Currently operating out of Norwich, but separately situated all across the country, Real Life Charm are not your average bunch of twenty-somethings trying to be the next big thing. This is a well oiled, meticulously thought operation, combining the talents of 8 individuals, all with their own very specific part to play.
With a sound akin to rising star-and friend of the band Sivu, and comparisons being made Alt-J and Youth Lagoon, the band have certainly got a very clear musical direction in mind – and based on the three tracks they’ve unveiled so far, they’re absolutely nailing it.
I spoke to Tim Hyland, the band’s irresistibly enthusiastic front man, and creative director of sorts, to get an insight in to what Real Life Charm is all about.
How long has Real Life Charm been in the pipeline?
RLC has been in the pipeline for roughly a year now. We all got together last year, played a few songs together, then rented an old cottage in the countryside to go and get to know each other. For most of us, we were all new to each other. Me, Dan and Jason had toured relentlessly in previous projects, but for the other members, it was a completely new project with friends of friends. We spent a long weekend away, playing songs and cooking dinner for each other, and we realised how perfectly we gelled. From then on it was the traditional process of writing and recording – as well as combining it with an illustrative and cinematic concept.
We weren’t actively trying to be unique, it was just an organic process for us all. Me and Adam Avery (illustration) have been working on unreleased projects together since 2009. He helped with my old bands, travelled with us to the studio and even listened to my demos and recommended particular parts. It felt right to allow him to be a massive part of my next project.
Where did the ‘collective’ concept arise from? Was it always the plan, or did it just happen naturally?
It happened naturally. Me and Adam have always worked together. He’s my creative soulmate and we’ve complimented each other’s work numerous times, but without directly crediting it. So, when I told him I wanted to do a new project, it was only natural for him to be a massive part of it. I’m a film maker, he’s an illustrator and our favourite records are conceptual. We always bonded over albums like Sgt Peppers, as well as our love for shows like the Twilight Zone – so we decided to combine our love for those with my songwriting.
The other lads were completely on board when we passed it by them. It allowed for Scott to design what he wanted and Narayan, well, he does everything you could think of – film making, art, illustration – and it allows him to take a few blank canvases and make it his own. That’s what is truly exciting. Knowing we are all contributing in our own ways to create something wonderful.
Does every member of RLC have a part to play musically?
7/8 of us say we are in the “band” side to things, but Adam (being the 1/8) has had an impact on my song writing. For our next record, he will have more say on the production side and he’s always thinking of things I wouldn’t think of. I’ve got a traditional song writing mind. I’m a fan of choruses and 3 minute songs. That’s partly due to my upbringing. The Beatles crafted my ways of concentrating on the importance of a chorus. The punk cassettes my Step Dad used to play whilst we drove to the orthodontist every two weeks, showed me that you don’t need any longer than 2 minutes to say what you need to say.
Adam doesn’t have a “song writers” mind and so that lends itself well to making a song more “interesting”. Everyone else has their own individual strengths, but it’ll make this interview a novel. Everyone is so established and precious over their particular craft – I’m in awe watching them write around a crappy 2 minute demo I’ve written on my phone.
Am I right in saying you’re still yet to play your first live show? Do you plan on making your live performances an extension of the artistic nature of your work so far? Will all 8 members be involved in the live shows?
We have yet to play our first show. We will take our time with it all. Hopefully, it’ll be a really spectacular introduction for the band. It’s pointless to just play a gig for us. Sticky floor shows are perfect for a lot of bands, but that’s not something we are interested in. We have a really interesting live project on the cards. It involves live animation and glass and all our talents in one. We hope to make it a spectacle, a show you can come along to and have so much to experience. We will all be involved. It’ll be on par with our 2D life. There’s no point doing a show until everything is on the same level y’know?
So far, we’ve seen three tracks from Real Life Charm — am I right in saying that these were all self-produced? Who takes the reigns when it comes down to recording & production?
They were all self produced and recorded. Frank is the man who runs that side to Charm. He’s done absolutely everything. We went to the studio which he works for and slept on the floor, weekend after weekend until it was done. For about 7 weeks running, Frank would never leave work. From Monday to Sunday he would be in the same place, if not working, then recording us. We would set up makeshift beds in the live room and sleep there. We had absolutely no concept of time and would just eat Shell garage sandwiches and wee in empty water bottles. It was a real testing experience for us all, especially Frank. It was like watching a builder at work. Starting with the foundations and ending up with this spectacular building. The rest of us drew up the blueprints but he spent the weeks building the fucking thing. He’s an amazing producer too. I’ve worked with dozens in previous projects and he immediately “got” everything I wanted. He’s a rare find.
The three tracks we’ve heard so far, do they share a lyrical theme?
