Heavenly Recordings' reputation for sniffing out hot new talent goes back decades. Among the label's earliest releases were Saint Etienne's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' and 'Motown Junk' by Manic Street Preachers. Since then, they've been responsible for pivotal releases from people like Doves, Ed Harcourt, Cherry Ghost and The Vines. Their current roster reads like a who's who of London's burgeoning psych scene. Toy, Temples and the band we're here to see this evening Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs heading an impressive list of talent.
Formed only in the early part of last year after the break up of Boyer's former band Electricity In Our Homes, The Voyeurs managed to get themselves signed off the back of one show. And while lady luck may have been shining on them that evening, their subsequent releases for Heavenly would suggest the five-piece are anything but a flash in the pan. Debut single 'I Watch You' and its glam-rocking b-side 'Be Nice' both recall a battalion of inspirational figures from rock's back pages including Marc Bolan, Syd Barrett, Television and Dr Feelgood. Further singles 'Things We Be' and 'Be Glamorous' take their psychedelic no wave a step further culminating in the band's first long player, 'Clarietta', produced by Edwyn Collins and released in May.
We're here at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston to see the band - Charlie Boyer (vocals & guitar), Sam Davies (guitar), Danny Stead (bass), Ross Kristian (keyboards) and Samir Eskanda (drums) - headline their native city's Jack Daniel's sponsored JD Roots event. It's a balmy summer's evening here in East London, so post-soundcheck DiS will relax in the beer garden, deep in conversation with The Voyeurs affable frontman.
DiS: You recently embarked on your first headline tour of the UK. How did it go and which show stood out for you?
Charlie Boyer: I really can't remember which one was the best. All of them were surprisingly good. Considering it was our first time out of London as a headline act - we toured with Toy last year and they were all really good gigs because they've got quite a big following - we had a great time. Toy did us a big favour back then because it gave us our first taste of what it could be like being a nationally recognised band. Going back to our tour, people bought tickets and came to see us play. Some of the shows were really busy, others half full so I was really impressed by it. Overall I was pleasantly surprised, as I didn't think we'd attract anywhere near as many people as we did.
DiS: Do you change the setlist from show to show? A lot of bands, especially newer ones in a similar position to yourselves would just choose half a dozen songs and run with them.
Charlie Boyer: Yeah, we've juggled things around a bit for this tour, introduced a couple of songs from the album we'd never played before. We had to rework them a bit from how they sounded in the studio. We've settled on about eight or nine songs for now which we're rotating until after the shows with Temples later this month. Then the following month we're looking at possibly introducing a few new bits and pieces into the set. There's also still a couple of album tracks that we haven't played live yet which we need to start working on. We definitely need to play everything off this album first before we start bringing in new songs. We need to learn to play this record really really well, and then hopefully the songs will grow themselves as live versions.
DiS: The album Clarietta has received unanimously positive reviews. Was that something you were concerned about prior to the record's release, or maybe an expectation even?
Charlie Boyer: I don't tend to read that much into it. It's only quite recently that we started getting press so in many ways it's a new thing to us, seeing other people's opinions about our music. Generally the ones I've seen have been pretty good. It's really nice when people like it. Although I wouldn't say it was a primary concern. It's nice to wake up in the morning to an email with a link to a positive review. But that's as far as it goes really. Something to ponder over breakfast then get on with the rest of my day. I think we make very simple music that people can get attached to, so if people are becoming attached to it then I guess we're doing the right thing.
DiS: How did the band get together? I've read somewhere that you initially booked to play a solo show then decided at the last minute to assemble a band beforehand.
Charlie Boyer: Yeah that's right. I actually wanted to put together a band with this specific line-up in the vein of The Velvet Underground. By that I mean two guitars playing essential rhythms, an organ, drums and a bass. I recorded a couple of songs on my own and released them on a label called Blank Editions, but soon realised I needed to put a group together to help sell that record. The first idea of it was just me doing that with my friends playing. And it worked out really well so we didn't stop. There has been a few line-up changes along the way but I wanted to make this band and I knew a few people that wanted to do it so everything went from there really.
DiS: The band's image is very striking, unique even, especially in the current climate. Do you see image as being just as important as the actual music?
