Interview with Charlie Simpson

It is a sunny Sunday afternoon in Kingston upon Thames and I am sat outside on the back patio of Banquet Records. There are weeds growing up between the cracks in the paving stones and it is quite surreal to be sitting in sun loungers, chatting to Charlie Simpson. The former Busted man seems to have hardly changed in the ten years since I had his poster on my wall, although his eyebrows appear to be better sculpted now. In that time, the variety of projects which he has done would put most musicians to shame. From the boy band pop of Busted to the rockier sound of Fightstar, he has now just released his second solo album. The acoustic feel has changed even from the first one, with ‘Long Road Home’ sounding closer to Bon Iver in comparison to the catchier sound of ‘Young Pilgrim’.

“It’s not really a conscious effort, I mean I’ve always loved rock music, I’ve always loved acoustic music. I think they seem weird because they came after Busted.” It is telling that Charlie joined Busted after seeing an advert about it in the NME. “The two biggest parts of my musical personality are definitely rock music and acoustic music which are the two last things I’ve done.” But that doesn’t mean he’s afraid to try out new things. “I do like experimenting with new music. I’m thinking about doing a band with my brothers which would be like The Postal Service, a bit more electronic.” It’s this kind of willingness to adapt which has helped Charlie Simpson keep going over the past 15 years in the music business and it is also what gives him his diverse range of fans. At his in store earlier in the day, launching his album, there is everyone from ‘emo’ looking types in Mayday Parade tshirts to teenage girls who must be ex-Busted fans to dads who listen to Biffy Clyro.

It is an odd sight watching all these different people queueing up to get their records of his new album signed. It reflects the way that we listen to music has changed and evolved over the past couple of years. Charlie describes the music industry now as “unrecognisable” in comparison to the one he entered. “It’s definitely got better for the consumer. Whether it’s got better for the artist or not is very debatable. Before I got into the music industry Facebook didn’t exist, Youtube didn’t exist, Twitter didn’t exist and Spotify didn’t exist. Streaming has undoubtedly damaged the sale of records.” Even the concept of having an instore show seems different because 5 years ago, you would hear an artist’s new record for the first time at their album release in store. Now everyone hears it two weeks before it comes out. “I know, it’s crazy! Case in point. I think people just don’t have any problems with stealing music or not paying for music. And I find that bizarre.”

‘Long Road Home’ features a new range of influences and recording techniques. “I wanted to get back to some of the stuff that my dad listened to when I was younger, like 70s stuff. I just love the way those records sound, like The Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash. There was a great year of the 70s on the West Coast of America where there was amazing music coming out, a lot of it on Silent Records. Sonically that was definitely an inspiration.” That inspiration led producer Steve Osborne to suggest recording most of the album live. It gives the sound an intimacy and a commitment that is a rarity on most modern records. “You don’t commit to a take because you know that you can do it again. So it’s like there’s a different mentality knowing that what you perform is going to go straight on the record. I think it’s more exciting.”

With an upcoming show at the Roundhouse, there is a lot of difference between cramming 100 or so people into Banquet Records and playing bigger venues but Charlie sees it as a good thing. “I write the songs on acoustic guitar in the form that you’re hearing them now so it’s much easier to make something smaller [like at Banquet Records]. I like doing shows like this where you can see people’s faces. I like to hear songs in their rawest form as well.” That’s probably one of the results of having previously played arenas. Charlie Simpson is always looking to change what he’s doing and with an attitude like this one he is sure to manage to stick around in the industry for even longer. “I can’t sit hear whining about [the music industry] because I’m incredibly luck to do what I do and there is still a massive wanting for music. It’s just somehow reaching the balance. I think it will come in time.”

Charlie Simpson’s second album ‘Long Road Home’ is out now