Lonesome Chris Todd (The Hardchargers) Interview by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Lonesome
Chris Todd (The Hardchargers) Interview by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

Lamitschka:
Music has many new fans throughout Europe who may be hearing about you for the
first time. How would you describe yourself and the music you play to someone
who has never seen or heard you?

Answer: I
would describe the music I play as authentically energetic, intense and raw
blues and roots-driven rock but it’s also fun.

Lamitschka:
How was the last year for you? What were your highlights?

Answer:
This year was great; there were challenges with a line-up change but those
challenges were important stepping stones to allow me a clearer path from now
on. In the summer, the new line-up of the band toured in England, which was the
band’s first tour outside of Ireland, and it went very well. I want to tour in
Britain and Europe a lot more now. The Scarecrow album come out on
Market Square Music in January which was a very important moment for me – to
see all the hard work come to fruition. I also released a limited-edition live album,
recorded to multitrack in the Belfast Empire, which is a legendary venue in
Belfast, And Now…Live at the Belfast Empire, which is available through
BandCamp.

Lamitschka:
What is your latest CD and how’s it doing?

Answer:
The album is called Scarecrow and it’s out on Market Square Music. It’s
getting pretty good reviews, a decent amount of airplay and a good response
from the people who’ve bought it. It’s the first full length album from The
Hardchargers after nine years of the band being established, so I’m really
happy with it just being out there!

Lamitschka:
How did you choose the title for the CD? Is there a story behind the name?

Answer:
The idea of a ‘Scarecrow’ really comes from the song ‘Lonesome Thread’, which
deals with the idea of feeling worn down and threadbare from life’s challenges,
both inside and out – like a human scarecrow. I’d decided that I would make a
scarecrow and photograph it for the front cover in advance of recording the
album but I hadn’t fully decided on the title. The executive producer
(musician/music historian Colin Harper) and I liked the simplicity of calling
the album Scarecrow – it made sense with the front cover and some of the
messages in the songs.

Lamitschka:
Do you write the songs yourself? If not, how do you go about finding the songs
for your CD?

Answer:
The Scarecrow album has six original songs on there that I wrote and
there are two covers on it: Muddy Waters ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ and Johnny
Winter’s ‘Mean Town Blues’. They were songs that I and the band liked and that
we played live a lot; they were a good fit for this particular album. The other
songs were chosen by myself, the two former members of the band and the
executive producer, so there was a bit of compromise there but it does successfully
show the different facets of the band’s sound up to that point.

Lamitschka:
Please tell us about the songs on your album (influences, etc).

Answer:
All of the songs on this album show different aspects of the band’s sounds and
show how the songwriting has evolved over the years through different
influences. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct flavours to the album, one
which was driven by a resonator guitar and shows more directly the ‘down-home’
country blues influence and another side which is more electric-guitar-driven.
The two covers on the album are the band’s own interpretation of songs by
Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters so that provides a part of the answer to this
question – the Johnny Winter song ‘Mean Town Blues’ itself has the influence of
Magic Sam’s version of ‘Lookin Good’ on it, with the speed and power I liked in
that song. A couple of songs on there, both ‘Jojo’ and ‘Lonesome Thread’, were
written at a time of listening to a lot of RL Burnside, the North Mississippi
Allstars and the Hill Country Blues style generally.

The four
songs that I’m happiest with and to me are most symbolic of my original vision
for the band when I started it are the electric ones: ‘Charger Swing’, ‘Little
Too Late’, ‘No Stone Unturned’ and ‘Sometimes’. Those four songs are more
emblematic of the wider range of influences – not necessarily certain artists,
but different feelings or moods that have led the me down a direction. But I’d
say that, for instance, ‘Little Too Late’ is very minimalistic. It’s like the
bizarre love child of Lil Son Jackson, Link Wray, John Lee Hooker and The Doors
and a minimalism I picked up on during my time in Manchester between 2004 and
2007 where I checked out bands like A Certain Ratio. The song ‘Sometimes’ is
where the influence of Frankie Lee Simms, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Guitar Slim and
Stevie Ray Vaughan all meet. ‘Charger Swing’ is influenced by Bukka White and
Little Feat. ‘No Stone Unturned’ starts out like a mix of Jimi Hendrix and
Mississippi Fred McDowell but has a section at the end which kind of goes into
a Middle Eastern and psychedelic ‘free-form’ mood. It’s there that you can hear
some of the North African and Indian music that has been an influence – people
like Mohann Bhatt and Ali Farka Toure and also albums like John Coltrane’s
‘Ole’, although it also references the American roots guitar styles of people
like Lowell George and Roy Buchanan.

