Interview: Charlie Worsham talks touring, songwriting and more

Ahead of his tour with Lucie Silvas I sat own with Nashville singer-songwriter Charlie Worsham and chatted about his love for the UK, touring with Lucie and writing songs. 

Born in Mississippi, Charlie Worsham has been calling Nashville his home for a few years now, it’s also where he recorded both his debut record Rubberband and sophomore album The Beginning Of Things which was released earlier this year via Warner Bros Records Nashville. The album was named one of Rolling Stone’s Best Country and Americana Albums of 2017 (so far) in June.

“Few people in country understand the genre’s diverse roots like Charlie Worsham, and how it can be both a place for silliness and sarcasm as well as loss and longing.” Rolling Stone notes about The Beginning Of Things and hits the nail on the head. Latest single Cut Your Groove is more on the learning-life-lessons side of things and balances well with fun tracks like Take Me Drunk. 

Charlie doesn’t hold back when talking about his love for the UK and its country scene, and the feeling is mutual. Just earlier this year he opened Country To Country festival on the BBC Radio 2 Stage, followed by a special guest appearance at Two Ways Home’s songwriters round The Round Up last month and now a UK tour with the multi-talented Lucie Silvas.

So how long have you been in the UK now?

I came over to Frankfurt October 26 or 27, played a weird fun private gig at the Hilton at the Frankfurt Airport and then I came to London right after that. So I’ve been in London, with the exception of the last few days travelling, for a little over two weeks. And I love it, it’s my first chance to be here for that long of a stretch without hopping around.

What have you been up to while you’re here?

They’ve been keeping me busy! Little pop-up shows here and there, I spent a day at Abbey Road recording and I had a couple of days to go and just be a tourist which is my second favorite thing in the world to music. I’ve done a lot of the things, I’ve done British Museum, Victoria & Albert, Science Museum, Harrods, Hyde Park, War Rooms, Shoreditch, all through Soho. And something I hadn’t done before which was the Tate Modern, it kinda blew my mind. Especially when you have six hours to dedicate to a museum. That’s definitely the way to do it if you can.

Tell me a little more about that Abbey Road Recording session.

I somehow convinced Warner Brothers that it was worth spending their money to let me go record at the studio that made records that shaped me. It was actually kind of emotional to get to do it, and intense because I wanted to make sure it was worth Warner’s dollars. You know, my dad was 13 when the Beatles came to America and I was raised on his and my mom’s music which was largely music of the sixties and seventies. And obviously a lot of country and Vince Gill being the principal one of the artists for me. But The Beatles and the Stones were always it, and we got to tour the facilities there. But I had seen they had opened the Gatehouse Studio and they have a couple of new studios that are more budget minded.

And they, at Warner in Nashville, have been talking about creating some content maybe that we can use on Spotify. So we decided to spend a day making acoustic versions of songs that are already out. Obviously to promote that it was recorded at Abbey Road, but Warner will figure out how to have it live on Spotify on some acoustic playlists. But it was very appropriate there, because the last couple of years the majority of my touring has been just me and a guitar, and really where it’s connected the most and where I’ve learned and done the most has been over here. So I’ve kind of learned to take 90 minutes on a stage with just my guitar and really turn it into something that has a flow and dynamic to it, that keeps people engaged. So it was fun, after having sort of mastered a way of performing, to get to document it at Abbey Road was pretty special.

What kind of songs did you record?

I did a mix of songs off both of my records that are out. Heavily leaning on songs off the new record. And I would go back and add a mandolin part here and a piano part there, you know. I couldn’t tell you the whole list, because I never looked up all day. I went to the canteen they have down in the basement, like for thirty minutes during the day and at the end of the day the engineer was very kind and bought me a pint. So I can say I had a pint at Abbey Road! I kept waiting for Paul McCartney to walk in and us just be best friends, but he didn’t. But I think he was in the next week, which was pretty cool.

Earlier this month you played a songwriter’s round with Two Ways Home. How did that come about?

