Interview: Charly Coombes

Charly Coombes

Photo by Rayana Macedo

Formerly of 22-20s and brother of Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, multi-instrumental singer/songwriter Charly Coombes has a wealth of musical knowledge and experience at his fingertips. With two solo albums already to his name, the folk rock of No Shelter and the interstellar soundscapes of Black Moon, his upcoming third album RUN sees him now exploring 80s synth vibes with new-found drive and confidence. I had a chat with Charly about the new record ahead of its release: 

Thanks for your time! You’re releasing your new album RUN at the end of the month, are you happy with the way it has turned out?
Absolutely! My second album Black Moon came quite naturally, I already had a lot of the ideas in my head as to how it should sound and the concepts behind the lyrics. With RUN I really wanted to challenge myself and I never knew which way the album would turn, but the beauty of recording most of the album in my home studio has been that freedom to really explore those ideas, sounds and concepts. The end result has got a lot of my heart and soul in it.

The album has a very synth heavy, 80s vibe. Who were your biggest influences in creating that sound?
I still wanted something modern and fresh, for years I’ve loved bands like MGMT and Tame Impala, but in reality the influences behind that side of the album came from a lot of 1980’s soundtracks mixed with some of the awesome, if somewhat dodgy, pop from the mid 1980’s. I grew up with a lot of those sounds and revisiting them for RUN was quite a personal choice and one that I’m really happy with. There’s a lot of ugliness from that era but it can also be a really compelling and beautiful sound. Things like John Carpenter’s soundtracks, The Cars, Ultravox and a little nudge from last year’s Stranger Things.

With all the electronic elements at work, RUN is worlds apart from your folky debut ‘No Shelter’. It sounds like two completely different artists. Do you see yourself exploring even more new genres in the future or have you found your niche and settled on a particular sound you want to pursue?
As a songwriter, I’ve always loved turning the tables on whatever the last album was and going in a different direction. But I can’t say for sure. When the time comes to record the next album I’ll see what comes naturally and I’m sure the right sound will emerge, whether it will be the same as RUN or some kind of Reggae Death Metal fusion!

You recorded the album in Brazil, where you’ve been living for the past couple of years. What is it that drew you there and what effect do you think your new surroundings had on the music?
I’ve wanted to live in Sao Paulo for a few years, my wife is from Brazil and it was always a plan of ours to make the move out here. But it also had a big impact on my writing. As well as discovering a whole new world of Brazilian music and culture, the transformation from a quiet village life to the intense vibe in Sao Paulo has fuelled my creative process in many ways. That’s kind of how RUN came about, I felt drawn to explore concepts influenced by the noise and the chaos around me.

I’d like to look back at your previous album Black Moon for a moment. That record was very conceptual and followed a theme of space exploration. Where did that idea come from?
I’ve always been a huge fan of NASA, space exploration and science fiction. During the writing process for Black Moon I had a lot of ideas and sessions for the album that were not yet fully formed and without lyrics. Every time I listened to those ideas, I would close my eyes and I kept coming back to that theme; even before the lyrics were written I was imagining a kind of soundtrack to space travel. The fact that I have always been fascinated with those stories made it easy for the album to take shape.

While Black Moon was more about theme and storytelling, RUN feels a lot more dark and personal lyrically. What sort of frame of mind did these songs originate from?
Although there are a lot of personal and autobiographical moments on the album, it’s really a reflection of what I see around me in all walks of life. Songs about health, obsession, death and corruption happened because those were the recurring themes at that time – 2016 seemed to be a really unstable and tough year for everyone. But there’s a sense of strength and hope that can come from desperate times and that’s the message I wanted on the album.

Is there a particular track, or moment within a track, that you would say you are most proud of on this new record?
There’s a track called ‘Moving Lines’ which for a long time was only about a minute long. Just before the album was finished I sat down and out of nowhere came this brand new second part to the track, it was finished in about 10 minutes; and it really reminds me of those kind of action montages in films from the 1980’s, a little bit like some of those moments in Commando or Rocky. It made me laugh a little, but I absolutely love it.

After the album release what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’ll be taking ‘RUN’ on the road, mainly here in Brazil, but I also hope to get back to the UK to do some shows. But knowing me, I won’t be able to sit still for very long, and it’ll be time to start the fourth album!

Massive thanks to Charly! His new album RUN is out 24th March.