Thursday, July 25, 2024

Interview with Darran Charles of Godsticks – This is What A Winner Looks Like  

Four-piece Welsh rock band Godsticks released their sixth studio album in late May of 2023, their follow-up to 2020’s Inescapable, an album they were unable to promote with touring due to the onset of you-know-what. But now with a new album and a tour in June 2023 to promote the album, the band are excited about getting back out there and performing, as main man Darran Charles explained to RAMzine …

RAMzine: Your new album’s called This Is What A Winner Looks Like. Why did you call it this and … are you winning?

Darran Charles: “I’ve no experience of winning, especially in this industry,” he began with a laugh. “I heard someone mention this phrase in a conversation, and I thought it sounded fantastic. I just loved the sound of it because it’s so breathtakingly arrogant, as well as funny, but it’s certainly not a commentary on me or the band, though you can take it any way you like really.

That’s the thing about album titles and lyrics, they can mean anything you want them to, like with Radiohead, where there’s always an element of mystique with their lyrics but, for me, it’s always the music which determines the feel of the lyrics.”

RAMzine: Metal Hammer refers to you as being ‘Idiosyncratic,’ but for anyone who doesn’t know the band Godsticks, how would you describe your music?

Darran: “That’s a tag which’s followed us about since we emerged in 2010, as people have always struggled to put us in a category. I suppose prog, in a sense, is the natural home for us in that it’s quite an eclectic genre, though from 2015 onwards, from the Emergence album, our music’s become a lot heavier. But I would describe us, being honest, as just a simple heavy rock band, though I suppose artists don’t get any say in what kind of genre they’re placed in, and neither should they have, this is what fans and critics do.”

RAMzine: You’ve also been described as ‘grungy hard rock.’ Is this fair comment?

Darran:  “Yeah, I’d take anything really, though I don’t think we’re anything like grunge, but you take the music you grew up with when you start playing and writing music. I’m a product of the late 80’s and early 90’s, when grunge was quite prevalent, and I would definitely regard bands like Primus and Soundgarden as a big influence. But I remember, growing up in the 90’s, an MTV show called ‘Headbangers Ball,’ and this show introduced me to the majority of bands I listened to for the next 10-15 years, but not all the bands who appeared were headbangers. I first discovered Primus and Soundgarden through this show, but it also used to feature bands like the Black Crowes, who’re hardly headbangers. So, like the prog community, even the metal community is quite broad-minded.”

RAMzine: So your music sounds like it’s the result of a melting pot, rather than just from one source or genre.

Darran: “Yes, definitely, that’s definitely it really. Probably like you, I meet very few people who listen to just the one type of music, especially if you listen to rock. Growing up, my father played bands like Deep Purple and Rainbow, but when looking through his collection, I saw things like Yngwie Malmsteen and even The Carpenters! Traditional metal incorporates elements from Bach and the classics, and I don’t always intend to incorporate different styles into our music but, by the same token, anything goes really. Eventually, everything will find its way into our music, except maybe country! I mean, it’d be really weird putting Dolly Parton-type harmonies into Godsticks’ music!”

RAMzine: The new album’s released on May 26th2023. How pleased are you with the outcome?

Darran: “Really satisfied, though I expect you’d be surprised if I said anything different! Every album we do is the best album we’re capable of doing at the time we record it. I’m actually listening to the songs now, not to check for mistakes or wondering if we could’ve done something better, but because I’ve gotta learn them for when we play them ‘live.’ But it’s come out exactly as we wanted, in fact better than we wanted it to come out. We put the demos together, we record them in the studio, then it’s up to the producer to do his thing. The producer James Loughrey’s done our last couple of albums and he’s put his stamp on this one as well, giving it a modern-sounding mix. Production-wise, the album’s come out better than I’d have imagined.

RAMzine: As the main songwriter, where does your inspiration to write songs come from?

Darran: “I haven’t got a clue really! I’ve always been writing my own stuff ever since I started learning guitar about 12 .. don’t get me wrong, it was mostly crap, but I’ve always gravitated towards writing something. I don’t usually get much satisfaction out of playing it, even though I think it’s important to learn other people’s music when you’re developing as a musician. I don’t get much joy out of playing other people’s music. I’ve never been in a covers band. Tracing over a piece of art and presenting it as your own means all you’re doing is copying someone else’s work, and there’s no satisfaction in that. The only satisfaction I feel is if I write something because then I feel I’ve created something. I don’t know why this is as my life would be a lot easier if I enjoyed playing other people’s music but, for me to continue, it has to be me creating something.

