Music interview: Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church
Charlotte Church
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CHARLOTTE Church is about to release a new EP. The fourth in a series of five, its blend of funk, soul and art rock is a far cry from her Voice of an Angel days – or even her best known pop hit, Crazy Chick.

It’s not that she’s grown tired of releasing albums, she says. “I think it’s still a massively valid format – I mainly do my listening through the album format – but I feel the way the industry is now it does not matter how you release music. You could release a single a month if you wanted.

“I love the idea of the album as a whole, cohesive, beautiful piece of work but for these EPs that’s not what I wanted to go for. This is not just me in this process – there are lots of people involved in terms of my partner Jonathan Powell and our sound engineer Gethin John as well.

“It’s me, Johnny and Jamie Neeson, our bassist – a whole band. It works as a collective rather than a traditional solo thing. We all had so many ideas and songs. At this juncture we don’t want to make a beautiful, cohesive-sounding thing. We gave ourselves the freedom in order to do what we wanted.”

The 27-year-old Cardiff-born singer has described this EP as “futuristic driving music”. It was, she admits, “a lot of fun to record”.

“Everybody got their groove on hardcore,” she says. “We ended up making a couple of instrumentals – they were weird.” To use a rugby analogy, she says, they went “through a lot of rucks and mauls and phases to get to the final process”.

Sixteen years on from her debut, singing arias and sacred songs, via diversions into songs from the musicals, out-and-out pop and a brief dalliance with indie, Church has finally arrived at a place she feels musically happy.

“Totally,” she says. “Though I don’t think with life being so fluid in general I ever finish an EP and close a chapter or not change my mind about some elements of it a couple of months later. Everyone’s growing and evolving all the time otherwise you are stagnant.”

With her own studio, record label and publishing company, she now wants to help up-and-coming artists too. “They’re mostly Welsh artists,” she says. “We’ve found a strong group of people to work with.” But there are others, particularly in the USA, too.

The lack of music industry infrastructure in Wales has not helped local musicians develop their careers, she feels. “For instance, we don’t have a music lawyer in Wales. We’re trying to build up the infrastructure to support the creativity and talent coming out of here otherwise people have to move to London.”

In last year’s John Peel Lecture, Church caused a stir by addressing sexism in the music industry – in particular a culture that encouraged the likes of Miley Cyrus and Rihanna to strip off in their videos.

Changing that culture will not be easy, she appreciates. “It’s difficult – it runs throughout society,” she says. “It’s possibly most visible in music but there’s a strong current throughout. It needs a massive social change to right that wrong, it’s going to take a while and a lot of dedication from a lot of people.

“It’s not specifically a women’s issue,” she argues. “It’s a people issue. It’s very important for men to feel comfortable to call themselves feminists. If you are ethically minded why would you not fight for equality of anyone?

“So much is perpetuated daily by what we all see – in pop, marketing, the media – it’s so ingrained. It takes awareness, to want to change the dynamic.”

Not that she has all the answers, she points out, but she’s “going to try and help”.

“It’s going to take a movement of people. Britain is quite ahead on it. I speak to lots of people daily on similar issues in America. We have a much more open and honest debate about this – they’re still in the denial phase.”

As for her own rough treatment by the British tabloids, she reflects now that it was “entirely cynical”.

“It was a fairytale narrative which they often do – the lowest common denominator in fairytale stories in which people are in a basic way interested in. Being the angel then the rebel and the fall from grace was absolute magic for them.

“In every teenager’s life you have that then you grow up. They fictionalised it to an extent where I did not recognise the person that was being written about, but if you see it for what it is you can deal with it.

“I’m not interested in fame. It was necessary for what I was doing in my career but it was never the end goal – and now even less so. I do what I want to do creatively and if I can be successful in that I hope to limit the other side of it, but it makes things immensely complicated.”

Church spoke about phone hacking and Press intrusion at the Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Three years on, she’s “not sure” the inquiry achieved everything she hoped it would. “Partly because of political dabbling,” she says.

“But I think it was immensely important for us as a society to do. We’re not alone in exploring this area of public life – it’s been happening in many countries all over the world in the last couple of years. In South Africa there’s a massive inquiry into Press ethics. There’s an understanding of where certain things are coming from, people are getting more involved rather than accepting the way things are and being fed it. They know why we get ridiculous celebrity stories and where we get them from. It’s happening all over the world – a collective social conscience.”

On a lighter note, she recognises her own career journey has had its extraordinary moments. As a child, she says, she was aware performing for the likes of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush and Pope John Paul II was “strange” but “you take it in your stride and get on with it”.

“I was always really proud of things I had achieved with singing – I did my best at it,” she reflects. “I tried to educate myself as much as possible. I got to travel extensively. It was incredible – at that age in your life you are like a sponge.

“It was an amazing experience, I did not really care who it was for. I did not know anything about their politics. [It was] ‘This is the White House – it’s a lot of fun’. I was concentrating on doing my thing, getting my cues right with the orchestra.

“I was a teenager,” she adds wryly, “entirely egocentric.”

Charlotte Church’s EP, Four, is out on Alligator Wine Records, on March 10. She plays at the Riverside Studios, London on March 5.

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