“I’ve had such a crazy journey,” admits 25 year old music industry veteran Charlie Simpson, who has now been in the business for a decade. Starting out as a beleaguered punk-pop heartthrob in Busted, he finally broke free of the major label shackles to play the music he always wanted to play; hard, fast and harmonic metal with the critically acclaimed Fightstar.
After reaching the Number One spot on the independent album charts with the last Fightstar album, ‘Be Human’, and selling out Shepherds Bush Empire with the band, Charlie Simpson is now ready to reveal a whole new side to his sound. “In the back of my mind I always knew I was going to record a solo record,” he says, “but I didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself in the music”.
Bought up on the sounds of Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills and Nash before graduating onto Elliott Smith and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie’s love for acoustic based sonics has always run alongside his interest in harder and heavier sounds. “When I was getting into metal when I was younger, bands like the Deftones and Sepultura, I also had a massive passion for singer songwriters like Jeff Buckley.”
Though he’s been writing acoustic songs since the tender age of seven ‘Young Pilgrim’ is Charlie’s first solo album, something he started working on in the summer of 2009 after coming to a creative block with Fightstar. Fightstar, by the way, are still very much together, just in case this solo effort causes panic amongst the band’s most rabid fans. “I couldn’t write another Fightstar record,” reveals Charlie of the time. “We’d burned ourselves out. We’d done three records in a row. There’s no issue between us as a band – I just didn’t have it in me to write another one that soon.”
Even so, Charlie still wanted to write, but found himself penning something rather different... “It was half scary, but half exhilarating”, he says of writing on his own. Joining forces with producer Danton Supple (Coldplay, Doves) and heading off to the State of the Art studio, the pair set about creating their own take on the 1970s West Coast sound. Getting stuck in to the classic guitars, together they layered up vocal and instrumental sounds but still gave everything space to breathe. Far from a slick studio product, this accomplished 12 track album oozes a vintage warmth, with its occasional imperfections and luscious melodies lending it a vibrant character and rough and ready charm. As the man himself says: “harmony for me, is my most cherished thing. That’s why ‘Pet Sounds’ is one of the best albums ever made.”
Playing every instrument on the record aside from the drums – Charlie is such a perfectionist, that he wanted to be behind the desk when they were being recorded – ‘Young Pilgrim’ isn’t just the sound of a well- known artist growing and developing but of a true home grown talent working at full-throttle.
Both melancholy but shot through with the sunshine of the summer in which it was recorded, the album is a laid-back, multi-faceted stunner, that should bring Charlie a whole host of new fans, as well as surprising his old ones.
The first single to be taken from ‘Young Pilgrim’ is ‘Down Down Down’. Interlaced with a tender string section and haunting overlaid vocal parts as well as rough and ready guitar string squeaks, ‘Down Down Down’ is a handcrafted, driving folk-rock triumph, miles away from the land of over-polished chart pop.
Another album highlight is ‘Cemetery’. Driven by a double bass, chain gang stomp, this sentimental shuffle looks back on the youthful days when everything is “an open road and there’s no real responsibility”. The track rolls into an exquisite chorus that gives you a tantalising glimpse of Charlie’s punk roots, while his vision for ‘All At Once’ was to “imagine if Jackson Browne had skiffle beats behind him”.
Hints of The National make themselves known in Charlie’s baritone vocal in ‘Upon These Shores’ while the vibrant ‘Hold on’ also sees Charlie experimenting with his voice. “There’s literally five vocals. I wanted to build chords out of them. There’s a Fightstar track called ‘You and I’ that we do it on, but I wanted to take it further and have the whole melody of the verse moving in chord formation.”
‘Young Pilgrim’ might be the first time Charlie Simpson’s ever gone it alone, but we’re already crossing our fingers that it won’t be the last.