“It Sounds Like Everything And It’s About Everything!” Clash Meets Tim Burgess

“I wanted to give it all…”

Tim Burgess has never been shy about exploring new musical avenues and sonic shifts, but new album ‘Typical Music’, feels like his most important and ambitious solo work to date.

It’s fair to say that Tim might well be the hardest-working man in the music industry. He’s just returned from a tour of Australia, he’s released two solo albums in the last two years, has curated two Tim’s Twitter Listening Party books and of course has hosted countless listening parties, including an an illustrious roll-call of musicians including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Liam Gallagher, Ride, New Order, The Cure and of course Tim’s own band The Charlatans.

With this colossal and impressive worth ethic, it’s little surprise that Tim opted to create a double album for his next solo body of work ‘Typical Music’. This new album is not just ambitious in terms of its duration (just 180 seconds shy of 90 minutes) but in terms of its impressive array of musical genres and intricate arrangements. From a slight flirtation with doom-metal in ‘L.O.S.T.’ to the surf-punk vibes of the title track, ‘Typical Music’ is a colourful, kaleidoscopic, sonic odyssey that is chock-full of optimism, endless possibilities and eclecticism.

The chameleonic singer spoke to Emma Harrison about returning to record at Rockfield, embracing the concept of ‘cartoon music’, helping Iron Maiden trend in Paraguay via Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties and why he wanted to challenge himself with his new album ‘Typical Music’.

Huge congratulations on the new album ‘Typical Music’. It’s really colourful and intriguing. I would describe it as a kaleidoscopic musical odyssey. I know you were wanting to create something really different and to challenge yourself when making this album. I think you’ve achieved this – would you agree?

Thank you! Do I agree? I don’t know! I think yes, I do agree! I mean I did challenge myself and I think it’s good. When you think that all masterpieces like the Eiffel Tower (laughs) it takes a while for people to understand it already and then it becomes a part of life. I think that’s what ‘Typical Music’ will become.

Definitely! The last album ‘I Love The New Sky’ came out as the pandemic was underway in May 2020 and then you started working on ‘Typical Music’. How did you go from finishing the last album – and not really having any output to perform it – to going straight through to ‘Typical Music’?

Well, I guess that’s it really as you live life, you just write things down and I’m doing that now. I’ve been on tour with The Charlatans and you find yourself thinking about the show last night and something sparks and you just write something down because you’ve had an experience. With the pandemic, there were no real experiences apart from taking my son for his daily walk or talking about Boris Johnson. So I had to really dig deep. It’s a very emotional record I think.

It definitely feels that way. There’s a lot of life experiences that weave themselves into the 22 songs. 

It’s hard. When you make a record, you don’t understand, you just make it. I never think to myself, here’s the concept. I don’t think about concepts or anything like that. I just write and write. I don’t really understand it until some time has gone by. It’s been a month since it has been out and it has been 11 months since I finished it. I kind of found that delay difficult.

There’s an emotional thread there. Perhaps it might help some people who’ve gone through traumatic experiences. I don’t know why I think that, but I do.

You can really feel the emotion coming through it and some things are worth waiting for and this is definitely the case. I understand that you were influenced by The Cure’s ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ album. 

There’s lots of reasons why I went with 22 songs. Number one reason there were 22 songs! There’s a few mentions of the time 11:11 within the album. So, I thought of 11 songs per side and having 22 songs coming out in the year 2022. Initially, the two songs that I chose to not be on the album ended up being the two singles, But I love all of them!

I wanted to give everything you know, I wanted to treat them all as importantly as each other. I wanted to give it my all.

It definitely feels that this is the album that you’ve been itching to make. ‘Typical Music’ is so expansive and it’s such an interesting mix of genres. Originally it was gonna be called ‘The Guide To The Universe’. Is that the case?

(laughs) I like that. Yeah! You know, I have always wanted to answer this question that lots of journalists ask, ‘What’s it all about’ ‘What does it sound like?’ And I always wanted to say it sounds like everything. And it’s about everything. And that’s what this is!

