East Nashville’s Charlie Treat Through His Sophomore Album, The Comet
With a diverse mix of American roots music sounds, East Nashville artist Charlie Treat’s sophomore album, The Comet sounds like the result of influences gathered from his travels around the country, starting with the music he listened to growing up on a farm in New England like Bob Dylan, Leadbelly and Otis Redding. From Alabama to Boston, playing Beale Street in Memphis and now based in Nashville, you’ll hear gospel harmonies, southern rock ‘n roll boogie, funky swampy blues and soul with pop and country making their way in as well. The Comet is fun, full of character and a great soundtrack for summertime. The record came out earlier this year, and while releasing an album during a pandemic might not be ideal, it sounds like it worked out pretty well for Charlie Treat when he was making the album in Nashville.
AnaLee: What a joy this album is to listen to Charlie, it’s quite a journey with the different sounds, styles and layers. Recording during the pandemic provided access to so many musicians who would normally be on the road and unavailable and it seems like it also allowed time for exploration in the studio. Tell us a little about the recording process, working with producer Jesse Thompson and with Larry Hanson at his studio.
Charlie: There’s a monumental beauty and challenge in getting 6 guys from distinctly different backgrounds and experience levels, into a room, after a long day’s work, placing wood and metal objects in their hands and making poignant sound art together. Some days you’re not in tune with the world, much less your guitar. When it worked it’s because it was so fragile that it necessitated some divine force to blow in. When it didn’t work people’s whole nights, whole weeks, went bad. It was written all over their face and their walk. This was the band. This wasn’t the casual, professional hired gun hang, this was brothers in arms. Most of the time we were pointed to the light. There were times of head butting. Everyone was so passionate about it; it became emotionally dangerous. There were sessions scheduled 2 weeks in advance that people missed. They couldn’t handle it. They cared too much. It was contagious, the whole world caves in if it goes right or wrong. Some days you can’t go there. It was a colorful war zone, a beautiful colorful war zone. And when it was done and we were all drunkenly belting out gang vocals to the last song there was more joy in each breath that night than all of the bad times combined. It was the storm we had to face to earn our sea legs. That’s how the beginning was. First testament of this whole thing. The chaos. Then we played a bunch of shows doing the new stuff, figured each other out, and a few months later we tracked half the record in a day. You can tell which tracks are new testament and old testament.
In the foreground was Jesse wielding this whole thing. Working with Jesse is like being a little kid making a tree fort with your best friend and also working under a perfectionistic master architect. If Jesse doesn’t like a lyric, melody, chord, rhythm, or tempo he is returning that shit immediately back to the lumber yard. And the record is all the better for it. He wasn’t afraid to say “f that blues shit, take out the five chords, I’m leaving the room for 10 minutes, come up with something better”. So, I would play some modal stuff, flat three instead of five, (the same move every time) and the chord has the 5th note in it anyway, so we would both win and suddenly the song takes on a new life and leans more on the rock/pop/soul side of the dial. And that’s how it went for months until we created a version of the songs that fit both of our, rather specific nuanced, criteria.
We all like to pretend like we’re so go-with-the-flow until the flow is breathing on you. We wanted the world. When it came time to overdubs, we wanted stars and meteorites -pseudo-sound effects- subways, the ocean; we wanted gospel background singers, horns, fiddles, saxophone. We were trying to cram everything we ever loved into one record. Like a sentimental antique mall. We knew exactly what we wanted. One of the funniest, quirkiest, most talented players -multi-instrumentalist, Alabama touring member Larry Hanson- just so happen to be off the road indefinitely because of Covid, enjoying the new sound and we asked him if he wanted to play horns on one track. Fast forward 2 weeks and he’s played piano, slide guitar, Wurli, and a slew of other instruments and horns on the majority of the record. I could leave and go to work for a few days and come back to a brilliant symphony Larry and Jesse created and binged on for 72 hours.
The tracking band is like a family. And everyone else was our good buddies. It felt like a true collective. There’s a whole other element when you make a record with people you hang out with outside of the studio. Everything is a little more personal and commanding of care and respect. There were nights we had so much fun we didn’t stop until well after sunrise and we’d all have to call out of work. Sometimes we’d throw away the whole plan and write a new song on the spot. We were all extremely experimental and curious and reaching, reaching, reaching.
AnaLee: So many of my favorite Nashville artists were involved in this project with you, and we’ll get into all of the “suspects” in the video for “I Ain’t Gonne Be The One To Do It” shortly, but first, tell us about Amber Woodhouse and Amanda Broadway’s contributions to the album.
