An impressive back catalogue of independent songwriting by Andrew Spittle – totalling some 40 or so albums – has evolved into new three-piece Charcoal Burners.
The Dunedin, New Zealand, singer/songwriter has brought added a bassist and drummer to his delightful texture-filmed light rock sound, which comes to fruition on latest album The Best Day You Could Imagine.
Andrew sent us Days Behind, the third track on the album, which gives us an interesting insight into their sound. Echoey vocals hang over an atmospheric musical background of floating guitars, a stabbing little bassline and cool little psych-rock sounding guitar licks. It’s an almost mesmerising, super chilled out track.
And that fairly sums up the general Charcoal Burners sound, although there is a rockier overtone to their music – including the lively Rings Run Circles. The laid-back vocals remain but are supported by heavier, faster, distorted guitars in this more upbeat track.
Tracks like Trailer Tragedies and Reticent continue the more rocky feel, with lively drums and little bursting guitar licks on the latter in particular making it a highlight of the album.
But a personal favourite is When I Whisper, which opens up with repeating guitar chords then big rolling drums drop into Andrew’s signature calming vocals. It soon builds up to a big blast of guitar chords and driving drums with a little guitar solo over the top to bring it to a lively ending. We love it. Give it a listen below:
We had a fascinating chat with Andrew to get the lowdown on his musical career to date, find out more about the band and his influences. Read on below…
GR: Who are Charcoal Burners?
AS: “I started out in Dunedin back in the nineties at the tail-end of the whole Dunedin sound thing – like turning up at the party when the police have been called and everyone is leaving. But to be honest I was much more into American guitar stuff anyway.
“I’ve pretty much been writing and recording ever since without paying too much attention to getting stuff out there. Of course, now that’s easier with digital platforms so…here I am.
“Charcoal Burners is a new name so I’ve basically rebranded the whole back catalogue – there are about 40 albums there on Bandcamp, which were put out originally under different names. Having a live band helps – we’ve been enjoying that. I did some playing with Sally (bass,vocals) years back so it is great to work with her again. And Finn was a real find on the drums – he’s just an animal.”
GR: You just released Days Behind – what should people be expecting from it?
AS: “It ended up sounding like this psych soup, but it was originally just a really sweet little Nick Drake type thing stating the blindingly obvious fact that the future isn’t what it used to be.
“People seem to really dig the surface textures of this one and assume that I sit around studying Kevin Shields all day, but really it’s just a cool song. It was one of those ones in the studio where you figure out what you are going to play after you’ve played it. It kind of starts with this riff that wasn’t even part of the song until we started playing, then it was like, OK, so that’s how it goes…”
GR: How would you describe your sound to people that haven’t listened to you yet?
AS: “The new album is very much about that three-piece sound that I started out with all those years ago. If I’d made 40 albums like this I would have gone insane. Fortunately, I haven’t and it’s been a long winding journey through a lot of different terrains, and this one is coming full circle.
“In a way, this is like the record I wish I’d made 20 years ago. First and foremost it’s about the songs, the writing. And then just putting power and emotion behind it. I keep hearing myself tell people ‘yeah, it’s like Husker Du,’ cos they were totally my defining influence who I was obsessed with in my youth. But it actually doesn’t.
“There’s no one Husker album you could say it sounds like, it’s more an aesthetic. There is also no real aggression in the vocal delivery, which in my youth I used to try but I sounded like a pissed-off squirrel, which I guess tips it back more towards some of the English stuff. Live, we just sound really loud.”
GR: What influences you to write music?
AS: “If I felt I was just cranking out a formula I would have quit years ago. I guess it is that feeling where the songs exist independently and you’re finding them, giving them a channel, rather than pulling them out of your skull. A lot of them are pretty dark but it feels good to let that voice be heard, realising it isn’t actually you, but it’s a voice that needs to have its say so the rest of you can keep functioning.”
GR: We don’t meet too many bands from New Zealand. What can you tell people about the current state of the New Zealand music scene?
AS: “A lot of New Zealand musicians are doing really well. It is easier for people to access the world stage. It is not a hugely supportive environment locally though, I think because the scene is so small and close which breeds a bit of mistrust, and you’re always dealing with people you know, as opposed to people who just dig what you do.
“We made Tracks of the Week in San Francisco on The Owl Mag, but we can’t even get a song playlisted on the local student radio station. So, for me, the local scene has that kind of unpleasant intimacy, like being stuck with people you vaguely know in a broken elevator.”
GR: What are your key musical influences?
AS: “So after the big American guitar thing that got me started when I was 17, there were a bunch of other things that took me in different directions. Nick Cave, The Smiths, Neil Young… I was a pianist before anything else so I was always tuned into that sound.
“The next big thing for me was the American Music Club/Red House Painters thing. It had the same depth of emotion but a wider and sparser palette which opened things up for me. Radiohead, The National. I am always looking for things that are greater than the sum of the parts, that transcend their origins.”
GR: What do you have planned for the rest of 2019?
AS: “My problem has always been that I write and record and then just move on to the next one. So we really want to give this album the push it deserves.”