Interview: Hidden Charms

As I enter Soho’s Duke of Argyll, a regular drinking spot for the London-based four piece Hidden Charms, I find 1/4 of the band, frontman Vincent sat afar, looking especially pensive and sipping from a glass of scotch. Still recovering from the back of their UK tour with The Vryll Society – of which the band had returned just the day before – we begin to chat in depth about the band’s recent accomplishments, including the release of their debut EP Harder from Here and their brand new music video for ‘I Just Wanna Be Left Alone’ directed by Ben Smallwood and featuring the West End’s Steve Devereaux.

It’s not the first time Spindle had caught up with Hidden Charms, and certainly not the first time I had spoken to the band about their feats as emerging artists, but something has changed. Their music has reached a coming of age, sealed with conviction in its own identity. Grounded but with obvious aspirations of where he’d like to see the band in the future, Vincent talks to Spindle about his personal influences as one of the key songwriters, the making of the new music video and their upcoming UK headline tour.

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Let’s rewind back to your earliest days, did you always know you wanted to be making music?

I did, I was 7 or 8 when I decided I’d like to get involved. I think it was The Blues Brothers or The Rocky Horror Show. I decided then that I wanted to get a guitar, and I got one for my 8th birthday off a guy called Steve Devereaux who’s an actor, a friend of my mum’s and he’s the guy in the new music video. I wanted an electric one, so when he got me the little acoustic one, I was really not happy about it – spoilt brat. He said, you’ve got to show you can play it and then you can get the electric one. So I learnt The White Stripes book, with the pictures of the chords in it because I can’t read music, and I learnt the whole thing. Our whole new EP is produced by Liam Watson who produced The White Stripes record that I learnt to get my electric guitar. So it’s funny that we met him and did our most recent thing with him.

What have been your biggest musical inspirations now, and while growing up?

Well there’s different things, there’s straight inspirations or theres influences. People are inspirational, like a girl I went to college with – Little Simz – she’s inspirational to me because I could see her doing her thing in the early stages and I was doing mine. That’s inspirational. Influences would be Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Jack White. All the kind of rogue characters, all the sort of people that you can put them in any decade and they’re just their own weird thing.

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Tell us about the new songs on the EP. What was the drive behind them?

I think since we started recording and releasing stuff which has been a long time – 3 years or 4 without much stuff being released – we’ve kind of been pushed this way or that. This time, it was like after everything we’ve done up until the most recent thing we released before the EP, I felt strongly – and we all did – that it was time to see what it would be like if we just did exactly what we wanted to. With who we wanted to do it, where we wanted to do it, how we wanted to sound, what we wanted to say. Every time we’d done a record before that, we’d followed some other path and everyone had been excellent in their own way and different with the producer or whoever it’s been. Liam Watson was crucial in the outcome of this EP, but what he did was set us free.

So would you say this EP is the most accurate representation of who Hidden Charms are to this day?

100%. Of who Hidden Charms are – exactly. Before it would either be Ranald-heavy, or me-heavy, or Oscar, and if it’s anybody too much, it’s still great because I think everybody is alright, but it’s not as good as when we can be the true us, which is a thing seperate to any single one of us, and that to me that’s what the record is. Now we’ve done that and people like it, and we like it, there’s no reason to do anything else. No filters.

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Because it sounds very different to the music you were releasing around a year ago, the kind of 60’s surf rock.

Yeah. And then we got grief for that as well, for being “retro”, or “pastiche” or something like that. People would also bring it up or talk about frilly shirts. But the truth is, we have some influences of stuff like that, like everyone does, but we were advised that that was a good thing to do, we were 18 and we just got things a bit muddled up. Going on the road and seeing “scenes”, scenes are sexy and everything but if you want to be part of them you end up forgetting who you are and in turn, you end up making terrible music or just being a shit version of you. Because you only know how to be you well, and over time if anyone tries to be someone else, it’s not very convincing.

How do you come together to write new music? Who plays what part in the process?

We go in my shed, me and Ranald, and write. We have many different ways but that’s one route we often take. We go in my shed for three days and play guitars, and we have a keyboard in there. Then there’s other stuff where we’re just in soundcheck or rehearsal and something will just come up, or we discover another group. Not to rip anyone off, but to be really influenced by someone. Ranald will come in and be banging on about Frank Ocean or something like that, and I’ve never heard it in my life, but there’s that side of it. You want to keep it as fresh as possible and keep changing. When I write loads of songs in one go and everything gets very me-heavy, it’s great because I think the stuff is decent and obviously I’m getting my own fix, but I don’t think it comes out as well as when it’s mixed between us.

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So you’ve just come back off tour with The Vryll Society. How was that and do you have any highlights from that tour?

The whole thing was great because we had a guy called Rob doing sound and both bands are really different so it was stretching him, and it was nice to have that – we’ve never gone on tour with a sound guy before. We’ve gone on support tours, and we’ve gone on headline tours, but we’ve never done it with the same act, so obviously some people like them more than us and some people like us more than them, and people have said to me “you’re better than The Vryll Society” and then I’ve heard people go up to them when I’m packing up my stuff and I can hear them and say “I came to see you tonight, way better”.

