"The future and what is possible fills me with so much excitement, and I feel like some of the best, and most fun stuff is still ahead of me"
Charlie Simpson has just released his latest solo album 'Hope Is A Drug', and it is quite simply beautiful.
Embracing the most delicate and decadent sides of pop music, Charlie delves into a series of feelings, both heart-fluttering and heartbreaking, he has never touched on in his 20-year career. It's a perfect representation of an artist who continues to evolve, learn and grow with every year that passes, and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
To find out how we have reached this point, we sat down for a catch up with the man himself...
Where would you say that an album that looks and feels like this really stemmed from?
"More than anything, I don't think I wasn't ready to make a record like this in the past. I always withdrew from it, but I have always loved good pop music. Perhaps I felt held back somehow with other things in that I couldn't make something that was full-blown. I guess a lot of that came with confidence, and now I have confidence that I never really had before. I'm comfortable in my own skin, I feel like I don't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I feel like that is a really special place to be and a liberating place to be as a creative."
Where would you say that the confidence came from? Was there a specific moment where it felt different?
"I would say it was when I did Busted again. I had distanced myself so far from it and put it into such a different part of my mind. When it came to 2016 and making a record like 'Night Driver', which was completely off the wall, it was seeing the reaction of the fans and my peers. Seeing something that I was so apprehensive about being received in such a way, and then making a record like 'Halfway There' is what flicked the switch for me. Then, coming back to be on my own, I felt like I could just make whatever I wanted. And I think that's the first time I had ever really felt that way, except for when Fightstar first started. It all feels different now."
It must have been the same feeling in a way with every Fightstar record, though, as you realised that nobody was telling you what you and couldn't do. It's just that coming to a head in another space…
"Yeah, absolutely. Like the last Fightstar record was so heavy and out there, and it is my favourite of the bunch. But that was also the first time that we were truly out there on our own. We were on our own label. The first record was made on a major label, but nobody ever got in our way. The second and third had more of a label there saying they needed singles and this and that. That's all fine because I love all of our songs in their way. But with 'Behind The Devil's Back', we just didn't give a fuck. We weren't bothered what happened. We just did it for ourselves 100%. That's why it's my favourite."
And that mindset you had with that, you feel it all the time now…
"Yeah, and I think that only comes with age and experience. It's hard to put that mindset into a young band. I've been here 20 years now, so it shows just how long it takes to arrive at that point. But it's huge when you arrive there."
The songs on 'Hope Is A Drug' feel like you are touching on the most vibrant and vicious parts of love and heartbreak. It feels like you are also closing the book on many feelings here. Where did the intent for that come from?
"I feel like there was a lot of reflection from years gone by. I'm happily married now and have two kids, and that's what my life is now. But when I was younger, I didn't delve too deeply into the feelings I was having. I didn't have the chance to. This record is very reflective of just who I was as my younger self as well. It was getting back into the mindset of those old feelings in a way I couldn't before. Fightstar lyrics were always more of a social commentary, never really that personal and more us looking out at the world with these grand ideas. And with my solo stuff, the lens has always been turned in a little bit more, but it is the most it has ever been turned in in this specific moment. You definitely feel more vulnerable when you write like that, but with that confidence, you allow yourself to swing the lens in that little bit further."
Because you were approaching feelings you probably hadn't considered for years, what was it like when you approached and found something that you weren't expecting?
"The thing is that I had never really stopped, from around 2005 through to when I started writing these songs in 2019. I took a year out after the last Busted tour, and I had never taken a year out in my whole career. So I feel like absorbing everything that had happened to me over that time felt weird. Before, I would be jumping from tour to record to tour to record, not allowing any reflection of any sort. So going deeper into it was good but also strange."
And you've only recently celebrated ten years of your solo career, mainly the release of 'Young Pilgrim', so it's almost like each moment over the last decade with that has been building up to you delving into those feelings with a sound like this…
"It definitely takes a different mindset to do something entirely by yourself. With the first two solo albums, even though it was just me, I still had a band there. I was building the tracks with a lot of instrumentation, which was a big comfort blanket, and when I went out on the road, it was alongside five other musicians. I had wanted it to still seem like I was in a band somehow. That's where the challenge of this record, of writing songs which were fully just me on my own, came from. And that was terrifying, to begin with. There's nothing else to hide behind. But I feel like it has resulted in the best stuff I have ever done, so I'm glad that I pushed myself to do it this way."
How did it feel doing all of that within your own studio as well? When you were the one entirely in control of every single moment in a space you had built just for you…
"That was the most challenging part, so I brought in a few people to help me out with bits I couldn't do. The thing is, I would never want to be in a position where I am the one doing every single bit. You're just too close to your stuff to go through every moment on your own. Someone else's ears are always so helpful and great. But delving into the production stuff for myself has been one of the best things I've done in my life, and I now want to go even further and start producing other people."
There's also a feeling that comes with knowing that there is still so much for you to learn and experience and not feeling like just because you have been here for ages that you can't change…
"For 18 years, I just had a voice in the back of my head telling me I had to prove myself in every regard. But these last few years have been when I have stopped thinking that so much. That makes you realise that it doesn't matter if people don't like what you do. It used to drive me insane seeing people slagging me off online about something. But it doesn't get to me anymore. I don't care about that. I'm so beyond it. Then you start only thinking about what is good for you and what you enjoy doing. It becomes purer."
When you look back over the whole of the last 20 years and every leap and bound that came with it, what are the main feelings that come to mind?
"I look back, and it's weird to think just how many things I have done and how many experiences I have been able to have over those 20 years. It's been mad. I believe this is my 12th album overall. But I feel fortunate and humbled and blessed to have been able to do all of it. And in the backdrop of all of this, the music industry has changed beyond recognition over the time I have been in it. The generation coming through now is open to a whole different world to the one I came into in 2001. I was on the tail-end of another way of doing things. So we all have to find our place and what works best, but it takes time to find out what that is. But the future and what is possible fills me with so much excitement, and I feel like some of the best, and most fun stuff is still ahead of me."