Interview with Charlotte Hatherley

From the Funky Mofo archives.

Hey, summer is here! And what best to celebrate than a song about it? Well, that’s probably what Charlotte Hatherley, better known for being the guitarist in Ash, thought. Her new single, titled “Summer” (cunning, eh?), is out on August 9th and she is currently touring intensively with Ash across the globe. We caught up with her via email on her way to North America and it went a little something like this…

Céline: ‘Paragon’ is playing in the background, WOW, kicking! Well, Funky Mofo met Rob Ellis 10 days ago. He’s playing drums on your album as well as Eric Drew Feldman, a legend in the music business. How did you meet and decide to work together?

Charlotte Hatherley: An old friend of mine moved to San Francisco and met and married Eric, a fortunate connection for me! I sent her over some demos, and received an email from Eric saying how he’d heard my songs and liked them, and wanted to get involved. His CV is pretty amazing… Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey, Frank Black, dEUS…… I immediately said yes. Through Eric I met Rob Ellis, and amazingly he was up for playing drums. So it was just me, Rob and Eric in the studio, how very nice for me!

C: It sounds like the other Ash members are very supporting of you making music outside the band. How did cope with working on two projects (‘Meltdown’ and ‘Grey Will Fade’) at the same time?

CH : Half the songs on the album were written 5 years ago, and the other half was written when I had a month off from Ash last year. Now I’m trying to write on tour and use whatever Ash time off I have to write, record, and promote… pretty ambitious! I flew out to LA a month before the boys arrived to start recording ‘Grey Will Fade’, then hopped over to the Ash studio, then stayed behind to finish and mix mine… So it was a pretty crazy time, but really exciting and challenging, and very creative. Right now I’m touring with Ash for the rest of the year, so I’ll be unable to do any live shows of my own, but I would love to do that at some point, and the guys are very supportive of me getting out on my own, gawd bless em.

C: You’re still considered young and yet there’s no “teenage anger nonsense” or “sex-craving kitten” on your album. It’s very refreshing to see that young women of this age aren’t all like Avril “whining” Lavigne or Christina “oh, look guys, I’m covered in mud” Millian. Although you catalogue The Pixies, XTC, Talking Heads and David Bowie as your major influences, is there any female artist in the music business that have inspired you?

CH : When I was a teenager and really getting into music I didn’t really have any female inspirations, it was all Bowie and Britpop for me…. I thought Elastica were cool cos they had three girls in the band playing guitars, but my inspiration for picking up the guitar myself came from my big sisters, I inherited their guitars when they left for university and taught myself how to play. When I was 15 I met Ellyot Dragon, she of Sister George and riot grrl fame, and joined her band Nightnurse. She was pretty crucial in introducing me to good music, with a deep hatred of britpop she made me listen to PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, Metallica, My Bloody Valentine, and much more. She taught me how to play in a band and be a mini rock star by the time I was 16.
I must mention Kate Bush as well. I adore her and have been hugely inspired by the complete control she has of her image and her music… She produces and writes everything and her style is so unique, something to aspire to.

C: Eric Drew Feldman, the producer of your album, has done a brilliant job. The songs are clear and well balanced, easy and pleasurable to listen to. How great was your input in the production process?

CH : I had all the parts 90% written before I went into the studio, and have lived with some of the songs for aaaages, so Eric was vital to hearing the songs with a fresh ear. I was often dangerously close to overdubbing a million things, and Eric would drag me back from the brink of going too far. We went record shopping and I bought him all the albums I wanted mine to sound like. I had a pretty strong idea how I wanted the guitars and bass to sound and we would start there, and then Eric would make it sound better!

C: At times, it sounds like ‘Grey Will Fade’ could have easily been released in the 70’s, alongside Led Zeppelin or Patty Smith. Yet Ash’s strength or trademark sound (spacial guitars, rocking rhythm, simple and melodious harmonies, I can’t think of a more suitable way to put it into words) shines through. How do you write your material? Do you keep influences in mind, ideas you think of using in such or such song or is it more free flowing inspiration supported by what you’ve already learned and achieved within the bands you’ve grown with?

CH : Like Tim, I’ve written most of the songs on acoustic guitar. That’s always a good way of getting a strong melody. Then I’ll record at home on ProTools and write bass, guitar and drum parts, basically layer it with lots of different bits and harmonies. I think a lot of people have been surprised at how melodic and pop some of the song are… Maybe they were expecting something more obtuse and raw, but I’m a huge fan of Eno, XTC, Bowie and Kate Bush… Melodic songs, but with interesting, clever parts that grab your attention. If I have something too sweet I’ll try to make it more angular. That’s the kind of music that excites me. Some songs I’ve had XTC and the B-52s in mind, and others are very natural and free flowing.

C: Have you “tried” your own material on Ash’s fans and if so, what was their reaction?

CH : Years ago the song ‘Where I’m Calling From’ was demoed for the Ash album ‘Free All Angels’. It didn’t make the cut, but I did play it at a very small Ash gig in London. That seems very strange now! I’m not sure how it went down, I was too nervous to notice! ‘Grey will Fade’ was a b-side to the Ash single ‘There’s a Star’, and went down really with Ash fans. I kept seeing it in their various top ten favourite Ash song lists, and that gave me the confidence to take the step of recording songs myself. I thought that maybe people would want to hear more!

Right, I got side-tracked looking at Charlotte’s diary in the Ash’s unofficial website! Fucking excellent recipes about zombies, thanks for that. The album’s finished, I’m going to make myself a cuppa and play it again! Thanks for her time and we hope to catch her on the road or zombie-hunting at some point. Ciao Bella!

C.B Lux

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