One of the first things that strike you upon meeting Charlie Simpson is just how tall he is.
Teenage starlet no more, the solo artist is a towering presence – and one packed with gleeful enthusiasm. Chatting to Clash backstage at Camden’s Roundhouse, during the iTunes Festival, Charlie even seems to enjoy the chore of sound checking, putting the current line-up of his band through its paces, and enthusing over each sound patch in the process.
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Charlie Simpson, ‘Long Road Home’
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Releasing his second solo album ‘Long Road Home’ in the summer, Charlie also issued an expanded version of debut LP, 2011’s ‘Young Pilgrim’. Packaging it with a number of extras, the singer opted to use LANDR – a new piece of software put together by MixGenius – to bring the best out of the bonus, previously unreleased material.
“I’m a big advocate of new technology,” Charlie explains, “so when it came to mastering the B-sides and rarities, I turned to LANDR.”
An intelligent music tool that automates the mastering process, LANDR’s flexibility, says Charlie, “brought the whole album package together to create something seamless”.
This passion for technology crosses over into Charlie’s musical influences. When we ask him to choose his own Spotlight album, one that’s had a substantial impact on his musical journey, he chooses Deftones’ 2000 collection ‘White Pony’.
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“I first heard ‘White Pony’ when I was at school, doing homework,” he recalls. “I had this Rock Sound (magazine) sampler (CD), and they featured the song ‘Street Carp’. I used to get really excited when magazines brought out monthly samplers to give you a taste of what’s coming out.
“I loved Deftones anyway. I got into them on (1997 LP) ‘Around The Fur’, but there was just something so fresh-sounding about that new song and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It just clicked with me. It clicked with me in every way a song can click with you. Then I was just like: I have to find this record.
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Deftones, ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’, from ‘White Pony’
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“It just changed my whole perception of music, it really did. The nu-metal thing had kind of gone on before, and that was massive, but these guys just transcended that genre. That music seemed a bit by numbers at the time, but Deftones were taking elements of the nu-metal thing and elements of melodic rock music and heavy riffs and then putting all into a blender together, and came out with this thing. It totally changed my perception of what music could be.”
One of the most significant changes for Deftones between albums two and three was the increased presence of fifth member Frank Delgado. Considered ‘additional personnel’ on ‘Around The Fur’, by the time of ‘White Pony’ his electronics and samples had become a vital part of the band’s sound.
“Frank is the secret weapon of Deftones! He influenced a lot of the (Charlie’s on-hiatus rock band) Fightstar stuff, actually. It’s like, you don’t really know what he’s put on there, but if you took it away something massive would be missing. It’s ethereal stuff. On the track that Maynard James Keenan from Tool sings, ‘Passenger’, there’s just this weird stuff going on in the background. It’s eerie and that’s what takes Deftones out of that (nu-metal) scene. Which, to be honest, I went off pretty quickly. Like, (frontman) Chino Moreno is just cool – the epitome of cool. I idolise that guy because he’s just so f*cking cool. I went to see them last year, and he just strolls onstage! He’s a f*cking don, man.
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Deftones, ‘Back To School (Mini Maggit)’, from reissue editions of ‘White Pony’
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“I still hear different things in ‘White Pony’ even now. And another great thing about the record is that everyone who plays in Deftones – it’s so sad about (bassist) Chi Cheng dying, as he brought so much to it as well – they all have their own signature styles going on in the music. It’s like, (drummer) Abe Cunningham: you can put it on and I can tell it’s Abe Cunningham. It’s a similar sort of thing with those riffs, they’ve just got a unique element and when you put those things together it’s Deftones. So if you have different guys with Chino as the singer I don’t think it would sound like the Deftones. Some bands have that, where it’s the guys in the band together who make it.
“If you asked me even today who my favourite band was I would still have to say Deftones. I’ve got albums that I’ve become very close to, albums that I think are brilliant... and maybe it’s the age that I listened to it. Because when you listen to a record when you’re 15 it impacts you in a way that I’m not sure a record could impact me now. I’ll rarely go two months without putting it on. It’s still on my iPod. It’s one of those albums which I never tire of, which is incredible given that I’ve been listening to it since it came out in 2000. It’s 14 years old, and it still sounds as fresh as it did yesterday.”
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Interview: Robin Murray