Chartreuse are ageing like a fine liqueur

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

The origin of the word Chartreuse is from the Chartreuse mountains in the region of Grenoble in France, but it’s more commonly associated with the liqueur that’s been created there by the Carthusian Monks since 1737. Often being described as sweet and spicy due to its mixture of herbal and secret ingredients. The same could be said for Birmingham based four-piece Chartreuse; sans the herbal part. Their music is at it’s core sweet, tender and vulnerable. It has a tendency to become spicier in moments of emotional outbursts or driven guitar leads, but the secret ingredient behind the band is well kept; but the darkness of it seeps through into each pore of their sound. We caught up with the band to learn about their brand new EP, touring life and lockdown projects.

Forming in the summer of 2014 with just originally singer’s Harriet Wilson and Michael Wagstaff, writing indie folk ballads, they then joined forces with brother Rory Wagstaff and Perry Lovering on the drums and bass respectively to form the unit that is known today. Their circumstances of meeting weren’t anything out of the ordinary, “We met through college and by circumstance we were all like “We all like to play music” so we just made a band and that was kind of it. We knew pretty quickly that we gelled quite well, it was something we all enjoyed doing together so we stuck at it. It’s not a great story!” explains Harriet. But the music that came out of the coming together is something more.

Originally I first saw Chartreuse perform in 2016 supporting Matt Corby at the O2 Institute in Birmingham in (where I still have one of their old posters on my wall from the show). But after the show nothing was to be heard from the band until three years later in 2019 when they released their debut EP Even Free Money Doesn’t Get Me Out Of Bed. The time in between was a time of embracing who they were, “We were just maturing, getting some songs ready. We didn’t want to release anything at that time as we didn’t think it was up to scratch really” explains Michael. “So then we came out with the Even Free Money Doesn’t Get Me Out Of Bed EP, and it’s all just carried on from there”.

They’ve now returned with their third EP Is It Autumn Already?, a collection of songs that focus on the realities of passing time, realising you’re not getting any younger and embracing the challenges that you’ve faced up to this point. The title is a line from “Things Are Changing Too Quickly”, “That song is about getting a bit older and things are starting to get a bit faster” explains Michael. “The older you get the years seem to go by a bit quicker in my opinion and don’t last as long, so it’s that fear of going through summer and then you’re watching the leaves fall and you think “Shit that’s another one gone”. We’re all in this weird rushing rat race that’s never-ending but also does end. It’s also realising that you’re not going to be young forever so making the most of your time. It’s not a negative but realising that you’re not here forever and appreciating the time you’ve got”.

Photo by Pooneh Ghana
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The sound that Chartruese encapsulate on the EP is one they’ve become accustomed to; dark, ambient textures blended with jazzy piano’s and groove filled drums, but this time they’ve added a certain magic within each track that encapsulates on every listen. This force of mystique is one that flows out of the band naturally, “We’ve never spoken about it or said “We need to make it a bit darker” explains Harriet. “I guess just from working together for so long then that’s just what we all gravitate towards. When it’s the four of us in a room we’ll hear a song and then naturally we’ll go towards those darker tones because we’ve just worked that way for such a long time”. Being produced entirely by Michael in his home studio cabin, the band are in charge of every aspect of their sound. “This was the first one that we did completely ourselves” he explains. “In the other EP’s we did bits and bobs in the cabin and then we would take it to the producer Luke who did the first two EP’s”. It was a welcome challenge that looked to further his already formed abilities as a producer. “I loved doing it, i’ve always done it ever since I was in bands when I was 17. I was always the one with the computer ready to record because no one else would haha”.

The band credit John Martyn’s ambient works as an inspiration for the atmospheres they build, but when it came time to record the EP there was no direct influence feeding into the band other than themselves. “I can honestly say that I didn’t listen to any other music when we were making the EP” says Michael when asked if any influence creeped in during recording. “I think because it was the lockdown we were just trying to work as much as we could to keep our minds occupied. We were all working about 6 days a week so on that day off I didn’t really fancy listening to any music”.

Although recorded during the lockdown, this isn’t the bands lockdown project, “We had already planned to sit down and record during that time no matter wether lockdown or not, it just happened to be the perfect time” explains Harriet. A project that did occur of that time however was the Relaxation Tape For Nobodies Instrumental EP that saw the band push their sonic boundaries to the limits through folky guitars and ambient pianos. Songs on the new EP were written during the recording sessions but tracks like “Deep Fat” have been a part of the bands catalogue for quite some years with Michael originally penning the track when he was 18, but finding the right fit for the song proved difficult.”Every year we would try to record it and it sounded shit but then eventually we got to it and thought “Oh actually this sounds alright so we’ll carry on with it” he explains. “There are a few different recorded versions of it where we just thought “No this doesn’t work” and in the end we went back to the original version that we were trying to do after spending ages doing a new version and thought “Oh no actually, the first one was better” adds Harriet. Sometimes the original form of a song is it’s purest.

