A bohemian apogee

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Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs emphatically wear their fuzz and glam influences upon their ruffled sleeves. Though to critique their stompy sonic platter this way would be pretty obtuse. Yes, début album, Clarietta, out on May 27 through Heavenly Records, is infused with the arch humour of early Adam and the Ants, the raw sexuality of Aladdin-era Bowie and the lithe sunglasses cool of the Velvets, but it manages to reach further than that. Produced by Scots indie hero Edwyn Collins in little over two weeks, it has the bi-polar textures, both saunteringly fun yet paranoid and grim that are characteristic to post-millennial living. Its mixture of punchy, razor sharp hooks and prowling, love addled laments also boast a transient swagger which conversely gives it the air of a classic.

Charlie, formerly of Electricity in our Homes, pieced together his band, progenitors of Bolan and Barrett, a little over a year ago and their ascendancy has been subtle yet assured, their management steering them away from the usual squalid bolt-holes that many London bands cut their teeth and wither. It has also though seen a couple of singles Things We Be and Watch You, both wicked pop-teases which asserted their position as give-me-their-début-album-now! ones to watch.
This sacred approach has surely worked, with this year boasting not only the accomplished Clarietta but also mini-tours with new-psyche siblings and stable-mates, Toy, an appearance at this weekend’s Field Day in Victoria Park and any other number of exotic jaunts.

Vis-à-vis, Charlie is a self effacing and courteous floppy-haired chap, engaging and refreshingly unaware of the kudos that is about to be thrust his way this summer.

Who are the Voyeurs and what’s your genesis story?
I wrote the songs. I decided I wanted to start a quite specific kind of band. I wanted it to be a really traditional set-up – two guitars, an organ, drums and bass, like a rock and roll band – a Velvet Underground inspired group. I had a strong idea and then picked out the people that could do what I wanted them to do. There’s nothing complicated in it.

You’ve been bubbling under the radar for a while now …
We started about a year ago. We had a different guitarist who was a lot heavier and that wasn’t really working out. That was my good friend Luke. (But) when I was forming the group it was a bit of an ad-hoc thing. It was going to be temporary until we worked out the proper line-up. That was the first incarnation, his sound was a lot more Americana influenced. It was cool but I was glad for it to change because it wasn’t the sound I had in my head. I think we’re getting closer now.

It must be hard expressing your vision through other musical conduits..?
Yes, you only have so much control, unless I did do it all by myself which isn’t want I want to do. I love being in a band… I just write the really basic chords and the vocals and the ornamentation is mainly by Sam (lead guitarist). He can add these really nice licks to my really primitive songs.

The vampy, glammy, rock and roll approach is more direct than Electricity In Our Homes. Was this a conscious effort to get away from those more overtly indie stylings?
Yeah, I think purely because it’s a sum of its parts. The old band was more of a consortium, we kind of threw things against each other and everything took a long time. Things ended up being diluted but really interesting. This was a far purer process.

On first listen to the album, there are clear nods to early Adam and the Ants, Modern Lovers and Aladdin Sane era Bowie. What else fed into the song-writing?
I always listened to Dirk Wears White Socks. Thats an album I’ve had since a teenager, his voice is really good, his lyrics are really funny. (Though) my two biggest influences are always the Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett’s solo stuff. The Velvet Underground’s idea of keeping things primitive and sexy, (being) influenced by stuff like doo-wop and girl groups yet keeping it quite hard. Vocally and lyrically it’s Sydney Barrett and Tom Verlaine.

There are also some quite sprawling, beauteous and often melancholic moments on the album, for example the tracks Clarinet and A Lions Way. It’s not all visceral post-punk thrust. What did you draw upon for these textures and themes?
They come from interesting psychedelic groups like July and the The Soft Machine and maybe even West Coast things like Frank Zapps early stuff … There’s no massive overall concept (to the album). Most of it’s about really traditional subjects like girls and boys and love and jealousy and all the nice things. There’s no kind of big intergalactic story … A lot of it’s cut-ups, I think it’s more me just having fun with words. I can have a certain taste or aesthetic for weird or nice words and just put them together.

Is Clarietta a certain character or a composite of different people?
It’s definitely not one person. We got it from a Kevin Ayers (Soft Machine) song called Clarietta Rag. He died whilst we were making the record, we were already talking about using the name … so it’s kind of like a little dedication to him. It’s not really our place to dedicate anything to him but we decided to anyway.

We just really like the idea of a record having a person’s name so you can refer to it like “how’s she going, how’s the record?” I always liked one-word-albums. My favourite album titles are things like Transformer, Revolver …

Is it hard though trying to bring your music, that is undeniably reverential into a contemporary setting? You’re obviously not contriving to write it for a certain era?
No, I think if you try and write music to either sound like a specific era or, vice-versa, not to sound like anything then you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot. The way I try and do is to do exactly what I want, then hopefully it has some integrity.

The album was produced by Edwyn Collins and as a possible result the sound appears smoother than the original singles. What qualities did he bring to the process?
He definitely made things lighter and more elegant. We were quite a primitive group, we’ve kept that, it was important to keep things pretty raw but he slowed things down, gave them more of a groove … He was incredibly enthusiastic, we only had 15 days so we were there working reasonably hard and he was there every morning, last one to leave. He was really encouraging. He’s very Scottish but in a camp magical way.

Who else do you position yourself with/like to play with?
Toy have been like our big brothers. Their band really started to take off and we went on tour with them in October last year. That’s when became a real band. We were playing every night. They were responsible for us getting signed because it was their label (Heavenly) that was there watching at our first gig …

What’s else is on your live agenda? It looks like you’re visiting many festivals this summer …
We went abroad for the first time last weekend (early May) as a group. Our label Heavenly has three other groups, TOY, Temples and Stealing Sheep who are really great. We went to play an I store for (French) Record Store day at Rough Trade’s pop-up shop … but mostly it’s UK stuff at the moment.

You’re not thinking about doing a New York trip at any time then?
We’d love to. That’s definitely one of our ambitions for this. If not this year, then around the time of the second album sometime early next year. That would be a dream come true. To play my New York inspired music in New York!

But you don’t want to write music for a specific city per se …
Not definitely, I want to (initially) be a national band and after being a national band I’d like to go to New York and be international. That’s what I quite like, a lot of the people (checks himself), no sorry, the few people who are talking about our group, they’re talking about us being a New York style group rather than an east London (one) which I like quite a lot. I wouldn’t want to be an east London style group from east London.

by Benjamin Lovegrove

Clarietta is out through Heavenly Records on May 27

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