommended a record for me in Tim Book Two.
BW: You ended up asking him about happy accidents in relation to TM.
TB: Yeah, I knew the story – the Bob story is a big story.
BW: Do happy accidents and TM intersect with your own work, and if so, how? What does TM bring to your work as an artist?
TB: For me, it’s bravery in choices, and a reassurance in what I do. In the beginning, I used to get smashed, write lyrics, and think that writing when I was high or while I was drinking would channel or unblock something to get the creative juices flowing.
And that might have been a real thing -- I’m not sure anymore. I was into artists who really took things to the extreme, and I thought that I should join that crew. But it got to the point where I couldn’t even function, so I had to stop. And then I’d been living that kind of debauched life for so long that when I stopped, I found it quite difficult to know what I was. There was a massive emptiness there.
I had to rebuild the fibers, which weren’t connecting, and I lived like that for a couple years. I was living in London at my flat, and [one time I had] my computer on my table there. Everyone was doing drugs, and they were all fighting over the music on my computer. I knew that these were my friends, it was fine, and I had to still be friends with them if I were ever going to go out and have a social life. So I let them fight over the songs, and it would be two seconds into the intro before someone would say, “No! Let’s listen to this!” It was just real frantic.
A friend came over to me in the corner, and asked if I’d ever tried TM. I said, “No, but I’ve heard of it through the Maharishi, The Beatles, David Lynch, and Twin Peaks.” Within three days, I’d gone to see someone about it, and started to put some life back into my dead body.
BW: Randomly following up on your debauchery, I’ve often repeated one of your stories to other people because it’s so funny, and I wanted to check if it is a real story, or something you said just for humor. You’ve said that you would mail yourself drugs taped to Jamiroquai records…
TB: That’s a true story.
BW: And you felt that that would be credible…
TB: Because people would know that I wouldn’t listen to Jamiroquai.
BW: And that would be the case you would make, if you ever had had to explain yourself?
TB: Of course, yeah. Because I don’t really like that sort of music. He played Coachella last year, so people in L.A. must like him. But when I was living in L.A., I didn’t really like him. I actually don’t dislike him enormously. He’s got some grooves, and let me look at one of his expensive cars once.
BW: It’s a great story.
TB: It’s absolutely true.
BW: Looking at your label O Genesis, the Gary Wilson/R. Stevie Moore album is coming out this summer, and there’s an array of artists on the [label’s] roster, including: Daniel O’Sullivan, The Silver Field, Richard Youngs, Average Sex, and more. Is there – in your opinion at least – a thread that runs through these releases, even though they belong to different genres? What makes those artists and releases O Genesis, so to speak?
TB: I think The Silver Field, Daniel, Richard, and Keel Her all fit into the same thing – they’re all brave artists doing things their way. They all sound similar, but they also don’t. Richard Youngs has done hundreds of records in all different genres, but this particular record sounds like a very O Genesis record to me. He was actually very inspired by Daniel O’Sullivan’s record VELD to write his album Belief. And then I met him at a motorway services station…
BW: Just randomly?
TB: Randomly. And at that moment, I knew I wanted to put out his record.
So scrap that, but don’t. As people, I absolutely love [the O Genesis artists], and that is essentially why I put their records out. I love the music, and it’s interesting music to me. The Silver Field is interesting, obscured, and about to be revealed. The record sounds like something’s about to happen.
Daniel O’Sullivan’s album VELD – the album before Folly-- sounds like something about to be revealed. Then he made Folly, which is absolutely gorgeous. Richard Youngs really thinks deeply, and is just an amazing person. He’s singing on my own album.
BW: Your upcoming one?
TB: Yeah – it was important for me to get him on there, and it just makes it all the greater for having him on it.
It’s similar with Rose – I’ve just always been a fan. R. Stevie sent me that song, “Boner Hit”, and it just sounded like something that I really wanted to put out. He produced it, and he and I were going through a thing. I was willing to facilitate anything that came along with him. It’s the people and it’s the music.
Stevie’s music is obviously hugely diverse, but all the diversity is in that being. So what you hear is what you get when you meet him – it’s an amazing thing. And with all these artists, what you hear is what you get when you meet them. Daniel, Rose, Coral – they’re all interesting.
Average Sex is something different, really. I’ve known their drummer, Finnigan Kidd, since he was sixteen or seventeen. He has this band with his brother called Hatcham Social. He handed me a record, and the sleeve was a lithograph kind of thing. It was called How Soon Was Then?. I thought that was a good title, it was a nice sleeve, and he had a perfect bowl [haircut] and a cardigan. It was like, “yeah you’re cool”, and he’s a brilliant drummer. Average Sex was his new band, and again, it was the person that got me into the music. It’s become a lot more than that now, but that was the introduction.
BW: On the live side of it, when it comes to curating something like Tim Peaks Diner…
TB: I don’t really curate all of it. Nick Fraser has a big input into all of it, because he kind of runs the whole thing. I’m the face of it, if that doesn’t sound too cheesy.
BW: But someone like Pete Astor…
TB: Oh, I wanted Pete to play. That actually came through Rose, because she was playing bass for him, and he came to the The 100 Club to see me play. When I was searching for music in my teens, The Loft and The Weather Prophets – who I saw at Glastonbury in 1987 – was music I needed. [Those bands] meant quite a lot to me. Then Rose from the label was playing with him and it was so great, so I wanted to get him on Tim Peaks.
Daniel introduced me to Coral from Silver Field, but I was working with someone else who was engineering that record too, so worlds collide. Or not collide – just snuggle up to each other.
BW: It’s further evidence that a record – or any resulting piece of art like a painting, movie, or sculpture, — is just a reflection the real art, which is the story of people interacting with something or someone.
TB: Yeah, it documents it, which is why it’s called a record.
BW: You’ve had really cool artists remix your songs, including Chris & Cosey, The Other Two, Anton Newcombe, Invisible Conga People…
TB: Peaking Lights….
BW: Do you give any prompts or guidelines for those mixes, or is it more of a thing where you say, “Here’s the track – do as you wish.”
TB: I sent Stephen Morris from The Other Two the Peaking Lights remix, and he said, “Oh, that’s what I would’ve done”, which I thought was cool, and then he knew not to do that [and did something else instead]. With “Oh Men”, Chris & Cosey knew what it was about, so they got it. And their version of it is the end for me. It’s the finale; they completed it.
BW: When we’ve spoken about it before, you’ve called Kendal Calling the “spiritual home” of Tim Peaks.
TB: Yeah, because they gave us the opportunity to have the cabin, and before we knew what it was going to be, they let us do it. [At first] it was a great excuse to have the bands on the label play, and they [still] do, but it’s become a lot more than that.
Claire Welles is playing today, and I want you to see her because she’s someone who I like. She’s also great at playing darts, apparently. I have no idea what to expect, but that’s up my street.
BW: Is there anything else coming up for you in the coming months?
TB: I’m supposed to be doing a live vocal performance for a celebration of Talk Talk in November. I did that Buzzcocks one too, which was really enjoyable.
There’s the book and the album, and I’ve never played solo in America, so I’d really like to do that. It would be so much fun -- we’ll see how it all unfolds.