Luke Roberts has really kept me busy on this trip and connected me with them. I actually got to go and write with hem at their place which was really fun, and kind of got me fired up to write while I’ve been here and I’ve actually gotten a couple things written while I’ve been here which has been great. It just kind of happened, it just felt natural to do. And then obviously being there, doing it, it was very much like something that I do on a Thursday night in Nashville.

Yeah there’s loads of that happening in Nashville, isn’t there? Do you feel like you can take things away from these songwriters rounds?

Oh the night of the performance?

Yeah, any songwriters round really.

No of course! They’re always one of the more inspiring things we get to do because you’re hearing songs a lot of times before they’ve really been out in the world or been recorded. Those are the shows I really like to go to as well when I’m not playing shows because it’s just a little more of a behind the curtain type experience for music than here’s me playing songs that have been released exactly like they were released, you know. Give me a songwriter round or a jam band any day. You never know what’s gonna happen.

If you could pick your own little songwriters round, which four would you pick, dead or alive?

*laughs* Oh man! Uh… Guy Clark, me… am I one of the four or do I pick four?

You included.

So I pick three? Okay. Guy Clark, Dolly Parton and George Harrison.

Nice one!

God, but then I’m leaning on like the dead people because we’ve lost so many recently. Tom Petty would be great for that! Ah, and I could either route… I just do one straight up all Travelling Wilburys which would be fine by me, umm… but then you have guys like Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt… because that’s the thing about a writer’s round, you could pick any three random ones… I assume Guy Clark and Dolly Parton and George Harrison would get along well. But it’s as much about the comradery as it is about nay one of the writers.

I read somewhere last week that your first guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry was age ten or twelve?

Oh yeah no that was the Ryman, I played the Ryman when I was ten which was wild and then the Opry when I was twelve which was also wild.

So how did you get into music in the first place?

Couple of things. I was really bad at sports. I was like a lot of kids and I kind of signed up for all the things and had great parents who allowed me to trial all the things and didn’t push me into anything unless I was into it. And I really dug piano lessons, they stuck, like piano was fun but then I got scared to break boards with my hands, like fighting, I’m not really a fighter and I truck out at T-Ball. Literally, they got the ball sitting on a stand and you need to hit it, and I swung and missed it three times *laughs* I have perfectly good vision so it wasn’t that.

But the other thing was, my dad is a retired banker but he always played music as a drummer so I had fond memories, my earliest memories really of music are going to see him play and sitting in his lap at getting to hit the drums. And I just remember the physical, raw power of the music. Loud music coming through the speaker and amplifier, hitting a drum, and seeing that night of people out dancing under the colored lights and seeing the power it held over people and just thinking “Man, I wanna do this” Somewhere deep down I I even knew then, this is what I want to be doing with all of my time in my life. And nothing ever happened that meant I couldn’t do this. It’s the only job I ever had, which I’m very fortunate to get to say. Even in middle school, I was in bar bands and that was my job, I could make a couple hundred bucks on a good gig. And I got paid in cash so I didn’t have to pay taxes *laughs*

Let’s talk a little bit about your new record, the Beginning Of Things. What were your inspirations, how did you write the songs for it?

Oh man! Well, the songs were born out of these notebooks. I was really burned out between tours and I got these notebooks and wrote “Tell the Truth” on the cover and ended up filling four notebooks up before we made the record and it was part journal, part songwriting book and part therapy for me. And I promised myself I’d fill a page every day and it had to be the truth,  that was the only thing. So some days, it would come out just the anger I was feeling or the jealousy or whatever it was I was feeling. And then other days the more I committed to it, the more the pages started to look like songs.

And the inspiration – I feel like part of being a songwriter is having a switch that’s always on, you’re just always chewing on an idea or listening to an idea. So I’m always reading good books, always watching shows or movies that inspire me, I love to people-watch, travel is a big inspiration and then where I’m from is a big part of it. And it was on this record in particular, I really did burn out and at the point at which the touring stopped, it sopped pretty cold. And going through a change in management and a whole lot of down time meant I had time to get home which was a great gift. And I started snooping around my hometown and reconnecting with people and places and that was a big inspiration.

