Federal Charm - Autumn 2018

British rock band Federal Charm have just created what can only described as a first class album. Their third full length record Passenger is perhaps the template for what a modern band should sound like. It’s a diverse album that presents many different styles that come together beautifully to present this wonderfully cohesive release. There is no doubt that the new members Tom Guyer (vocals) and Josh Zahler (drums) should be allowed to claim some credit for taking the band’s output to the next level. Tom in particular is a striking vocalist who has the ability to immediately capture and hold your attention. He is a real find and Federal Charm need to make sure they keep a firm grasp on him. With such an incredible record about to hit the shelves we had to get the story on how Passenger and the new line up of the band came together. We catch up with guitarist Paul Bowe on what is an incredibly hot day in Stockport and one which will see Paul confined to the studio for most of it. But he is in fine spirits and who can blame him when he has so much to be proud of.

First let’s talk about the music. Your new album Passenger, which is to be released on the 14th of September, is something really special indeed. This is far from a standard rock album in that it has so many unique and surprising touches. Just to elaborate on that, I particularly love the intro to the opening track Swing Sinner which has the effect of hugely building anticipation, and also the melodic guitar outro of Death Rattle which is something quite inspired. But perhaps more than anything, throughout the whole album there are some glorious and unexpected time changes, perhaps especially so on lead single Choke. In many ways it perfectly presents the skill of knowing when not to play which overall creates an incredible and very moorish vibe throughout. So let me start by asking what was your vision for this record and how has the approach you’ve taken differed from your earlier albums? 

With Passenger, the way we’ve driven forward was organically when we were with a previous incarnation with Nick (Bowden – vocals & guitar) and Danny (Rigg – drums). So a lot of the bare bones of this material I’d already started writing at the end of Across The Divide in Wales when we went away to a studio there for a week. That was towards the dying weeks of the last line up. So basically I’d already written material that I was working on. The approach was basically just demoing, demoing, demoing and pulling it apart. When we got the new singer, Tom, indirectly, having new members come in to the band influences how you put it back together again. It’s different to how we did it with the first one. It’s about having to keep up with different tones and different songwriting techniques. So we had to adapt to the new members and not write the same way that I used to do with Nick. I used to bring everything to the table. I had my own studio so I used to write everything: every riff, every drum part, every bass part and send it to the band. Then we’d rehearse and they’d put their own flavour on it. With this one, because we’ve gone through a bit of upheaval – it took about 12 months to get new members in – this new material was on the shelf. It came back off the shelf into the new incarnation and it started writing itself in a different way. We wanted it to have a more contemporary sound and we wanted some originality. When you try to find originality you end up falling on your arse because you can’t design it. But we’ve got something unique and using the new members, the rebuild and the break have had a direct affect on how we approached the writing – we did it in a different way. 

The Roadhouse in Manchester. Now sadly closed.

This is the first record with new vocalist Tom Guyer. How did you find Tom and how has his arrival changed the direction of the band?

By chance, I’d seen him in his previous band in Manchester when Federal Charm was in its mark one line up. I’d been out with a mutual friend and somebody said ‘You’ve got to check this guy out. He’s like a young Robert Plant or Chris Cornell, he looks the part and he’s raw talent’. I didn’t get to meet him, I just watched him and thought ‘Christ, yes’. Someone who can sing like that at that age with that passion and raw talent, quite a mature sound - like quite an old soulful rock voice – is something special. It wasn’t even on the agenda to carry on because me and Nick were the founding members of the band and I love Nick to death. When we parted company we auditioned about 10 singers, and after a year I’d completely forgotten about Tom, but a mutual friend rang me up and said ‘Paul, what are you messing around for? I think Tom is bandless at the moment – I’ll hook you up’. He’s from Southampton but we brought him up to the studio, started jamming straight away and I just knew he was right. It was a bit ropey to start with and rough around the edges but I just thought there is no way this guy is not going to be in this band now. After that it was day after day and weekend after weekend. I just kept on throwing him back into the studio and it was an intensive period of work  to make sure that he was the right guy and the right replacement. 