It definitely feels that way. You’ve never been shy about exploring new musical avenues. There’s a lot of different genres in the mix here.

Yes, there was new wave, jazz, punk, new age, hip-hop… Yeah, I listen to them all. It just depends on where I am. I have a space and this is my space at the moment (pans camera around to empty room). It’s an empty space. I’ll sit in a white room and depending on my mood, where I sit is completely different than the next day. I might have a capo on a guitar and I’ll put it on a fret, which would be different had I done it three hours earlier. That’s how I write. I just write everyday, not at the same time. 

The main source of inspiration is myself. I use the time and the space and it sounds free. But I think that sounds interesting, but it also sounds very basic, but that’s just the way it is. It’s a different day, a different time, different capo, a different part of the room and something different will happen.

Do you feel like you’ve done this more with your solo work as time has passed? Can you express yourself even more creatively than ever before?

I think my solo stuff supports me. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but when the Charlatans write together we have to consider each other you know. When I write on my own. I don’t have to consider anybody. So that means that I’m completely free, which is a beautiful place to be. I also like not being free in the Charlatans. But me being solo is a lesson about freedom.

So, there’s been a bit of a referencing of ‘Typical Music’ to The Beatles ‘White Album’.

Well, I mean, the only comparison is that it’s a double album. It’s impossible to compare yourself to The Beatles! But the ‘White Album’ is one of my favourite records of theirs, as is ‘22 Dreams’ by Paul Weller, ‘London Calling’ by The Clash and ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ by Genesis.

They’re all great double albums that I listen to a lot. I’ve always wanted to make it a double album. I tried with ‘I Love The New Sky’, but I didn’t quite have enough songs. It took me six months to write the first song, even though I was writing every day. And then it all came flooding out!

I’ve tried to go for 11 songs and then 16 or 17 tracks, and suddenly I’ve got a double album. So I told Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan to let me know when we got to 16 songs. And they said you’re way over that – there’s 22! At that point, I thought okay, I won’t write anymore. Let’s just really hone in on all the songs, give them as much detail to each song as possible and just really work hard on that.

You wrote all the songs on acoustic guitar. However, listening to the album, it’s very layered. There’s some really intricate arrangements there. How did you take those songs from having written it acoustically into the studio?

All the songs were written on an acoustic guitar in a white room with white walls and the idea was to colour them all in. So I had the chord changes, the sequences, the melodies and all the lyrics. When I went to Rockfield ,I didn’t have all of them done at once. I did the midsection on 10 tracks, and then I did another five and then I did another five. Then we would transpose everything I had onto the piano. And that’s the way I like to work – piano and then drums and bass. It’s just like colouring things in really – like furnishing for a new client!

He says in an empty room!

(Tim laughs)

I know you sadly lost your father during the pandemic which I’m really sorry about. Do you feel that the album was a cathartic way to deal with the grief process?

Well, there’s lots of love letters to various people. To three people in particular.

Including your son.

Yeah! I promised him that we’re gonna see flamingos again after the pandemic. I thought it was a really great line for a lyric. I wrote a song called ‘Flamingo’, that’s also about just waiting around. It’s about sitting around waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the band to come on, wanting to write a song. Then thinking about my dad and him passing away. ‘When the tide comes in, I will see you again, my best friend’. And then Morgan (Tim’s son) comes into it. It’s like a life cycle. waiting around. You know, it’s quite morbid, you could say, waiting around to die or waiting around to live. I wait around to live.

You are definitely a glass-half-full kind of person. I think it’s really testament to you that you can create something so beautiful in what was such an arduous time.

Thank you, you know, it’s mad, I was on a plane yesterday, and I got pulled over by security. He said, ‘thanks for the listening party – you can go!’

Oh, that’s so nice!

The amount of people that say that now – it’s such an amazing thing, because I was writing the album and doing the listening parties at the same time.

