Tim Burgess Talks about New Solo Album As I Was Now, Upcoming Projects, and More
Tim Burgess is known internationally as the lead singer of The Charlatans, a solo recording artist, record label boss, author, and even the head of his not-for-profit coffee pop-up Tim Peaks Diner. While Mr. Burgess could absolutely lay claim to bona fide rock stardom if so inclined, it appears that he has neither the interest nor the time to rest on his proverbial laurels. To say that Tim Burgess is a multi-tasker would be understating the case, without a doubt.
And perhaps therein lies the explanation for why it has taken almost a decade for the new Tim Burgess solo album, As I Was Now, to finally be released on O Genesis. It’s not surprising that the aforementioned pursuits might delay the release of a project like this, but this gem is fortunately and finally seeing the light of day on April 21, 2018. The nine-track album is brilliant from start to finish, and arguably ranks among some of the finest work in Mr. Burgess’s catalog.
From the immense “Clutching at Insignificance” to the unabashed pop of “Just One Kiss (One Last Kiss)”, to the angular standout gem that is “Nik V.”, As I Was Now deftly covers vast musical territory, though quite remarkably never takes a wrong turn. And while As I Was Now captures the imagination as a “found” work of sorts, this release is absolutely an album in every sense of the word, beautifully capturing a particular time and place in the lives of Burgess and his friends nearly ten years ago.
We were honored to not only have an early listen to As I Was Now, but also to have the world’s first interview about the album’s release and backstory. Similar to Burgess’s own writing, our conversation was full of delightful twists and turns as we covered the new album, an upcoming third book, his connection to L.A., past recordings, Tim Peaks Diner, a new Charlatans EP, and more.
Bobby Weirdo: I’d like to start by talking about your upcoming solo album that will be released on April 21. It’s an eclectic and solid group of songs that works really well as complete statement, and there’s really no filler.
Tim Burgess: Thanks so much! The funny story [behind it] is that I always thought this record was [already] out, but it wasn’t. I actually recorded it in 2008 with some friends of mine who joined me for Christmas and New Year’s in 2008.
It was finished, but not finished as well. I kind of forgot about it, and then just thought it was out. I was talking to Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine, who played on a few of the songs and is part of the gang. She asked me what happened to that album, so I went back to it. Of course it had to come out, and now it is.
BW: Although the album works really well as an entire statement, each song on this album has a unique character. Were they recorded separately, and in different places, or were they all done in the same place during that holiday period in 2008? And were these songs conceived as being part of an album?
TB: It was recorded in one three-day session. The players were Josh Hayward from the Horrors, Debbie Googe, Steffan [Halperin] who was in the Klaxons at the time, and Ladyhawke came over and sang on one of the songs. And then everyone had to split because it was New Year’s Eve, and that was it.
It was done quickly, and no one knew what was going to happen with it. It was all about friends getting together over the Christmas/New Year period when everyone is really bored and just wanting to make music. We came into the studio in Manchester, and I [already] had some songs. We just did it.
BW: Was the studio Big Mushroom?
BW: Is there a title for this album, or is it still a secret?
TB: Because of the way I discovered it, it’s called As I Was Now. I’d like this to be the first interview about it.
BW: Wow – thank you! You mentioned you had songs ready to go before the recording session. Did you write the songs on your own?
TB: Most of them, like “Just One Kiss” and “Clutching Insignificance”. I figured out “Inspired Again” and “Many Clouds” with Josh and Steffan.
BW: It sounds like “Inspired Again” was written at a keyboard just because of the chords and feel. Is that accurate?
TB: I wanted the longest time possible between chords on that song, so I figured out with my engineer how we could make the verse really long with no repeated chords. Then I showed it to Martin Duffy, who played it. Martin was in a band called Primal Scream and Felt with Lawrence. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Felt.
BW: Of course – in fact, I recently had a couple conversations with Matt Fishbeck about Felt.
TB: Oh wow! “Primitive Painters” is probably one of my favorite songs of all-time.
BW: And you mention Lawrence in Tim Book Two as well.
TB: I really love Lawrence. I’ve known him throughout my life as a fan of Felt, and as a musician in England you bump into everyone eventually. The first time I met Lawrence he was lying on a bed somewhere in Brighton, just talking about everything from Lena Zavaroni to how rock stars should eventually die. His word of advice was that they shouldn’t get run over by black cabs.
