We sat down for a chat with the marvellous Charlie Hannah to get the lowdown on his new record Special and Different following our recent review. He gave us an insight into how it all came together, track by track;
Over The Sea
"It’s a self-help song, filled with titbits of advice and wisdom that I've picked up along the way, which is sung to myself or anyone else who cares to listen! It’s embracing a pseudo-spirituality angle. I'm really pleased with the melody and the chord structure of this one. Stylistically I was going for an Alice Coltrane ‘Govinda Jai Jai’ vibe. It's got an ecstatic folky sound that I've tried to harness that within the production. So it sounds like you have a group of people sat around having a good time with acoustic guitars, wild synths, glockenspiels and tambourines, and just some mics set up to capture the atmosphere… and that’s exactly how it was recorded"
"This one is about longing for outside validation or external achievements. It’s looking at the whole idea of praise. You know how when you were a kid at school, it felt good to be praised. Well in the development of our psyche, we start to measure our value in relation to that outside validation. And you develop that desire to please people, and to do things not necessarily because you want to but because it's what people expect of you, and because it will result in love and respect from people outside of yourself. It's something I've noticed in myself and in other people too, I find myself wondering “do I really want to do this thing, or am I just longing for a pat on the back?”, so this song is an attempt to poke a bit of fun at this stuff, but to do it in a compassionate way. Of course we do all want praise sometimes, but maybe we should be more aware of the motives behind why we take certain actions. Musically it features some fun key changes, and towards the end it does this cycle where it goes around every single key all the way back to the original ones, and the choruses get higher and higher to the point where it's almost impossible to sing, (which is very praiseworthy indeed!) and it's got some great bass playing from Luke!"
A Dream Will Have To Do
"Sound-wise with this one I was aiming for a chilled out George Michael 90's vibe, a bit moody, a bit sexy. It’s almost the law that any collection of songs has to have a song about a dream on them somewhere. And in this song the dream could be about anything... it could be romantic, but it could be about a goal you have in your lifetime that feels out of reach. Sometimes I can be very literal in my songs but with this one it was more about conveying a feeling. So the language is a little bit more flowery, poetic and imaginative."
Almost A Hippie
"This is the opposite style of the preceding one. I’m very much embracing my inner Ray Davies. This song is a mickey take at the types of people I've come across in life that are interested in a spiritual way of life but go at it from the same angle of competition or hierarchy that might be more associated with the business world. It tells the story of a guy who's been on a gap year, and now he's a graphic designer, but he has a spiritual awakening after some Hare Krishnas bump into him in Soho. Then he starts preaching to all his friends, goes to India and takes selfies but neglects to phone his parents or keep up with the daily things that make someone a good human being. But also in terms of my own life, I'm interested in some of the sorts of things that would be considered a bit hippie, but I’m also a massive consumerist, and am always looking to buy the next spiritual book that might fix me. So the song doubles as a bit of a self-critique as well."
"Navel gazing is an American term for obsessively looking inwards, and thinking about yourself in an overly indulgent way. This song is addressed to anyone that might find themselves in a social situation and start to question themselves, accruing those negative thoughts like “everybody’s out to get you” or that “everyone here is judging you”, and you have to pull yourself back and realise, “hold up a minute, these people are just worrying about themselves, they're not really all out to get you and most people are pretty nice actually”. When I was recording one of the Monotron synth parts, Kathie, my wife, actually called me from downstairs to tell me that dinner was ready… and I decided to leave that bit in. I thought it was funny as it represents me being pulled out of my self-indulgent fog, back to the real world."
"This is a really navel gazy song! As I've grown older I've noticed there's a certain type of man that learns to indulge in his melancholy, in the way that one might enjoy a fine wine or a mature cheese. And this song is poking fun at that feeling, whilst also trying to be a bit forgiving of that side of one’s nature. I've also got a really wonderful Cello player on this one called Francesca, I feel like she really added some class to the song."
"I got the idea for this song because my wife and I run a health food shop, and there's this type of superfood called 'Adaptogens', things like Maca and Ashwaganda, and they’re meant to help you adapt to stressful situations. Whenever I heard the name I couldn't stop thinking of having to literally adapt to a difficult person called 'Jen'. So I wrote this song about a fictional, over-controlling manager called Jen. When I was about 17 I used to work in a Superdrug and had a boss a bit like this, and I remember having to always walk on eggshells around her, so I tried to tap into some of those feelings I had back then, but also make it about someone who really struggles to stand up for themselves and explore that weak position from a more extreme angle, and how angry this guy could get from growing these resentments. Musically this one is a lot more aggressive, I went for a sort of glitchy experimental electronic style. In my vocal delivery of the song I think I might have been channeling this Scottish singer called Momus, who’s one of my absolute favourites at the moment."
Trying The Bed Out For Size
"This is another one that's a bit more cryptic lyrically. It could be about going around DFS and looking for the ideal bed, but it's really about temptation in a fairly generalised way. I had another of my favourite artists in my mind when I wrote this one - The King of LoFi recording R. Stevie Moore - in terms of chord structure and the frenetic energy of it, and I think that helped to capture the desperation of the feeling."
If Jupiter Was A Sun
"This one is actually an older song for me. I've had it for a few years now, and I've always liked it but it's never quite found it's fit on one of my albums yet. I read a book by the astronomer Carl Sagan, and he said that Jupiter was a failed sun. So I wrote this song about how in a parallel universe we might have had two suns, like Tatooine in Star Wars."
Into Another World
"This is a song of escapism when things get on top of you. It’s sung to a romantic partner or a friend, and is saying “hey let’s get away, maybe this world isn't for us”, and I thought it was a nice note to leave the album on. I was really happy with the jazzy chord structure to it, and I had Francesca the Cellist work her magic on this one as well."