The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Praise Be! It's A Charlotte Church Interview
Luke Turner , October 28th, 2010 12:36

Luke Turner meets up with Charlotte Church to talk about Green Man, Tatu death threats, covering Iron & Wine and going it alone in love and music

Green Man, August 2010. The Quietus company think that we've found a quiet place to camp, a secluded field with no other people save a group of hippies whittling bits of wood to make signs or organic dildos or something. We set up our tents, and sit down to a pleasant ale. But alas! A camper van rolls in, enormous tents are unpacked and, worse of all, an amplifier and electric guitar are unloaded. The next afternoon, when our John Doran was trying to catch 40 winks, an impromptu karaoke session developed, tracks from the charts delivered via raucous guitar, lager... and the lungs of Charlotte Church.

Since emerging in the public eye as an angel voiced singer popular with grans, Church was then subjected to creepy newspaper headlines about her teenage years, while the ending of her relationship with rugby player Gavin Henson has been a constant source of tabloid attention. Whether or not you like her music, Charlotte Church is a forthright, independent, strong woman, a successful manager of her own affairs and, I suspect, brilliant at marketing her image. When I met her for this interview she was attired in “person who likes to go to festivals” garb, all dishevelled hair and green cloth. On her telly appearances to promote new album Back To Scratch, it's the pop wardrobe that has been selected. First on the agenda, though, was to apologise for the last interview I did with Charlotte Church. She reviewed the singles for the now-defunct PlayLouder website, and while doing so took a swipe at faux-lesbian pop duo Tatu, criticising them for their lack of singing ability. Their response was to use the pages of a redtop to issue a death threat. So, Charlotte, sorry for getting you in mortal danger...

Charlotte Church: I found it quite exciting to be honest. Russian gangsters with AK47, bring it on!

Did you enjoy Green Man then?

CC: It was the best festival I've ever been to, it was unbelievable. I've known about it for a while and it's such a beautiful setting and only an hour away. Jonathan was playing as well on the Sunday, I wanted to see John Grant and I loved Joanna Newsom. I had such a good time.

You didn't keep us awake in the end

CC: We were out all day and by the time we came back we just collapsed. On the Saturday we had a big day... tell your friend I do apologise. It wasn't even good songs we were singing, it was all Bon Jovi. I like these festivals where it's about the music and not just fashion.

Have you been getting into different music recently?

CC: I grew out of the R&B stage when I was 16, it got a bit boring. I've been obsessed with Jeff Buckley since I was 16, and in the past four years that led me to different musical avenues, folk and more rock stuff. I went to see Mark Lanegan recently, and that was a bit of a trip. His voice is phenomenal and I found it quite tough to watch, but he's completely mesmerising. I'd love to sing with him. I saw Iron & Wine and that was amazing, and I covered one of their songs for a News Of The World session.

Was the rise of autotune part of the reason you went off R&B and so on? You're always very vocal about liking voices

CC: When I turn on the radio it's just a horrible noise, nothing's organic, everything is to click and autotuned to within and inch of its life so everyone sounds the same. It's all so synth heavy with the same old riffs and I think come on now, branch out folks. At the top of the market it's getting so limited it's going to have to implode.

You've been at the top of the market, though, how have you found being there?

CC: This time there's no record company involved. I hooked up with an investment company to fund my label, but I'm going to buy them out of the deal anyway because I just want to go on my own. It's great not having to answer to anyone, I can wear whatever I want to wear, I can sing whatever I want to sing, if I want to start my concert with a Gregorian chant I can.

It's been wonderful having total creative control over everything, like the photoshoot for the artwork. There was so much imagery in the lyrics that I drew from what was around me, stuff like Sundown Beach. It's one of the most beautiful Welsh beaches, I used to go there when I was little and I used to live five minutes away from it. We were always driving down there with the kids. But yes, it's been great not having a boss.

I did have a lot of input before, but not as much as an artist should have to really be an artist rather than just a product. Nobody gives anyone the time to experiment any more, it's a little bit sad the way things are going, but hopefully more and more artists will be able to do it in this way.

Given that most bands moan away all the time, you seem very chipper considering you've had to do all this by yourself and gone through a big relationship break-up and had to juggle work with being a mum. Has it been a fight?

CC: I think so. In terms of work then it was kind of a no-brainer to do it this way. I wanted to do it close to home so I worked with local songwriters like The Druids. One day I woke up and decided 'I've got to go to Nashville'. I loved it, completely saturated with music. With everything else yeah it has been hard, but life is tough. But I am very lucky, I have two beautiful kids and me and Gav have managed to stay really good friends throughout the whole thing. Whenever I start feeling slightly sorry for myself I think of some of the pickles that other people are in.

You've been in the public eye for a very long time but seem to have avoided some of the pitfalls

CC: I think I am really quite honest, I was never given formal interview training so I learned through mistakes - like death threats from TaTu! On the last record I didn't want to give so much of myself away, so it was stories about other people, but I couldn't write so vividly. But 'Honestly' is the only song I've written for me, I love singing that and the middle eight is a belter. Also a lot of the last album is quite young, I was 17 and 18 when I was writing it so it's all teenage dramas, and at the end of that process the record company were all “there's no hit singles”. Obviously hit singles were written for people who only have a five note range so after that it was nice to be able to write for my own voice. Eventually I would like to do an opera. I'd have to go back to the world I started in.

I'm not very ambitious. More so now because of this album and I put so much into it [hacking cough] sorry that'll be the fags, but I go on my instincts, whether that's in my personal life or my professional life and that's just the way I have always lived. It's always served me really well. Sometimes I look back and wish I hadn't been so honest, especially because of the tabloid media, because they really burn you for it. And I've grown up in it, so of course my opinion is going to change from when I'm 14 to when I'm 16 to when I'm 24, they always trying to paint you as being hypocritical, but that's the industry I am in, and you've got to take the good with the bad.

Is staying in Wales with your mum and your kids important to stay grounded?

CC: This is about the longest I've been in London for ages, it's such a massive chunk of time away from my home and my family. I'm having the kids back tomorrow. I'm really conscious of how much I work, because I don't want to be away from them, and I don't have to be, so I won't. There's another aspect where I don't want to do every TV show or magazine, because for a while I was thought of in the same vein as a lot of celebrities who I won't mention who are famous for nothing at all except selling stories of their lives. Me and Gav did the OK thing because everything gets so twisted I wanted to put our side across and put the money in a trust for the kids. I want to be known as a singer, music is what I do, I'm not famous because I've had two kids and I was fat at the time, or I got skinny, or I split up with Gav or whatever. It was a different world when I first came out, it wasn't so celebrity obsessed. That all happened so quickly. I remember it getting bad from when I was 15 or 16 when these magazines first emerged.

So Green Man next year, you'll be playing?

I hope so, without a shadow of a doubt. If they ask me. Please put a word in for me!