Lamitschka:
What is the difference between your last CD and your current one?

Answer:
Before the Scarecrow album, we had only released three singles and an
EP, and we’d had to record those really quickly – literally dashing from one
studio to another. Recording singles, we had very limited recording time and
budgets, also the songs had to be kept short to make them work as singles for
radio play. Recording the Scarecrow album was hugely different because
we had six days, which allowed for more relaxed performances, and most
importantly allowed the songs to be fully expressed. There was room to stretch
some songs out to get them where they were really always meant to be when I
wrote them. For example, both ‘Little Too Late’ and ‘No Stone Unturned’ had
been released as singles but, to me, it didn’t do them justice, whereas on the
album, I feel like they are actually fully finished the way that they were
always intended to be.

Lamitschka:
Your current single is being played by radio. What do you feel is special about
this song that makes people want to hear it?

Answer: I
think ‘Charger Swing’ has a mixture of elements that to most listeners will be
familiar but I think it’s fresh at the same time. It has a big and colourful
sound, but yet still it’s not too fussy, it’s part 1930s country blues and part
modern roots. It’s a good-time song, bright and cheerful but with that little
bit of bite in it. It’s got that great brass part and a really joyous trumpet
solo played by Linley Hamilton, which to me brings a kind of early jazz sound
to the mix. The harmonies give it a real depth and bring a gospel sound into
it., sort of like the work of the two Bonnies – Raitt and Bramlett – with
Little Feat or Hendrix’s ‘Burning of the Midnight Lamp’.

Lamitschka:
What will your next single be?

Answer:
I’m going into the studio in October to record an acoustic solo EP so maybe
something from that.

Lamitschka:
What kind of songs do you like to record the most?

Answer:
I’d just like to record as many of my songs as possible, whether they are the
shorter, more compact type of songs or longer songs that stretch out or the ones
in between. I like being able to imagine other instruments to really bring out
different emotional atmospheres and moods from each song’s distinct flavour.
I’d say that if I was to record a second album with the songs I’m working on
now or that I already have finished, there’d be even more sonic textures on it
than Scarecrow. I like the creative scope of that.

Lamitschka:
What is your favorite song among all the songs you have recorded and what’s the
story behind it?

Answer: I
think any of the four electric songs on Scarecrow are contenders or
‘Beaker’s Bowl’ from the live album. But if I was pushed to answer that
question I’d probably say ‘No Stone Unturned’ because of its eclecticism and it
appears on both the Scarecrow album and the live album available through
BandCamp. It’s a song about just trying to get on with it, about wishing
sometimes that people would mind their own business and just let me get on with
my life.

Lamitschka:
How much creative control do you have over your music?

Answer:
Although it wasn’t always the case, nowadays, I have full control over the
creative process, which feels great and somewhat overdue since I started the
band and I’ve always written all the songs anyway. The choice of songs picked
to record on Scarecrow was a compromise between the band members, myself
and the executive producer but other than that, I had full creative control
over the project but with the advice and technical assistance of the engineers
Tony Furnell and Jude McCaffrey, Cormac O’Kane who mastered it and Colin Harper
who was the executive producer.

Other
than the songs chosen for the album, during planning and recording the Scarecrow
recording sessions, the former members of the band said they didn’t want the
responsibility for anything except playing their own parts, which I was very
glad to hear because I had a vision for the album and the future of the band
with lots of energy and ideas for the project that I didn’t want to be diluted.
For example, on Scarecrow there are guest appearances from Linley
Hamilton on trumpet, Scott Flanigan on organ and piano, Sean Doone on banjo and
my friend Amanda Agnew providing vocal harmonies on ‘Charger Swing’. That
wasn’t the preference of the other members of the band who wanted all the guest
appearances taken off the final mixes except for the banjo part on ‘I Can’t Be
Satisfied’ and the only reason they wanted that to stay was to be a part of
some sort of clique. But I’m glad I stuck to what I believed was the right way
forwards for my own creative vision. Next time around that thankfully won’t be
a problem and knowing that I’ve got full control has helped me to really start
to develop again with a lot of new song ideas for another album safe in the
knowledge that I can make it exactly the way I want with whatever guest
musicians and choice of songs I like.

Lamitschka:
There’s a lot of work that goes into a number one hit. What did it take to make
it in your case?

