Tim Burgess and Miss World Talk Album Anniversaries, Life in L.A. and London, Songwriting, and Upcoming Projects
It’s no secret that both Tim Burgess and Miss World are prominent figures here at WMF HQ, and the attention is well-warranted: Tim’s 2018 solo album As I Was Now — boasting remarkable tracks like “Nik V.” and “Clutching Insignificance” — is one of our favorites in recent years. Similarly, Miss World’s presence looms large in our corner of the universe thanks to her 2018 release Keeping Up With Miss World, her revisiting of Roye'l’s near-mythical Public Access classic “I Found a Girl”, recent collaborations with Ariel Pink and Cole MGN, and more.
In commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Miss World’s debut LP, Keeping Up With Miss World, and in anticipation of Tim’s upcoming book (titled One, Two, Another) and yet-to-be-titled 2020 solo album, the timing felt right for these two talents to sit down for a chat. Tim has regularly included Miss World in his stellar Breakfast Bangers Spotify playlist, and Natalie is an admirer of Tim’s work with the Charlatans and as a solo artist, so there was plenty to talk about. We sat back and the enjoyed the engaging conversation between these two, and are delighted to share the documented tête-à-tête with you here.
Tim Burgess: It’s great “being back” in L.A. I’ll always think of it as a massive part of my life, and I do miss it. It’s fun.
Miss World: How long were you here, and what is your relationship with L.A. like?
TB: I first arrived when I was twenty-two, playing in the band [Charlatans]. I was from Manchester, so I always kind of like New York a little bit more.
MW: Me too. Growing up, I was always into New York, and thought “That’s where I want to be.”
TB: Yeah, and I still love New York. But if I close my eyes and picture what’s inside my head, it’s always Los Feliz. Just that one road is the best, by the bear [in Griffith Park]. As I got older, I fell in love with L.A. I moved there in ’99 and left in 2010.
MW: Wow – that was a long time. Where were you living in L.A.?
TB: I was in Hollywood, by the Capitol Records building, but I was in Silverlake most nights.
Bobby Weirdo: Tim, you and I have spoken about your solo album I Believe. That’s kind of like your Hollywood/L.A. album in a sense…
BW: And then Oh No I Love You has Nashville connections, and your most recent solo album, As I Was Now, is a Manchester album…
TB: Yeah, I did it right here in [Big Mushroom] ten years ago, and I didn’t put it out until last year because I forgot about it. Well, I didn’t forget about it -- I just thought it was already out.
Suzy Weirdo: I love that album – it’s so dear to my heart.
TB: I love it too, and the idea that something can go forgotten. You move onto the next thing, and then you look back and think, “What was I thinking? This is the best thing I’ve done, and I’ve not visited it properly.” I don’t know why it came out the way it did, but I like how it came out.
MW: It’s always nice to find something that you’ve forgotten about because you’ve had the distance from it, so you can listen to it with fresh ears and appreciate it. When you’re recording a record, you can get so lost in it and end up hating it. But with that distance, you can truly enjoy it the way a fan would.
TB: Yeah, that was exactly it. Because for a while after doing it, I wasn’t satisfied with one of the tracks on there, so I just kept trying to mix it, and then lost interest and went off to do something else. But when I came back ten years later, it sounded great. With every record – and even mixing my new one last night – there are [things] I did that I won’t remember in a month’s time, and won’t [remember] what I was stressing about.
MW: And you released [As I Was Now] on your label. How do you feel about the kind of freedom you have now to release your [own] music?
TB: I love that, and I love just as much putting other people’s records out on the label as well – in some ways [I love that] more. But I like that idea of getting free access to the boss of the label.
MW: You can do whatever you want!
TB: Yeah, it’s great having your own label. But I’m not putting my new [solo album] out on it.
BW: Is that album still coming out in 2020?
TB: Yeah, I just finished mixing it last night, and I’m really pleased with it. I played [Bobby Weirdo] a couple tracks from it in the van at Kendal Calling. What’s your situation, label-wise, Miss World?
MW: I put Keeping Up With Miss World out on PNKSLM, and the tape in collaboration with Burger Records.
TB: How did you end up in L.A.?
MW: Like, why did I want to come here?
TB: Yeah, I mean – why not?
MW: It was random – I wanted to come here in 2015. I was living in a nice place in Shoreditch, but I just [decided] to abandon that and go to L.A. for a couple months, because why not? It was January, and I wanted to go somewhere that was warm. That was it really; I didn’t think about the music scene or anything. In hindsight I think I was seeking new inspiration.
I did that, and was dropped from my record contract with Island while I was out here. It felt like everything was falling apart, but I remember also feeling that I was having an adventure. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I made friends and met collaborators – everyone’s so nice [in L.A.] - people want to do and not just talk. You hear that people are horrible here, that it’s creepy, and people are fake, but I haven’t really experienced that here. What’s your experience [with L.A.]?
