Charlatans UK Tim Burgess speaks on free music

Legendary UK act, The Charlatans (known as Charlatans UK in the USA) gave their tenth album – You Cross My Path – away for free through UK radio station XFM earlier this year. I caught up with lead singer, Tim Burgess, just before the release to ask, ‘what’s going on?’ Once again, this interview appeared in print in a UK magazine, but others may be interested in taking a look. 

From getting together in 1989 to the present, The Charlatans have spawned a string of hits. They first emerged when they released the still-enduring ‘The Only One I Know’ in 1991, a track which put them solidly beside their ‘Madchester’ peers, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

They won success with their use of dance rhythms and psychedelic 60’s swirling organs, suspended above fabulous grooves and lyrically eloquent Rolling Stones-inspired songs. Albums ‘The Charlatans’ and ‘Tellin’ Stories’ underline their legacy, while collected singles compilation ‘Melting Pot’ is an essential selection for any discerning music lover, with its collection of classic songs, including the Chemical Brothers remix of ‘Patrol’ and eternal favourite ‘North Country Boy’.

Flash forward to the present day, and the band last year announced their plan to release their tenth album for free download on the very same day Radiohead captured international attention with that band’s announcement of the digital release of their ‘In Rainbows’ album. We spoke with the band’s vocalist, Tim Burgess.

Q: Tell us about your new single ‘You Cross My Path’?
Tim: I wrote the words on a day when someone said we were finished. It’s a fight back kind of a song.

Q: Does it reflect the album?
Tim:Yes it is a reflection of the vibe. It’s an up-tempo album, mainly quite lyrical with three chords all the way through. All the songs come from the heart, it’s kind of straight thinking in a way: songs about fighting back, getting older and personal stuff we’ve been through.
In my 17-year career I’ve been generous, then got greedy and people took advantage. I got dragged down for a while, but I’ve been drug and alcohol free for a year-and-a-half now.

Q: Why did you decide to give your tenth album away?
Tim: We felt that we were in a perfect position to do it. We’d just walked away from, what we considered an insulting offer from a record label we had no respect for (Sanctuary).
We wanted to take things to another level, and for us this was the perfect opportunity. We thought, “CD sales are in such decline, what’s the fucking point?” We decided unanimously to give this album away six months ago, before we started recording it.

Q: Why did you decide to distribute it through Xfm?
Tim: XFM listeners are into up-and-coming indie bands, much closer to our audience. I really like that there’s no passwords required to download our music, it’s free and easy. It’s a pure thought.

Q: Tim, you recently performed a song for the NME’s free, ‘Love Music Hate Racism’ CD, is consciousness-raising enough?
Tim:I naively thought racism had disappeared in the ’80’s. This release was to counteract the Nick Griffin CDs full of white British racist songs that were being given away to school children. We all thought, “fuck-em, it’s not cool to be racist.” The response was to release a free album with decent groups playing decent songs to show the kids that there is another way.

Q: What do you think of major labels now?
Tim: I feel they’re about ten years behind the times, all salary, no feelings.
When we were with Universal, they took all the merchandise money and half the live receipts. That became the norm. The majors want to own everything – it’s easy for them to get deals like that, as most band managers are just mates of the band who don’t really know the business.

Q: Has the music industry lost its way?
Tim: Majors have had it their way for a long time. As long as they’re making huge amounts of money they don’t care about anyone else. Music is about real human feeling, passion and creativity. The music industry is about making money.

Q: Radiohead announced the ‘In Rainbows’ album the same day you announced yours…
Tim: It’s incredible Radiohead made their announcement at the same time. I know Charlatans manager Alan McGee and Chris Hufford (Radiohead’s manager) both know each other and had been talking about such things. In the end I think doing it simultaneously has probably generated more coverage for us both.

Q: Is giving music away for nothing as easy an option for smaller acts at the beginning of their careers?
Tim: MySpace and the internet kinda makes everyone equal. I kind of think new bands are better off there than established acts joining MySpace and trying to be all cool. There’s plus points and negative points, but an idea and hard work will very often prevail. No one knows at the start if they are going to make it!

Q: Is the attitude to digital music different among US acts?
Tim: They’re really scared of it there. When Prince released his record through a UK paper, the music people there kind of brushed it under the carpet, pretending it never happened.
It’s about CD sales, really. In the UK, one person buys the CD for every nine who download it, while in the US it’s much, much worse than that.

Q: Does anyone really buy music any more?
Tim: I buy a lot of vinyl by up and coming bands like Hatchem Social and The Horrors. I don’t buy CDs unless there’s a track I can’t find on vinyl or I cant find it to burn illegally. CD’s have never had the emotional appeal vinyl has for me. I’m a vinyl addict. I enjoy going to the shops in East London to see what’s there.

Q: First music purchases?
Tim: It was 1983 when I first saw a CD. The first one I bought was (I think) ‘Low Life’, by New Order. The first record I bought was ‘Like Clockwork’ by the Boomtown Rats.

Q: How do you see the future music business?
Tim: The great Jo Strummer said, “The future is unwritten”, I think that’s good.

Q: Can you see the majors practising one business plan while everyone else explores different models?
Tim: No, they will have to change.

Q: How will you pay the bills giving music away free.
Tim: Hopefully we’ll attract more people to our gigs. I do think that if you’ve done something, you always get something back.
When we made the album, we already knew we were going to release it for free, then we realised we had to make it really good. We realised if it wasn’t, people wouldn’t be interested. You can’t cheat people with free. It was incredibly inspirational, wonderful, I think.

Q: Do you use Macs to make music?
Tim: Yes. Logic Express is my writing tool of choice. I upload my files into keyboardist Tony Roger’s Logic Pro.

Q: Do you have an iPod and what are you listening to?
Tim: Yes. I’ve been listening to a lot of New York scene noise music from the late 70’s and early 80’s; Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and James Black and the Whites, for example.

Q: Free or fee, why does music matter?
Tim:Music matters as a form of escapism, to solidify all the reasons that we exist with feelings of rejuvination, freedom and fire.

You Cross My Path was recorded in Los Angeles, Ireland and the bands own studio, Big Mushroom, in Cheshire and was mixed by Alan Moulder.

The bands website is available here. The MySpace page is here.

The band’s latest single, ‘Mis-takes’, was released earlier this month, it is available on iTunes, and here’s a YouTube clip.

1 thought on “Charlatans UK Tim Burgess speaks on free music

  1. We7Steve

    it’s one thing for well established musicians to be able to make the choice that they give their music away for free, but for many bands, to earn no money from downloads just isn’t feasible. At We7 we have the tastemaker challenge which allows even unsigned bands to be able to compete for the chance to get paid for streams and downloads.

    Steve Purdham
    CEO – We7

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