Darran Charles (Godsticks)

On the back of a rather successful joint  UK tour by The Aristocrats and Godsticks, DPRP are proud to bring you a two part WORLD EXCLUSIVE.  In Part 1 of this exclusive  Darran Charles talks to DPRP‘s John O’Boyle discussing Godsticks new album, The Aristocrats, putting the joint tour together and David Lynch in his often open and humourous manner.  Part 2 of this exclusive sees Guthrie Govan taking time out to be interviewed by Luke Machin (The Tangent / Maschine), which will be published next week and I guarantee you, it is as good as it sounds.  So Ladies and gentlemen I offer you…………….


Interview with Darran Charles

from Godsticks

DPRP’s John O’Boyle

John:  Hi Darran thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for DPRP.  It has been nearly 18 months since the release of Spiral Vendetta.  How do you feel the album was received?

Darran: Overall, extremely well, although the acclaim received hasn’t necessarily been translated to huge sales.  It’s why I often refer to us as ‘critically-acclaimed nobodies’!  We’ve done alright though.

In all seriousness though, we’d always choose making an album that we can be proud of rather than one that was compromised artistically for commercial reasons.

John: What has the band been up to in that given time?

Darran: Gigging, rehearsing, practising, studying and writing.   We’re sad nerds and proud of it!  I should only speak for myself though, I suppose.

John:  I see than Dan Nelson and Steve Roberts have been recruited by Magenta as part of their touring band.  How did this come about?

Darran: Behind my back!  Kidding of course, although it wasn’t something Magenta consulted with me about.  But given that I haven’t yet registered my ownership of Steve and Dan, I suppose they don’t have to.  I think the fact that those pair can play complicated music with relative ease will always make them sought after on the prog scene.  Dan does struggle to fit all of these things in though because school doesn’t finish until 3:30.

I did have a bit of a sulk about it at one stage though, if I’m perfectly honest.  Since we began playing on the prog scene, I’ve been disappointed to see that in the UK we seem to have the same policy as the Australian soap-opera industry i.e. there are only 10 artists to share between everyone, and I didn’t want Godsticks to be perceived as another one of these ‘musician-sharing’ prog bands and as part of that.  I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with Magenta but still, it reminded of what I’ve witnessed since we’ve been gigging, and this is part of the reason that I turned down the opportunity to support them on a few of their gigs with Steve and Dan.

The fact that this person is in that band, whilst also writing with another band, whilst simultaneously touring with another band, for me personally waters-down each of those projects; it also allows the circuit to be dominated by a select group of musicians.  Personally, I wouldn’t dream of indulging myself in another project in the same musical genre as Godsticks because I haven’t yet achieved the level of success aimed for with this one.  These are just my personal opinions of course and I not trying to elevate myself above anyone else; maybe I have a different definition of success compared to some others.  At this moment in time however, I wouldn’t consider Godsticks as having achieved the success we’re aiming for.  We probably never will but we won’t be giving up any time soon.

John: That’s an interesting musical proposition on paper “musician sharing”, something that seems endemic in some genres.  For me though at times when this happens things become diluted, get lost in translation and lose their impact.

Darran: I have to agree.

John:  There’s almost a spinal tap element to your bass players.  Tell us a bit about how you came across Dan.  He must have started at a very early age to be so proficient at ease on bass?

Darran: He’s an incredible player: his feel and sense of timing is that of somebody who’s 3 times his age and spent 3 times longer on the music scene.  Technical ability isn’t something that impresses me a great deal – anyone can learn to play fast – however, what Dan and Steve possess is feel and that’s something that you’re either born with or develop by playing with other musicians all of the time.

I’ve only recently been able to see what he’s able to do on bass.  I mistakenly thought that it would be impossible for a 19 year old player to possess his own style and feel, so was worried about the bass parts for new songs.  I’m pleased to say I was wrong, and what’s he’s written so far is fantastic.

I don’t like the title ‘bass player’ though; it implies that they’re musicians.  I prefer to call them ‘bass frequency operators’.

John: Given the chance, who would you like to work with?

Darran: With regards to creating music there isn’t really anybody I’d like to work with.  Steve and Dan help me create the music I want to make, and hopefully I do the same for them.  This band captures our personalities in a nutshell and for me that’s the whole point of creating music.

If you asked who I’d like to work for, that would be a different answer entirely.  If Rufus Wainwright asked me to play guitar for him, then I would happily tell Dan and Steve to go fuck themselves, shove my wife aside as I run out of the closet, and catch the first plane to Canada.

