First Published August 2018
IN THE FUN BUSINESS
There’s very few things more exciting that getting to speak to an artist who’s just released a brand new album. One of the things that is, though, is when the artist in question has opened for the likes of Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, and Kenny Rogers. It’s not just that they’ve been around those artists who are legitimate legends by any fan’s measure, it’s that they would never have been in those positions in the first place if they weren’t something special, too. That’s just a fact. And Charlie Worsham, who has just released his latest collection, Beginning Of Things, is a monumental talent. Check out this album for all of the proof you need. Then go find his first album, Rubberband, for confirmation. Or do it the other way around if you want, it really doesn’t matter. The result will end up being the same. You’ll be a fan.
Another one of those things that just pips the excitement of speaking to an artist about their new album, is when you realise how cool they are as people way early in the conversation, because they talk so openly about matters like learning and acceptance. The people who talk like that have usually had their share of lessons and disappointments, but they’re still standing, still singing, still writing. And Charlie is certainly all of that.
Although his new album is called Beginning Of Things, it’s also his sophomore release. But with a title like that, I wondered if I’d be reading too much into it to think he sees this as pretty much a new start, rather than following on from his first long-player, Rubberband?
“No, you wouldn’t be reading too much into it. And it’s funny you bring that up, because I think that every album is the start of something new, if you’re doin’ it right. All my favourite artists, they never made the same record twice. And ‘Beginning Of Things’ is certainly true of that. And I think a lot of the inspiration for the season in which I wrote the songs for ‘Beginning Of Things’ had a lot to do with frustration from my first release not getting me commercially where I wanted to be. The beauty of ‘Beginning Of Things’, one of the new beginnings that started with that record, was me starting to learn not to attach my happiness to expectation. And the beauty for me, of being able to go over to the U.K. and tour is that I’ve had this record ‘Rubberband’ – cos’ ‘Beginning Of Things’ wasn’t out – but ‘Rubberband’ had been more or less a flop. But then one day I had a song in the show ‘Bones’, a song called ‘Love Don’t Die Easy’, and it shot up the charts the day that episode of the show aired in the U.K. And next I know, I found myself on an airplane headed over and I was playin’ songs off ‘Rubberband’, getting the kind of applause, and reaction, and singin’ back that I’d always hoped for with that record. Then I tried out new songs that were eventually going to end up on ‘Beginning Of Things’, but that weren’t out yet, songs like ‘Lawn Chair, Don’t Care’, and overnight people were singin’ along! So really, ‘Beginning Of Things’ is the story of hitting the reset button in my heart a little bit. Learning a little bit about life, and how I can’t control album sales. I can make the best music I can make, and that’s all I can do. So that’s all I do.”
To me, Beginning Of Things has a very different vibe going on than Rubberband. Now of course you don’t expect two albums to be exactly the same, but these two are noticeably different in ‘feel.’ Did Charlie put that down to a slight change of course – something intentional, in other words – or more so a natural evolutionary kind of process that’s been happening between 2013 and today?
“I believe the difference in sound was a natural thing. And I don’t think I’ve arrived yet at the end point. And hopefully I never will [laughs]. The reason that ‘Beginning Of Things’ sounds like it does has a lot to do with Frank Liddell, who produced that album. And one of the great things Frank taught me was that I could get a little ‘out there’ if I wanted to, and that was o.k. I didn’t know he was doing this, but he made it so that I ended up playing at least one instrument ‘live’ with the band that made it onto tape on every song on the album. So in some ways, ‘Beginning Of Things’ was a much more ‘live’ record than ‘Rubberband.’ And when I hear Chris Stapleton or Lee Ann Womack, or Miaranda Lambert’s records – and Eric Church makes records that way, the Brothers Osborne do – all the artists that I like to try and be in company with, their records are more ‘live.’ And I don’t know that I’ve completely cracked the code on my sound, I think I’m still chipping away at that. But I know that for me, ‘Beginning Of Things’ was a natural part of the process of moving towards making records that are more about capturing the magic of a ‘live’ moment, than they are about piecing together nothing but ear-candy, ya know. Which I love, too! A lot of it ends up being made on the computer and everything, but at the end of the day, I’ve spent most of my time over the years holding the neck of an instrument in my hands, not a mouse and keyboard. So it stands to reason that I should keep doubling-down on playing things ‘live’, because that’s something that I do that’s unique.”