Answer: I
haven’t had a number one hit so I don’t know the answer but I think there is as
much or should be as much hard work that goes into making any original music
and as in my case, trying to make a lifetime’s career out of that music. I
believe that whatever someone’s dream or passion is, it’s going to take hard
work and sacrifices to follow that through and make it a reality.

Lamitschka:
Do you have any interesting stories about how fans have been affected by your
music?

Answer:
Well, apparently the young son of a local music journalist loves my voice and
goes around the house singing Hardchargers’ songs in his best impersonation of
me.

Lamitschka:
Who inspires you musically and how deep do your musical roots run?

Answer:
I’ve been playing and making music since I was 12 years old. I’ve played in
more bands than I could count and in lots of styles. I’m not from a musical
family although I had an uncle and an aunt who played music in clubs here in
Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s. My dad was roadie for my uncle’s band so
I guess he’d been around bands and musicians enough to help me understand what
it’s like and he showed me some basic guitar chords, gave me a book with chord
diagrams in it. Some older kids near my house played guitars too and they
showed me a few little things. I started off writing and playing punk and heavier
rock styles in my early teens, I listened to a lot of Dead Kennedys and stuff
like that. Then when Pulp Fiction came out and I heard that great
instrumental and surf rock music by Link Wray, Dick Dale and The Lively Ones, I
could see how that had been an influence on East Bay Ray with the Dead Kennedys
and, in fact, more recently, I’ve been going back to checking out the early
instrumental and Surf Rock styles again, both newer bands from the 90s and
2000s like Messur Chups but also the older bands like the original Surfaris and
The Ventures and also going back to listening to the Dead Kennedys. I love the
attitude and originality in that band. I got bitten by the blues bug when I was
about 15. My favourites in the blues are the two Blind Willies – Johnson and
McTell. But equally I love listening to Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins,
Frankie Lee Simms, Lil Son Jackson, Little Walter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Magic
Sam, Smoking Joe Kubek and Bnois King, the early Fabulous Thunderbirds albums
like What’s The Word, which had a really aggressive and stripped down
sound I like. I love the early Albert Collins stuff from the late 50s and the
60s up to when he recorded for Imperial. I love a lot of what Derek Trucks has
been doing. I do love good ‘roots’-based music – I listen to Rockabilly and
some Country, I do enjoy Dwight Yoakham’s first five albums and I love singing
along with Hank Williams. The band are named after Texan rockabilly and country
artist Jesse Dayton’s website ‘Home for Hardchargers’. I saw him live finally
about a year ago – what a brilliant guitarist, writer and performer he is. Over
the years, as I’ve played in other bands I’ve went through other phases and
found other music I like in different styles, like the three years I spent in
Manchester checking out bands and musicians from that city or playing with
Zimbabwean musicians for three years when I came back to Northern Ireland. It
all helps you grow if you let it and I’ve quite an open mind, which I’d like to
really let loose a bit more in my music from now on.

Lamitschka:
What do you think about today’s music scene versus its post and where do you
see it going in the future?

Answer:
There’s always people out there making interesting and great music, ironically
it’s just sometimes hard to find nowadays because there’s so much out there and
available now with platforms like iTunes, YouTube, BandCamp and Facebook all
easily and quickly accessible, bands don’t need major or even fairly big
independent labels these days to get there music out.  In the blues though, I worry that the genre
is becoming formulaic and becoming a stereotype of itself, it’s in danger of
becoming all about performance and image rather than a genuine expression of
the soul.  I believe any artform with
depth should come from a place of truth, self-reflection and life experience,
I’m not sure thats the case within much blues these days whereas at the heart
of the blues and it’s origins, there was always art created out of true
struggle. When I started my career years ago, dressing the way I dress and
playing the way I play, it was hard and people even laughed at me but now with
a load of hipsters turning it into a scene, it’s all become very generic.  If we aren’t careful, blues musicians will
have to play and dress a certain way to be taken seriously and pure
entertainment value will usurp artistic and creative values .  I think about these things a lot lately,
maybe too much. 

Lamitschka:
If you had the chance to change something about the music industry, what would
it be?

Answer: I’d
ban tribute bands. They’re destroying the live music scene and it makes me
quite angry.

Lamitschka:
As an artist, you so many tasks such as recording, touring, interviews. What do
you like best, what’s your favorite activity?

Answer: I
love recording and playing live the most. The band did its first tour outside
of Ireland in the summer, a 1,900-mile trip around England. I loved that and
what I really want most of all is to tour in Britain, Europe and further
afield.

Lamitschka:
Are you doing anything to take music beyond its current borders or are you
happy where it is?