Opening the EP is “Feed Be Fed”, a groove driven and subtly alluring track that focuses on the side effects that being on the pill can have on someones mental health. “When I felt ready to talk about the topic it came out of me really quickly after having the initial chorus line. Within an afternoon I was able to get everything off my chest” explains Harriet when asked wether talking about such a personal topic was challenging or relieving. “It’s also important to talk about things like this, as much as it’s important for me to have said it myself, I would hope that people listen to it and find comfort within it. Because as soon as you release a song it’s instantly for other people. So I think that’s quite an exciting thing, on a subject that isn’t really spoken about at all, but it affects so many women. I felt empowered to release it and be able to talk about it”.

Their music isn’t always designed to inspire however, but often used as an outlet to express themselves the way they know best, “Selfishly I write for myself and we do it as a unit when we’re in here, so the songs are ours for quite a long time until they go out. So it’s not something that crosses my mind about comforting somebody else, but when they come out all these people are listening to what you want to talk about and how you felt so naturally as soon as it’s out you’re gifting these people what you want to talk about” says Harriet. “I feel the same but I also do have in the back of my head that eventually i’m going to be sharing this” explains Michael. “For me it’s always been what is the point in doing it if you can’t share it with anyone. It would be a nice hobby but I wanna feel something with it with people”.

The best outlet of sharing their music with people is of course the live show, a platform that has only recently become a part of the bands life again. Playing festival slots over the summer and a headline tour coming in December, the band are slowly finding their way back to normality from having to solely pander to a digital audience. “It’s great to actually see people again. We’ve been to a couple of gigs over the last couple of weeks and even that is really exciting, just to see people enjoying music” says Harriet. The thought of getting back on stage doesn’t phase Michael however, taking it as it comes, “Weirdly enough I don’t even think about it. When you’re on stage you just go into that ether of not thinking about anything, and that’s the feeling I like to get, to just be able to feel the energy coming off people. It’s why we do it”.

Finally we ask the band to reflect on the music industry as a whole, asking if there’s anything they’d like to change about it. “I think basically pay more streams” simply puts Perry. “People should support music more, if you really like an artist to support them by getting merch or going to a show instead of just listening to them on Spotify” says Harriet. “To be fair if streams paid more they wouldn’t have to. It’s just a byproduct of how people consume music these days” says Rory. “I think it’s very different depending on where you go. Birmingham is a lot different to London and I feel like they all have different ways of consuming music and audiences are different within each” continues Harriet. “It’s also quite hard in the fact that everything’s so online now, even with how we are as a band. You fully have to sell yourself online and it’s such a different ways of consuming music now compared to when we were kids. It shifts all the time with what people want and what you should be doing as a band, but it’s just something that you have to get on with and move with. There’ll be constant things that people want to change about the industry. For us right now though it’s not too bad”.

Is It Autumn Already? EP is out now. Purchase / listen here.

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Taylor Madison on finding his feet with Webbed Wing

The Philadelphia group’s frontman talks to us about their upcoming sophomore album What’s So Fucking Funny?, Superheaven’s return to touring and why the term grunge dosen’t apply to the music he makes anymore.

How has life been for you since dropping the Webbed Wing demo in 2017 and the singles you’ve released this year?

I can’t really speak for life in general, because that’s always kind of all over the place. But as far as the band goes, it’s been sort of frustrating, honestly. I mean, that demo came out at the very tail end of 2017. And now, 4 entire years later, we have recorded a split, and 2 entire LPs. And in that time, we have probably barely played 10 shows, and only now does it seem like anybody is catching on that the band exists. And the pandemic didn’t help, but that fucked everybody over, so I’m not upset about that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m entitled to anything. I just feel like it’s odd to be that active, but nothing really happens. I’m not sure if people assume it’s just a fun little project or what, but I’m trying to tour and shit if we can.

In your touring career, have there been any venues that spark significant memories for you, both positive and negative?

Yes, absolutely. I won’t even try to go down the list, because it would be silly to type all of that. But some things that stick out – microphones that shock your lips, but the sound guy does nothing to try and remedy the issue. That happens all the time, and it sucks so bad. Whenever a venue doesn’t have at least a room for bands to safely keep their backpacks/laptops/etc. I can live without a green room (although that sucks too, if I’m being honest). Like cmon man, you don’t have a spot where I can put my few possessions for 3 hours, without fear of them getting stolen or something? But it’s not all bad, obviously. I love showing up to a venue and they have a good stage, or sound system. And if the sound guy isn’t a total pussy, that’s a plus too.

Who was your favourite person to interview when the Strange Nerve podcast was still active?