Having Frank Liddell as producer on the record basically meant he kept pushing me in that direction. A lot about it for me was that I had to get away from the noise. Nashville is a great place, but it’s a loud place. And there are a lot of voices that tell you what to do and I mean, I wouldn’t have the song Please People Please if it weren’t a central fact of my personality that I aim to please other people at the expense of my own inner compass.

And so that was one of the things, and I still feel that way about Nashville, I mean I love it, it’s been a home for me for eleven years but it’s very easy to listen to a lot of voices that aren’t necessarily coming from a place that is true. Because ultimately music is a strange way to make a living and in order to do it, you really have to complicate it. But all the things that we love about music are pretty uncomplicated. They’re actually the simple fact of taking the feelings that are messy and try to just boil them down to the simplest truths at the centre of it. So getting to Mississippi it was quiet enough to hear quiet but important voice of the heart.

And in doing that with Frank I also sort of reclaimed my geography of growing up in the state that gave the world Elvis and BB King and Charley Pride and Tammy Wynette and all of these great people in music, and sort of planted my own flag in that dirt, like “I’m from Mississippi, y’all can kiss my ass” *laughs*

Are there any songs in particular that you like playing live from the new album?

Oh gosh, I love ‘em all for different reasons and this being the first tour I’ve done in the UK that I have a band for I’m in the habit of not putting out a set list because it really depends on the crowd and the moment, it’s fun to float through the songs at the spur of the moment but they’re all fun for different reasons. Southern By The Grace Of God and Please People are really fun to play rockin’ and loud and I can kind of get down on the bluegrass and the blues stuff that I grew up on on those.

But then there’s really intimate songs like The Beginning Of Things or Old Times Sake, that have a much different dynamic. And the crowds here are the kind that I can play a song like that to and not be drowned out. And then there’s really soulful stuff like Call You Up and then there are lyrics, you know, there’s the funny stuff… It’s like picking a favorite kid, you know.

You mentioned the audience, I imagine they’re quite different to what you get in the US. What do you feel is the biggest difference?

The big difference here, and that’s not to speak to every audience in America, because right before I left for this trip I saw Jason Isbell at the Ryman and it was the kind of crowd that I often talk about when I talk about the crowds here, they were committed and they seek music out for themselves, and they were into every song. I do think that in America though a lot of the main stream crowds, in America we’re very spoiled in many ways, and one of those ways is in entertainment we sort of have our pick, and we’re addicted to our phones. And I don’t think that’s just an American thing, but we’re particularly hung up on our status on Instagram and so what I’ve seen and what helped me get burned out when I was on tour was the crowd doesn’t necessarily decide for themselves that it’s something they like, or that’s cool. They sort of let the corporate channels pick or them. And so if it’s an artist they heard a lot on the radio they trust that it’s cool. And if it’s not, they don’t.

And I at that point and really pretty much my whole life with one exception had not been on the radio much, so the other thing is when they’re like “Oh yeah I heard them on the radio and they’re cool” that doesn’t trigger “I’m gonna sit here and absorb this” it triggers “I’ve gotta get a thousand selfies and how drunk can I get. I need proof that I was here and it ain’t a party till I’m puking tomorrow.” When I came here and I would sing songs and the next night people would sing back the words to a song I had sung for the first time the night before, I realised, and d even more now, the fans here discover music for themselves, they own the music they discover. And I don’t even mean physically, I just mean they claim their artist and they seek it out. And they’re engaged and when they get to the show they way they appreciate it is to be completely immersed in what is happening on stage. To me that is the difference in being able to win a crowd over or not.

Like, I can come over here and if it’s a crowd of people that are already my fans it’ just gonna be fun and we can go anywhere they wanna go. If it’s a crowd of people that I have yet to sing for I get a fair shake. It’s not to say, again, that you can’t find that in America but our value system is just a little wonky right now, like the idea of going and not having your phone out the whole time, getting tipsy and remembering what happened is just not something I see enough of.

