by: Thomas D. Mooney
When I spoke to Charlie Shafter last week, he was chasing down a guitar of his that he had misplaced–and, a tornado was chasing him down. Luckily for him, he was able to catch up to his guitar way before that tornado did. Maybe it’ll end up being a line or two in a song of his.
The Denton-based Shafter is one of the latest “young cats” (what Hubbard refers to them as) that has caught the eyes and ears of singer-songwriter legend, Ray Wylie Hubbard–one of the up-and-comers of this current Texas songwriter generation if you will. Shafter has that unique ability to sound old and new simultaneously–part ’70s progressive country and blues (more blues than progressive country, but still some) and part 00’s singer-songwriter. And maybe more impressive, being able to be appreciated by different crowds and scenes. He’s beloved by the Texas bar circuit and has enough “indie cred” to appeal to those on the fringe.
As previously mentioned, we caught up with Shafter to discuss his sound, his upcoming album, working with the aforementioned Hubbard, his Lubbock ties, and his upcoming show at The Blue Light, which happens tonight with Shurman opening. Like Charlie Shafter on Facebook here, follow him on Twitter here, and subscribe to his podcast here.
New Slang: Well to start things off, you’ve got a podcast that you do every few weeks. How much fun do you guys have with that? It has to be pretty enjoyable.
Charlie Shafter: Oh, it’s great, man. That’s one of the funnest things we have with this whole thing. It’s free and it’s great to make new fans and something for those who are already our fans. It’s also kind of an exercise in self-indulgence too [laughs].
NS: What’s the overall response fanwise?
CS: They love it. You know, they Tweet questions and no matter where we are, we get people who come up to us and say “hey, I hadn’t seen you live or know about you until my friend told me about your podcast.” And sometimes they hear the podcast before they even hear the music, which is kind of a strange turn of events, but it’s pretty cool.
NS: Ray Wylie Hubbard is someone who has had an impact on your career so far. This upcoming album of yours, he produced and everything. First off, can you talk a little about him and what he’s done, and, how was working on this next album?
CS: Yeah, it was a great experience. I’d met him maybe once before a gig. You know, just real briefly. I was just sort of laying in bed one night thinking about the new album and had just been listening to his new album at the time. I thought it sounded great, but I didn’t know how to get a hold of him. But, my booking agent at that time, sent him a demo CD of stuff I had been working on–some new songs–and he loved it. Then we went to Austin, to George Reeves’ studio and record it. He’s a pretty wise cat, man.
NS: How was recording the album? What did you learn from him, like one thing in particular?
CS: One thing–I don’t know–I think one of the biggest things I learned from him is sort of, is timelessness of music and how you want your music to be that way just so when your his age, and I’m still singing these songs, I want to sing them. You know, make things cool and not think about whether or not it’s going to be played on the radio or if it’s going to be a hit. The biggest thing is making sure you’re happy with it yourself. That’s one of the biggest things–before that, before I ever met him, I kind of always would write songs and throw out my favorite ones because I knew they wouldn’t be a hit or anything like that. Would try and write songs people could sing-a-long to. I don’t do that as much anymore. I mean, people can still sing-a-long with them, but I’m not worried about radio airplay.
NS: I was actually going to bring that up. I read on your bio where you were talking about writing songs that you can sing and still relate to when you’re older. I guess with that though, are you saying he kind of reinforced that idea and made it more apparent to you or…
CS: Yeah, I’ve always been that way, but I always thought that I needed to write stuff for radio as well. So some of my best–or what I consider to be my best songs–never made it onto the albums in the past, just because–well, not that I have a bunch of albums–they never made it onto the first album [laughs]. But, just because I was concerned about it being played on the radio. I think I’ve really broadened my horizons since then and made it more about myself artistically.
NS: This new album, when will it be coming out and everything?
CS: I think it’s going to be coming out in August. There’s not an actual release date [yet], but it should be the end of August.
NS: How long have you guys been working on it? How long were you recording it?
CS: Well, we recorded it for two weeks starting in February and then we ran out of money. We did a Kickstarter to get the money to finish it and mix it and everything. That was probably four or five months later. It’s relatively still new, but I feel like it’s been a long road, but anything worth doing should be hard I suppose.
NS: Something that I’ve always wondered is when it takes a long time to make an album–I’m just assuming you’ve had these songs for a while, you record them, and then a good chunk of time has gone by without the album actually coming out, you’re already working on new material for your next album, but then, the album finally comes out, but when it does, do you feel that material is already dated? I can’t think of a better word to describe it other than dated. I guess like as an artist, have you kind of already moved on?
CS: Yeah, I understand completely. It’s supposed to be that way–I think at least. Any band or songwriter, when an album comes out, I think they should already have moved on from it. You know, you still throw those songs in the set. It’s still new to the fans, and once you see the people coming out to the shows and you see how it’s new for them, it makes it new for me–the energy from that.
NS: Something else I read on your bio that I found really interesting is you saying that your songs are more like collages than a specific photograph, painting, or whatever. It’s not a specific image. Why do you think that’s so? And, do you think there’s more songwriters who are like that, but fans just don’t realize it’s so?
CS: Yeah, I don’t think it’s anything unique to me. I think that happens a lot with songwriters. You know, when people ask you, what’s a specific song about, and you’re like, well, it’s like 10 different things. Which line are we talking about [laughs]? It’s just drawn from different experiences. And style to me, is bred from limitations. Know what I mean? I wish I could sit down and write a song about one thing. But, I don’t think I’m that good of a storyteller. I’ve tried to do it and they’ve ended up where I don’t like them. I like it where the lines and the verses are much more sporadic. Some of them you know, I don’t even know what they mean until two years later. I like it that way. It makes it more fun for me.
NS: Something about your sound that I feel is different, is how Texas bluesy you are. I mean, if you took your songs and read them, I think most would read and feel like singer-songwriter songs. But, when you hear them, they’re bluesier. To me at least, I can’t think of many bluesesque bands being great at writing lyrical songs. And likewise, I don’t think of many singer-songwriters who have a blues influence or sound. Seems like a something not exactly easy to combine. How are you able to do it?
CS: Yeah. A big part of that is that I write songs that are–they’re not exactly depressing–but are definitely slow in tempo and more along the lines of Elliott Smith than Flaming Lips or something like that. What I do a lot is when I go to the band, I have this song that is meaningful and started off as this slow song and we completely fuck it up and change the music so it can become a rock song and you can dance to it and rock to it instead of me just standing on stage and spouting off depressing songs [laughs]. It’s not anything mystical or anything. We get together and change the songs that I have the lyrics to and we change it so it can be upbeat and bluesy.
NS: I’ll get you out on this last one. You obviously have Lubbock ties and everything. Can you talk a little about those? Your time here, what and why you appreciate it.
CS: Well, I lived there six years. The Blue Light, if I had to choose a bar that would be my “home bar,” it would be that. Them and the Golden Light, but more them than anything. I’ve probably played The Blue Light more times than I’ve played any other bar. I love the people. It’s like coming home every time I play there. Once you know a room and the people, it makes it just feels like home.