Tim Burgess Sheds Light on His Latest Album, Typical Music
PHOTOGRAPHY by DAVID EMERY
“When I watch the weirder parts of [David Lynch series] Twin Peaks, those moments describe what my mind is like. Quite surreal and tripped out, and very blissful.” Tim Burgess is talking about his daily practice of meditation, but could also be describing Typical Music, his new double album. It’s a whirlwind of vivid, DayGlo songs, veering from Keystone Kops-y riffs, to droning mantras, to glitchy pop and the classic sound of the Laurel Canyon scene. The record overflows with ideas. Synths squelch and burble beneath Beatles-y guitars, Eno-esque choruses and guileless, bare-hearted lyrics. It’s a glorious, kinetic mess; seemingly opposite of the quiet, thoughtful-looking surfer with blonde tips and Doc Martens seated before me now. Brimming with so many musical ideas, I wonder if his prolific album is because of lockdown or just how he’s wired.
“Both! In confinement I realized how active my brain actually is. I wrote everything on an acoustic guitar, all 22 songs–with all the changes. Just moving from corner to corner of a single room and when I was ready, I called in some friends to make a record.”
The core trio of the record’s personnel was Tim, multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan (of Sunn O))) and Grumbling Fur) and legendary English sideman, Thighpaulsandra (of Julian Cope’s touring band, Coil and Spiritualized). But, as befits a man with the best contact list in British music, there are guest artists on practically every track. Nitin Sawhney adds synths, Helen O’Hara of Dexys Midnight Runners plays violin along with Belgium’s Echo Collective orchestral ensemble. There are jazz touches courtesy of LA saxophonist Sam Gendel and gorgeous backing vocals from singer-songwriter, Pearl Charles.
We just wanted to fill all the songs with as many things as possible, almost like cartoon music, for it to be that exciting and colorful. In my mind the audience would be wowed by these songs, with these amazing Zappa and Sparks-inspired fireworks going off. With a song like “Revenge Through Art”, I was channeling Miami Sound Machine. I wanted to bring Miami to Monmouth. Or a song like “Curiosity” which goes into weird time signatures and throws a bit of French in there. I’m very open-minded in the studio. I just see what comes. I’m always saying, ‘yes, I didn’t imagine it that way, but it works.’ Ya know, Fugazi and Brian Wilson, how can these things meet? But they can and they’re brilliant.
The very last track, “What’s Meant For You Won’t Pass By You” takes a sort of Buddhist stance but he doesn’t strike me as someone who sits back waiting for the world to come to him. “That track was talking about someone not knowing if they were doing the right thing, and I was telling them if it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. But you’re right. I go out and make things happen. Some of the songs are driven like that and some are manifestations. “When I See You” (an album highpoint, featuring a Kevin Rowland-esque, spoken-word description of the first glimpse of a new lover) is a manifestation about really liking someone, and hoping one day you’ll get together. It’s a love song for a friend being more than friends.”
That word “friend” crops up all over the record. It’s a very un-rock-and roll word. Was that deliberate? “No, I think it’s subconscious,” he muses with a shake of his blonde mop of hair. “My friends are important to me. You meet a lot of people doing what we do and the musical community is a very friendly one in times of trouble. But I’m 55, and my circle of confidantes has grown smaller, so I loved making a record with friends. Making a record during lockdown, without the support mechanisms, took you back to the early days. And when I’m making records, I want to feel 18 again. I wanted all of the friendship and the fun and the ideas to be living and breathing in these tracks. It’s been a long wait to put it out, nearly a year. When The Charlatans started, you’d record something and six weeks later it’d be released, it was amazing. But this year, six months feels like the longest time…waiting to tour and meet new people and get new influences.”
It not as if Tim doesn’t have projects to keep him busy though. Two books, five solo albums, nine Charlatans records, Tim Peaks—his own brand of coffee, and diner along with a co-owned indie record label, O Genesis. But over lockdown, it was Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties that took up most of his time. They were a genuine phenomenon that came from the simplest of ideas. At an agreed time, everyone puts on the record du jour and then the people who made the record, live tweet their recollections and thoughts about the tracks while everyone listens together in real time. From that niche idea, fueled by the lockdown need for community, the parties became massive. Every night, Tim oversaw two new parties with the likes of Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, Run The Jewels and New Order wanting to be involved. Iron Maiden even had 70,000 people follow their tweets. He describes the spectacle. Yeah, they got huge. Even on the way to Rockfield [Studios], I had to pull over because I got a text saying Kylie Minogue wanted to do a listening party tomorrow. I was like, ‘oh fuck.’ I knew people liked the listening parties because I’d done them for the Charlatans but in the first month when Alex Kapranos [of Franz Ferdinand] and Bonehead [of Oasis] and Dave Rowntree [of Blur] did them, it just went crazy. And after a while we had Paul McCartney doing one. For the John Lennon one, we had Yoko and Sean, and Dhani Harrison and Klaus Voormann and John Leckie. That one was supposed to only be an hour long and it ended up being three or four hours.
All this is a long way from his teenage years growing up in the parish of Northwich. “At 16, I bought [New Order’s] Power Corruption & Lies. It was on my record player for a year,” he recalls. “It changed everything for me. It felt like serious music. They were from Manchester but they had hits. And they hung out in New York. I thought ‘fucking hell, it’s actually doable.’ And Tim Peaks and O Genesis were inspired by that Factory and New Order thing. But now I feel that I’m speeding up rather than slowing down.” After the problems the Charlatans had, with [founding keyboardist] Rob going to prison and all that, I remember me and [current Charlatans’ guitarist] Mark sitting outside my flat in Salford, and me saying, ‘I just wanna be in a band.’ Because nothing was happening. Rob was in jail and everything was so slow. So there’s a sense of urgency now. I want people to say ‘wow!’ When we were making the record I kept saying, ‘wow, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard’ and I hope that transmits, and that just for a minute, someone else thinks that too. @ timburgessofficial