Do you think it is also maybe because country in America is so much bigger than it is over here? Because over here it’s still quite small compared to the big pop and rock stuff.

Gosh, maybe so. Maybe I should go to a Kings of Leon show here and see if people are like they are at a Jason Aldean show at home. I think part of it too though is that in America the most broadcast form of country is the “we go out in a field and see how drunk we can get and see how short the daisy dukes get”. And here, that’s only a tiny fraction of the type of country music that people are exposed to.

So small or not, Angeleena Presley is just as big a deal as Luke Bryan. And is appreciated for what she is not how she plugs into a party song style. So I think it’s also that, it’s all style of country are welcomed. It’s been fun to see that Isbell and Margo Price are sort of criss-crossing as Lucy and I do with country. And Brothers Osborne are touring with Cadillac three, who, correct me, but I don’t think they’re considered country over here. So that’s awesome to me. It’s good music, well fuck yeah let’s go.

So you’ve had one show so far with Lucie on this tour, how’s it been?

It’s been great! It’s been a whirlwind though because I was in London for two weeks and then flew to Hamburg and back Friday, flew to Amsterdam Saturday and played the show and back yesterday. So we’re all trying to drink enough tea and coffee to stay awake but we’re having a blast. I love Lucie to death and admire her music and talent so much, and her whole band and crew are just awesome people, too.

How did it come about that you two are touring together? Have you worked together before?

Yeah we have! Not officially like this but we’ve written together and been on stage together plenty of times, and I met Lucie when she first came to Nashville to write and was in a band with her and her now husband John, and when they met. So we’ve been friends for a long time and I just got a text message one day and she was asking and I was like “Hell yes!” So it just happened. It’s nice when things like that just happen that way.

And this year you opened the C2C festival with a set at the BBC Radio 2 stage, can we expect you back next year?

I don’t know, I hope so! And I’ve asked my team every chance I could get to ask and had been told of thought for that but I have yet to hear anything back. It’s kind of their hands now.

But I can say even if I don’t make it to C2C next year, maybe it’s unbeknownst to be but I know we talked about me coming over for an extended amount of time and doing a kind of residency type thing that I’ve been doing in Nashville for a while now. There may be plans in place that I may not be  hit to yet that that’s why I am or am not. But I love the festival and it really was the launch pad for me over here.

One final question. I’m a bit of a London geek because I’m not from here either so I like asking people who frequently visit what their favorite places are. So what’s your London happy place?

I’ll start with where I went yesterday: Brick Lane, love Shoreditch, I love getting the salt-beef bagel at the bagel places. Cereal Killer Café, the chocolate shop Dark Sugars, Cheshire Street for vintage clothes, I love Dishoom. I’ve been there six times on this trip alone. I love BAO, there’s a couple of locations, one’s in Soho, one’s on Oxford Street. I love going for a run in Hyde Park, I love, uhhh, hang on… I got more, I got more. I mean the Tate Modern was a pretty out-there experience, I love the museums here. And, oh! How can I forget this! My favorite bar in all of London, Raul’s Bar?

Where’s that?

It’s on Maiden Lane, it’s a block off  Covent Garden. It’s the oldest restaurant in London, it’s only, like, twelve years younger than America. And Charles Dickens used to eat supper upstairs where the bar is and I‘ve gotten to become friends with the staff there, actually one of the guys is coming tonight. It’s just a cool-ass place, the downstairs was featured in the most recent bond film in a scene. And they make great cocktails. It’s a great way to kick off your night. If you do go to BAO, the one that’s in Soho, there’s gonna be a line, so I recommend going first to Jon Snow I think is the pub next door, they’ll pour you a to-go pint – so you can stand in line and drink your pint. I’m telling ya, this is a wonderful place!

C2C or not, we sure are excited for what’s next for Charlie Worsham and the idea of having him in the UK a bit more often is one I’m sure UK country fans are more than on board with.