After sending Charlie a list of questions he graciously answered each one talking about his pursuit of his passion, his musical family, a slight obsession with the TV show Lost and bi-lingual women, Nashville and even his new music recommendations. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. His responses left me laughing hysterically and feeling more enlightened and connected with the path of a new artist. I even discovered that we will both be 26 in April. Thank you Charlie for offering this up. I’m more excited than you can imagine.
Mary's Monday Musicology: So Charlie, when did you first start playing music?
Charlie Hardin: My family is a musical one, so I've been singing with them as long as I can remember. I started writing songs around the age of 10, but it wasn't until about 12 that I picked up a guitar and started putting things together. Around that time was when I first saw That Thing You Do and wanted to grow up to be Guy Patterson. My father gently suggested guitar instead of drums.
MMM: Do you play any instruments other than guitar?
CH: I have a functional knowledge of piano, but it's very rudimentary. I absolutely cannot play the drums at all. The brass and woodwind families are like a foreign language.
MMM: Is your family musical at all? If so, how was music present in your life as you grew up?
CH: My Family actually is musical. My parents met in a travelling singing group called Eternity in the 70's. If I'm not mistaken, Dad was the bass player, mom was the lead soprano. It was a choir with a band, kind of like Polyphonic Spree with more of a Jesus lean. Also, between '90 and '93, we were missionaries on the Navajo reservations in New Mexico. My parents were on staff with a summer camp named Broken Arrow Bible Ranch. In the off-season we sometimes traveled around singing in churches (mostly in the southern half of the U.S.) as a family band sort of thing to raise money. For several years when we lived in Starkville, MS, my dad would put together five-part arrangements of Christmas carols and we would go all around town to our friends and favorite businesses and perform them. So... the short answer is yes.
MMM: When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in music? Has it always been your dream or did you ever want to do something else with your life?
CH: I remember very specifically when I knew I wanted to do music, and it was long before I had any reason to think I would be good at it. When we were living at the camp in New Mexico, the camp director was a guy named Steve Knox. My family was very conservative at that time, even by normal Christian culture standards, so my musical exposure was mostly limited to tapes of worship music by Maranatha and Vineyard. Steve introduced me to Petra, the Godfathers of Christian Rock. Their album Beyond Belief absolutely blew my 7-year-old mind. Then he showed their concert video. I'd never seen grown men wear such tight pants. I knew in my heart of hearts that one day I would wear tight pants in front of people who paid money to see it.
MMM: What other artists inspire you? (musicians, painters, poets, etc.)
CH: Musically, I tend to find a handful of folks that I really connect with and wear them out. I really love Wilco an abnormal amount. I can't get enough of Smashing Pumpkins first 3 albums. Wallflowers' Bringing down the Horse is probably a perfect album (definitely the best drum sounds of the era). Josh Ritter doesn't know how to write a bad song. The Jayhawks Rainy Day Music, Ryan Adams' Cold Roses, Pavement's Crooked Rain, Ben Folds' Songs for Silverman and Suburbs... I find that I am very album-specific with a lot of what I love musically. I have a big thing for the 90's. I don't know how much it works its way into my songwriting, but I love movies and long-form TV shows. I read Aintitcool.com every day. It's possible that I have a song about a character in Lost, but don't tell anyone.
MMM: What would you say to other hopeful artists wanting to move to Nashville and pursue music?
CH: That really depends on what kind of music they are making. Nashville has a great singer/songwriter community, and if they want to do Country or Christian music, then this is the place to be. It is the capital of Christian and Country. It also has all the business functions of New York or L.A. for music, but is much smaller and much more affordable to live in, so that is a plus. The downside is that there are literally thousands people trying to get everybody to come to their shows, so it can be very tricky to draw a crowd, and even if people come, they may not be very enthusiastic. I've heard repeatedly that London and Nashville have very similarly jaded audiences. So there are positives and negatives, but I absolutely love Nashville and am so glad to be here.
MMM: Nashville seems to have a great community of artists who work together. Have you experienced that community and has it been beneficial to you?
CH: I actually have experienced that, and it is a really cool thing. For me it really keeps my ego in check. The two communities that I spend most of my time with end up being musicians and folks from my church, with a surprising amount of overlap. I have the privilege of knowing some amazing writers and performers who inspire me to not just write crap, some of whom you have previously featured (Crystal Thomas, Milktooth, Madi Diaz), and a slew of them that you really ought to check out, because they are sooooo damn good (yes, this is my gratuitous name-dropping segment).
* Natalie Prass: she's this tiny little sparrow of a girl with some badass rock and roll in her bloodstream. Also, her song "Violenty" may be the sexiest thing I've ever heard.
* Stephen Gordon - I've toured with Stephen a bunch, so I'm biased, but he has such an articulate way of speaking his heart, it is a constant encouragement. He is a songwriter's songwriter.
* Brooke Waggoner - She's gotten a lot of attention for her amazing skills as a pianist and arranger, but I think her bare-bones songwriting abilities are my favorite part of what she does. She wouldn't bill herself as a great lyricist, but that's rubbish. She is a really surprising writer and is always swinging for the fences. She also periodically has the most amazing she-mullet I've ever seen.
* Heypenny - Best Party Ever?
* Mikky Ekko- He's the most phenomenally gifted guy I've ever met. And Hooooottttt. Yes, ladies. It's true. Hearing him sing is like being touched by the very hand of God.
Another fun benefit of being in the community is sometimes getting to collaborate for special occasions or jump up on stage and sing background vocals for each other.
MMM: Have you been able to make a living thus far solely on music or do you have any other projects/jobs as well to help support you?
