Hey Charlie Interview :
The last time grunge trio Hey Charlie arrived in town for Sound City 2018 they produced an explosive jaw-dropping set at Liverpool’s Baltic Market. It was without doubt one of the performances of the entire festival and had the room literally bouncing with joy. The buzz as the set concluded was tangible and it was hard to resist the feeling that you’d witnessed something very special indeed. Those who had perhaps dismissed the trio, making misguided assumptions based puerly on their image, were left choking on humble pie by the time their riotous set had concluded. Hey Charlie whipped up a musical tornado combing power, melody and stellar musicianship to deliver a performance that will live long in the memory.
The trio who are based in London and consist of Lizz (originally from Luxembourg) on guitar, Sophie (from Shropshire) on bass and Lauren (Belfast) on drums have deliberately styled their image in such a way as to challenge expectations, deliberately setting up their stall to prove you should never judge a book by its cover. They’ve already released a plethora of fantastic songs, from their stunning debut ‘Hey’ to earworms such as ‘Cheer Up Princess,’ Young And Lonesome,’ ‘She Looks Like A Dreamer,’ and latest release ‘Love Machine’ fusing fantastic pop hooks with crunching killer riffs.
They returned to Merseyside for the Liverpool Calling festival last week and once again crafted a stunning performance of noise, melody and swagger. We had a chat with them before their set about their music, their uniform, gender equality in music and beyond and their desire to obliterate people’s prejudices whilst melting their faces off!
So Lizz and Sophie, you both met at college and decided to form a band, before Lauren joined had you already began the process of writing the songs that would eventually be unleashed upon the world?
SOPHIE: Yeah when we met we started writing straight away but it took maybe like a year or so to get to a point where we had a collection of songs that we were genuinely happy with.
LIZZ: We started developing the songs and the look but we still didn’t feel it was completely right. And then we found Lauren and obviously with her personality it changed the dynamic again.
LAUREN: Yeah I basically arrived and ruined everything!
Which was the first Hey Charlie song you wrote and thought, I think we’re onto something here?
LIZZ: It was definitely ‘Hey.’ It’s not a revenge song as such, but Sophie and I were very angry about something that had happened in our lives. We weren’t happy with a certain person so we wrote a bit of an angry song. It was like a ‘Fuck off’ and it felt amazing and that bit when we sing “all you do is talk about us”, we felt like we were basically winning at life! I mean we’re not that cocky, but you know what I mean. We were super happy with how it turned out.
SOPHIE: Yeah it was a perfect first song for us really.
It was a fantastic debut, ‘Hey’ sounds a bit like Warpaint getting into Nirvana. Growing up were you influenced by your own individual local music scenes?
LIZZ: [Laughing] Thank you, we’ll take that comparison! As for local scenes, for me in Luxemburg, it was nada, nothing!
SOPHIE: Same in Shropshire, there was nothing to speak of really happening at all.
LAUREN: Belfast’s alright, although a lot of people do seem to like that Mumford and Son’s vibe and Ed Sheeran. It’s very folksy.
SOPHIE: [Lauging] So now we’re all wondering what the hell everybody back there made of little Lauren smashing the shit out of the drums?
Were your families musical, where you encouraged to play when you were kids?
LIZZ: Not really I mean my Dad only apparently decided to learn the guitar purely as a way to pick up women and busk a bit for extra cash when he was a young man. He’s not very good really! The rest of my family aren’t musical in the slightest so they’re all quite shocked at what I’m trying to do.
SOPHIE: No, my Dad’s in the army and wasn’t particularly musical, he learnt about three chords to play one song! Although I have to say he did make me have guitar lessons, so it is down to him that I started to play.
LAUREN: My family was pretty musical, we’d always be singing around the table on birthdays and such like.
SOPHIE: What? So basically you just sat around and sang, like, ‘Happy Birthday!’
