Tim Burgess

industrious to the bone, singer Tim Burgess is a natural busy bee, always involved in interesting work. With a multitude of projects on his to-do list actions are produced, they generate a constant task flow that requires his ongoing attention. 

A jack of many trades – singer, songwriter, producer, author, social media enthusiast, DJ and dedicated music fan – the Charlatans frontman has spent the last decade refining his ability to multitask, there is just always something that needs sorting. After a focus on other people’s music, it was time to bring Tim Burgess’s own music back in the spotlight, and this week he shared his all-encompassing, new double album with the world.  Marking his most ambitious music project to date, it’s a place of collaboration, where experimental, infectious pop unfolds. Working closely with Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan Typical Music offers a rich, adventurous body of work, while echoing some of his favourite artists. And this is before The Listening Party is even mentioned. The social media-based music project he continues to lead on Twitter unveils inspiring facts and rare insight on an album, hosting anything from off-kilter indie bands to some of music’s biggest stars. What started during the pandemic soon became a global phenomenon for both fans and industry, and a lifeline for many. 

1883 Magazine sat down with Burgess to discuss his new album Typical Music, the beginning and eventual impact of The Listening Party, and more.

 

 

Congratulations on the new album. The 22 tracks seem to mark a new time for you, tell me about the ambition you had. 

I had a goal. I had a copy of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me by The Cure in my hand. I thought, that’s what I wanted to do, something that expansive, and as colourful as that. I said to Daniel O’Sullivan, who made the record with Thighpaulsandra, the engineer, to let me know when we got to 16 tracks. But I ended up with 22 instead. 

Starting out, they were just sketches. We thought, we’d concentrate on giving each track the same amount of respect, make them all as good as each other, and then see what happened after that. I thought this may be considered to be indulgent, but actually by giving all 22 tracks to the world, it was more like offloading than indulgent. It was more like ‘look I’ve got nothing left, I’ve given you everything’, and that’s not indulgent. 

 

How would you describe the process of writing the songs? How does it feel to look back? 

It wasn’t easy, not in any way. But I had a lot of content within me. I dealt with relationship shifts and concerns about my son. I wanted to make sure that he was going to be sorted, to always have his feelings at the forefront. My dad passed away, we had Covid, I was going to be touring my last album I Love the New Sky. 

But then everything stopped. I spoke to the label boss of Bella Union – Simon Raymonde. I’d recorded an album, I was going to play it live, and was thinking about what to do instead. He suggested that I make another record, but I couldn’t help but think there was no story.  

It becomes tricky when the live music dimension is suddenly removed with little warning. 

The record becomes something as you tour it. You meet new people, you ‘find out’ what it’s about, when you play it live, and I didn’t have any of that. It was a struggle at the beginning because I came to the decision that I’d start writing songs, even though I’d not played the previous album live in March 2020, it hadn’t even come out yet. I was struggling, but then as I wrote one song, another soon followed, and it became easier after that. 

 

It must have felt like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders when you started writing the songs for what became Typical Music.

Yes, it all came very quickly. I wanted to get as much detail as possible into the writing, which was just myself with an acoustic guitar. I worked using some voicemails, which I sent to the other guys. I brought in all I could think of for the songs and applied it to melodies, lyrics and acoustic guitar chords. It worked out well, I wanted to apply detail to each song. 

Daniel O’Sullivan is an incredible arranger, I wanted to give him well arranged song material, and I wanted him to go even wilder. I also wanted to bring more of an electronic element into the songs, which I thought was a big progression from the last album. 

 

The electronic element shines through, it makes it stand out from your previous records, and perhaps it marks new times for you. What other influences did you draw on music wise?   

I really tried to reach for the stars, everything in my head has probably been circling around the orbit for eternity. But the record references artists like Jonathan Richman, Sparks, The Cure, Panda Bear and Shabazz Palaces, they are some of my favourites. 

I don’t know whether Shabazz Palaces are hip hop or they’re just guys who rap. I just buy records that I like, and it doesn’t really matter to me, whether it’s A$AP Rocky or something completely different. I also like classical music. 

 

Is there any music you don’t like? What about techno? As a former Hacienda club goer you must have had some exposure to it.

I have had some with techno and dance music. I certainly danced to Lil Louis’ French Kiss, and I definitely danced to 808 State, just all the songs that were played there. I had a great time at The Hacienda when I was growing up, I’d go there and just watch bands. I saw The Fall there a few times, Primal Scream, Deee-lite, A Certain Ratio, Orange Juice and Big Audio Dynamite. 

But then everything changed in the late ‘80s and ‘89. Everyone was going there and looking different, blowing whistles, which I’d seen before with A Certain Ratio, because they always had whistles, they played them, but everyone was blowing them while the music was going on, while they were dancing. 

 

Is it fair to say that The Listening Party mirrors the range of music that you like and some of the experiences that you have enjoyed?

People always ask me what my ideal Listening Party would be. I have a wish list, but whether they really want to do it, and whoever wants to do a really good one is something else. Some of my favourites have probably been Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp, Iron Maiden, and Paul McCartney. 

 

On a personal level, what Listening Parties closely reflect your own taste in music? 

More personal favourites are Julia Holter and Sofie Royer, who make music that I love, and I really like Weyes Blood. In my own time I listen to everything, and I’ve listened to everything as a Listening Party, but there are certain records that I want to buy and take home. 