Having spent 10 years writing songs, I really needed to do something interesting with my lyrics. I’m still finding my voice and maturing lyrically, and I’m more aware of that now than ever before. In previous projects I wrote autobiographic lyrics, but this time I tried something new. I would write these skeletons of songs and basically sing whatever came to mind. There’s some really strange subconscious thoughts which creep out when you do that and you really discover things about yourself. So, I suppose it all follows that pattern. An exploration of the subconscious and those thoughts which you feel bad or guilty for thinking. Adam would give me ideas for illustrations he had in mind for the music and that would sometimes help. Essentially, it’s a loose concept we had.
On the next record, everything will be more intertwined. The main concept behind the record is turning high art into something tacky and something tacky (like reality TV) into high art. There’s elements of that in the lyrics. I talk about pornographic adventures as eloquently as possible, and talk about famous psychologists and artists as if they are throwaway celebrities.
What’s your writing process as a band?
Usually (not always) it’ll start with a terrible demo I’ve recorded on my phone (or another band member on theirs) and it’ll be sent to an email address specifically made for our ideas. The others will listen and write their parts to it and it’ll slowly turn into something over the course of a few weeks. Sometimes we’ll take that to the studio, or develop it in real life. It depends on the song. As we are all in different towns, it’s not often easy or convenient to meet and “jam”. Frank builds a lot of it in the studio, so more often than not it’s a cut/paste process. Adam hears all the songs in every part of its development. He’ll usually listen and tell me what parts inspire him, if at all. Depending on its process, he’ll come up with several illustrations or ideas and show me the roughs. I’ll then have my say on the illustrations and we’ll begin to walk in the same direction with it.
Are there plans in place for an official release from the band in the near future?
With this EP, we have released something on the 15th of every month. The first month was “Freud”, which came with a video and illustration. “Bring Me Love” was released the month after, with an art card, which was sent out to all those who have supported us with our first songs. Then this month, “De Caux” was released with a video & illustration. Next month, another song and illustration. The month after that, the concept will be wrapped up with our EP up for free download. Then we will be onto releasing the new project/record.
The videos for both De Caux and Freud are quite something – both clips were directed and shot yourself, am I right? What’s the story behind the concept for each video? Are they strongly linked to the lyrical themes of each song?
I shot those videos myself, yeah. I’m a film maker on the side, so it only felt right to take matters into my own hands. Both videos play on the idea of our relationship with technology. “Freud” is a dystopian type world in which a man is obsessed with a webcam girl. I wanted to make it layered, so that you could read into it however you wanted. A lot of friends said they thought it was a subconscious adventure of a man who wants to have sex. I love that it’s perceived in that way. Sex is such a taboo subject and psychologists have endless theories on the stranglehold it has on our lives. Freud was a particularly interesting person to talk about and explore, especially with his thoughts on sex. The shots are of course an insight into a sexual mind. The strange inanimate objects which we can relate to our own sexual adventures and immediately question. There’s an element of humour to it all – and I used the actor Jim because I wanted that to come across. Again, it’s this idea of making something beautiful, tacky – and something tacky, beautiful.
“De Caux” is in a similar vein. Again, it’s an exploration of our relationship with technology. It begins with “if you live your life as a spectacle then spectacles are what people will expect”. This is just an extension to our name and our concept. Our generation has such a strange relationship with technology and social media. We all showcase our lives online. We do particular things just so we can showcase them to our friends and more often than not, it’s a bloated boast of a picture or status.
You’re based in Norwich – do you feel this affects your sound as a band – as opposed to being based in the hustle and bustle of say, London?
Absolutely. Norwich is the most beautiful city in England and I’ll argue that sentiment ‘til I die. It’s creative, cultural and has a wide array on unpretentious characters who are more often than not, hilarious and interesting. Me, Adam and Scott met in Norwich so it holds an importance to us all. I like London, but that’s all business for me. No one wants to live in their office.
What’s the back story behind the name Real Life Charm?
I wrote a lyric which said “what ever happened to real life charm?” and it stuck with me. It was during my dissertation and I was reading a lot about Rod Serling and Charlie Brooker and how they utilised the effect of technology on society, in a fairly negative aspect. Real life charm says all it needs to about us. We were originally called MMRL. Don’t ask. But yeah, I think Real Life Charm is fairly explanatory. It should be relatable in our society which is so reliant on the 2D form.
Inspiration wise, what were you listening to whilst writing and recording these first few tracks?
That’s such a hard question to answer on behalf of all of us. Narayan is into electronic and ambient music. A BIG Bonobo fan. Dan is into a similar sort of thing. Jason and George are big on hip hop and R’n’B. Adam enjoys every music ever, as long as it’s good. For me, I’m into Arcade Fire’s new album a lot. My friend Sivu is also really great.
What’s the plan for Real Life Charm in 2014?
In January we will finish off the release of this record and begin on our next. We have a really exciting first “show” in the first stages of planning, which we hope will extend into a few more shows. Our next record will hopefully start showing its face early/mid next year. The collective aspect will be really great on the next record and hopefully it’ll extend out to a bigger audience.
So there you have it – Real Life Charm have got a plan, a vision, and a penchant for something a little different. If they pull it off, who knows what the future might hold for them.
Words: Joly Checketts