LAUREN : [Laughing] No we sang traditional Irish songs, but I was lucky at primary school as there was a guy auditioning people to play the drums. Honestly, the only reason I went along was that everybody else in the class was going and I didn’t want to be left out. So basically I was a sheep, but luckily I was one of the ones who got chosen, so now I’m the one trying to shepherd people into drumming! It must have been fate!
Your image, the Hey Charlie uniform, which varies – it is visually striking and initially, it seems to grab people’s attention. So was that the idea – to mess with people’s expectations? To kind of initially wrong foot people, I mean at Sound City I could see people looking saying ‘hmm, this looks like a little pop combo’ and then when you started your set it was like “boom!” By the end of the set, people were absolutely bouncing and you could really feel a huge supportive vibe!
SOPHIE: Exactly that, we do it on purpose because we know what some people can be like, “oh look at those little blonde girls in matching outfits, isn’t that cute “, or “isn’t that stupid.” And then when we play live we change their mind in terms of what they might have excepted as to what they actually get. And perhaps it gets them to challenge their own prejudices and not simply judge somebody by their appearance, which of course is generally the wrong thing to do.
LIZZ: Yeah and we also see it as our uniform, something that unites us as a band, we’re a three-piece and there’s not one person out front and centre, we are all in it together. So its provocative, but for a reason and girls in a rock band aren’t perhaps quite as prominent as they once were so I guess we were looking to get a “what the hell is this all about” kind of reaction. I suppose initially it is playing into that stereotype of expectation and then “bang” we melt their faces off when we play!
LAUREN: Oh yeah I mean we’ve been compared to hen parties, cheerleaders, the girl from the movie The Ring, even Labradors, we do get some weird comparisons.
SOPHIE: And there’s so much shit about “oooh well it’s your own fault when you’re wearing a short skirt on a night out “ which is such a bullshit attitude. You can be whoever you want to be and wear whatever the fuck you want and not expect to get shit off anybody!
LIZZ: Yeah and if anybody’s wondering – there’s no label or management manipulating our image, we are dressing exactly how we want to! This is us.
And of course when you then show them what you can do musically the image becomes kind of secondary?
SOPHIE: Yeah, exactly – you get it! Initially, we all agreed to wear something that matched so that one of us didn’t turn up in fluorescent green dungarees with a crap hat.
LIZZ: Yeah we agreed we’d all wear red at the beginning for like a signature look. But then we had to mix it up as we didn’t want people thinking we only owned one set of clothes! So we all agreed on a look and used to abuse the ASOS website regularly.
SOPHIE: [laughing]Big shout out to ASOS there … give us all your clothes!!
LAUREN: Actually I’d quite like to wear a hat …
LIZZ: Maybe if we do stadiums …
SOPHIE: Erm, no, no hats.
So, when “Hey” came out it all kicked off for you guys – you were getting radio play and it seemed like you’d jumped in at the deep end, did the pace of it all kinda take you by surprise initially?
SOPHIE: Oh yeah man, one of our first festivals was with Green Day at Hyde Park which was crazy and then we were asked to go on tour with All Time Low all over Europe, and that was our first ever tour! And we were playing to 5,000 people every night, it was unreal Their fans were going crazy for us too, we were a bit worried at first, being girls in a band that we might have got some hate, but actually, we didn’t really get many haters at all.
LIZZ: Their fans were so welcoming all the way through! It was amazing and as that was our first experience of touring it obviously spoilt us to fuck! So when we did start playing smaller venues we knew at least what was possible. It inspired us and gave us a glimpse of that life.
I guess you’ll be hitting the festival circuit very soon – Last year, 80% of festival headliners were male, which to quote Garbage’s Shirley Manson is “insane”, what are your views on keychange and the PRS Foundation commitment to achieve a 50/50 gender balance at Festivals by 2022.
LIZZ: Yeah we’ve already started man, we did all the May ones. We love PRS they gave us the woman in music grant which was awesome.