John:  You often read that musicians don’t always play music that is their true love.  What is you musical passion?

Darran: The music we play is my musical passion.  You can probably tell from listening to our music that we play exactly want we want to play.  Steve and I are fans of all musical genres and if those styles find their way into the music, great; over the course of time I’m sure Dan’s influences will creep into our music too.  We never restrict ourselves to any musical style: if we like it we’ll play it.

John: Having seen the band several times from your Summer’s End show through to the Cambridge Rock Festival how do you think as a live act you have grown?

Darran: I’m more relaxed playing live and I really enjoy interacting with the audience.  I still think there’s plenty of room for improvement performance-wise but that rests squarely at my door: Steve and Dan always seem to be on top of their game.

I’d love to incorporate a keyboard player but they are so difficult to find.  I suppose we don’t use keyboards in the same way prog bands do either, so maybe that is a factor, I don’t know.

The live playing has definitely had an influence on our recent material though, subconsciously at least.  Although the arrangements are still relatively complex (unintentionally I feel I have to add), there’s a definite heavier influence at work which will make them very enjoyable to play live.

John: The real highlight for me during this period though was your stunning set at the Electric Gardens Festival.  What are your thoughts on that?

Darran: That was one of our favourite gigs of 2011.  It underlines the fact that a receptive audience can really augment a band’s performance.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it was a great feeling playing to such a enthusiastic group of music fans.

The festival had a great atmosphere to: it was quite relaxed and everyone seemed to enjoy all the acts.  There were some great ones too, but you can imagine our initial horror at realising that we were following the band that had just played ‘Close to the edge’ in its entirety!!  ‘Seyes’ were a great bunch of guys though, and very modest too.

Ken Foster did a great job organising it too.  Very nice guy, whom I really felt for on the numerous occasions I saw him standing by himself with this head in his hands!

John: Your music is somewhat intricate and convoluted.  How do you approach the writing process?

Darran: The writing process can be long and laborious but I really enjoy hearing the end results.  The majority of the writing is done at home but I have to work with an actual drum beat as the foundation, rather than a drum machine.  I usually come up with an initial idea then take it to Steve to put a beat to.  I then take it back home to develop further and then bring in the newer idea to start the process over again.  Once the structure of the track is completed, I’ll put all the backing tracks down on computer to a click track, take it to rehearsal, put the music and click in Steve’s headphones, and let him play his parts to it while I’m recording his drums.  I’ll them take his drum track back home, add all the instruments, and the demo is born!

Even though it’s me that gets the writing credits for the most part, I can genuinely say that it could not be done without Steve and his unnerving ability to give my weird ideas rhythmic context!  Plus, it’s in the rulebook that drummers and bass players don’t get writing credits.  In saying that though, there will be 2 of Steve’s original compositions on the new album.

John:  Both yourself and Steve are accomplished keyboard players as anyone who has seen you live will attest.  What is your preferred tool to write with?

Darran: I love the piano but it’s Steve who is the accomplished player: he’s a virtuoso on that instrument and that’s no exaggeration.  In fact, he plays piano exactly how I’d love to be able to play it.

Guitar has taken over as the chief writing tool recently, although eventually the original riff or idea usually gets lost underneath the layers of instruments put on top of it!

John:  I must agree with you there: Steve is quite a virtuoso, (now there’s a JD and coke he owes me), and it never ceases to amaze me how he proficient switches between the drums and keyboard with the blink of an eye.

Darran: He constantly moans that he’s not able to switch between this instruments live but I don’t buy his bullshit because I watched him do it on countless occasions!

John: It would appear that Frank Zappa has been very influential on both your approach and style as a guitarist, who else do you feel has influenced you as a player?

Darran: It’s weird: a lot of people have come up to me at gigs and said my guitar playing seems influenced by Frank Zappa.  If truth be told, I’m not a fan of Frank’s guitar playing at all – in fact I fast-forward all of his solos except the one from ‘Any kind of pain’ which is wonderful.  As a composer and person though, he has influenced me immensely.  The man was one-of-a-kind and created some of the most unique music ever heard.

Guitar-wise, my two biggest influences are Steve Vai (‘Flexable’ is one of my favourite albums of all time), and the less well-known Shaun Baxter.  Shaun was a teacher at GIT in London and also a columnist for some guitarist magazines.  His incredible technique, great phrasing, and innovative soloing style are a constant source of inspiration for me.  If he was more widely known I’m sure I’d be accused of ripping him off!  Overall though I would say that vocalists and the piano have been the biggest influence on my guitar playing style.

