It’s always tricky finding (and keeping) an audience for a band that can’t be sussed out entirely in the space of seconds. A band where versatility and diversity are more valued than instant comfort and sameness. That made it especially heartening when Sydney’s Charge Group turned heads and won new fans with their 2011 single ‘Run’ and its bravura video
That song’s hard-bitten propulsion isn’t what you’ll find on Charge Group’s self-titled second album, though. Instead are wistful ballads and roundabout voyages that at most share a thread of wintry melancholy, Jason Tampake’s unpredictable violin and Matt Blackman’s uncommon clarity as a singer and songwriter. Below, Blackman discusses the effect of ‘Run’ and breaking out of the traditional rock format.
: I want to talk about when you first brought violin into the band…
: Well, Jason and I were high school buddies. We were always musical collaborators in minor ways, in year 11 and 12. Then I went off and started Purplene with Adam [Jesson] the bass player, and Jason and I kept in touch as friends. But it wasn’t until probably 10 years later that we reconnected. That was after Purplene broke up and we had a few pretty powerful connections. Namely, one of our best friends from high school died in an accident; we played his funeral, Jason and I. That was the moment when we realised there was something powerful going on between us. And it coincided with a time of flux, the end of a band falling apart and a bunch of new ideas coming together.
: Between that and some flute, it gives the band this almost classical edge, which plays into some of those instrumental stretches you guys do. Was that something you wanted to explore, getting out of the simple rock-band thing?
: Definitely. It’s just these areas of music that interest us. It’s a case of not being afraid to throw things into the mix and try them. I’ve always been a big advocate of that, when possible. A lot of those flute parts just came from parts of the song that I would often hum, or there’d be a melody floating around in my head that would then translate into trying a few various instruments out. It’s not a case of wanting to sound like anything classical; it’s a case of looking for ways to break out of a traditional rock format. And that’s important to us, because the whole rock thing can get quite same-y.
: Yeah, Charge Group songs usually don’t just do the same thing the whole time. It might start as a ballad and then end somewhere completely different.
: Thanks. I’ve always found that particularly exciting when I’ve seen bands pull that stuff off live. I like the idea of songs taking you somewhere unexpected and having payoffs along the way, if you’re patient enough to let the song evolve.
: There are also more songs around the six-minute mark than most bands, so that gives a sense of taking your time.
: Yeah, I guess there’s always that temptation of going, “It’d be nice if people played our songs on the radio.” Every band wants [that], for whatever reason. Songs like [the longer ones], you just go, “Oh well, I guess no one’s going to play that on the radio.” (Laughs) It just gives it its own little world, in that sense.
: ‘Run’ seemed like a real “single”, as opposed to some of your other songs.
: It’s definitely a standalone song. Nor is it particularly radio-friendly: it’s hardly got any lyrics, and it’s not really hooky, I guess, in the traditional sense. (Laughs)
: It’s hooky in the sense of a spy theme or chase scene, which the video fed into. Did you notice more people coming to gigs because of it?
: We did. It was quite eye-opening to realise just how much reach Rage
has, because we got a lot of attention out of that clip with Rage
. They loved it and played it four weeks in a row in a really good timeslot. There were a lot of people coming up to us at shows, saying they had no idea who we were but that they saw our video and loved it. That’s really cool because it’s introducing people to, I don’t know, a fairly abstract idea of what a pop song is.
: It’s also interesting because, like you said, it’s a standalone song and not that representative of the rest of your songs.
: That’s right. In a way, that was why we were so excited to do a video for that song. Because it had its own standalone energy. It already felt like it was the soundtrack to something.
: Does having a name like Charge Group, which has a certain blankness, let you feel like you can do all these different things? The name makes it sound like it’s these people working towards something, but the parameters aren’t defined.
: That’s cool. I’d never thought of that side of things. Actually, when we were coming up with names, there was a distinct decision to find a name that was neutral enough that it didn’t evoke anything too overt. And didn’t sound like it was borrowing from anything specific. Having just come from Purplene, which was a complete pain in the ass, we wanted to have something that was a blank canvas. But there’s also something positive about Charge Group: it has an uplift to it.
: It sounds proactive. “Charge Group: we get things done.”
: (Laughs) Ironic for a band that puts out a record every four years.
: Yeah, was it your various side pursuits [Palace of Fire, Tucker B’s, Firekites] that made that gap so long?
: It’s a combination of that and the fact that none of us are full-time musicians, I guess apart from me. We all have day jobs, and no one’s relying on this great rock ‘n’ roll dream to fund their lifestyles and pay their rent. So we get together when we can and tour when we can, when it fits into our other lives. As a result, time passes and you think, “Holy shit, it’s been years since we’ve had a record out.” But that also makes things really exciting when we do get together. We never have that enormous familiarity where you’ve just been ground into submission by relentless touring and relentless expectation. And it gives us time to work on other projects, to make Charge Group vital and interesting.
: Doug Wallen
is out now on Microphone & Loudspeaker/MGM.
CHARGE GROUP TOUR
Sat, Jun 9 - Street Theatre, Canberra, ACT
Sun, Jun 10 - Yours + Owls, Wollongong, NSW
Fri, Jun 15 - Red Rattler, Sydney, NSW
Sat, Jun 16 - Lass O Gowrie, Newcastle, NSW
Thu, Jun 21- Metro, Adelaide, SA
Fri, Jun 22 - Mojo's, Fremantle, WA
Sat, Jun 23 - Dada's Carpark, Perth, WA
Fri, Jun 29 - The Tote, Melbourne, VIC
Sat, Jun 30 - Alley Cat, Hobart, TAS
Fri, Jul 6 – Beetle Bar, Brisbane, QLD