That must have been quite difficult to balance both. Were you getting inspired by doing the listening parties?

Yes, knowing that there’s thousands of people all over the world listening to it on record, watching the tweets done by somebody who was very involved in the album. It was very, very sensitive to me and I could feel the power of people listening. Yeah!

I definitely get that vibe. Music is such a strong connection. I know connection is such an important part of this album in itself, but it’s also the platform you’ve given to other people as well. You’ve done listening parties for huge artists like Paul McCartney, but also you’ve given a platform to artists like Teenage Waitress. To give people that kind of platform and awareness, it’s priceless really.

Thank you! I thought the listening parties were gonna last three weeks, so I thought I’m going to try to make three weeks worth of listening to artists that are all so solid that no one’s going to be able to knock it down.

Do you think you’re going to keep going?

Definitely! I can’t do them as often as I could, because I’ve been touring. So I’m doing them on my days off. There was a big John Lennon one the other day. I’ve got some really big ones coming up. It’s gonna be great!

If you could pick your favourite listening parties, what would they be and why?

(Tim is visibly thinking hard here!)

Iron Maiden as the amount of effort that went into it for them. Bruce, did a video that he shared to all his followers. It was months of preparation and it was just very exciting. I’m not really into breaking records, but within 45 seconds of the first track, they were trending at number one.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? That’s the power of social media and music combined!

For Iron Maiden, within 24 hours, they were number one on the listening party replay. So when we were asleep, everyone in Paraguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil was listening, and it went to 70,000 replays overnight.

That’s crazy! I’m still feeling the sense of excitement you had when you announced that Paul McCartney was going to do a listening party.

I was gonna say that Paul McCartney is in my Top 3! He really got involved and he doesn’t have to, you know… he doesn’t have to do anything.

Yeah, he’s Paul McCartney!

But he did and then he headlined Glastonbury! You know, it was fun. I also really enjoyed Mickey Dolenz. I used to in the early days, let me go get this photograph here. Just indulge me!

(shows a fabulous photograph of Tim in the USA with a Dolenz style hair cut)

Yeah. I love that! That’s a great shot.

That was like 1991. Yeah Kylie was also fantastic. I was driving to Rockfield and then heard that Kylie wanted to do a listening party tomorrow and if we could make it happen? So I had to pull over and get things organised. It was very exciting!

(slightly excited!) Liz Truss has just resigned!

Really?! Did you see the lettuce meme that’s been out there?

I just think it’s hilarious!

Going back to ‘Typical Music’ the single has a very cool video, directed by Kevin Godley. It really captures the essence of the song. Did you have a collaborative approach to the video?

I’ve known Kevin for a long time and he’s done Charlatans videos in the past. I’m obsessed with an album by 10CC called ‘Sheet Music’. It’s incredible! One of the tracks is called ‘The Worst Band In The World’.

I love that. You can’t go wrong with a title like that.

Exactly! That’s why I got in contact with him again, because I thought he’s gonna love this album. I don’t really care what he does. He’ll come up with something and there were three ideas for both videos just based on listening to the music, he kept saying it was surf punk and new age, but he also said cartoon music and collage music, and I was like ‘you’ve fucking hit the nail on?’ 

That is exactly what it is because in a cartoon, there’s just so much action in such a short amount of time. That’s why I wanted to create something that I’ve never really heard of before. I have to give credit to Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan for understanding my aesthetic and going with it too. I gave them the freedom to be able to explore their craft as well and they really understand me.

Creativity is so important and you’re so creative in every aspect of how you are, how you dress, the album, it’s like a fizzy drink just bubbling away. 

That’s great. Yeah, that’s great!

When you mentioned earlier about the Kylie listening party, you were on your way to Rockfield. There must be some mixed emotions and memories of it. How was it going back to record there? 

Rob Collins is a massive, massive part of my life and one of the most creative musicians that I’ve met. It was good to go and meet him again. Does that make sense? He died at the bottom of Brookfield Drive in the field there and I’d go every morning and just have a cup of tea and just think. I wouldn’t have even been here if not for him. He’s still a part of my musical life.