Charlie Boyer: Yeah, definitely. I'm really interested in good looking bands. Not a bunch of models or anything like that, but I like bands that have a presence. I like to be just as excited by seeing a picture of a band as I do hearing them. I think that's important, so yeah, it does come into play when picking who's going to be in your group. Even seeing a band's name in print can be really exciting too. It's also a big part of it.
DiS: You mentioned Toy earlier, and you're also playing some shows with Temples later this month, who are both also on Heavenly Recordings same as yourselves. Do you feel an affinity with the other bands on the label?
Charlie Boyer: Yeah I do, especially Toy. I've known those guys since before I started this band and they're really good friends of mine. Whenever I have a new demo I play it to Tom (Dougall, Toy singer/guitarist) and whenever they have one he sends it to me. We're quite competitive in a nice way, always wanting to show each other our thing. Temples are a newer band to me. I've only met them over the past three or four months. We went to Paris with them in April and had a really good time, so I'm looking forward to touring with them as I'm sure we'll all get to know each other better. The one thing we all have in common is that we're all completely opposite to each other. There are differences musically but I think we all share the same headstrong idea of working really hard, being in a band seven days a week. None of us see this as being part-time.
DiS: How did you come to be involved with Heavenly in the first place?
Charlie Boyer: Again, through Toy really. They were playing a residency here at the Shacklewell Arms in January and February of last year. They had four Thursdays in a row and we played with them on the last one. Tom from Toy told Jeff Barrett from the label he should come and watch the support band which was us. Considering that was a first proper gig it went really well, and Jeff signed us pretty much straight after the show.
DiS: There's a quote on the Heavenly Recordings website attributed to you saying "We write a song a week, minimum." Is that really the case? If so, how much unreleased material do you have waiting to be released?
Charlie Boyer: Definitely. In the run up to making our first album in October and November of last year that's what we were doing. We set a deadline of the 7th January to go into the studio, so every Sunday we'd write a song then demo it, rehearse it on the Wednesday and record it the following Sunday. That was our pretext to getting ready for the album. Now we're not recording an album it's far slower but we're still writing at least one song per month at the moment. There's a few finished songs that we didn't use on Clarietta and probably won't ever use to be honest, and then there's lots and lots of sketches. Just guitar and vocals on their own. The songs we're writing now are far better. We're planning to write the second album over the next eight or nine months with the intention of it being ready to record by January or February next year. The songs I write are quite simple, quite throwaway. Just three chords in many of them.
DiS: The first song I heard by your band and still possibly my favourite is 'Be Nice' off the b-side of 'I Watch You'. When a band can relegate a song of that standard to b-side status and not even include it on the album that tells me two things; that you've incredible belief in yourselves as a band and that you've a stunning catalogue of songs waiting to be heard. Do you think it is important for bands to try and ensure there's no filler on every release? For example many bands seem more concerned about individual tracks these days rather than the overall package.
Charlie Boyer: Definitely. We want to make everything as good as we possibly can. It's really not that hard to write a good song. That's what we aim to do all the time. For the next single the b-side is going to be a cover. We haven't really done one yet and also as far as the writing process goes we're trying to build an album. My favourite song of ours at the moment is 'It's My Wish' off the b-side of 'Be Glamorous'. I really like the idea of having strong b-sides. Most of my favourite bands always did that. It makes sense to release individual tracks for radio in the current climate, but the way I think about releasing a record also involves writing a great b-side, because it's quite traditional and bands who do or did that are the ones that excite me. So I'm trying to carry on in the same vein.
DiS: Have you decided yet what the cover version is going to be?
Charlie Boyer: 'Sister Ray' by The Velvet Underground was one we'd planned to release separately as a one-sided twelve inch single for a record fair. We recorded it live at a gig we did in Shoreditch about six weeks ago. And then we remixed it and made it fast and exciting. I really like the idea of a one-sided twelve inch as well, like a proper white label with maybe only 200 copies or something. For the next b-side we're thinking of 'Wicked Annabella' by The Kinks. It's really nice and curt. A bit sleazy and very English. We had a little rehearsal the other day and it sounded good.