TB: I had an amazing time there, and I think the same. Obviously there [can be] craziness and fakeness in [any] situation. I was on Island for a while as well, and [also] got dropped.
MW: Oh really? [And] yeah, there is fakeness [here] like you’re saying, but to me it’s in a more romantic way than it is in England.
TB: Whereabouts in Shoreditch were you?
MW: I was right in the center, opposite the Ace Hotel.
TB: Oh yeah, I lived on Rufus Street -- just up Curtain road, right next to 333. It was OK -- Shoreditch is a fun time, right?
MW: Yeah, it’s pretty nuts. There is this footage of me walking around there with one of my blow-up dolls, Freya, after I played a show. It was a Saturday night in the Shoreditch madness. People were vom-ing on the side of the road, and security guards were asking me who my “friend” was, saying she was cute. It was winter, it was dark, [and] in addition to holding Freya I was wearing Versace sunglasses, a bikini, red PVC trousers and beat-up Reebok Classics - that’s the level of extra you have to go to for anyone to bat an eyelid on the streets of Shoreditch.
TB: Who’s the doll on the cover of the album?
MW: That’s John on the cover.
BW: I wanted to talk about your Spotify playlists, including “Tim’s Breakfast Bangers”. Miss World’s debut album Keeping Up With Miss World just turned one year old this weekend, and the track “Diet Coke Head” from that album is often on your playlists. You’re constantly updating those lists, and I think you put together a really cool mix of genres and artists…
MW: It’s great.
BW: How did you choose the track “Diet Coke Head” for the playlist?
TB: It could have been one of many from the album, but when I DJ, that’s the one that goes down really well, so that’s the reason for that. “Carb Your Enthusiasm” was the first one that I heard, and I thought that anything with a title like that deserved my full attention. “Put Me in a Movie” is on the playlist sometimes. “Don’t You Wanna Be Me” is a banger… Congratulations [on the album anniversary].
MW: Thank you! When I came back from that three-month stint in L.A. is when I started writing that album. I wrote “Buy Me Dinner” as soon as I landed, and that sparked everything else. L.A. actually has a lot to do with that record.
TB: I think the Internet has a lot to do with the record as well.
MW: Oh yeah. I feel like Instagram – if it were [only] in one area of the world – would be in L.A. It’s ridiculous. I got a DM with a screenshot [of one of my Instagram photos] yesterday from a girl who wrote that she is coming to L.A. next month for her twenty-first birthday. She wanted to know where the spot is [that I took the photo] and where I got my outfit, because she would like to recreate the picture. I thought, “That’s amazing – that means I’m doing this right.”
“Diet Coke Head” is definitely about the Internet and spending too much time looking at other people. I thought at the time it was a phenomenon of this day and age with social media, but really the themes in that song are relevant to any period. We’ve always hurt ourselves by comparing ourselves to other people. But it definitely sparked from too much Internet.
BW: Your third book comes out in November. It’s titled One Two Another, and is centered on lyrics you’ve written. “One Two Another” is a Charlatans song, but it’s also because it’s the third book. I love a good pun, like “Carb Your Enthusiasm”.
MW: And Tim Book Two – I love that.
TB: Another pun -- my reputation’s gone. I think it’s such an English trait.
MW: We get it; we invented the language. I think that’s a funny thing – people are shocked that I’m English. Miss World is from the Internet for sure, and she loves L.A., but she’s British in her lyrics. I always loved British lyricists the most, even though I love American bands so much.
TB: Me too – I think the same.
BW: Speaking of bands, Miss World played with a band at SXSW in 2019, and may be again in 2020 as well. You’ve mentioned, Tim, that you might play SXSW in 2020…
TB: Yeah, I’m going to go until somebody stops me.
BW: Will you be playing material from the upcoming album or As I Was Now, or other material?
TB: It’ll be from the new album. I want to showcase it there. There’s a lot to work out, but that’s what I’m hoping for.
MW: The plan is that I’m going too, so I’ll see you there.
TB: That’ll be great. Are you doing a new record now?
MW: It may turn out it be a full-length, and it may turn out to be an EP. We’ll see.
BW: This is loose association, but we’re talking SXSW in Austin, and Daniel Johnston – who lived in Austin for many years – passed away not long ago. You recently paid tribute and shared a song from the Daniel Johnston and Jason Falkner album, Is and Always Was.
TB: I think I posted “Queenie the Doggie”, which is an amazing track. I love that album. I knew a lot of people who loved his work, but I was a bit late to Daniel Johnston. That was the first record that I heard by him.
BW: You met Jason shortly after that album was completed, right?
TB: Yeah, he brought me the album at Café 101, and was telling me about the sessions, and how proud of it he was. So that was my very, very late introduction to Daniel Johnston around 2009.