BW: I think you may have alluded to this already, but who is singing with you on “Just One Kiss (One Last Kiss)”?
TB: That’s Ladyhawke.
BW: There’s a nice tension between pop and weirder territory on that song.
TB: Yeah, we were messing with the speed of it. I’d met Pip just a few weeks before at the Cave Club in London, and she’d just played a show. We started talking, and found we have a lot in common. It just felt like a really good connection. We went to a party, left the house the next day, and saw a giant plastic bin on fire in in the middle of Shoreditch on a busy morning. We were sitting in the commercial tavern - one of the places [where] John Merrick used to hide out. So we felt we kind of had to sing a song together!
BW: Is the track “Nik V” a reference to Nik Void?
TB: Yes, and this was certainly when I wanted to go out with Nik Void. I had to alter a few things before that could happen, but it was definitely my understanding that she was going to be my life partner.
BW: “Nik V” is a surprise and highlight on the album. It has a great vibe, and is almost an instrumental with its sparse vocals.
TB: It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album. I don’t think it’s what people would imagine me doing, and I’m always very into that.
BW: “The Savages” has a cinematic feel to it…
TB: Yes - That was a Serge Gainsbourg-inspired thing. I had a beautiful Hofner violin bass knocking about the studio, so I was quite entertained by that. I like the line “I‘ll find a table for their heads.” It’s an angry song, but in a sweet way, I think!
BW: “Another Version of the Truth” has such a classic feel to it. As soon as I heard that track, I sent a message to Jason Falkner about how much I was enjoying this album.
TB: Oh, wow! How’s he doing?
BW: He’s doing great. He's been touring with Beck, producing a lot of stuff, and was actually on a recording session with Jim Keltner when I sent that.
TB: Great! I’ve worked with Jim Keltner, too. He’s the best.
BW: Really? What session was that?
TB: He’s on a couple tracks for the Charlatans album Wonderland. He was just brilliant on “A Man Needs to Be Told” and “Love to You”. I’ve not really worked with Jason, but I met him as soon as I moved to L.A., really.
BW: It’s funny, because you are so associated with Manchester’s music history, but you also really have a place in L.A.’s music scene and history as well.
TB: I love and miss L.A. so much.
BW: Are you going to tour in support of As I Was Now?
TB: I’m not sure – I have no expectations, but I will do if people want me to.
BW: Are you the album’s producer?
TB: Actually, I’ve done the sleeve notes and not put a producer on there. I mentioned that Jim Spencer, who does all my stuff with me, recorded it.
BW: Speaking of writing, are you working on a third book?
TB: I’ve started writing it. It’s mostly to do with lyrics, but if you’ve read my last book, [you know] that will just be a starting point for me to go off on tangents. If you start with a record as your main subject – and Tim Book Two is essentially about records recommended to me by friends and people I admire – it’s such a broad spectrum that you can go into a story and the unknown.
So [the upcoming book] is about the songwriting process and lyrics. It will start with the songwriting process from my own point of view, and lyrics of my own, and then it will go somewhere else. At the moment, I’m doing songs with the Charlatans, but after this weekend the book is going to be my main priority until the summer.
BW: Is this a new Charlatans album you’re working on?
TB: It’s an EP.
BW: Will that be coming out in 2019?
TB: No, I think everything’s coming out at the same time!
BW: And you’re also really busy with the Tim Peaks Diner and the festivals like Kendal Calling to which it’s connected, right?
TB: Kendal Calling is its spiritual home, and Festival Number 6 is the other major one.
BW: Instead of having a brick and mortar location, the Tim Peaks Diner is more of a pop-up thing that just goes wherever you want it to go, right?
TB: That’s kind of it, except for Kendal Calling. It’s a deer lodge that for most of the year is a place where wildlife runs free, and then we turn it into a festival. The information office turns into a coffee shop and place for bands to perform. So it’s a festival within a festival.
BW: A portion of the proceeds from Tim Peaks go to the David Lynch Foundation, right?
TB: Yes, they do. I learned to meditate when I was living in L.A. When the Tim Peaks thing started to take off through Twitter, I ended up getting my own [brand of] coffee, and it just seemed like more of a worthwhile thing to give the money from the coffee to the David Lynch Foundation, and to keep it all good with fair trade. The people in Costa Rica who make the coffee get paid as well, so the journey of the coffee bean is a good one.
BW: Do you still have your box of Totes Amazeballs cereal?