Charlie‘s website (www.charlieworsham.com) offers a brilliant little story-of-the-song type insight on most tracks on Beginning Of Things, and what really shines through as you move from reading about one song to another, is how the whole process just seemed to be straight up fun from start to finish. I wondered how important was that in making Beginning Of Things the kind of album that Charlie wanted it to be? And also, was the process this time much different than it was with Rubberband?
“Well, funny you say that, because I think the process and the goal was the same for both records. There’s a great old Cowboy Jack Clements quote, they were getting ready to record, and of course this guy was a legend – he’s in the Hall of Fame as a producer – he’s recorded Charley Pride, and Johnny Cash, and countless others. But he was in the studio once, getting ready to play the first song for the band to record, and he says, “Fellas, we’re in the fun business. If we ain’t havin’ fun, we ain’t doin’ our job.” And that’s the truth. It’s natural to get in your own head a bit, I can over-think things, and if I’m over-thinking things, I’m not coming from the heart. I’m coming from the head. And it jacks up my confidence. And confidence is a natural by-product of happiness, and havin’ fun. So we achieved the goal of being in that fun, playful mindset differently on each of those records. But that was ultimately what we were striving for with both albums.”
In the aforementioned notes on each song, for the track Cut Your Groove Charlie mentions using the word ‘groove’ as a jumping-off point for his morning-pages. Do those morning-pages play a big role in his songwriting?
“They have now, since the notebook I got that sort of got me started on ‘Beginning Of Things.’ Looking down right now, sitting underneath the phone as I’m talkin’ to you, is my notebook, from one notebook ago. I still try to fill up a page every morning. And most mornings it’s terrible! [laughs]. But an old mentor of mine had a quote that crap makes the best fertilizer, and that’s pretty true! [laughs]. Yeah, the notebooks are crucial.”
With regard to Charlie‘s songwriting process in a more general sense, is he one of those writers who needs to feel ‘inspired’ to write, or can he chase down a song from idea-to-done in one sitting?
“I think that both are true at the same time. I think that inspiration does come in waves, but I think that what’s important is not to wait for inspiration. It’s important to try every day. And you have to be willing to write a lot of bad songs if you’re ever going to write a great song. You can feel when inspiration is comin’ on, and you can feel when it’s driftin’ away from you. The key is just to stay creative. Find a way to stay creative that doesn’t drain you, but feeds you. Actually, it’s funny you ask this question now, because for about a week I haven’t touched my notebook and it’s been weird for me. But I’m getting married in a month, then coming over to the U.K, so there’s all this amazing, fun stuff happening and I think my brain and my heart are overwhelmed! I mean, I’m still jotting down song ideas, but I’m at a point now where I’m trying to listen to my heart, and listen to that intuitive way of figuring out how to have that daily habit. I’ll get back to the notebooks in a week or so, because I don’t think that I should just wait for inspiration to come. I think all the best songwriters in Nashville, they write every day.”
Charlie has referred to the song Old Time’s Sake on this album as being the one he’s most proud of as a songwriter. I wondered why, and from when was that feeling present?
“It was throughout that season of making the record. It’s sort of like saving up money in the bank when you’re writing songs for an album. And that song stood out from the day that we wrote it. And I was really proud of it because I felt like it did that thing I always strive to do, which is to use my knowledge of where country music has been, to better push it forward into the future. It’s a great time in country music right now because we have a really huge audience, bigger than we’ve ever had. And country is a big tent, there’s a lot of different styles that fit into the country world. But for me, it’s where we’ve been that’s really important to carry forward, too. I don’t think that I’m a ‘throwback’ type person, I don’t think that ‘Old Time’s Sake’ is a throwback song. But I think it has nostalgia. I think it’s something that honours where the music’s been, but pushes it forward. I’m really proud of how the lyric fell out, I just love imagery like that. And you can’t control when those songs come, but you can certainly relish them once they do.”