CH: I'm still in the day-job circuit. I do landscaping mostly, sometimes do load-out for shows around town. I also sold fragrances at Macy's for a while. That was an awesome job.
MMM: What does music do for you personally? For example, is writing a form of therapy for you?
CH: It certainly has been at various times. The downside of that is that I can get dependent on drama for songwriting, which is uber-unhealthy. There is this poem called "Poemectomy" I was assigned to read in the 10th grade that describes the writer as having this malignant growth of words inside them and if they didn't get it out it would consume them. I think I really identified with that at the age of 16 because I was hopped up on hormones and everything was urgent and dramatic. 10 years later I think of writing more like the ability to throw a baseball - I can do it better than some people, not as well as others, and if I stop doing it I won't be as good. I will tell you though, very few things are as satisfying as writing a song that says exactly what I mean.
MMM: When are you inspired to write music? Can you write at any time or do events in your life spark you creativity?
CH: Dramatic events make it easier, but when I rely on that I get rusty. All that to say, I had a really dry year, writing-wise. I probably started 30 songs and only finished 2. Here's to you 2010.
MMM: What do you do if you ever feel a creative block or experience discouragement in your career?
CH: Sometimes I just lie in bed all day and wallow in the blah. But when I not being stupid, I do something with my hands (like mow a lawn!) and spend some time praying or talking to myself. Sometimes I have to just try to write something or it isn't ever going to happen, kind of like asking a girl on a date - at some point a guy has to just pony up and ask her or it's probably not going to happen. Unless he tries to guy friend his way in, a method I have come to loathe. I'm not sure we're talking about songs anymore.
MMM: Do you have plans to release a new album or EP? If so, when?
CH: Yes, I hope to release a full length by the end of the year.
MMM: Do enjoy performing live? Do you get nervous or stage fright? If so, how do you get past it?
CH: I love performing live. I love telling my stories and really letting folks in to the inside of the songs. I get nervous very rarely, but it does still happen occasionally. I don't really have a calm-down method, I just get out there and make it happen.
MMM: Who is your favorite musician? What is playing on your iPod right now?
CH: I'm terrible at this question. I love Wilco a lot. They are always on the iPod.
MMM: What is the hardest thing about pursuing a music career?
CH: Presently for me, it's making a living at it. The great thing about the Internet is how everybody can hear me, the bad thing about the Internet is that there are so many dudes with guitars playing mid-tempo folk rock that it is quite a challenge to get noticed. On a more theoretical level, it is very difficult to maintain relationships. I'm a pretty family-oriented man and have a great desire to raise a family of my own, but I don't know how those things will be compatible. I don't want my potential family to starve to death because I am not making enough money to feed them, but I also don't want to never see them because I'm out on the road for 6 months at a time. I have a friend who is married to a relatively successful artist and who is also a pretty successful artist in her own right. I asked her how she handled all that separation and having kids. She said she hated it.
MMM: What is your ultimate goal with this career?
CH: On a superficial level? Here in Nashville we have the Mother Church of Country Music - the Ryman Auditorium. I've Seen Wilco, Keane, Iron and Wine, Brian Wilson, Sufjan Stevens, Ben Folds, the Hold Steady and a ton of other folks there. I want to headline a show at the Ryman. On a personal level? I want to have a discography that I am proud of, full of songs that I love because I mean them and because I worked hard to write them, full of good, true things.
MMM: How do your friends and family support you in your music?
CH: They listen to all my baby songs and tell me what they think. My grandmother recently got forty people from her church to come to my performance in Lexington, SC, by the sheer force of her will. It was amazing. My dad has always been behind me to do this because I love it, and he's never given me the "get a real job" talk. I'm very blessed in that way.
MMM: Would you want to sign to a label or go at your career as many new artist are doing these days and stay unsigned?
CH: I would sign with label if they gave me a deal I could live with, but labels are increasingly unnecessary for folks in my genre. If I were putting together a boy band, I'd definitely want a label, but the grassroots thing usually works better for songwriters because it establishes credibility with listeners and it lets the artist keep larger percentages of their profit streams. Still, I'm not anti-label, but the record isn't the holy grail it was in the 80's and 90's because listeners are spending less and less money on buying music and more time finding artists without the help of a label paying for promo. My roommate Isaiah says folks have finally figured out they don't have to worship at the foot of mount Rocklympus where the labels sit on top and toss down things they hope will please the masses. So I guess I would be open to signing with a label, but I'd have to be really impressed with what they could do for me and convinced by the contract that they would in fact try to do it. I would prefer to stay label-less if I continue to gain momentum on my own, thanks to people like yourself.
MMM: What activity, place, person, etc. brings you joy?
1. Lost - I have an unhealthy love for Lost. Thanks APJ. Sure it's not perfect, sure there are more "literary" shows out there (I'm looking at you, The Wire), but who cares? Lost is a six-season opus of all of the nerdy things that I love. It's as if J.J. Abrams, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof got together and said "Hey, let's make 130-something hours of sci-fi soap opera that will make Charlie happy."
2. Thai Food - Coconut AND Curry? Delicious!
3. 90's music - it was a magical time when guitars were loud.
4. Bi-lingual women (so hot) - I'm not sure how this has happened, but every girl I've ever dated has been bi-lingual. It's not intentional, it just happens.
5. Time-travel, with specific technological limitations. - I have a special affinity for the Tipler cylinder. Also, everyone should watch Primer. It's the best time travel movie ever.
I hope you all enjoyed this insight into the life of an artist. Thank you for reading. Please show your support for Charlie by checking out his music and leave a comment below. You can read the original feature on Charlie here. Thanks Charlie for sharing!
The fabulous photos are from Kristyn Hogan.