So does Tom still live in Southampton?

No, even he will tell you that he’s never really had a fixed abode. He’s a bit of a nomad and lived everywhere. He’s living in North Cheshire at the moment, just through travelling around with his family. His songs are about this funnily enough.

Tom does appear to have had quite an interesting journey, and I suppose that whatever direction the band takes him in, he isn’t constrained by roots.

Yes, I agree with that!

You’ve just given an indication there about a song written through personal experiences, and I think what this album Passenger really does is show how your songwriting is very strong because each track has been written from own experiences and observations, and they demonstrate a strong social conscience but without being too preachy. There are great tracks about relationships – but not the traditional way in that there’s no Jack and Diane or Tommy and Gina characteristics here - as well tracks that cover government failures (Speak Out). What was your approach to the songwriting? 

That’s a good question. What was really nice was to have a singer who when he stepped into the studio said ‘I want to sing about something that means a lot to me’. Me and LD were like ‘Great, okay!’. It’s good that there’s someone who wants to use this band as a vehicle to express their own  stories. I know that’s cliché and a lot of singer songwriters do that but not a lot mean it. They sing third-person stories. The way Tom did it was he never went in with a melody. To him the subject matter was more important. Then we’d all sit there together like some boardroom acapela choir, tearing it apart and then putting it back together again with the melodies. It was really good that Tom came in with a story that he was passionate about. He was very strict that that was what the song was going to be about and nobody else could influence that. He said ‘This is what it feels like to me and this is what it’s going to do’. In terms of melodies it was collaborative. We’d look at the lines and I remember sitting there with headphones on at 10 in the morning saying ‘Let’s build this together’ and we’d literally dissect words and phrases from Tom’s stories and then off he’d go and deliver the songs you can hear on the record with power.

There is absolutely a passion and it’s easy to sense. It’s performed in such a way that the listener believes every word. I also think that people can relate to the subject matter and that adds strength to the songs. One track where this is perhaps especially true, and where I would like to delve a bit deeper into, is Death Rattle, which is all about how music venues have been disappearing throughout the country. The outro provides the most beautifully haunting guitar. For me it was like being transported back to those venues that are no longer here, such was the impact of this track. Thinking about venue closures, one of the key issues is that it’s not just about bands having nowhere to play. I think it’s also about these venues allow people to build a community as well.

Absolutely! They can change your life some of these venues. They can completely determine the course of your life!

The number of bands I have seen formed and the friendships formed are countless. How much have you personally been affected by the closure of music venues and is there any venue that you have a special memory of that might particularly demonstrate this injustice?

Oh yes, absolutely! For me, there was a club in Manchester in the late 80s and 90s, it’s shut now, called The Roadhouse on the corner in Piccadilly. I can’t tell you how many gigs I did there and how many nights we filled it with different bands I’ve been in over the years. Since being a school kid, that corner in Piccadilly was kind of my hub. As I’m speaking to you now, I’ve got a picture on my wall of the last gig I ever did there in 2004. So for me, everything you were saying about relationships, life changing occurrences and community, that venue for me is the one. It’s one of those venues where when you’re young and trying to make it, it has the ability to make you feel like you were successful, like you had a chance and that you could break through. It was always full, the staff always looked after you and you just had that little spot light on you for that night and it was addictive. It was just one of those moments.

Let’s move on to Federal Charm in a live setting, and I’d like to pick up on the 4 shows you played in May. You used this as an opportunity to road test some of the new material. Which songs did you choose to showcase and what was the audience’s reaction?

Death Rattle is probably my favourite track on the whole album. The whole of that track was definitively what I wanted to be able to jam differently every night. I wanted that right in the middle of the set. It has the rock and the blues and it keeps all the die-hard Federal Charm fans happy because it shows where we are. It’s very organic and very rootsy. We played Choke and Swing Sinner to kick in. We have been working with a new live set up where we have been using the beginning of the album as the beginning of the live set because they are 2 great tracks – bang, bang, straight in. The emphasis has been that Passenger is coming.

