The CharlatansCherished English indie-rockers The Charlatans have today released their 13th album, Different Days; Paul Jones conducted an extended interview with keys player Tony Rogers about the follow-up to the acclaimed Modern Nature (2015).

Congratulations on the new album. I’m enjoying it. There’s some strong music on there.

Thank you very much. We always start as we mean to carry on. We came off the last album with feeling a little bit depressed and trying to cheer ourselves up following the loss of Jonny Brooks. So it was a bit of a challenge, again, to not have to think about things like that. But where we left off on the last album, we carried on from this album, so we’re on a bit of a roll.

The recording of Different Days was quite a change then after Modern Nature?

It was hard recording Modern Nature; we had to get into a different mindset. There’s a lot of people who are spiritual and some people aren’t, you know what I mean? I’m quite spiritual, and Jon was. So with this album, I had to make sure that he was okay, or make sure in my own head that he was okay with this whole thing. We just had to leave things as they were and just move on and be happy, ‘cause that’s what he would’ve wanted. So this album was a lot easier for me. We were in a good headspace.

That’s good to hear. As a band, you have an innate ability to pick yourselves up and keep moving forward.

We have to. What are you meant to do? You can’t pack in. The bandmembers who have gone before us would’ve done the same. They’d want you to carry on. The name of the band was so important to all of us – The Charlatans as a band means so much to us. It’s not about individual people, it’s about a collective. We’re a collective, and everyone who comes into this fold really, really appreciates what The Charlatans mean. We’ve  got Pete [Salisbury, drums] at the moment. He came from The Verve, and this band means so much to him too. When you come into it, you have to be passionate about it and that’s the whole thing about The Charlatans. It’s very easy for every single one of us to go off and make a record; that’s the easy route, really. But we’ve got five people, and to collectively make an album which is worth listening to is a harder cast than one person going off and making a solo album. We’re passionate about working together as artists, and making a good record.

What was the writing process like for Different Days? Did you meet in the studio and start writing, or did you come together with demos and start bouncing ideas off each other?

We all write individually; the whole band does. We have individual ideas and we basically bring it to the coffee table. We sit down and work on every single one. So we might’ve written 24, 25 tracks, and basically we just picked the ones that worked together as a collective. There’s a few songs that didn’t make it, which, probably now looking at it, should’ve. But that’s fuel for another album. We all work together and we appreciate everybody’s inputs; I think the biggest thing is we respect each other.

Well, you have spent a lot of time together – 28 years now. There’s a real positive feel to the album. 

Well, we used to hang out a hell of a lot together. As we’ve got older, we don’t need to do that anymore. We just know what each other is thinking. We have this kind of telepathy, I suppose – we know which way to go. I tell you what, it’s always fun when you’ve got a good song to work on. When you’ve got a song that you’re not sure about, that makes it difficult, but when a song is good, when it’s got a great vibe, you’re throwing yourself into it. “I want to do a bit more”,  “I want to do this”, “I want to do that.” We’re fighting for the studio time to finish it off.

I think that’s what this album’s proved, because although it sounded like it took a long time – we went in there in September and we finished in January – we actually only did two weeks in each month.  So in all, ten, twelve weeks and it was finished. I know it sounds a long time in a studio environment, but it’s easily eaten up. For us, we did it very quickly and only because we enjoyed doing it. When you’ve got a dodgy tune you think is not working, we always put it to sleep, and we just work on the ones that do work.

I liked the spoken word and the instrumental sections between the tracks – it has a real ‘concept album’ feel to it.  Where did that idea come from?

Well, this is the 13th album. How do we carry on? We can’t just do something that sounds the same and feels the same – we need to add something. Somebody mentioned the idea of working with our friends.  And the whole idea [was], it’s not just about music. A lot of our friends are poets [and] authors, so we wanted to get them to do something because that’s as much a part of art as a piano player or a guitarist. So Tim [Burgess, vocalist] is friends with them on Twitter, and we’re big fans of theirs, so we asked them to contribute their ideas through words. It just made more sense to get people to come and guest rather than  for us to do an album on our own again.

