Charlatans

Until recently, the UK’s own Charlatans had worked separately, employing a bi-continental recording strategy. But with Simpatico, their ninth album proper, the group decided to merge at Big Mushroom, their Cheshire, England-based joint studio, to flesh out an album that, according to keyboardist Tony Rogers, is “more of a unit” — something he attributes largely to the coalescing into a single studio environment.
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For pre-production work, Rogers, bassist Martin Blunt, and drummer Jon Brookes assembled preliminary ideas at Rogers’ home studio (the appropriately dubbed “Little Mushroom”), while singer Tim Burgess and guitarist Mark Collins opted to work primarily in Palm Springs; coming together later with producer Jim Lowe at SARM’s Hook End Manor Studios.

With the intention of producing an album that amply conveyed the band’s more organic sentiments, the Charlatans decided on tracking with 16-track, two-inch tape, a move that has helped convey their newly-arisen ska fascination, an element that can be attributed to many hours being spent spinning the legendary Trojan box sets and yielding to a noticeable affinity for the Clash — influences that have strongly affected better than half of the album, particularly on Burgess’ vocalizations. “We’ve all been ska fans for a long time”, confesses Rogers. “I’m surprised it’s taken until now to crop up on our records.” But the Charlatans are no pretenders to the throne, for Simpatico offers much in the way of genuine ska sounds, as Rogers assures.” The instruments we recorded with are some of the same instruments used by the seminal ska bands of the ’60s.”

But for all the vintage equipment and Hammond organs present on the album, Charlatans didn’t abandon technology in the whole. Big Mushroom’s 24-track Pro Tools rig was certainly not neglected during their sessions, and Apple’s Logic Pro was liberally employed as a primary writing tool. Pulling authentic vintage sounds from the software samplers and virtual instruments, Logic helped the band not only pen a large portion of Simpatico, but also sped up the process of recording — which is evidenced on tracks such as “The Architect,” where Rogers, for the first time, played a Theremin to give the song an underlying spooky vibe. Using Logic, Rogers says, “I played it [the Theremin] in, cut off the rough edges, smoothed the sound up, and then added a few effects.” Easy as pie, and incredibly effective to boot.

This new way of working, namely using Logic, has in certain ways steered the Charlatans towards more of electronic-based methods of writing and recording. On the “Road to Paradise,” for example, the band started with a percussion loop and worked their way backwards — incorporating the guitar, organ, drums, and bass lines afterwards. “[We] normally come up with a melody,” says Rogers on the subject of the Charlatans writing process, “but using Logic really did help. It wasn’t just about a melody and a hook. Logic advanced that song to get somewhere it would have never been before.” But it’s not a substitution for the real deal, by any means, Rogers concludes. ”If you can use technology as a tool, but not let it show up as the most important thing, then that’s what’s really great.”