Recently we were in London to have a word with Charlie Simpson of Fightstar before their special MTV Presents acoustic show at Camden’s Dingwalls venue. We spoke about the recording process for the band’s latest album, ‘Be Human‘ which has just been re-released in deluxe form. SPHERE scribes Ricko Walsh and Olivia Fanaroko spoke with the vocalist about writing, performing and more…
“On ‘Be Human’ we had to try everything”
S] So, to start the interview off we wanted to discuss what it was like for you recording drums on half of the new album ‘Be Human‘ without Omar [Abidi, drums] who broke his wrist part of the way through – how was he able to get his ideas across when you were writing?
CS] It was cool. It was a really weird situation because normally a band would have to stop recording but we were on such a tight schedule that someone had to step in. For me, I’ve drummed for as long as I have played guitar so I thought it would be a fun opportunity for me to step in and Omar had lots of ideas. So, basically, we sat down together and went through the parts that he’d written and he conveyed to me what he wanted from them and I basically used my arms to play what he wanted. It was a weird experience but it was fun at the same time.
We have a very similar ‘drumming mind’ and that really is the only way it could have ever worked, even though our styles are very different so, Omar would say something and I would just understand it – I guess we were lucky in the end that it worked out like that.
S] So what inspired you to do this special acoustic show tonight at Dingwalls?
CS] It wasn’t actually our idea! We recorded an acoustic show which we put on a bonus DVD for the deluxe re-release of ‘Be Human‘ before Christmas, and then MTV just came to us and asked us to do a ‘MTV Presents…‘ show with them. It ties in nicely because the deluxe release just came out. I like the idea of doing this kind of show, it’s nice to strip the songs down to their bare minimum and to how they started originally and it’s nice to get down to the “grass roots” – it’s going to be fun!
S] On that note, how does the songwriting process work for Fightstar?
CS] We usually write the tracks acoustically and from then on we’ll get everything down. Our drummer’s input will come after the melodies have been put into place. It’s usually me and Alex [Westaway, lead guitar] in a room and I will just write something like a melody or a chorus in order to get some sort of structure, because we can’t just sit four people in a room and start writing. It usually comes from an idea that either myself or Al have had, once that’s happened Dan [Haigh, bass] will come in and add a riff idea into the mix, then we will get together as a band. By then Omar will have had some time to hear what we’ve done, get a beat in his head and once that’s happened, we can head into the rehearsal room and bash everything out properly.
S] So, when you are doing a performance like tonight and it’s so ‘stripped down’ does it make you feel like you’re at home almost rather than putting on a full-scale show?
CS] Yeah, there’s definitely more of that vibe [laughs]. It’s fun you know? Rather than us just coming on stage with electric guitars to blast everything out it feels a lot more relaxed almost as if these people who have paid to see us have stepped in to our front living room and are just watching us have a jam.
S] To record this last album you went to Air Studios and you were able to work with the internationally renowned cellist Audrey Riley, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
CS] Basically, Audrey was on our shortlist – we had a list of about four people that we wanted to work with, and she was the only English person! [laughs] Seriously though, she’s done some incredible work with Foo Fighters, Muse, Coldplay and on the off chance we sent her our stuff and she actually came back to us and said, ‘This sounds like a really exciting project, and I actually want to meet with you to talk it over and figure out what we are going to do.” So, she came round to my house one night, we went to the pub and just started chatting about music and the ideas that we wanted to get across – from then on I knew that Audrey was the right girl for us. She just went away for about three weeks with a blank canvas and I sent her the songs we’d been working on and she came back with the most incredible finished songs. I actually went to meet her and she showed me using fake strings what it would be like using the real ones so that I could change and edit anything I wanted to – I ended up changing about three things in the whole of the arrangement – she absolutely nailed it.
S] Tell us about the orchestra that you used for the album?
CS] That was a 24-piece! It was the Leipzig Orchestra and they are insanely good. That was really like waking up on Christmas morning – it’s not possible to describe what it was like to hear that kind of and perform in this massive building [Air Studios is a converted church] – we felt so lucky to have been able to have that opportunity to work with such a great crew – through that we were constantly thinking, ‘This really is the life’. On the last record we just went crazy, it was like, ‘We have to try anything and everything’ – if it sucked we wouldn’t use it and if it worked then that’s great and fortunately most everything worked for us.
S] There’s something we are particularly curious about and have to ask – can you tell us what inspired the middle 8 section and the change in melody at the end of the track ‘Colours Bleed To Red’?
CS] I am a big fan of creating a massive build-up like Slipknot and Rage Against The Machine tend to do, I mean, people say that it’s a cliché thing to do but I don’t care because it sounds brilliant! If I am in a club and listening to a track, then I want to hear the guitars drop down and I want to hear and aggressive and emotive vocal that means something and then, I want to get that slamming note in at the end to get that last bit of emotion out and that’s what we were able to do with that track.
S] You released ‘Be Human’ independently after your former label Gut Records went into administration – can you tell us how you have enjoyed the creative freedom?
CS] It feels good. It works for us and what we are trying to do. Creatively we never really fell out with gut because they weren’t at all bad to us but it gave us the opportunity for the first time to make our own impact on our own terms. Obviously, we funded ourselves this time around and we were never in a position to do that before. We were playing festivals all throughout the summer so we could fund the album by getting decent fees and so, we hammered every big gig that we could, put all the money in a pot and saved it ready to make the album.
To have been able to do that was very lucky because for most bands it really is difficult to pay for an album these days. I mean, we knew that we were going to be making quite an ambitious record, with the choir and all of the other aspects – that doesn’t come cheap. We really wanted these things and we had to work our arses of to get them and we know we have worked from the ground up to make this whole thing happen and now that we’ve done that it really has been great. Beyond that, it’s going to be very positive too, because we are very particular about the way that we want things and how we want things to be perceived on the outside – to have that element of control is certainly more important than it’s ever been before.
S] What’s going on with the release of Fightstar’s horror film, ‘In God We Trust’ which you are all supposed to be writing, soundtracking and starring in?
CS] The hype that surrounded that has really cooled down a but now because we have all been so busy and when the actual release date for that will be I really cannot tell you – it might be one year, or it may be a year-and-a-half from now. We’ve been filming for three years. I don’t know what it was but about two years ago information about that got leaked to the press and everyone started talking about it. It really was meant to stay a low-key thing. I think it’s going to be really good, but it’s being made on nothing, probably about £5,000 in total for a 45-minute short film – there’s certainly no money in it. It’s all about the ideas and I think when people see it and appreciate how much time has gone into it, they will enjoy it.
S] What are your plans for the near future, will you be recording again soon?
CS] After tonight’s acoustic show we are going to be taking the first break we have had in a log time and we probably won’t start writing until early next year. I think for the rest of this year we are going to chill. We’ve done three albums now without taking a break for the past few years and so, I think it’s time we took a breather in order to re-gather all of our creative inspiration. It’s going to be nice to stop for a while and then come back again refreshed ready to record the fourth album.
S] What’s the thing that you are most obsessed about taking on tour with you?
CS] It’s definitely my iPod. Omar‘s is those cleansing wipes – he doesn’t like going to the toilet without them. Al can’t go without his computer and I am not sure about Dan…he certainly can’t go without his phone though.
For more information visit the official Leipzig Orchestra.