You’re on tour in the UK this September, playing 11 dates with The Bad Flowers and Those Damn Crows.  What can people expect from Federal Charm show?  

I think what we have now is an eclectic rock n roll sound. Everything is going to sound different. You’re going to get a high energy show, a lot of emotion and a lot of commitment, especially from Tom and myself. Physically we feel like we’ve been in a wrestling match at the end of every night! Just balls-out fun! You’re looking at a band that’s been reborn and on a mission. 

The Bad Flowers and Those Damn Crows are two of the newer bands really starting to not just make an impact but are perhaps even starting to ‘lead the charge’. What does it mean to be on tour with these guys?

It’s great! We caught up with ourselves and to be with bands of that ilk is certainly satisfying and I feel like we deserve it as well! We have done dozens of UK tours and I thought it was dead in the water 12 months ago and now we’re gonna be like this with an album like this and I couldn’t be more proud. I think the band are proud. We are just itching to get on the road with them and share the stage. I think it’s such an eclectic bill and every band has something different offer. For the ticket price it’s fantastic.           

With an incredibly strong new album - and to me Passenger is worthy of 10 out of 10 - and a September tour, as well as a strong back catalogue, do you feel this is the launchpad to take federal charm to the next level?

Yes, 100%! That’s how I’ve been feeling the last few months. You get so involved with an album, and furthermore trying not to fail because you’ve just lost your band, you can’t help but lose exactly what’s going on and what it sounds like, but to get the response that we’ve had is incredible. I just want everyone to hear this album and I don’t want anyone to miss it because I think if the right people hear it, especially if the rock community get their ears around it, I think it could be a big turning point for us. It’s a shame if it doesn’t get exposure it deserves.

The next few months are clearly busy for the band. What else can expect from Federal Charm in 2018?

There are a few things coming up. You can expect a couple more music videos from us which will be good. They will be coming out towards the end of the year. We are playing a couple of festivals. We are playing HRH in Sheffield and we’re playing Rock and Blues in November and then we are doing a nice run of dates in December with Molly Hatchet just to see the year off which will be good. 

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible album Passenger is. A hugely original, eclectic record that sets the bar for what a modern rock band should sound like. It’s an absolute gem! It’s released on 14th September but can be pre-ordered at www.federalcharm.com. Also we strongly suggest you check out the band on their forthcoming tour:-

Thekla, Bristol

Wednesday 19 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

The Grove, East Mud Dock, Bristol, BS1 4RB www.theklabristol.co.uk

Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd

Thursday 20 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram Municipal Buildings, Gelliwastad Road, Pontypridd, CF37 2DP http://muniartscentre.com

Rock City Basement, Nottingham

Friday 21 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter

8 Talbot Street, Nottingham, NG1 5GG www.rock-city.co.uk

Classic Grand, Glasgow

Saturday 22 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

18 Jamaica St, Glasgow, G1 4QD www.classicgrand.com

The Live Rooms, Chester

Sunday 23 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

1 Station Road, Chester, CH1 3DR www.theliverooms.com

The Deaf Institute, Manchester

Monday 24 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE www.thedeafinstitute.co.uk


The Parish, Huddersfield

Wednesday 26 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, HD1 1QQ https://parishpub.co.uk

Think Tank, Newcastle

Thursday 27 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter

Times Square, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 4EP www.thinktanknewcastle.com

Corporation, Sheffield

Friday 28 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter

2 Milton Sreet, Sheffield, S1 4JU www.corporation.org.uk

O2 Institute 2, Birmingham

Saturday 29 September

Tickets: £10.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

78 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DY www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham

Borderline, London

Sunday 30 September

Tickets: £12.00

Book Online: www.planetrocktickets.co.uk Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Orange Yard, Manette Street, London, W1D 4JB http://borderline.london

In the meantime, check out the video for Choke below.