We finished the (Charlatans) album off there because it was the obvious thing to do. But then we didn’t really go back there. 

Touching on the new album, you said to me earlier that you want to treat every single track equally. Do you have a song that is more meaningful to you or do you favour them all equally?

Well, I think they all serve different purposes. You know ‘Sooner than Yesterday’ is one to play on Halloween ‘When I See You’ is like a romantic novel.

I really love the last track ‘What’s Meant For You Won’t Pass You By’. 

Yeah! I heard it was like a Scottish saying and I really liked it. I wanted to write a song about it. And I felt that the album needed a great ending.

It’s definitely a great ending!

In some ways, if there is a story or an arc of the album, it’s about hoping for something. Seeing something, letting something go. Shape-shifting you know. Did I say skin-shedding?

No, but that makes total sense.

It’s cremation. Going through portals into other worlds. The track is kind of like being resigned to the fact that he made it through. There’s a moment in that song in ‘L.O.S.T.’ where it turns into doom metal. You have been crushed and spat out again into a new world and that’s kind of what it is. You’ve just thinking, well, that’s it, life has changed. And here I am!

Do you get inspired by a situation that creates a lyric? Or do you hit a melody first? What tends to come first for you?

Well, you know, going back to the White Room really and the time of day and the capo. In that room, it becomes part of you. I find a chord that I like, it might not happen straight away. Then I find something that I like and it just resonates.  It’s just the way that my body’s working that day. The guitar close to this (points to his heart)

Yeah, it almost feels like there’s no kind of definition between the guitar and your heart. It’s becoming one thing? That completely makes sense. I saw on Instagram that you were writing a song with Mark (The Charlatans) . Can we see a new Charlatans album coming out soon?

Well, it should have been out already. We’re just taking a long time, not because we’re struggling for ideas, it’s mostly because of getting everyone in the same room. We have to be together. And it’s just getting us together. So, yes, it’s happening but who knows when?!

It’s gonna be within 10 years even if we record it next year or the year after.

As I said before, some things are worth waiting for, aren’t they. You’ve had an amazing career, both solo as well in The Charlatans. If you give any advice to your younger self starting out in the industry what would it be and why?

I have a tendency to think too much. So try and always live in the moment. Yeah. Don’t think about things too much. Yeah!

I think you’re right, the past doesn’t exist anymore and the future hasn’t happened. So living in the moment is probably the best way to be really.

Yeah! I love meditation. I do it everyday but I haven’t this morning, so I failed!

Your secret’s safe with me (and the Clash readers of course). You can do it after this interview Tim! Do you have a standout moment from your career where you think, ‘I can’t believe this happened?’ 

There’s been a series of people that I’ve met along the way which have been amazing, you know? I do a lot of things and I think my energy really is the key to everything that I do, but I get a lot of help. I’m really thankful for Thighpaulsandra and Daniel for understanding my aesthetic and giving it a real crystal clear purpose. 

I’m really grateful for Sean Lennon and Yoko. We were supposed to have a one hour listening party.  Yoko was talking with Sean. Ringo and Paul McCartney were involved. It went through an hour and then another hour and then it just went on and on.

The 16 year old me wouldn’t believe it. These are the moments you know, going on Top Of The Pops, getting a number one album. The listening party with Iron Maiden when they were trending number one on Twitter. They were so pleased with that achievement. 

It’s incredible. You’re such a giving person to artists and to fans as well. 

That’s really nice that you say that, thank you.

You’ve got the second Tim’s Twitter Listening Party book coming out next month. The album’s out, you’re touring in the UK next month too. What else is coming up for Tim Burgess?

I’ve only got five days scheduled at the moment for the tour. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be playing festivals with ‘Typical Music’. I’d also like to play in Ireland and do some festivals in Spain.

‘Typical Music’ is out now via Bella Union.

Words: Emma Harrison // @EmmaHWriter

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