Charlie Winston is one of the artists that is changing the way people understand and listen to music. His sound is not only unique and out of the ordinary, but it’s also incredibly catchy. Hailing from England, Winston has just recently released a brand new album entitled “Running Still”, which may be his best work yet.
In early December, Charlie was in town for a few days to talk about his latest record. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and quickly discovered what an incredibly passionate musician he is. He was a fun, funny, and an incredibly interesting person to talk to. I had a great time chatting with him about his music, live shows, and the music industry in general.
CONFRONT: How are you enjoying Montreal?
CHARLIE: Well, so far I’ve been doing a lot of interviews so that’s how I’m enjoying it. But after this one I’m going to have the rest of the day off so I’m going to go check it out!
CONFRONT: Do you know what you want to visit?!
CHARLIE: I’m heading to the old town!
CONFRONT: Oh that’s perfect!
CHARLIE: Yeah! I’ve done it before, but I think I need to do it again. There’s another side of Montreal I want to check out though and I can’t remember where it is. So I think I’m going to jump in a taxi and see where I go.
CONFRONT: Why not! You’re here until Sunday so you’ve got a few days to get to know the city.
CHARLIE: Yeah, Sunday. And I think we’re going to see Prince tonight, which is great. I haven’t seen him since I was 12, actually.
CONFRONT: Oh wow! But at least you’ve already seen him, so that’s pretty cool. So your new album just came out. Tell me about it, what are your favorite tracks on it?
CHARLIE: Well my favorite tracks don’t matter! What are your favorites?! *laughs*
CONFRONT: *laughs* I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet. I’ve listened to 6 or 7 songs and I find that the whole thing really flows really well, one song into another.
CHARLIE: Oh yeah? Cool! I’m really glad you think so. I don’t really have favorite tracks- not just for this record- there are some I prefer to play live and some I prefer not, but for me making an album is sort of like having a family. That’s how I imagine it, in the sense that you kind of build this house, and in this house you have all your kids, and you love them all equally… But some are most sociable than others.
CONFRONT: Okay, well how about live then- the “social kids” as you say? *laughs*
CHARLIE: *laughing* yes my social kids… Live, at the moment we’re going to try and play all of them. We’ve rehearsed all of them. I won’t be doing all of the slow songs- well there are only TWO really slow songs- and then I’ve sort of dispersed the rest of them into my set list. I just want my set to be very high energy. That’s what we’re going for!
CONFRONT: What would you say are the big differences between this album and the last ones you’ve done?
CHARLIE: Well it’s more electric; it’s more influenced by punk, rock & roll and hip hop, whereas before I was more of a solo singer/songwriter acoustic vagabond type. I wanted to let go of that image just because I need to explore something new. My band has been with me for the last three years, and I can’t guarantee that they’ll be the same guys for the next records so for this album I wanted it to be about the band and to really go for it with the band.
CONFRONT: Cool. What influences and inspirations did you use for the album?
CHARLIE: Well, when I came to record the album, the general reference point that I had was Beastie Boys, Chili Peppers too. I had jazz influences as well, and Nick Cage, Tom Waits, I mean it just goes all over the place really. I didn’t really think about my influences to be honest- these are very touched on conversations that we might have had as a band, but we never said “we want it to sound like THIS person” all I thought about was to sound like me. Nothing anyone does now can really be new, everything’s been done basically, so it’s more about how you say it. I was more focused on how I was saying each thing.
CONFRONT: In your band I know you have a lot of people that do their own stuff, like your drummer who has his solo album… Do they influence you at all when you’re writing?
CHARLIE: Not when I’m writing, no. Writing for me is a very personal thing. I have too much say to share it with anybody. My band all understand that and are quite respectful about that. What I enjoy the most is the actual writing of the song, because the writing is the thing that lasts beyond my lifetime; it’s the thing I’d like to leave behind of myself. Not with any focus to having my name remembered, but just to know that I can contribute to some people after I’m dead you know?
CONFRONT: Yeah definitely. Is that why you decided to be more of a solo artist rather than a full band? I mean you go by your own name rather than a band name.
CHARLIE: I guess so! It just made sense to be a solo artist because at the time I was kind of on my own. I did try to get a band together and just called it ‘Winston’ but it gets too complicated. I think a band is a band if you’ve all grown up together- it all makes sense. Because then you all think in the same way, you know? But when you’re piecing people together it’s a lot harder, there’s a much greater recipe for disaster. I think it makes things very clearly when it’s a solo artist and you pay your band to play with you. It keeps things simple.
CONFRONT: That’s a good way to put it because often when you ask a solo artist why they do solo over band, they’re never quite sure. But I really like the way you look at the situation.
CHARLIE: Yeah, well I remember playing with my brother when I was younger- Tom Baxter- he started off with a band called ‘Baxter’. He was trying to be fair to everyone but it just became too complicated too quickly. Everyone feels like they’re owed more. When you’re a solo artist it’s very clear; you get paid for what you do and you come and do it and you can actually enjoy it. And then it’s up to the musicians to do THEIR own thing. It gives them freedom to do their own thing. So it gives them more power in a way. Like for example my harmonica player Ben is no aware that he wants to invest into the future as well and he wants to start composing, so he’s now getting together with other people; producers and writing with them and stuff. If he was part of the Charlie Winston band he probably wouldn’t do that because he’d put everything into one gig, which then puts too much pressure on it. You understand what I mean?
