Foto-© Sophia Kahlenberg

Charlie Cunningham gehört irgendwie dazu, zur Bedroomdisco Familie. Vor Jahren noch spielte er in unserem Wohnzimmer in Darmstadt, ein bisschen später war er bei unserem Golden Leaves Festival zu sehen, mittlerweile werden die Hallen seiner Konzerte immer größer – Tendenz steigend! Manchen Menschen soll Ruhm ja zu Kopf steigen – nicht so diesem wunderbaren Musiker aus England. Der ist noch immer ein ganz großes Herz, genau wie damals. Am 7. Juni kommt nun seine zweite Platte raus: Permanent Way heißt das gute Stück. Grund genug uns mal wieder auf ein Update mit Charlie in Berlin zu treffen.

Permanent Way is out on the 7th of June (woohoo!) – can you share what the album is about?
I guess it’s about people really. People in their interactions. Each song has got its thing, there’s probably a bit of me in there, but mainly it’s just about people and the way they are with each other. Observations.

I read somewhere, that you write about yourself sometimes, but are mostly trying to stay out if it?

Yeah, I don’t want it to be too much of a Charlie-Show, you know what I mean. It’s gotta feel personal, so obviously you’ve got to have a bit of you in there, but also there’s much more interesting things to be looking at than just me.

What have you learned during the creation of this album?

I think I had a little bit more confidence this time, because of it being the second album. Some people talk about the difficult second album, but I think I probably had that more on the first record. It was my first album and I really wanted to get that right. I feel like I did a decent job on that one and it got received pretty well.

Pretty decent, bloody hell, yes!!
So that was like a real load off, that was unbelievable. I was a bit older, you know, getting into this and writing a first album. I needed to feel established and know what I was doing. Going into the second one, it was like okay, maybe you know what you’re doing here. And I didn’t want to do the same thing again, but also I didn’t suddenly want to reinvent myself. I was just a bit more adventurous instrumentally. Maybe the first record was a very cohesive thing, you can play it and it fits in the same world. And this one, it works as a whole album, but it goes through some contrasting atmospheres.

Yeah, I get it. It kind of felt like it’s taking up more space than Lines? I was wondering, if that was down to confidence or if it was like, okay cool I’ve got the hang of how this works and now I wanna do it? That’s not to say that the simplicity of your first EP is any less stunning!
A bit of both. Definitely confidence, but also wanting to make some space and wanting to show a bit more of my other influences. The first one was really about showing the songs and trying not to fuck with it too much. To show the guitar and the voice and a little bit of texture. This one was wanting to go to some darker places, yeah taking up more space, that’s a good way of looking at it.

Is it, that the more you do it, the more you realize what you can do and what is possible too?
Definitely! It’s still starting with the songs, making sure that the song is the main thing first. You don’t want to be overcompensating. If the song itself isn’t connecting, you’re not gonna get there by adding stuff. The way I treat it, I guess I have the song and then I make it slightly more adventurous? Or slightly more cinematic.

I guess it’s like taking a photo. If it doesn’t have a soul, it’s not gonna help if you add photoshop layers trying to force it..
Gotta bring it to life somehow! Exactly, you want to enhance but also be respectful to the image.. or the song.

When you released your first EP’s a few years ago, you brought a fresh breeze into the singer-songwriter scene with your specific guitar playing mixed with your unique voice. What has changed for you since you started this work?
I mean the industry is constantly changing, so many people come in and out of it. But for me.. I played so many shows and travelled so much and got more experienced. But not too much. I still have the same insecurities I had right in the beginning. And now it’s just more people listening, so that’s slightly disconcerting.

Does it just become more intimidating as you go along and you play bigger halls then? I mean you must receive incredible feedback from the audience?
It really does in a way! You do get used to it, but I’m always so nervous before gigs. I don’t think that’s ever gonna stop. You just move the goalpost. Nah, that just isn’t getting any easier, but you just need to learn to trust yourself and see that it’s probably gonna be okay. If something weird happens, you’re probably gonna work through it and no one is gonna notice.

And if they do, they’re probably just going to cheer and be like woohoo, he’s also just human.
Yeah exactly. When you realize that people really aren’t trying to look out for you to expose yourself or throw stuff, that’s quite a liberating feeling.

Do you feel like you have a role in music or a purpose that’s driving you?
In the grand scheme I don’t think I have a role or a responsibility to anyone or anything. Just to myself really and just to make sure that I don’t get complacent with what I’m doing. Trying to be as engaged with it as I was in the beginning. And to keep the priorities straight, it’s really just about the music. As long as I get that right, everything that goes around it should fall into place.

If you could go back in time, with the knowledge you have now, what would you tell yourself as a beginner?

