Noise Annoys: Charlotte Hatherley interview, Women's Work festival
Noise Annoys catches up with former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley to talk about her long-awaited new solo album
IT'S been 11 long years since Noise Annoys spoke to Charlotte Hatherley, Sphinx-like ex-Ash guitar goddess turned solo artiste. Back then, the Londoner was about to unleash her second album The Deep Blue on the world, which found her evolving beyond the indie rocking of debut Grey Will Fade into more sophisticated, musically esoteric territory.
She seemed poised for greatness, with even her musical hero David Bowie moved to comment on how 2006 single Behave was "proof that Charlotte made the right decision to go solo," astutely observing that she "has a great voice and is very easy on the eye" before making an actual fanboy pun by stating "I still love you, girl from Ash".
Sadly, despite such high praise and another quality record arriving in 2009 in the form of the even more entertainingly eclectic New Worlds, it then all went worryingly quiet on the Charlotte Hatherley front.
In fact, she's only recently got around to doing another record: the PledgeMusic funded True Love finally got a proper release last week and is basically Charlotte's 'and now, for something completely different' moment.
It's a fantastically atmospheric collection of synth-powered, sci-fi-themed prog pop soundscapes which successfully blasts her into a sonic galaxy far, far away (sorry) from her Gibson SG-toting 'Charlotte From Ash' roots.
Coincidentally, I caught up with Charlotte on the very day of the album's release last week, back when she was still scheduled to host of a seminar titled What's The Score? at the Women's Work festival here in Belfast tomorrow.
Sadly, that's now had to be cancelled for "personal reasons" – let's hope that means she's just been booked by Jools Holland rather than anything more serious – a real pity for anyone hoping to pick her brains on how to emerge from an eight year stint in a chart-topping indie rock act and successfully forge a whole new musical career.
Thus far, in addition to her solo albums, this has included session and live work with the likes of (deep breath) Bat For Lashes, KT Tunstall, Birdy, South African music star Nakhane (for whom she acts as musical director) and living legend Bryan Ferry, plus a first foray into soundtrack work with her score for Gavin 'Moon set designer' Rothery's excellent sci-fi short The Last Man, in which she also made a memorable cameo.
Still, perhaps the following exchange will go some way to answering a few of your burning inquiries. So, Charlotte: in your own words, what have you been up to for the past 11 years?
"It's hard to sum up a decade," she chuckles.
"I left Ash when I was 26 and I'm about to turn 39, which is quite disturbing – though I'm always comforted by the fact that the [Ash] boys have hit 40 already.
"Since then, I've been mostly touring and recording as a session guitar player. I've just released my fourth solo record, so I've kept my own writing going on the side. So, I'm sort of busier than ever at the moment, it's crazy – but I feel really lucky that I'm still here in the music industry after all this time."
Well indeed – but what's with the big gap between records?
"It took me three years between the third record and the new one to write, really," she tells me.
"I took a big break and went on tour with Bat For Lashes and then KT Tunstall, so that was like four or five years.
"When I came back to songwriting, I just didn't want to make another guitar pop record – I wanted to do something different. I guess I always struggled to get rid of the 'Charlotte From Ash' tag, so I kind of re-invented myself as a really out there, sci-fi-influenced 80s pop artist under the name Sylver Tongue.
"That kind of turned into a side project and then evolved into the fourth Charlotte Hatherley record. But I'm still dressed up as an alien and it's a bit of a sci-fi concept record, so yeah – it's very different from stuff I've done in the past, but I've got to say I think it's the best thing I've ever done. I'm so happy with it."
Well, she would say that: yet hearing Charlotte cooing seductively on slow-burning, shimmery album highlights like A Sign, Hook You Up, Accident of Love and Night Vision (the title track of her recent EP, also featuring cracking synth-powered re-workings of Iggy Pop's Repo Man theme, Bowie's Absolute Beginners and the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love?), it's clear that this new diversion into machine music really does suit her.
"I kind of changed my songwriting from clever alternative post-punk, arty pop music influenced by bands like XTC, Talking Heads, Bowie, where everything was very clever and complicated with lots of different key changes and time signatures," she explains.
"Writing on a keyboard forced me to write in a much more linear way, so I deliberately didn't over-complicate it. The melodies are much more straight-forward and it's much easier for me to sing and perform live. I think it suits me a lot more."
However, it seems her guitars haven't been donated to Cash Converters just yet.
"There's quite a lot of guitar on the EP and I'm doing a couple of songs from it too. I feel like that EP is like a marriage of my 80s electronic influences with the kind of zoomy guitar pop I'm into, like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins.
"It's kind of the sweet spot right in the middle that I'm really into at the moment."
As for what the future holds, Charlotte tells me she's really enjoying being able to pursue her solo work alongside touring as a hired gun – though she's still as uncomfortable as ever with the thought of being the focus of everyone's attention.
"At the moment, I have the best of both worlds," she says.
"I really love being in a band and playing with other artists, and each artist I play with I take different inspiration from and it always feeds back into my own songwriting.
"But I'm not someone who's on stage with a solo artist and is envious of them being centre stage. I'm really happy being a supportive member of the band."
Worryingly level-headed, isn't she?
You can get hold of True Love via your preferred streaming service or via Pledgemusic.com/projects/charlotte-hatherley-true-love, which offers an exclusive, sexy, limited edition frosted white vinyl LP, signed EPs and other cool CH-orientated swag.
With any luck, Charlotte will be back in Ireland to play live for us again in the very near future. And, while she might not be taking part in Women's Work, there's still plenty of other cool stuff at this Belfast festival celebrating/encouraging women in music.
A prime example would be tonight's Queens of Rock live band karaoke at The Black Box, where punters of all genderings aged 18 and over are invited to unleash their inner Joan Jett, Patti Smith or Polly Harvey with the backing of the Girls' Rock School NI Band.
Tickets are £5.50 via Wegottickets.com/event/436887 in advance – have fun practising your rock goddess moves in the mirror.
:: Browse the entire Women's Work programme online at Womensworkni.co.uk.
THIS WEEK'S MOST ANNOYING NOISES: WOMEN'S WORK EDITION
Somebody – Dream Wife
I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch – Courtney Barnett
Lily Yeats – New Pagans
The Final Grrrl – Sister Ghost feat. Allanarama
Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Fast & Frightening – L7
He's My Thing – Babes In Toyland
Sheena na Gig – PJ Harvey
Divine Hammer – The Breeders
Queens of Noise – The Runaways