SOPHIE: I think the problem with festival line-ups is that it’s more the inevitable outcome of a much wider problem. The problem starts much earlier. For example, does a young girl feel comfortable going into a music shop and trying out an instrument? Will a guy there be patronising dick y’know “what are you DOING with that guitar love?” sort of attitude. So yeah we need more role models to inspire girls to form bands and obviously, a lot needs to change regarding inequality at festivals but that’s not the main problem because it is more an outcome of deeper-seated issues.
LIZZ: Girls should not be put off they should be encouraged to pick up more instruments and play them!
LAUREN: I think when we were growing up, for our generation at least, there weren’t that many female role models in music who played instruments, I mean years before there were The Runaways and we had Meg White, but a lot were pop acts who didn’t play actual instruments.
SOPHIE: Yeah I mean the only one who seemed to be on the mainstream radio who wasn’t actually a pop band was Avril Lavigne.
LIZZ: I mean you had acts like the Spice Girls dominating but they were total pop and didn’t play instruments. But with a 50/50 quota, it has to be because you’re good enough though, nobody wants equality if it’s just tokenism. Putting on like ten bands simply because they have females in them isn’t equality. It’s all music and we should be judged on the basis of if we are good enough musicians.
LAUREN: I think now with more bands coming through and more girls showing what they can do as instrumentalists it will hopefully inspire the next generation to say,” yeah we can do that too. “
Finally, what have been your proudest moments and weirdest moments as part of Hey Charlie?
LIZZ: Wow, it’s tricky ‘cos there have been so many awesome things that have happened in such a short space of time. Hmm, well for me I think the proudest moment, was our first headline show which sold out in London. We’d just come off our first ever tour with All Time Low and for our own show to sell out, wow! It was the moment we all thought, yeah we can do this on our own terms without having a big band behind us.
LAUREN: My proudest moment honestly? It has to be starting a moshpit in the Baltic Market at Liverpool Sound City! I don’t think anybody expected that! I don’t think it’s happened there before – I mean it was a family market on a Sunday afternoon, and we weren’t sure it was the right vibe for us when we arrived, but you know what? It was amazing. It just shows you the power of music! Yes, that was class!
SOPHIE: I think mine has to be the Amsterdam gig with All Time Low. It was the first time my Mum had seen me play live. My Dad had seen us previously at our first gig at The Horn where we basically played to just him and another person and then the next time they see me, there I am playing in a stadium to 5,000 people!
LIZZ: Yeah my Mum and brother had never even seen me play the guitar EVER, and then they came to see us at an arena and they were like “WHAT … THE …. ?”
SOPHIE: And our weirdest moments? Well, my bandmates are pretty fucking weird! Actually, maybe it’s us that are weird rather than the people we meet! But yeah, we’ve had some pretty strange experiences staying in some really weird-ass places.
LIZZ: Oh god yeah the freaky hostels, the more south we went on tour like towards Italy, the stranger it got!
SOPHIE: So basically we were staying in weird abandoned schools and hostels and we’d arrive about 1 am and everything would be open but there’d be like not one solitary single person around. Creepy! So eventually we’d find a key and just sleep in any room we could! And there was one which we were pretty sure was a brothel. Basically, a guy just rented rooms out in a house and Chris our tour manager always books us into the cheapest room possible so there have been some proper dodgy places. But hey it’s cool we survived to tell the tale!
LAUREN: I think the weirdest one for me was that festival, not naming names but it was basically a Boy Scout camp for adults. I mean generally when we play live people usually start moving around, moshing and stuff but here the minute we started to play they all began LINE DANCING!
SOPHIE: Shit yeah I forgot about that, and to make it worse they were all dressed as Squirrels!
LIZZ: And fucking badgers! They were in actual teams of squirrels and badgers! And they were all having raw egg eating competitions. Now that really was fucking weird!
SOPHIE: Part of me hopes they were all like, super high, but I don’t actually think they were, I think sadly it was all quite normal for them!!
LIZZ: Yeah it was a like a children’s camp but for adults! The glamour of life on the road!