TB: It’s a one-off, and is at Tim Peaks/Kendal Calling every year. Thanks for bringing that up!
BW: You met up with Ariel Pink last year, and also did an interview with him in Interview Magazine. In that interview you alluded to a Christmas song you were working on with R. Stevie Moore and Ariel. Is that a real thing?
TB: Yes – it’s got to be a real thing. We spoke about it and sent music to each other. I’ll have to reconnect, because it’s something that should happen.
BW: I agree!
TB: Ariel and I had a nice curry when he came to London.
BW: You’ve referenced his albums Pom Pom and Mature Themes before, and seem to be pretty familiar with his work.
TB: Oh yeah – I’m an absolute fan. I think I’ve got all his albums.
BW: I wanted to ask about a track that’s not on your upcoming album, but is recent and quite remarkable. It’s on the album you did with Peter Gordon, and is called “Oh Men”. It feels like that track captured something particularly emotional, and I’m curious if that is your experience of it as well.
TB: I did an album in Nashville with Kurt Wagner, who I’ve known for years and is in a band called Lambchop. We were always going to do something [together], and then it finally happened. I wanted to continue that, and I had a song that I think was called “Ocean” or something. I sent it over to Kurt, he changed around some of the lyrics, and it came back as “Oh Men”. So it was my guitar and Kurt’s help with my lyrics, and then I sent it to Peter Gordon. I wanted to take it away from the Nashville thing, and move it closer to Peter’s world, because we’d been hanging out.
The Charlatans' drummer passed away, and [soon after] Kurt Wagner’s friend from Lambchop and Lou Reed – who was friends with Peter Gordon – both passed away within two weeks of each other. And that’s why I think there’s such a powerful thing going on [with the track]. It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever been involved in.
BW: You have a reputation for championing young bands and bringing attention to other artists. Is that something you’ve just fallen into, or is it something you’ve always been interested in?
TB: My favorite people in the world have always been musicians. I love hanging out with people who do things in their own unique way. And wherever I’ve been – Los Angeles or London or Manchester – I’ve seen bands, hung out with people, and liked the way they do things.
I was living in London after I moved back from L.A., and someone suggested I should start a label. I thought, “What the heck,” and started a record label. I needed some people to make music, and Electricity in Our Homes was a band I was really into at the time. They were a band of 19-years-olds in London who were making music like the no wave scene of music in New York in 1977. So they were making music like DNA and Mars and The Contortions and stuff like that. I thought, “Fucking hell! How is this happening now - in London?” So I put that record out, and then bands like Keel Her, Average Sex, and the Minny Pops. Then I managed to put out a record by R. Stevie Moore, which made me feel like I’d gone international.
So it’s been an ongoing thing really. Now it seems like there’s a young and up-and-coming part of the label, and then the older guys like myself, Richard Young, and Daniel O’Sullivan. There’s quite a nice thing going on with the label.
BW: Are the recordings you did several years ago with Joaquin Phoenix ever going to be released?
TB: Wow - That time was a trip. It was Joaquin and his friend Antony. Antony was singing, Joaquin was producing, and I did some backing vocals. I turned up to the studio for two weeks, and then it all went quiet. Joaquin did that documentary where he was being followed around, went on Letterman, grew a beard, and all that kind of stuff, and it was about him becoming a rapper. The last thing I heard was that he was going to use the songs for [that documentary] and I’ve not heard from him since.
BW: It seems like such an unlikely pairing.
TB: It was two weeks, and it was mental. We went to clubs and stuff like that after the recording sessions, and the effect that he has on people is pretty amazing. I was just observing, really. The songs were good.
BW: Back to your own music, is there a song on the new album that you’re especially excited about?
TB: I really like the first track, “Clutching Insignificance”. It means a lot to me. But I like the whole album because it’s got a rawness that I think will be interesting to people. I think it comes across as something a bit darker. At this point, not a whole lot of people have really heard it, so your feedback has been great. The thing that I find surprising is that it’s not already out, but I’m glad it’s coming out now.
BW: So there’s the new solo album, a new Charlatans EP, a third book, and music festivals coming up for you. At this point in the conversation, I’d usually ask if there’s anything going in in the coming year, but in this case I don’t think I need to. That’s a lot, but maybe there’s something else?
TB: Hopefully I’ll get out to Los Angeles and meet some people – I need to walk around Hollywood and get some of that sunshine.