Answer:
I’m always trying to learn from music that I like listening to so that I can
hopefully mix it all up to make something that’s fresh. Even when I played in
other people’s bands years ago, I would always try to find a way to push myself
further, to make my parts more interesting, put my own stamp on the songs and
develop my craft. I think that same attitude of mixing influences and
experiences is already apparent on the Scarecrow album but I feel that
my musical identity still has a lot of room to grow and hopefully a second
Hardchargers album will be another step closer to that. If a couple of songs
get finished the way I want them to sound in my head, then it will be a big
step closer.

 

Lamitschka:
What inspired you to become an artist?

Answer: I
loved the idea of the autonomy and freedom in life that being an artist could
bring. That’s what I hoped for – being able to live life on my own terms and
hopefully see more of the world through it too.

Lamitschka:
What inspired you to become a songwriter?

Answer:
I’ve always tried to create my own songs, even in my teenage years. I just
always thought that everyone has something to say.

Lamitschka:
What drives you?

Answer:
The hope of someday being able to create original music that is the perfect
blend of all of my very favourite sounds and influences, and a sound that
completely reflects how I feel inside. The sort of music where playing it live
or listening to it on an album would make me as happy as listening to my own
top ten favourite albums one after another.

Lamitschka:
When you get time off, how do you like to relax?

Answer: I
like fooling around with my guitars and stuff, watching movies. Sitting by an
open fire noodling on my guitars with either a nice strong cup of coffee or a
cold drink. I like walking in the woods near my home in County Antrim. I like
reading but sometimes, with how busy I am, I feel like I’ve very little time to
read.

Lamitschka:
Is there anything in your life that you would change if you could?

Answer: I
would probably like to spend more time with my daughter; she lives with her
mum.

Lamitschka:
What hopes and desires do you have?

Answer: I
hope to keep writing, recording and touring with my music. It’d be nice to not
have to worry about money so much to feel safe in the knowledge that I can make
that happen easier.

Lamitschka:
What has been the biggest disappointment in your life?

Answer: I
think that might be that music so far hasn’t helped me to see as much of the
world as I would have liked to have seen.

Lamitschka:
When you’re on tour, do you have time to play tourist?

Answer:
Not really. So far, I’ve always had to drive a van on tour so I usually find I
need to rest a lot in between playing.

Lamitschka:
Many music fans today get their information about artists online. Do you have
your own website and what will fans find there?

Answer:
Yes, the band’s website iswww.thehardchargers.co.ukand fans can read about the history of the band, as well as a page
about the Scarecrow album and there’s a gigs page, a videos page, and
direct links to YouTube and Facebook pages. There is also a contact form for
anyone who wants to get in touch directly through email.

Lamitschka: What’s the best compliment a
fan has ever given you?

Answer: A fan who is a professor of
English at a university in Oklahoma but originally from Austin Texas, told me
that he had seen Stevie Ray Vaughan in a small club in Austin in the very early
80s and told me he liked what I did just as much and thought it had as much power
in it, so that made me pretty happy.

Lamitschka: What message would you like
to send your European fans?

Answer: I hope to see you all before too
long.

Lamitschka: Fans are always hungry for
good road stories. Do you have one you can share with us (come on don’t be
shy)?

Answer: In October 2002 when I was
playing a festival with Billy Boy Miskimmin (The Yardbirds, Nine Below Zero) in
Kinsale in the extreme south of Ireland, I was very chivalrous and walked this
girl home but when I got back into town, discovered I was locked out of the
hostel we were staying in, so I spent the night sleeping in a doorway with my
coat pulled over me. It was pretty cold!

Lamitschka: Describe what a perfect day
is like for you.

Answer: I’ve had some days where it’s been
really nice, where I spent the morning with my 6-year-old daughter and then
went to play an afternoon gig with Mexican food for dinner afterwards followed
by a few really cold gin and tonics (with fresh lime slices) and then being
able to play on a my guitars until it’s time for bed. I love days like that.

Lamitschka: Most careers don’t last as
long as yours. What’s given your career the staying power?

Answer: I’ve been involved in music for
25 years now and since 2007 that’s pretty much been my only career – I’ve done
a lot of guitar teaching to help make ends meet. Before that, I worked in
supermarkets and jobs like that to keep money coming in and in fact, in the
last couple of years, I’ve had to take on a few other temporary non-music jobs
when times have been tough and I think not being too proud to take on other
work is important if you want to survive. It all comes down to how much drive
you have and how much you value music making in your life, sometimes that means
doing something else to simply survive.

Christian Lamitschka (Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de) for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show

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