John:  You are about to go on tour with The Aristocrats.  How did this tour come about?

Darran: The same way all of our tours and gigs come about: begging!  Dan made me aware that the Aristocrats were aiming to tour the UK so I got in touch with Bryan Beller (who played bass on Spiral Vendetta) who in turn put me in touch with the band’s manager, Ed Yoon.

Bryan, Ed, my wife and I then worked our arses off to put this 5-day tour together.  We really looking forward to it and hope it will be worth all the effort.

John:  What can your fans expect from you on this tour?

Darran: You can expect us to be shitting ourselves!  Seriously, for me personally, opening for arguably the most technically gifted guitarist in the world is a daunting experience to say the least.  I don’t perform well under pressure, so the next few weeks will see me losing quite a few nights sleep.

John:  No pressure then?  It must be nice to be working next to these guys and seeing Bryan play again?

Darran: I’m not sure if I want to watch them to be honest!  Usually these things can be inspiring but if you lack confidence now and again as I do, then seeing a band perform at that level can be soul-destroying!

John: What can you tell us about your new album Death to Tuesday that you are about to start recording?

Darran: It’ll be a 12-track album and feature some heavier material than you may have come to expect from us.

John:  Heavier as in what genre?

Darran: Metal.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t metal but there’s a definite nod to the hard-rock/metal music Steve and I grew up on.

John:  It seems a somewhat leftfield title.  Can you enlighten us on what the name means?

Darran: Steve and I hate Tuesdays.  We would like to see that particular day of the week abolished.

With Monday, you know what you going to get – interminable tiredness, the delayed effects of a hangover (if you drink), and last but not least, work.  It might be very unpleasant, but at least it’s not a surprise.

Tuesday on the other hand, is an altogether more insidious affair.  It’s not Monday, yet you still feel like shit, although this time you’re not in the same kind of daze that you were in yesterday –  this misery is in real-time and because you’re marginally more awake than Monday you feel every little nuance of it right up until the sweet release of Wednesday, which in itself isn’t that great a day either.

Steve and I are still arguing about the album title so it’s not 100% certain yet.  He’s been outvoted 2-1 by Dan and I, so the fact that it’s still undecided shows how much power Steve unjustifiably wields in this band.

John:  That is a very intruiging explanation of the album title and would probably make an interesting film script for David Lynch.  Talking of which and many may not know this, but you like myself are a huge Lynch fan especially Twin Peaks.  What would you consider his finest work?

Darran: Mulholland Drive’ without question.  I remember watching it in the cinema: after it finished I walked out scratching my head, and said to my wife ‘what the fuck was that all about’?  I was confused but determined to understand it because I felt it was something worth understanding.  On my third watch I sort of ‘got’ it: maybe I’m a bit slow?!

His films to me are an experience, and Mulholland Drive was a memorable one.

John:  Maybe there is a concept album in there for you somewhere?

Darran: Ha!  Maybe.

John: Talking of which how did you receive Nichelodeon’s IL Gioco Del Silenzio and their take on the musical narrative for the last ever episode of Twin Peaks?

Darran: Genius.  That kind of atonal, free-form playing always lacks context in my opinion.  These guys on the other hand had it spot-on by having a visual accompaniment.  It felt very uncomfortable watching the performance, so I think they achieved what they set-out to do.

John:  It would definitely seem that humour plays a big part of your character and something that always has the crowd engaged making you the front man that you are.  Is that intentional or just a nervous reaction?

Darran: It’s just something that makes me feel comfortable.  I don’t think I’ll ever be the greatest front-man because I can only ever be myself, which isn’t necessarily for everyone!  Front men usually have to have a bit of an ego and rightly so: I however haven’t got one though which, although on the face of it sounds modest, it’s can be a bit of a disadvantage for performance.  Maybe the self-deprecation helps me to combat a lack of ego.

John:  Promoting live shows these days must be quite frustrating as it would seem that a lot of venues prefer to put on cover bands, a concept I find quite strange?

Darran: Since putting this tour on with ‘The Aristocrats’, I can perfectly understand why those venues put on a lot of cover and tribute acts.  The fact is tickets don’t sell for original bands: especially in this genre (except for a select few bands).  I have a lot of respect for venues like ‘The Robin2’ and ‘The Peel’ – these guys put on prog gigs when in reality they’d be financially better off putting on a tribute act.  If all they put on was original acts they wouldn’t be in business very long.