CONFRONT: Yeah for sure.
CHARLIE: So it just kind of evens out nicely.
CONFRONT: So moving away from that- your single, Hello Alone- is great by the way, what was your inspiration for that song?
CHARLIE: I wrote the chorus for that song years ago, about 8 years or more ago. It just kind of came back to me now and then and I’d think “oh yeah that’s nice I should write that one day”. Then earlier this year I was doing the last remnants of writing for this record in case I found something new, I came across it and was like “wow I’ve GOT to write this song”. Like I said the chorus was already written, it was “Hello alone, it’s you and me again, how can we pretend we’ve never met, hello alone you might as well come in, we’ve been making friends for too long. The basis for the song is the idea that a relationship ends and you’re alone again, but there’s a strange dichotomy of being happy and sad in the same breath, of being happy to be liberated and free again- single, but sad because you don’t have that intimacy with somebody. So it’s really like the line between the two.
CONFRONT: Yeah, I can see that.
CHARLIE: I was in a relationship when I wrote the song, or rather it was coming to an end I guess, so it was sort of personal, but I was more writing about the notion of loneliness and how that can be not always just a sad thing, but a liberating thing as well. I tried to get that into the song, and it was really important to me when I made the clip as well that it didn’t go too far in either direction. There’s just this feeling of spontaneity of “I can do whatever the fuck I like now” you know what I mean?! *laughs* and also “I’m free and I don’t know what to do with myself”. I also didn’t want to have a girl in the clip because if I had a girl it would be too nostalgic and romantic, I needed it to be about the personal experience and not the romantic experience.
CONFRONT: Why do you think it took you nearly 10 years to record the song and put it on an album?
CHARLIE: Songs are just like that sometimes. It’s like I said earlier, they’re like kids, they just sort of show their face once in a while! You know sometimes when you’re growing up you always meet someone and you’re like “I like that person!” but you never really get to hang out, but you always like them when you see them… And eventually they come into your life and you end up doing the same job or something. That’s like songs really. They come to you when they’re ready. There’s no real reason, it’s just serendipity of life.
CHARLIE: Hmm… I wouldn’t.
CONFRONT: You wouldn’t? You’d just be like “listen to it!” *laughs*
CHARLIE: *laughing* I would. I’d just make them listen to it. This is my attempt at staying vague about it honestly, I find that as soon as I describe what I do it loses its essence. My whole mission in doing what I do is to try to create something that you can’t define.
CONFRONT: So when you’re writing your music, you don’t mean to write the melodies that you do? Because you have a certain style to what you do in your music. Is that not on purpose?
CHARLIE: Yeah… I don’t know, what do you think the style is?
CONFRONT: Hmmm… I can’t really describe it! It’s…
CHARLIE: How would you describe my music?
CONRONT: It’s a tough question. It’s hard to describe!
CHARLIE: Good answer!
CONFRONT: *laughs* that’s exactly what you want to hear?!
CHARLIE: Yeah! I mean why should we have to define it?
CONFRONT: It’s iTunes’ fault, you know they have that little category sidebar thing.
CHARLIE: Oh I know, and there’s only like EIGHT categories. In a way it’s better that way because you can come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really mean anything. They might call Prince funk or jazz or something, but he’s not funk or jazz, he’s done everything! As has Stevie Wonder, as have the Beatles. It’s just like WHO CARES?
CONFRONT: They’re just words.
CHARLIE: The only thing that really matters is whether it inspires people; moves people; touches people. The categories are superfluous.
CONFRONT: Where can fans find you from now until next year?
CHARLIE: That’s a good question…
CONFRONT: *laughs* Well, you’re coming back to Quebec right?
CHARLIE: Yes, I’m coming back to Quebec, then back to Paris, then Switzerland, Belgium, Germany… Coming back to Quebec in the New Year- although I have to fly back to Paris in between rehearsing in Montreal and playing in Quebec because, well this is very funny- I’ve been awarded the Man of the Year Award in GQ. Do you know GQ?!
CONFRONT: Yes! You get to go take pictures!
CHARLIE: Yeah, I have to go back to the photo shoot. I haven’t even done anything yet, that’s why I find it funny! I haven’t been around for the last year, so why they chose me I have no idea! So then I’m going back to start the tour, then I come back to promote my record in Germany, Austria, Poland, and then in March I’m on tour in France, April is Germany/Austria/Poland, and then in May I think I possibly go on tour in England.
CONFRONT: Wow you’re really headed everywhere!
CHARLIE: Yeah! After that I think festival season starts and it’s just all over the place. Hopefully coming back for Osheaga, we did that last year and it was a lot of fun.
CONFRONT: Yeah, I remember. Hope to see you there again! Anyways, thanks so much for your time!
CHARLIE: Cool, thank you!
Don’t forget to check out where Charlie is playing so that you can catch one of his amazing sets somewhere near you! To learn more about him, you can visit him at: