Rising From The Ashes
Charlotte Hatherley talks to Francis Jones
New album ‘The Deep Blue’ seems set to establish Charlotte Hatherley as a formidable and divergent solo artist.
Whilst her critically lauded debut, 'Grey Will Fade’, was recorded with Hatherley still an integral part of the Ash set-up, ‘The Deep Blue’ sees her fully extricated and represents a significant milestone for the Londoner.
Nonetheless her long association with Ash means she maintains a strong affinity for Northern Ireland. Her touring schedule to promote ‘The Deep Blue’ includes a number of Irish dates, with performances scheduled in both Derry and Belfast.
‘I’m hoping they’re kind to me, I feel that I’m an honorary Irish woman now!’ she says. ‘I’m weirdly nervous about the Irish dates, I have butterflies thinking about it.
'It’s strange because I’ve played in Northern Ireland so many times before, but then I guess I haven’t really toured at all for the last year and a half. I’ve really missed it.’
It is not only nervousness and a greater sense of responsibility that comes with the recently acquired solo status - Hatherley has also been able to enjoy greater liberty in terms of her song-writing.
This is clearly evidenced by ‘The Deep Blue’, a wonderful melange of styles and sounds, it contrasts sharply with the shrapnel post-punk of ‘Grey Will Fade’, an album recorded whilst Hatherley was still under the Ash umbrella.
‘Grey Will Fade’ was bashed out in a couple of weeks,’ she recalls. ‘Whenever I could find the time. But, you know, that’s fine. It was good for me to get that out of my system. The record helped me maintain my enthusiasm and kept me interested.’
‘With this record, being fully a solo artist for the first time, there was a certain pressure, but it was good for me. And now that the record’s finished things have eased up.
'I’m glad I’ve got through the year. It feels like a massive weight off my shoulders, and now listening to the record, it feels like all the hard work has paid off.’
Certainly there is a greater élan, a greater sense of wonder and imagination at work in Hatherley's sophomore effort. With more time at her disposal she has been able to embrace a slew of influences and create a splendid record.
‘I had ambitions and expectations when I entered the studio. I wanted the record to be expansive, to have depth and be dreamy in places. This isn’t about the guitars, it’s about the songs.’
The influences and inspiration behind ‘The Deep Blue’ will surprise those who have cemented their perception of Hatherley as the axe-wielding heroine of bygone days.
‘Where ‘Grey Will Fade’ was punk-rock, ‘The Deep Blue’ is thoughtful. The first record’s doing that scratchy post-punk thing.
'This record is more Kate Bush, The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, the sort of music that I think people need. I am a massive Kate Bush fan; records like ‘The Dreaming’ and ‘The Hounds Of Love’ are so remarkable.’
The swoonsome, sugar-spun textures of songs such as ‘Cousteau’ and ‘Wounded Sky’ are perfect for Hatherley’s dreamy reveries. There is happiness and hurt, love and longing, an album full of personal epiphanies, ‘The Deep Blue’ is, in many respects, her coming-of-age record.
‘It’s a mixture of things. I wouldn’t say that it’s about being disappointed, but there’s definitely that sense of, "well you’ve been in a band ten years and that’s come to an end."
'You have to take stock, to ask yourself, ‘Ok, what do I do now?’ There’s stuff in there about relationships, about things changing.’
‘Initially, in fact, the record was going to be called ‘The Deep End’. But, I suppose, ‘The Deep Blue’ sounds more classic, and there are lots of references that tie into that title.
'Also last year was difficult in some ways and the title seems quite apt. Having said that I don’t think it’s a miserable record. I hope not anyway!’
Far from a miserable record, ‘The Deep Blue’ is full of glorious, transcendent moments. Collaborative effort, ‘Dawn Treader’, is one such song, its gorgeous melody elevating us out of the despondent drink, and onto a celestial and shimmering plane.
A solo artist she may be, but Hatherley could not refuse the opportunity of working with Andy Partridge, the XTC man bringing his songwriting nous to bear on the track.
‘Andy’s great, just so cool, a true punk idol,’ she gushes. ‘Plus he’s been and done it, he was full of advice, telling me ‘make sure and do this, don’t do that!’ In that sense really fatherly, actually.
'For me what was especially amazing was just to have the opportunity to see him sit down and write songs in front of me.’
However, collaborations are not something she intends to pursue to any great extent.
‘I find it quite difficult to write with other musicians,’ she notes. ‘Certainly I’d give it a go, but for me song-writing is quite a slow, personal process. Often it’s just me and a guitar, so it would be quite hard to bring someone else into that.’
Understandably Hatherley is protective of her creative freedom, a freedom which she has further assured by setting up her own label, Little Sister Records, along with her manager, Ann Marie Shields.
‘People can have quite painful experiences with big labels. If you sign with a major there are no guarantees about the release of your record.
'If, for example, they’ve got a few artists who they feel are in a similar vein then they might put your album back, not wanting to have too many ‘guitar’ records out at the same time.
'Also with big labels everything happens so slowly. Any sort of decision-making is drawn out. With Little Sister there are no such pressures. Everything’s doable and everything’s done immediately. It’s quite comforting to know that you’ve got that support behind you.’
Such support, the unwavering focus of her own label and the creative environment it fosters has certainly paid dividends with ‘The Deep Blue’, an effervescent record, slinky and sophisticated, possessed of an understated grace.
But despite the support network there are some responsibilities which the songstress cannot shirk.
‘It’s wholly different to when I was in a band. There are a lot of things I have to deal with now that I didn’t even think about when I was with Ash,’ she says, before adding, ‘Now, everything starts and ends with me.’
Clearly, responsibility is a positive and galvanising force for Charlotte Hatherley, not so much a burden as a creative fillip. Self-respecting music fans are advised to take the plunge and check out ‘The Deep Blue’ for themselves.