BW: Tim, your playlists are a bit like O Genesis – the genres and personalities represented on them are so varied, but there’s also a common thread in the same way that your label O Genesis synthesizes seemingly disparate artists who nevertheless fit together in an unexpected way. Your playlists often feature tracks by Miss World, Nik Void, Daniel O’Sullivan, R. Stevie Moore…
TB: Claire Welles, The Pheromones, Average Sex, A Certain Ratio, Kim Gordon, Gary Wilson…Yeah, I just really like listening to what people are doing. I like something in most records.
MW: I think you make these playlists really well, and I’m always excited to see what you add. I really enjoy listening to them.
TB: That’s really kind; thanks very much.
BW: Tim, you’re doing a book tour this autumn. Do you do DJ sets as well when you’re on a book tour in different cities?
TB: Yeah, I will do. And I’ll probably strum a few chords on the guitar to show people how I write lyrics. I’m quite into the idea of it being a lyric book, because I don’t really take myself seriously, but I take lyrics seriously. It’s an interesting thing to look back at lyrics I wrote when I was twenty-two years old -- and even before that and the Charlatans. There’s something like seventy songs in there, and stories around how they came about and became what they are.
MW: It takes you back…
TB: …To a time. And with songs from something like ’92, how are they relevant, if they are? I’ve been asking myself all these questions, and it’s kind of cool.
MW: Are you surprised at how relevant the songs still are?
TB: Yeah, because they’re never meant to be that relevant when you do them. They’re meant to just be snapshots of the moment that you’re in, so if they stick with you, it’s an amazing thing, really. They become these historical artifacts, but they’re just from that moment – walking down the street, writing a lyric, putting it into a song, thinking it’s really funny and being really proud of yourself. It’s hard to explain.
MW: Nowadays, when you’re writing your new stuff, do you ever walk down the road and record voice notes on your phone?
TB: All the time –always walking, because that’s how you get the rhythm. Words bounce around in my brain, and there’s always got to be something that really makes me smile in a set of lyrics, and something that means quite a lot to me. Then there’s the really throw-away too – it all has to be in there, for me anyway.
MW: I feel like that too, and also with the walking as well, there’s that sense that you’re moving and not stagnant, but you’re also alone, and can flow on your own. That’s when I get ideas. Do you write your ideas without music? How do they come about?
TB: I always start with a guitar or something, and get chords that interest me. I try and sing to them, and rubbish comes out – nothing. Then one word will happen, and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s interesting. That sounds really good – maybe I can shape something around that.” And then I just kind of let it live for a little bit. Then I’ll think, “Oh, this is too much without a change, and I need a change. And that will be the best bit in the song. It sounds like a similar process for you?
MW: Sometimes [when I’m writing], it’s the same three chords, round and round without a change…
TB: But that’s great as well, because there’s so much melody you can [have] over three chords – it’s classic. You can do four sections over three chords easily.
MW: I don’t know how, but “Diet Coke Head” was written in the time that it took to play it. It was a stream of consciousness, and that song was done in one sitting. I wish everything could just come to me like that. Do you have moments like that, where it just all pours out, and it’s done?
TB: Yeah, but it only happens once every blue moon.
MW: That’s when you know you’re truly in a good place for inspiration.
TB: Yeah, but there’s stuff that I keep trying to scrap, and it keeps making itself known again, [like] “You will not forgot me!”
MW: I wanted to ask you a question about your book Tim Book Two. When you were discovering records and going all over, did you ever just pick up a record without listening to it, buy it just because of the visual, and end up loving it? Because I’m really into the visuals that accompany music.
TB: I’ve always liked to buy records because of the sleeves. When I was growing up in Manchester, there was a label called Factory, and all their sleeves were as important as the music – sometimes more important. So I grew up with that really, and I still buy a lot of things now because they look interesting. It’s like in everyday life – you see people who look interesting, and you want to talk with them.
MW: Yeah, and your record cover really should be as important as the music. I think you’ve made something amazing when someone can look at it and know what it’s about.
TB: Do you like the cover of the Gary Wilson and R. Stevie Moore album?
MW: Yes, I really love it.
TB: I think it captures the music.
MW: It does – it’s so fun. It’s silly and perfect, and really does capture the music. It makes you smile. I love that record, and that everyone who was involved came together to make that what it is.
TB: And the picture and the writing as well…when you play the record and look at the sleeve, the harmony is just amazing. It goes great when you play it out as well. Last week I DJd a five-hour set and played three tracks off it. I played “The Wind It Knows A Thousand Dreams” and I played “Diet Coke Head” as well.
TB: I’ve got a question – total cheese. You have a song “Put Me in a Movie”. What movie would you like to have been in?
MW: I think Miss World has to be in her own movie; I don’t think she could be in anyone else’s.