DiS: Edwyn Collins produced your album. How did that come about and what did he bring to the sessions?
Charlie Boyer: It came about through discussions with Jeff (Barrett) really early on when the label first decided they wanted to work with us. He produced our first single and when we got talking about the album, Jeff suggested he should maybe do that as well and we agreed. I've been a huge fan of Orange Juice for years, especially the Postcard Records era, so it's amazing that someone responsible for creating that romantic British sound wanted to work with our band. We recorded a few demos, sent them to him and just got on with it. His music's a lot poppier than ours, so when there was some space he brought a certain polish to our sound. We're quite raucous and primitive whereas he's more about making everything sound clean and polished, so I guess we just met in the middle. He made it more of a brighter sounding record than we would have made on our own. In the long run it makes everything sound more interesting. It also gives us the space to go either way on the next record as well.
DiS: Is he someone you'd consider working with again in the future?
Charlie Boyer: Yeah, definitely. If someone said I had to work with him for the rest of our career I'd be fine with it. But at the same time I'd like to work with other people as well.
DiS: So who's on your wishlist as potential future producers?
Charlie Boyer: I'd love to work with John Cale. That would be incredible. He'd be my number one choice. The records he made and the records he played on are some of my absolute favourites. I don't think about those sort of things that much really. I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I'm more interested in writing the songs.
DiS: Do you prefer playing live to recording in the studio?
Charlie Boyer: On a god day I'd say we're better live than we are on record. I think we've definitely transcended what we've recorded in the studio so far. I'd like us to become more of a recording band but I think that will come with experience. I think we will get there. Even the demos we recorded recently and the last b-side show that the gap's getting closer. It's all part of the learning process.
DiS: You've previously played with Electricity In Our Homes and Neils Children among others. What did those experiences teach you about the harsh realities of the music industry and being in a band in general?
Charlie Boyer: I'd like to think I've learned a lot from the mistakes we made. I also played with The Diddlers and Spider & The Flies so I'd like to think I learned lots from each. In some ways I probably stole bits from each too which helped me form my band in the first place. It's almost like Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs are the sum of those parts. And me being more in control. In every other group I've been in it's been me working as a musician or part of a conglomerate bouncing ideas off each other. Whereas here I'm the one that makes the final decision.
DiS: What do you see as being the key to longevity?
Charlie Boyer: Good songs, working hard and working quickly. We really want to put out an album a year. That's something we've talked about as being really exciting to do. And also try not to read too much into what people are saying about you. For example, there are people who've tried to pigeonhole us, but I honestly don't think there's anyone else around like us.
DiS: Maybe they were referring more to the whole East London scene?
Charlie Boyer: It's that whole London thing that worries me. We get compared a lot to New York bands from three decades ago and that's fine. They're all massive influences but I don't want people to just see us as a covers band either. I guess we'll always wear our influences really honestly, so if people want to say it they're gonna say it.
DiS: What advice would you give to any new bands just starting out?
Charlie Boyer: I dunno. For me I've always liked doing things really quickly. A couple of rehearsals, play a gig and then assess the situation. But that's not how everybody works. Telegram, who are one of my favourite new bands tend to do things the opposite way. They rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed for about six months until they came out with an essentially tight, eight-song set. That's something I've never done. When we played our first gig we had three songs. I'd just get bored if we were constantly just rehearsing and not playing. I guess we're more accustomed to the DIY flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style. But I definitely don't know if that's the right way to do it?
DiS: You're playing several festivals this summer. Are there any you're particularly looking forward to?
Charlie Boyer: I'd have to say Reading and Leeds, purely because they were the first festivals I ever went to as a teenager. It was my first experience of running wild with my friends and the whole sex and drugs thing without my parents being there. It's just a reminder of really good times. To be playing there is like a dream come true.
Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs can be seen at the following:-
13 London East End Live Festival
27 London Open East Festival
3 Rochester Music Event One
23 Reading Festival Republic Stage
24 Leeds Festival Republic Stage
30 Salisbury End Of The Road Festival
13 Portmeirion Festival Number 6
19 Oxford Gathering 2013
For more information on the band visit their official tumblr page.