Tim Burgess On Self-Isolation, Social Media, And His New Solo Album

Clash catches up with The Charlatans frontman...

Tim Burgess likes to keep busy.

Frontman with The Charlatans, when not recording or touring with the indie legends he's got an active solo career, a series of books to his name, and even – in the form of O Genesis – his own label.

Somehow, in amongst all this, he finds time to tweet. An early adopter of Twitter, he's stayed true to the fun, mischievious, and care-free atmosphere the micro-blogging site had when it launched.

Turning a Twitter joke – Tim Peaks – in an actual coffee brand and a series of festival events, he's keen to turn URL content into IRL communities.

This week Tim Burgess launched a series of listening parties, with contributions from Franz Ferdinand, Ride, Blur, and Oasis, with more incoming.

But that's not all: he's also finished work on new solo album 'I Love The New Sky'. Clash phoned up the Charlatans frontman to find out more.

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Well, we've had Twitter Q&As, fancy doing a live stream DJ set then Tim…?

Hmm not quite! I think a lot of people are doing great stuff – streaming live performances for example – but I don’t feel ready for that just yet! I’ll stick with what I know.

The Only One You Know!

Ha! The Only One I Know… a listening party!

You were an early Twitter adopter – we all remember Tim Peaks – and this feels very natural.

How was your ‘Some Friendly’ chat?

I thought it was fantastic. It’s not the first time we’ve done Twitter listening parties and it’s not the first time we’ve done ‘Some Friendly’ but it seemed like it would be doing the same thing but on a new platform, with everything that’s going on at the moment. Also inviting guests to join in as well is a new thing, but seemed like a natural step. Keep it really inclusive.

How did you go about picking these people?

Well, they kind of come to you, really! We’ve got Alex from Franz Ferdinand, and he’s always pretty active on Twitter, and has commented before on the stuff that I’ve done, so that seemed a logical step.

Bonehead jumped in straight away and said he wanted to do one, and Liam would get involved.

That is amazing!

Yeah! So I’ve actually written to people. I wanted Brix to do an album by The Fall, and I’ve written to Stephen and Gillian – they haven’t got back to me yet, but I’m sure they will. Andy from Ride got in touch, Gruff from Super Furry Animals is going to do one. And I’m hoping that it just doesn’t stop. But with very little effort from me!

Both ‘Parklife’ and ‘Definitely Maybe’ are scheduled… turns out you were the man who brought peace to the Britpop war!

Oh! There you go! I didn’t even think about that! But yes, exactly. I always knew I had it in me, but for this role to be thrust upon me at this late stage is quite impressive.

It’s quite a strange period for the country. How are you finding it all? 

Well, the whole family have isolated since my son finished school on Friday. It’s a whole new thing now – me becoming a teacher, and having to sit him down and tell him that he’s got to do some writing… as if it’s a school day, but he’s at home. It’s all very confusing! When he’d much rather be watching his iPad.

There’s an adjustment, and I think people have just got to persevere with it, really. I’ve not been very well – I got back from New York with a really bad cough, and spent three days in bed with all the symptoms… and I’ve still got quite heavy lungs and chest. I don’t knew whether I had it, but I can’t think what else it could be. So I’ve been doing all the precautions, really.

I live in the woods. So going outside… if I went outside three times today I wouldn’t see anybody. Which is very, very fortunate. I actually feel for people in major cities. I can’t imagine not going out in a city. It would be hard.

Despite living out in the woods you’re still very inter-connected – from The Charlatans to your solo material and the O Genesis label – has the internet been a key resource during that?

Oh yeah. I couldn’t have done it without the times that we live in. I’m quite a busy person. I really love interacting with people! So isolation doesn’t really work for me, but I’ve chosen to do that.

I guess for an artist isolation is quite a good thing anyway. A certain amount of isolation! I’m quite used to staying in, and that’s when I write, and that’s when I get my stuff together. I do love having a connection to the outside world because I’d go crazy.

The new album breaks with that collaborative spirit, though – it’s entirely self-written.

I love connections. The Charlatans are the biggest collaboration, of course. And although I’m very happy with those connections I wanted to break the mould, really.

I think I also wanted to show people what I could do, if people were in doubt. It was important to put something together, like maybe a collection of work, that I had written myself. It was important to me – I don’t know how important it is to anybody else! But that was my drive, right from the first song.

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How deep do the roots go with this?

Have some of the songs been around for a while now? So I toured an album called ‘As I Was Now’ with Independent Venue Week 2019. So it was after that. I was inspired by the tour, which finished in February 2019, and finished it by October. It was 2019. Maybe about a year. Maybe a couple of things before it, but it’s a year’s work.

Written at home, quite considered, and then worked really fast in the studio. We used expensive studios, but two days here and there. As opposed to a cheaper studio for a week. I knew the sound I wanted, I wanted to go back to Rockfield, to a studio in Stockport, I wanted to use a studio in Belgium I had heard so much about, so I had to be quick on my feet, really.

Everything was written on acoustic guitar, seemingly.

Yeah. Written on guitar. And the album has absolutely no resemblance at all to this artist, but there was an album by Tirzah, and all her songs were quite stripped back and all written on piano. I always felt like my voice would sit really good with piano – although I don’t have one and I can’t play it, but I had to write everything on an acoustic guitar and then my friend Daniel O'Sullivan played everything on the piano, and we worked from that.

So Tirzah was the original inspiration! Although you could never tell.

It seems like Daniel played a huge role, certainly.

Absolutely. I couldn’t have done it without him, of course. He was working with This Is Not This Heat, and as I was working I’d be writing, and sending him stuff, and he’d be in LA or New York or touring Europe with that band. I’d get inspired by the fact that he was on tour, and I really wanted to write an album that I could take on tour.

We did a couple of days in New York, but so far the touring has been put on hold. That was another great driving force for the album, to be able to play it to people, and inspire people. Obviously live music has been paused right now… It’s worrying. I’d booked everybody to work for a year, and that’s now been put on hold. I’m hoping that it’s postponed as opposed to cancelled completely.

Hopefully everything can get back to normal soon. I feel a responsibility but everyone has taken it really well in the band. 

How do you think fans can get behind artists at this point? Do things like the recent Bandcamp initiative, for example, point the way?

Well, obviously everyone is suffering. It’s not just people in bands. For some people buying a record isn’t the most important thing in the world. But for people who sell records – people in record shops – it is the most important thing in the world. As long as it comes across in the right way, I’d suggest that people stay home and buy records from record shops!

The same with Bandcamp. My label O Genesis has some artists who pretty much make a living from Bandcamp, and they’ve been making the most of it, let’s say, online with the gesture from Bandcamp, and it all really helps. So record shops, BandCamp… all those things. They’re all going to be struggling – artists and record shop owners – and it’s certainly an important business to me… because I love record shops.

So for the next few weeks it’s going to be home schooling, some music… and Twitter?

Yeah! Throw some Twitter in there. The album is coming out, I’ve got lots of interviews to do. Need to stay chatty!

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'I Love The New Sky' will be released on May 22nd. Catch Tim Burgess on Twitter HERE.

Photo Credit: Cat Stevens

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