RAMzine: How satisfied are you with how far Godsticks have progressed since you began in 2008? Are you happy with how far you’ve come?

Darran: “No, not really. If you want a blunt answer, the answer’s no! If anything, I’m dissatisfied but these things are out of your control, and it’s even harder these days. I think you start questioning yourself about having been deluded in the first place, because it’s a saturated market, more so than 20 years ago, because the technology’s now available for everybody to make their own music, which’s a good thing to be honest, but it’s much more difficult to sustain a career, certainly maintain a successful career. But as long as I’m deluded I’ll continue to do this. If you looked at it from a business point of view, making records, etc, for a band like Godsticks is a wasted exercise, if I’m being perfectly honest. If I’d done this to make money, it wouldn’t have been a particularly wise choice to begin with. But I suppose every musician hopes for that little bit of luck which helps them get a bigger audience, and I don’t think we’ve encountered that luck yet, but we plough on, making the best music we can. So, no, I’m not satisfied in the slightest really, where we are certainly hasn’t met my expectations, but there’s no point in being disheartened.”

RAMzine: So, do you ever think about packing it all in then?

Darran: “Yes, definitely, constantly. After every album I think about knocking it on the head. With every album, you end up revising your expectations, what you set out to achieve. I would imagine what I set out to achieve in the beginning is vastly different from what I set out to achieve after each subsequent album, as your expectations become less and less, and you cross your fingers more and more. So, yeah, I do think about knocking it all on the head, but I love music and I love creating more than anything else, and I’m a bit of a realist, so as long as people want to keep listening, I’ll keep on creating, and when they don’t, that’s when I’ll stop as music where nobody’s listening isn’t worth it. But I do think the music we create is good. Being objective I listen to a lot of music and I think what we do stands up, so we keep ploughing on really.”

RAMzine: Why do you describe your relationship with music as being ‘a strange one ?’

Darran: “It is a strange one! This is gonna make me sound like a right negative person but I don’t really derive a great deal of joy from playing guitar because it’s sort of like work. Studying guitar, rehearsing and practising is a lot like work, and the amount of joy I get from this, compared to the work involved, is a very small percentage. Playing ‘live’ and touring, I absolutely love it, but the level of music I want to create requires quite a level of dexterity on guitar, which means I have to keep practising all the time, and I don’t really enjoy it, it’s like work at the end of the day! It’s like exercising .. a lot of people love it and get a dopamine hit from it, but I find exercise an absolute f*cking misery, though it is important as you get older. I just get a neural disconnect from it. But the small percentage of joy I get from music makes it all worthwhile.”

RAMzine: How excited are you at the prospect of playing ‘live’ again in June?

Darran: “Really excited. We’re doing four shows and we’ll probably end up doing a few more shows later on this year. This for me is the big reward at the end of it. I do enjoy the creative process, writing and putting songs together, and when the album’s finished you feel like you’ve really achieved something. I do derive a lot of pleasure from this, but playing ‘live’ is something else. It’s hard to describe why I love playing ‘live’ as my personality would suggest I like being on my own, but there’s something about connecting with people who’re enjoying listening to the music. It feels like a privilege being able to perform music for people who’ve come out to listen, and it takes it all to another level.

Which’s why Covid hit hard during that period, I must’ve been one of the only musicians who didn’t use the period to write music. I didn’t do anything. I mean, I did lots of different things, but I didn’t write any music for the first time in about twenty years. When we were finally able to play again, in September 2021, I just felt completely renewed and from that point onwards I haven’t stopped writing music. I wrote about sixteen songs in about six months, which was out of character for me as it usually takes about two years to put ten songs together! It was playing ‘live’ which inspired me to get back into writing. “

RAMzine: A new album coming out and a tour in June. What’s next for Godsticks after this?

Darran: “Find some more ‘live’ shows and some festivals. We’ll keep on writing material as, apart from our heavy material, there’re also a couple of softer songs we’re working on, sort of ‘Radiohead-esq.’ I also wouldn’t mind playing a small intimate gig and filming it later on in the year but, for the next twelve-eighteen months, it’s just taking this material out on the road, keep on playing it ‘live’ and seeing if we can grow our audience.”

Despite the tone of some of his comments, Darran was a lively conversationalist and his comments were laced with some typical Welsh humour. I can only hope his percentage of enjoyment increases as the new tour progresses.

The band will be appearing live for the following dates with more to be announced soon!

Godsticks live

22nd June – Cardiff – Fuel

23rd June – London – Camden Assembly

24th June – Newcastle, The Cluny 2

25th June – Edinburgh – Legends 

Pick up tickets here

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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