It grew very rapidly, it took off in a way few would have envisaged, and The Listening Party Book II is due for publication this year.

It did take off in a big way. We’ve had John and Yoko Plastic Ono Band. We did that, and Sean Lennon was there. It was supposed to last for an hour, and it lasted for about five hours. Everyone was just like ‘oh my god, do you remember this?’ It’s incredible to think about the amount of bringing people together through music this experience has been.

 

Did you feel it was important to write about it and document things as they continued to happen?

Yes, and a percentage of that goes to Music Venue Trust, it was an important thing for me for a couple of reasons. One was to help venues that were being threatened by closure during Covid, and the other reason was that I wanted to make sure everybody, who was in the book, and were contributing towards that, got something. 

They were giving me their tweet for free. They were allowing me to make a book out of their tweets. So for them to know that the money was going towards helping people who were suffering through Covid was important. It adds more weight to what it’s trying to achieve, it’s just a good thing.

 

Tell me about how you went about selecting the albums/artists for it.

For the first three weeks, I focused on people that I knew, bands and artists that I wanted to build this really solid foundation with. Within three or four days, I had people coming to me saying ‘Hey, I really like this’ and ‘What are you doing? And that was okay. 

It was like my vision of building this release foundation just could not be broken, and I featured albums from Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, with Bonehead, Wendy Smith from Prefab Sprout, Ride with Andy and Mark and much more. And then I just opened it to everybody.

 

Did you suddenly realise that it was time to take the idea to the next stage? 

I wanted it to be worldwide. So I reached out to people that I admired because I knew that because it got a lot of press, it made sense to reach out to some of my favourite bands like Run The Jewels, Coldplay, Paul McCartney etc. 

I asked the bands, but people would also write to me, and we just booked a date, saw when the next available slot was. I’m trying to do one a day now, which was the intention in the first place, but it very quickly became three a day, and at one point, it was 10 a day. 

It was very nostalgic for first three weeks, but it had to change shape. It can’t just be nostalgic the whole time, new bands appear and the people became part of the promotional cycle.

 

It gave people comfort during a difficult phase in the pandemic, they could immerse themselves in the experience with music fans around the world. What things have people said to you about how The Listening Party, and how it helped them? 

Things like ‘You saved me during Covid’ that’s very common. And to me, it was about putting music back in the spotlight. It was a new way of listening to it, a new way of listening to music that was very inclusive. In a way it was very similar to going on to my friend’s house, when I was thirteen years old, putting a record on, and listening around the record player. It’s something brand new. 

It’s an engaging, relatable format, through an individual, but shared experience. 

And it had other feelings for me. There were feelings of hope.. I’m also a meditator, I meditate twice a day, on my own. I’ve done it with 10 other people, I did meditation with a 100 other people. So the idea of thousands of people, all over the world, listening to a record, while an important member of the making of that record reports on it, tells stories and shares photographs, the power of it is amazing.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about your experience of meditation, and how you link it to Listening Party.

The power of it was incredible. Because of its silence, you’ve got your headphones on, it was dark outside for lots of the pandemic, people would gather around almost like it was part of a ritual, get the Pringles in, and get the beers in. I have friends who made a date of The Libertines’ Listening Party. These are stories. It’s people finding some social life by listening to music again in its entirety, not just one track on a playlist by a band that they’ve never heard of before. 

 

Tell me about a moment when a big artist showed their interest in participating.

I was on my way to record the new album, on my way to Rockfield Studios, when I got the phone call where I was told that Kylie wanted to do a Listening Party the following night. I had to pull over to one side of the road, and I was there for 50 minutes, making plans, asking about artwork etc. It’s such a turnaround for famous artists. 

With Paul McCartney it took a few weeks before I heard back. Then it was two days with questions, answers, dealing with management and being sent records. Some people asks weeks in advance, but other times it just happens within a day or two, and that’s all part of the excitement. 

 

You also find the time to be with The Charlatans. What’s it like to be in a band with a career that spans decades? 

I feel like I’m in the band every single day. It’s really exciting, we’re doing a show in Cardiff with Liam Gallagher. It’s been a few weeks now since we last played with him, we’ve done four shows in total this year, and they’ve just been fantastic. Lots of people love his music, and it’s great to catch up with Oasis’ songs. I think we’ve been a really good match, and we’ve got people going crazy before he comes on.

 

How much involvement do you have with O Genesis now? 

I haven’t put anything out for a while, but that’s mostly because manufacturing costs have gone through the roof. There’s a huge queue worldwide, it’s a significant reason for not being able to do it. 

 

So you remain keen to release music there? 

I’ve actually just had a phone call about doing some more things. I’m doing the label because it means that I can focus on other artists, so my focus broadens. I’m excited to hear other people’s work, people that have asked me to mentor them or be involved in their output, and that makes me happy, because I can just focus on them, and not me.

 

Do you think your next album will be as expansive as this one? 

There’s no way that I’m gonna do another double album, immediately. I wanna go and collaborate, write for other people, do my label, just keep it all going around, and do the coffee…

 

Typical Music by Tim Burgess is out now. Follow Tim Burgess at @timburgessofficial

Interview by Susan Hansen

 

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