Released just today Different Days has been hailed as The Charlatans’ best record in 20 years. Mining the same upbeat groove as 2015’s Modern Nature, Different Days finds the band at a creative and commercial peak. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Tragedy has touched this band more than most. We spoke to keyboardist Tony Rogers about the new record and the responsibility felt by the band to serve the name The Charlatans for members past and present.
“The only plan we had was the previous record. We just finished touring Modern Nature and we were on a bit of a roll, so we just carried on. It seems to be a continuation of Modern Nature. We just knew that we were in a good place, feeling happy, feeling strong so we just decided to get down and carry on writing. But if we write 20 songs and only 10 make it, the 10 that we didn’t use wouldn’t be used again because that’s how we were feeling right then. Everything on this album was written for this album, it was basically a fresh start again.”
A strong work ethic is important to the band, always looking to move forward, being creative. Having formed in 1989 their output has been regular and constant even despite losing drummer Jon Brookes to a brain tumour in August 2013.
“There’s a few brakes there, 2001-2004, three years but we tend to keep busy. It’s probably good for us, if we were idle for too long I don’t think any of us would still be here. It’s just the nature of us, there’s five in the band, or there’s four in the band now but there’s no one writer. No one person is the key or the anchor for writing so it comes pretty quick to us.”
The band called in some close friends from the music community to help out on Different Days. Johnny Marr and Paul Weller got involved while New Order’s Stephen Morris and Pete Salisbury, formerly of The Verve, alternated on the drum stool. Rogers says these collaborations are key to the sound on Different Days.
“We’ve talked about it for a long while, this was the opportunity to do it. Tim (Burgess, Charlatans’ front man) and Weller had talked about doing a song together for many years now. ‘Spinning Out’ started off in Paul’s studio, Black Barn, and they weren’t doing anything with it. So ultimately, they brought it up for our album to see what happens. We brought the tracks up, played on it and then we played it to Paul and he said “Yeah, it’s fantastic. Work away with it.” It was always going to be the last song on the album, that song couldn’t be first or in the middle it had to close the album. We had the first and the last track of the album starting off and we just filled in the gap.”
Alternating the drummer was vital to the diverse range of tunes on the record.
“Stephen Morris, a fantastic drummer gives it a brilliant electronic, rigid feel. Whereas Pete’s style is more like Jonny Brookes, he comes from that era. Pete was the first call because he’s toured with us on Modern Nature. He got the ball rolling and we just thought who else could we invite.”
Guitarist Mark Collins got to fulfil a boyhood dream strapping on with Johnny Marr.
“Johnny popped up for an hour and ended up spending five hours with us and did three tracks, incredible really. Johnny had done stuff at our studio and we’d done stuff at his, it was a natural thing to work with Johnny. It seems quite obvious; Mark Collins was a huge fan of his when Mark was a young teenager and so I think for Mark personally it was incredible for them two to be able to play together. In the studio, side by side with guitars on. It was a lovely thing to see for someone to be able to play alongside their childhood hero.”
During a regular working week when the band can’t call on Marr’s legendarily adept flourishes Rogers sees his role as Collins’ right hand man.
“It’s like the second guitarist. We only have one guitarist so the organ would be doing what a band does with two guitars. It gives it soul I think. It can play many roles, on a song like ‘Different Days’ the bass is the organ, not a bass guitar. It can lay the bed or it can take the lead role.”
Before recording Modern Nature the band were adamant all the bad luck they’d been lumbered with wouldn’t have a bearing on the records they made.
“We weren’t in the doldrums, it’s very easy to go down that path especially when you lose a friend and close colleague. We didn’t want to make a sad record after John passed away, that’s the last thing we wanted to do. We wanted to make an upbeat record, I think it was a major milestone for us to be able to accomplish that after losing someone so close to us. That carried over, we don’t want to make dour records. All of us by our nature are pretty happy. It’s been going 27 years, I think basically we’re very proud of the name The Charlatans and we work for the name. We love going out there and playing, we’re a close family. We still have lots of fun on the road even though we’ve lost a couple of people on the way. We get up, dust ourselves down and carry on having fun. It’s been source for carrying on and making albums. When you make an album, you can only try your best. You go through the mill and lose friends. You want their name to carry on so everything you do has to do them justice. It has been a rough and tumble journey, but that’s what makes you strong.”
Weller and Marr aren’t bad names to call upon but for Rogers there’s another artist he’d love to collaborate with in the future.
“I’d like to do a song with Roisin Murphy, I’d love to work with her. She did actually come to mind for this record but I don’t really know her well enough, well I don’t really know her at all, to invite her. Everyone that worked on this album is already a friend. But I’m a fan of her stuff so I’d definitely love to do something with her.”
The Charlatans Different Days is out now.