I’m interested in digging deeper into that. With the musical collaborations you have on Different Days, how did you identify who you wanted to work with on each track?  Did you listen to a track and think ‘We want Johnny Marr for this one, Paul Weller for that one’?

Yeah, basically. We had a song and we thought ‘Who could we have play on this?’ It became obvious to us when we listened to it who we wanted for it. We’ve only got a few f-cking mates [laughs].

What level of input did they have? Did they help write the song or just come in and put their style on it?

The songs were 98.99 percent complete; the vocals and everything were done. We pulled down what we didn’t want them to hear. It was so obvious that Johnny was going to play in songs like Plastic Machinery; that was perfect for him. He played harmoniously with the piano, you know what I mean? I’m sitting there playing the piano and he’s f-cking playing away on the guitar. It’s like we’ve been in the band for 28 f-cking years. It’s incredible how things like that work out. But that’s how it is: you kind of instinctively know that he’d be good on a certain track. It’s not written towards that person, it’s just that you know for a fact that it lends itself to Johnny Marr, or this lends itself to Stephen Morris and Gillian [Gilbert]. They worked more on the rhythm thing with synths.

I know you were out here last year, but any plans to come out again to tour the album?

I always plan to come out there, I always do. I’ve got two daughters who live out there.

Whereabouts?

Perth, in WA.  I always love coming out there. It’s just one of those places that in the early days never got toured, and now all of a sudden it’s always on our roster. It’s on our f-cking list of places to go and it’s become as important to play there as it has London.

That’s good to hear.

It has to be. It’s important to play there – we want to take our records all over the world.  We’ve always wanted to do that. When we released Telling Stories we never got a chance to go to Australia, but the last three albums we have. It’s proving beneficial to us and to the people out there.

Do you ever get fed up with the front rows of pissed up 50-year-old ex-pats jumping around to Sproston Green?

Do you know what? That’s just like playing Manchester on a Friday night. That’s who we’re playing to – the people who couldn’t get to Manchester on the Friday night come to the gig on the Monday in Australia. That doesn’t bother us. You know what? If they buy the record, we’ll play for them.

You lads have a prolific writing rate: an album practically every two years.  What’s the secret? That’s unheard of these days.

I reckon we could’ve probably put out two albums this year! I think sometimes when you’ve got something to write about and you’ve got something to sing about or play about, things like that come very easily. We’re fortunate that we can get together and make a good record, and enjoy making music together.

So the chemistry is clearly still there when you get together to write?

Chemistry’s really good. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, we live miles away from each other: I live in Ireland and the rest of the lads are spread out across the UK. When we get together it’s like you’re best mates. You meet up again and you go for a beer, on the piss and have a few – although there’s a couple of non-drinkers in the band now.

Dare I say a family?

I think we are family.  I think we’ve been together long enough that if we split up there’d be a f-cking divorce case.

Do you ever take the time to reflect on your career and look what we’ve achieved thus far?

Well, I always think we could’ve achieved more.

In what way?

I think that’s what keeps us going. I think we’re still hungry. We’ve always done well in the UK, Ireland, and parts of Europe, but we always wanted to spread out internationally.  And we did okay in America but it was never on the global scale, do you know what I mean? I think that’s what keeps us hungry.  Globally we’ve done okay but definitely not in the f-cking kind of Cold Patrol or Snowplay or whatever the f-ck they’re called [laughs]? Never on that scale, but we’ve always thought we could. I think we’ve always tried to be leaders rather than followers in music.

You talk about success in the States. In America is there a similar following to Australia, with a lot of ex-pats, or are there many Americans into the band as well?

No, there’s not many ex-pats at all. When you play in New York, it’s I would say 95 percent are all New Yorkers.

Finally, is Tim still sporting that mad Brian Jones haircut?

He is, yeah. You know what, at least he’s got f-cking hair to do it [laughs]. There’s plenty of people who lose their hair by that age, you know what I mean?

[Laughs] Pleasure talking to you, Tony.

And you, Paul. Listen, I’ll see you when we get over there. God bless.

Different Days is out now via Liberator.

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