So it made sense to swap who was headlining backwards and forwards?

It’s just interesting, as a performer, we do one thing and it’s different to what they do. Although I don’t think one is better than the other, to do that to the same audience with a similiar fan base but spread across the country and to see the reaction each night as a support band or a headline band, it’s a bit of a head twist. A melon twister. But that’s exciting.

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The new music video directed by Ben Smallwood for your single “I Just Wanna Be Left Alone” is very good. How did the idea of that video come about?

Well credit to Ben really. He’s a genius, I love him. The concept was, this kind of bastard character, this evil man – you can make of it what you will – but he’s a character high-up, a rich guy, and he’s being haunted by these four ghouls and they’re us. It’s flipped it because the song is “I Just Wanna be Left Alone” and it’s all “I, I, I” and “why do you do this to me?” and “it’s all in your head”. I think the cool thing about the video is that it flipped it around, so suddenly the angle of the song was coming from the protagonist saying “I just wanna be left alone”. The character is quite evil and sleazy, so it’s a bit of a difficult one but Steve is a genius actor and a friend of the family so I just asked him to do it and he just got it because he’s a pro.

So it was Ben’s initial idea to go with that story line?

Yeah, so it’s a bit of a haunt basically. You could have gone literal with it and shown some of the things happening in the world right now and people saying “I Just Wanna Be Left Alone”, and the oppression here or in America or wherever it is, and although that is totally the crux of the song…

About the stifling reality of modern life…?

Yeah, we could have gone with that. We could have gone with Trump or someone like that. But for example, I would love for somebody who feels oppressed or perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement to connect with the song because it came from my own loose idea of what that oppression feels like, which isn’t the same, but I would like people to use it for whatever good it can give them. But at the same time, if we did that in the video it would have connected us too much to it, as if to say we feel any pain similar to that, which is not true. So to flip that and have a bit more of a cinematic thing where we’re the fuckers, we were the ghosts – I liked that. Ben knew straight away what he wanted to do. The shoot was 20 hours and we had to do every take about 5 times. Steve [who plays the protagonist] was Scar in The Lion King on the West End and the last Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the original Rocky Horror Show, he’s a legend of the West End. He’s met the Queen for fucks sake! She said to him “Oh you do 7 nights on the West End, you must be very fit!” and he said “Ah, you’re not so bad yourself.” So that’s Steve.

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Amazing. So you’ve only just released the EP, but can we expect an album from Hidden Charms any time soon? Have you thought about that?

Well, yes. An album? Every time I go into a studio I think I’m gonna make an album, it’s gonna be great and it’s gonna go out, but the older I’m getting and the more we’re learning about the way things work, it seems that there’s so many opinions and suggestions that you take that are useful to you and there’s also so many that are bad. It’s like picking mushrooms, you can pick the worst one that kills you, and to decipher whether its a good thing to take on or not, you don’t know. How far is an album going to go? You’ve got so much activity online now. This is our first EP, and I’m glad we’ve waited that long because this is all what we wanted to do, we could have done an album a year ago and it wouldn’t be right. We’ll definitely have something else out next year. When you start talking about the album and you think “ah this is an album track.” Like what the hell is an ‘album track’? Every track should be a single if it can be, in it’s own right.

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So you’ve announced your UK headline tour for February, and you have some European dates coming up beforehand. What for your is the most exciting aspect of the big headline tour?

Well, I think we’ve neglected the South a bit, because we’re southern. A lot of the music touring business seems to be Birmingham and above and that’s cool, I love all those places, and growing up in London all my life, I’d never been to many of these places. So it’s good to do it, but we’ve barely played Brighton, we’ve never played Portsmouth. So on the next tour in February, we’re covering more of those places, ones that we haven’t done before.

Spreading the love.

The infection.

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And the long term goals for the band?

I wanna be… I just wanna be…

Left alone?

I like that band Kind Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. I went to one of their shows last year and I really liked it because they were never going on the radio, but I liked seeing that they had a lot of fans going mental – girls, boys, everybody – and it was big and exciting but it was underground. They all knew what they were going for and that was to rock out. So I’d like to be like those. When I first started, I wanted to be like The Beatles or something stupid like that, but in my opinion you just go up and down now and that’s the nature of it, because the stuff you’ve got to do to get to the top like The Beatles were, it’s different. You have to change your music, your style or who you were. They changed a lot to be fair, but it’s what you have to change that’s different. The variable has changed and essentially they were still making beautiful, beautiful music. It’s not about being the biggest band in the world, it’s about being the best. And the best you can be is relative to you and only you, or each other in the band. Just the best you can be, playing well, singing well, and in tune.

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Tickets for Hidden Charms’ UK headline tour in February go on sale at 9am Friday. For tickets for Hidden Charms’ upcoming European dates and for more info on the tour, visit hidden-charms.com.