What would I tell myself? Take your time, don’t beat yourself up too much about it all. No rush. I think when you’re starting off and you get people saying nice things or writing nice things, you can easily get a bit overexcited. You learn to take everything with a pinch of salt, all the things. Because people come and go, come and go, come and go. Luckily, when I was starting out, I was pretty reserved. I still am. So I didn’t try and run before I could walk. I would tell myself that as long as you’re pleased with what you’re doing, nothing else is really going to matter. I wouldn’t tell him too much, I’d just tell him to get on with it..

You’ll be fine, little one.
Just carry on, you’ll be alright.

Can you talk me through your process of song-creation? Do you write first? Or do you play first? Does it kind of come together?
It always starts with a bit of guitar or a bit of piano. It’ll always start with something, some little phrase or a little chord change that I’ve come up with. And then I’ll probably find a little melody and link those things. It always starts with music, the words come right in the end. I know the phrasing, the movement of the melody so then it’s just about finding the words.

So first off you’re creating a feeling?
Exactly, I’m finding the vibe first and then I know what type of atmosphere it’s sitting in and then it’s just about making sure that the words are reflective of that. Sometimes I get a line, that comes out instinctively right in the beginning. And then I know it’s definitely staying and build around that.

That’s interesting. It seems to be having the lyrics first and then adding music to them so often.
I’ve just never been one to sit and write. Writing poetry or anything. I always want the lyrics to not be a distraction. You want to be able to explore the lyrics, rather than having them right in your face. You want to be able to leave a bit to the imagination. I actually beat myself up with lyrics quite a lot. It is a real kind of chipping away. I never go and write a lot, it’s a bit here and a bit there and then it all comes together.

You’ve lived in Seville for two years to deepen your guitar playing and to study flamenco. What has the time in Spain taught you?
The pace of life is much slower in Seville over there. There’s no rush with those guys. You feel like you get a lot out of your day. I live in East London now, on Hackney Road. So that’s fast paced, you wake up in the morning to sirens and buses and everything and it can all feel quite hectic. I guess to slow the pace was the main thing I took from Seville.

Did you go there with the intention to learn about flamenco then?
Yeah that was the main reason for going there. I knew that that technique was something that I just had to learn, I had to try and had to see if I could go anywhere near learning it. And also, I just wanted to have some time to really really work on my guitar playing. Up to that point I always played, but I’d never really really done the hours and hours of practise. I did an hour here, an hour there, so I just needed to put some time on side.

When you were there, you worked at a hostel right? Is it true, that you never performed at all during those two years?
No, not at all. Just because it was flamenco, and this is the HQ of flamenco music. I just knew.. I wasn’t playing anything except for that, I was just trying to learn it. And it would’ve been me like hey guys, look at me, not quite playing this music right. It was more about watching other people. Going to listen and watch. And when I was in the hostel, I was doing the night shift. In between letting some drunk people in and telling them to be quiet, I had a few hours watching these old flamenco videos on youtube and documentaries. And then watching it for real in the evenings, before I went to work. So it was really immersive.

Really inhaling the whole culture around it.
It was. It was all I listened to and all I was really thinking about.

Was it hard to merge that into your own creations?
I kind of had an idea of how I was gonna do it, before I even went away. I could see how certain aspects of it would be really useful. And just the dynamic range, that it has. I had two styles of music before, either with a plectrum, where you can dig into it a little bit more. Or finger picking. But when it came to merging the two, it was quite difficult to do that. Getting the small bits and the big bits. I had an idea of that to do with it, but before you can use any of this stuff, you need to know where it comes from and have the context. For me it was really important to understand fully these kind of forms.

Earlier you said, that you started really late. When did you discover your voice as an instrument?
I mean I always kind of sang. But not in front of people. Well like everybody does. I guess when I started, when I had these songs and I had to sing them. Maybe I was 27 or so when I thought, I better just do this. It’s hard to find out how you sing. I think people really struggle with what their delivery is gonna be. All you need to know is to sing how you sing and how you speak.

That is really hard though?
It is hard, because it doesn’t sound like anything you recognize. But you’ve just gotta do it. Are the notes right? Yeah. Do I like what I’m saying? Yeah. Then I’m just gonna have to get over it, because it is what it is.

Hey one last one, so we have time for some pictures that won’t need the photoshop.. What is creativity to you?

Creativity is.. I don’t want to say therapy, because that’s a cheesy answer, but it is. A necessity, it’s an absolute necessity for me. I think when I’m creating or successfully created something, it gives me some momentary satisfaction.

Charlie Cunningham Tour:
08.08. Merck-Sommerperlen @ Centralstation, Darmstadt
09.08. Haldern Pop Festival, Rees-Haldern
15.10. Gloria, Köln
16.10. Kulturpalast, Dresden
18.10. Muffathalle, München
20.10. Heimathafen, Berlin
21.10. Kampnagel, Hamburg

Sophia Kahlenberg

Sophia, 29. Fotografin. Dann kam das Schreiben. Verspürt starkes Herzklopfen beim Wort ‚Australien‘. Aber Berlin ist auch ok.

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