John:  As a musician this must be frustrating too?

Darran: It is, but the public gets what the public wants.  I could piss and moan for hours about certain cover bands but the fact is people want to see them.  It’s the same as vapid, unedifying shit like the ‘X Factor’, and ‘Celebrity this-that-and-the-other’: I’d sooner bathe in acid than watch these programs but given that these programs are watched in the millions, I’m the one in the minority.  And I don’t buy that we’re spoon-fed this rubbish either: people love it, so who am I to judge?

In saying that, I would watch ‘Celebrity Hanging’ if the BBC decided to broadcast one of my submitted ideas, though.  I only wish I were famous enough to participate.

John:  Are their any intentions of recording a live DVD, ( I guess a dead DVD would be very quiet indeed)?

Darran: True!  No plans at the moment but you never know..

John: Since we started the interview the tour with The Aristocrats has now ended.  The buzz at the show I managed to attend was somewhat amazing for both bands which is always nice.  How do you feel in general things went?

Darran: Very, very well.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.

John: Supporting a band such as The Aristocrats must have been a daunting experience and in all honesty you guys really held your own creating some interest in your own band.  Are you planning to put on anymore tours like this?

Darran: I didn’t really think about the fact that we were opening for these 3 incredible musicians; if I had I would have hung myself!  Music isn’t a competition though: they do their thing and we do ours.

I am in preliminary talks to bring the Mike Keneally band over to the UK, but it’s very early days yet.  There’s a good chance that we could arrange another Aristocrats tour once they’ve recorded their second album too.

John: It must have been nice to share the same stage with Bryan Beller?

Darran: I say this with absolute sincerity: it was an honour to share the stage with all those guys.  The respect that I have for them as musicians and people is immeasurable.  I’m not prone to sentimentality so uttering something like that is very difficult for me.

John: The Aristocrats surprised their fans by going that extra mile interacting with their fans which is nice to see, very down to earth guys indeed.

Darran: They really are 3 of the most funny, intelligent, and humble people I’ve ever met.  What you see is what you get with those guys, and it was never an effort for them to interact with their fans as far as I could tell.

John: I had a bit of chat with Bryan and Marco after the Manchester show and they couldn’t believe the response you were all getting.  He was also very complimentary about all the time and effort that both you and Rhiannon to make this all happen, which must have made you both very proud?

Darran: I was proud when all the venues were in place and fees arranged: it was quite a feat I can tell you!  Nobody wants to promote this type of music as mentioned earlier.  Rhiannon (my wife) then put the itinerary together which was an even-greater challenge, but all in all I think it was a great success and worth all the time, effort and money.

John: As a big Dream Theater fan and having watched Marco Minnemann I can’t but feel that it would have been a wrong decision for him to have joined the band had he been offered the position, it would have been to constraining for his style?

Darran: I agree.  Financially it would have been great, but the guy is a true artist and I can’t see that he would have give up all his current projects to go full-time with Dream Theater.

John: For you personally, what was the highlight of the tour?

Darran: It’s hard to pick a favourite gig because they were all completely different, if that makes any sense.  Marco’s impression of the ‘Big Red Guy‘ from a little known animation program called ‘Cow and Chicken‘ was the highlight for me, though!

I actually spent a great deal of time watching Marco from behind the stage.  He is one of the most energetic and enthusiastic drummers I’ve ever watched; his drum solo’s were jaw-dropping but at the same time fun and entertaining.  What a player!

John:  Has it spurred you on to go out on tour more often?

Darran: Honestly, we’d tour all year long if the opportunities arose.

John: Just for a bit of devilment and fun, if I was to press play on your proverbial IPod what surprises would it throw up?

Darran: Well, firstly I’d claim sexual harassment as you’d be touching my body given that I don’t own an ipod!  Currently though I’m listening to Rufus WainwrightAll days are nights‘ and a number of Devin Townsend albums.

John: And finally what five words would you use to describe the band?

Darran: Difficult to categorise marketing nightmare

John:  As ever Darran it is always a pleasure and insight to speak to you and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to speak to DPRP.  Have you any final words that you would like to say?

Darran: Yes, I have.

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2 Responses to Darran Charles (Godsticks)

  1. Markus says:

    Great interview! Funny and honest. Thank you Darran and John. Looking forward to the new album – and hopefully a gig in Switzerland.

    • jonno says:

      It was a pleasure interviewing Darran as ever, always a very open, honest and funny guy. I’m glad you liked the end product and thanks for the positive feedback. Jonno

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