Charlie: I could go on for days about how good AW and AB are at singing. They’re soulful, rhythmic, they can sing soft, they can belt as high as you want. What stuck out immediately is what they contributed thematically or artistically to the record. On top of this bounding, live, gurgling, sometimes dissonant, sometimes off the rails, bar room band of dudes, are these beautiful powerful poised feminine forces. And the minute they started singing it was like the red coat in Schindler’s List appeared: it gave us hope, reason, and balance to a particularly masculine palette. I was also lucky to get them as a pair. They’re great friends and play in various bands together already. The chemistry and freedom that comes with that familiarity becomes telepathic and contagious and spiritual. Amber also played saxophone on “Soul Owner Of My Own Heart”. I think she did that in two takes and had never heard the song before. We used half of one and half of the other. Her instinct is so accurate that she can catch you as you’re falling. It’s almost as if she already knows what you’re about to play before you play it. And in that way her melodies swarm you and follow you and dance with you.
AnaLee: You not only wrote these songs, and sang and played on them, you also filmed and directed the music videos I’ve linked to below. I love both of these songs as well as the videos for them. Let’s start with Candi, tell us a little about the song and the video.
Charlie: Candi is a fictional character. But she is the personification of Boston and everything that I love, miss, hate, envy, regret about my 8 years in the city of Boston. Candi is my confessional. Someone I can tell all my deepest feelings to. I’m not sure if the speaker is in love with Candi or just loves the moment and the place and the feeling and being able to confide in someone all their woes. I would have loved to film this in Boston but I didn’t have the time or money to drive 2000 miles for a couple of shots. So, we had to fake it. Sierra (Ferrell) played a show in Alabama one weekend so we packed up a bunch of weird outfits, slept in the van after the show and the next day drove to Mobile, AL where the USS Alabama is. Candi is a hard-nosed trashy chick from Southie, like a Grease character, or Springsteen character. So, Sierra put on leather and tall boots and lots of lipstick and smoked cigarettes while I skipped rocks and complained to her, voicing the lyrics. We fell into this role naturally. We got there late that day, the sun was leaving too soon, I took a bunch of B-roll and filmed myself while Sierra spent all afternoon getting ready, we rushed to get 3 or 4 takes of the ocean shot before it got dark and we had to leave. We drove to Atlanta that night, slept in the van in some abandoned parking lot and the next morning did the Subway shots for an hour. We drove back to Nashville. That night, after a few too many at the Jamie Wyatt show at ACME, we dressed up in Boston sports clothes, went to Fran’s and had our friend Joseph film the Boston bar scene. There are also some random shots mixed in of us at the Hank and Audrey Williams memorial site. That’s where we woke up the first day: Montgomery. All of these places were distinctly un-Boston. A few days later I uploaded all the footage and edited it together in half a day. I was pleased with the quickness of this. All that driving gave me time to map it out. Friends of mine were texting me later, “Dude, you were in Boston and didn’t hit me up!?”
AnaLee: “I Ain’t Gonna Be The One to Do It” has such a fun, New Orleans vibe, almost a Leon Russell feel with the piano in it… and the video is really fun. Tell us about this song, the video and the different, “suspects” who appeared in it.
Charlie: Thank you. Leon Russell is my messiah. That’s Aaron Marefka on the piano. This song is a liberation song. “I love you but I can’t do this to myself anymore, you magnificent, insane bastard”. It’s mostly meant to be funny and whimsical and dramatic. But it’s loosely autobiographical and there is an underlying tension of wanting someone and being tortured by them at the same time. And, also feeling awe towards an almost charmingly disastrous person. This was tracked in the beginning: unabashedly, tipsy, rowdy, all in one room, shouting chord changes and laughing and yelling and later Larry and Jesse has just as much fun getting horns on it. Oliver Bates Craven played fiddle.
The video is the first music video I’ve ever made. I was experimenting with making videos of myself at the piano and had some friends sit down too. I used the footage for a Final Cut tutorial I was doing. And used this song as the audio. It came out terrible but it sparked what would be the real video: one angle, my friends goofily lip synching my lyrics, and me sort of missing from the scene of the crime except for some glimpses. Strangely, it almost feels like my friends are me for a min, or at least acting out their own idea of who that character is in the song at that moment. The shooting of the video, I remember, was liberating for everyone. These are all brilliant talents and show women and men in their own right but my prompt to be ‘extra’ on it brought out the best in this crew. I saw a side to some people I’ve never seen before and it was beaming.
The whole “suspects” thing was a continuation of my idea for the video to just be simple and silly and loose. It was a play on those old cheesy murder mystery movies. So, the “trailer” version of the music video introduces the characters and the “full’ version shows you the verdict for each character. And in the end, they’re all innocent because hello they ain’t gonna be the one to do it and the whole story arc is just that much simpler and innocent. I think of this song as this record’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, its meant be free and fun. Interesting fact: the opening shot is from when I first experimented with filming piano songs, I sang “Little Maggie” and the amount of time it took before I started singing and my lip movement just happen to line up perfectly with the first line of “I Ain’t Gonna Be The One”
AnaLee: I know you’ve had a show or two recently in town, anything else coning up and will you be hitting the road?
Charlie: I’m in talks with a few venues and breweries now about local shows this summer. I’m planning a fall tour. Dates TBA.
Charlie Treat “I Ain’t Gonna Be The One to Do It”
Charlie Treat, “Candi”