I’m not sure that I have a single favourite, but some of my favuorites were Alex G, Logan Pierce, my dad, Colin Young and Alec Faber (these were probably the most fun ones to do), Evange Livanos (Superheaven’s manager). But they were all cool in their own way. I miss podcasting a lot, and I’m actually working on a new one that should be out sort of soon.

What’s the one misconception people have about you and your music?

Hard to narrow it down to just one. I think from a distance, I can come off very cold, and maybe even dismissive or mean. And I absolutely can be those things if I’m caught at a bad time, or if someone puts off a vibe that I don’t like. But I like to think I am genuinely a nice and caring person. I’m just not a very social person, so many of my interactions with people that don’t know me can come off a way that I don’t intend. And sometimes, I do intend it because I just don’t want to speak to certain people. As far as the music goes, I think way too many people assume that I am constantly going for some like grunge rock shit, or trying to be like THE 90’s throwback guy. But I swear to god, that has never been my intention, and I resent the assumption to this day. I think Superheaven getting slapped with the “grunge” label hurt us more than a lot of people might assume. Which is fine. I can understand why people would call us that at first. But like, that’s all they ever called us, and I think we were more than that. And we never leaned into the grunge thing. If anything, we actively tried to get away from it. And now, when I’m writing stuff with webbed wing, that I would never consider to be “grunge-y” and people immediately call it that, it drives me fucking insane. In the end, people can call it whatever they want, and I’m gonna live my life. But when I see the word, it does bother me a little bit.

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Aside from the name change, do you feel like there is much of a difference between the music you released under Daylight and Superheaven?

Nah, not really. At least nothing beyond just normal songwriting progression. I think we got better and better as a band, but the name never dictated our style or the way we operated. If anything, people’s reaction to the name change made me really resent the people that liked our band. And you can probably tell at this point that I resented a lot about being in the band at that time haha.

What thought process came behind deciding to reunite for shows next year?

Ok, so this is kind of a weird thing to me. I’ve talked about this before, but our band literally never broke up. And we never said we were breaking up. We simply said we weren’t going to tour anymore, and everyone took that as us saying “we’re done as a band.” And I can sort of understand how someone might deduce that from us not touring anymore, BUT we have played multiple shows since then. Like at least one shows a year since our last tour in 2016. So we’re not really reuniting at all. Just playing some shows. And we will certainly play more shows in the future. Not a lot, but definitely some. Unless one of us dies or just refuses to take part. I would actually love to play like 3-5 Superheaven shows a year. Any less than that kinda feels annoying to me. Mostly because I am an idiot and completely forget the songs after not playing them for a year. So every time we have to play a show, I have to relearn everything. Total pain in the ass. But the shows will be cool, and I’m excited that people seem to be excited.

How long have you and Jake Clarke been making music together?

Since 2008, I think. Since I was like 20 and he was probably like 16 or something. It’s pretty crazy, because we had some rocky times during the years that Superheaven was touring a lot, and now we are very close. We have a great dynamic because he is very bubbly and pleasant, and I am a grumpy old fuck with very little patience for anything. But I absolutely love him. He really feels like my little brother, and I cherish our friendship all of these years later.

For the most part your lyrics have been incredibly bleak and hard-hitting. Are they written from first-hand experiences of MH struggles or do you tend to write about other people?

I would say 99% of it is personal stuff about me, and my own experience. But every now and then I like to mix it up and write about someone else, or from someone else’s perspective. And that usually comes out of me feeling like I write from my own perspective too much, and then I get kind of embarrassed, like “who wants to hear what I think all the time?” But yeah, I know everyone talks about their mental health now, which I think is mostly a great thing. At the risk of sounding corny, I think expressing my mental health struggles through songs is a lot easier than just saying them out loud for me. But I do also have a great time writing about other people. Writing from other peoples’ perspectives is so fun, but kinda scary because not everyone is smart enough to understand that everything you write isn’t going to be through your own eyes, or from your own experiences. For example, there’s a song on the new webbed wing record that is from the perspective of a school shooter. I am already anticipating a lot of people taking issue with that. And I’m ok with that, because that song fucking rules and I’m proud of how it came out.

What are your future plans with Webbed Wing and the Superheaven reunion shows?

Superheaven will always be a huge question mark, and I kind of like that. There’s no pressure to do anything, and it can just be fun. I truly love the 3 other guys in the band and I hope I can play music with them in some form for the rest of my life. Even if it’s just here and there. As far as webbed wing goes, that’s my baby. That feels more like my passion, and my purest way to express myself (for lack of a better way of putting it). I would love to tour with webbed wing, and just keep writing and recording music. Even though it hasn’t exactly “taken off” the way I’d like it to, it has been very fulfilling.

What’s So Fucking Funny? is out November 5th. You can pre-order the album here.

Superheaven will play the following UK shows in June 2022:

22nd-New Cross Inn, London

24th- Outbreak Festival, Manchester

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