Tim Burgess People do put you in a certain time capsule, or time spot. It definitely doesn’t bother me on a day to day thing,and I don’t feel I have to explain myself to anyone,” says Tim Burgess. If there are any doubters remaining, Burgess has provided plenty of evidence to silence them. In the past two years, he’s completed an autobiography, Telling Stories, for Penguin Books, launched the bold O Genesis label that has put out a series of 7″ singles that reflects Burgess’ own diverse musical interests and his phenomenal crate-digging instincts. These have included singer songwriter Joseph Coward, the cult musician R Stevie Moore, an experimental noise piece from Factory Floor’s Nik Void, contemporary post punk via Electricity In Our Homes, and a spoken word release from Jack Underwood. That’s not to mention his presence on Twitter, where his Tim Peak’s Diner has become a virtual meeting place for music obsessives the world over.
This, alongside his regular eclectic DJ sets,led Burgess to the attention of BBC 6 Music, who commissioned him to produce shows on Christmas and New Years Eve. And then, of course, there’s his new solo album Oh No I Love You, which arguably features some of Burgess’ finest music to date. It’s been a long journey from Manchester to Los Angeles, to a grey part of North East London and Nashville… While so many of Burgess’contemporaries from the 1990s have disappeared to come back with lucrative reformations, he and his band have continued to evolve, with The Charlatans took the brave decision to release their most recent album online for free. You get the sense that if he didn’t take these risks – or as he puts his “flip my life around”, Tim Burgess might get bored. “I’d hope that I’d never stop being excited, because I’ve always liked the idea of doing new stuff and keeping doing things,” he says. “The more things I’ve got orbiting around, the more excited I get. More is more. I want to keep myself busy and stimulated, and I did have quite a lot of time on my hands because I’d left Los Angeles and plonked myself in Seven Sisters.”
This return to the UK after a few years spent largely based in California coincided with a decision to finally give in to pestering from Penguin that he put the story of his life into print. But Burgess wasn’t content only to look into the past – he wanted to revitalise his present, and look to the future. “I thought when I’m doing a book I have to do a record at the same time,” he explains, “It felt like I had to do that time to keep it all going.” Yet the tale of Oh No I Love You begins halfway through Telling Stories, when Burgess carried Kurt Wagner’s guitar to his van after a Lambchop gig in Manchester in the year 2000. “As I’ve said to many people I’ve enthused about along the way, ‘hey we should write something together’. He said‘sure, Tim, you write the music and I’ll write the words’.”
The idea lay dormant for a decade until the downtime after the last Charlatans tour, as Burgess was penning Telling Stories. “I thought maybe I should just go to Nashville and hook up with Kurt,no strings attached at all, and see what happens, maybe we can write a song together,” he says. “I went to stay in a place called the Hotel Indigo, he lived a couple of miles away round the corner, we met up for coffee every morning and talked. I went back to my hotel room, wrote a song, and emailed it to him. We’d meet the next day, or he’d send some words. He said that he wanted to be my mirror. I found that very interesting.” Back in the UK, Burgess thrashed out these ideas for songs into demos, and sent them back to Nashville,where Mark Nevers put together “a dream band” featuring Chris Scruggs (whose grandfather Earl Scruggs wrote the Beverley Hillbillies theme), Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket, members of Lambchop and 70-year-old saxophonist Denis Solee.
The recording process was very much of the Old School. “It was very regimented,” Burgess explains. “They were paid by the half day, and we did the whole album in two and a half days. They learned the songs.It was very Nashville, and I found that very alien but also very ‘oh my God,this is me stepped into a different world that I’d never seen before,completely out of my comfort zone.’ I had great admiration for them.” But Oh No I Love You is no Nashville pastiche, in thrall the country and western tradition.
Influenced by Arthur Russell, Bill Callahan and Bob Dylan as much as Lambchop and the local greats, it also features electronic input from Gabe Gurnsey, drummer with London avant-techno group Factory Floor.It’s still very Tim Burgess, the sum total, like that autobiography, of his life and musical loves. As he puts it, “I wasn’t trying to make a country record, though I knew there would be elements of that, and I wasn’t trying to make an electronic record either. I wanted to make a record that was me, with all the information that I had at my age on my shoulders and in my head. It’sis very much a Manchester and Nashville,” Burgess says. “It’s a Venn diagram,the two cells with a little in the middle where we met. I tried to speak Nashville in a Manchester accent. If it were a film it’d be a North-Western.”So the Tim Burgess of now, peering back to the 1980s and the Tim Burgess who was about to become an international popstar with the Charlatans, what would you think about what has come between? “I still think I’m a punk. In the beginning of the book, it starts with me going on holiday with my mum and dad,my dad giving me ten quid or something for my holiday money, and I didn’t spend any of it, I kept scrounging, and then when I got home I cycled to the local record shop and bought the Great Rock & Roll Swindle. I was listening to the Great Rock & Roll Swindle, the same copy, as I was writing my book. I was reflecting saying ‘Tim, what has changed?’ Well I’m still a punk, I’m now in love, which is a great feeling, and I’m listening to the Great Rock &Roll Swindle. What’s different? I’m friends with Steve Jones. He drew a cock on the sleeve next to him. But apart from that, nothing! I’ve been through all this shit, I’ve been through great stuff, I’ve been through drugs, death of a friend, ups and downs, but the record is still there. And then My Way came on,and I thought, that’s the end of the book. Or not the end…