A sort of homecoming - Astrid’s Charlie Clark on finding his way back to Scotland
Not everyone would swap the glamorous surroundings of LA for time spent between Stornoway and Glasgow, but for Charlie Clark, it’s time to come home.
This is partly due to his band Astrid getting a new lease of life. Fourth album ‘Fall Stand Dance’ is out now and sees core members Clark andWillie Campbell, reunited with another old pal – Edwyn Collins, who produced debut album Strange Weather Lately.
“Being with Edwyn and Grace (Maxwell, Collins’ wife) again has taught us to be self-sustainable,” he continues. “We always had people doing stuff for us – the DIY thing was always there in early Astrid, but it’s so full on now.”
It seems like the band are recapturing that youthful exuberance?
“We’re so buzzed coming off stage,” he enthuses – ‘That was the best one yet! Right, time to load the van!’”
Although the band are revisiting their past, they will be keen to avoid things going awry, as they did after that classic, Collins-produced debut album ‘Strange Weather Lately’.
“We were 17 and went from playing The Halt in Glasgow to touring with Belle and Sebastian to getting a deal, to 200 shows a year – it all happened so quickly.
“Every album we did we tried to evolve a little, but I think it maybe alienated the audience that loved the simplicity of the band.”
That evolution in sound, perhaps fuelled by “too much money”, led to the too-slick follow-up ‘Play Dead’. “The second album Willie and I agree is a bit of a duffer,” Clark says candidly.
Fortunately the band’s creative juices were still of use elsewhere, as core members of the Reindeer Section, the Scottish ‘supergroup’ formed by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody with Arab Strap, Idlewild, Teenage Fanclub and many others.
However, despite critical acclaim, “the biggest shows either band had played”, and the money to pay for Astrid’s third album, there was a downside. “By the time we did ‘One In Four’ basically people had forgotten who Astrid were.” A sign perhaps that a break was on the cards – that and the title referring to the fact that one in four people will suffer mental health problems at some time in their lives.
“You look at Wikipedia and it’s all the drink and the drugs,” says Clark of the band’s demise, “and that’s a huge part of it, but to be honest I think the magic had gone… we had done the ‘Final Straw’ tour with Snow Patrol, and watched our best pals having this crazy success, and decided on that tour we were going to knock it on the head.”
Clark moved to Los Angeles, and that might have been that if it wasn’t for his close ties with home.
“It’s been 10 years since I moved to LA,” he recounts, “ but Willie and have been best pals since we were 10 years old and were in touch every day.”
Eventually this regular contact extended to swapping song parts, building up a library of 40 tunes from which the new album is drawn.
“This sounds like the second album should have, even though its our fourth – we’ve gone back to ’60s garage pop; the kind of stuff people really liked about the band.”
With a tour with Edwyn Collins just completed, the band’s lust for life has returned, it seems. I ask if the miles between the band’s core members won’t make this reformation tricky. Clark pauses.
“I’ve bit the bullet and decided I’m going to come back,” he reveals.
Swapping California for Scotland? “Life’s been great there,” he admits,”but the job I have in LA (running a bar with the drummer from US rockers The Warlocks) requires me to start work at nine and finish at four or five in the morning – and I just hit 40 so don’t want to be doing that too much longer!”
However, aside from being able to concentrate on Astrid, the chance to put something back into the local music scene would be a bonus.
“It’s not LA, but what would be great would be getting some club nights going, getting some bands in and putting Stornoway back on thetouring circuit.”
Perhaps even replicating his LA nights when The Alcoholidays play a set of Teenage Fanclub covers?
“There’s be a wee hint of California for sure!”