Following recent dates with legendary acts such as Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous, Y&T and UFO Northern blues rockers Federal Charm are getting ready to hit the road with four select UK headline shows.
Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Manchester-based outfit Federal Charm is back with a new lineup, a packed touring schedule and a new album in the pipeline.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Federal Charm’s lead guitarist Paul Bowe to talk about the events that led to Federal Charm Mk 2, an update on their current studio activities, as well as the group’s plans for the rest of 2018.
NRR: Obviously Federal Charm has now got a new line-up featuring vocalist Tom Guyer and also Josh Zahler on drums. I was just wondering how your new bandmates are settling in.
Paul: Yeah, really well. Just to kind of keep it real Adam, you were there at the beginning really about four or five years ago with Nick. We needed like a supercharged version of it, it’s a shame because I never wanted the line-up to change, and nobody ever wants that.
Nick, without going into too much detail, he just declined physically. And just with other things that were going on he just lost a lot of what needed to be there in order to carry on. So when we did the Planet Rock tour, the first one – that was kind of four years’ worth of touring that got us to that point. Then in January, he said he couldn’t do it anymore, so it was a kick in the teeth to get Tom in and it’s taken a year to build.
You know we’ve done a lot of tour supports, Tom’s fit in really well and our fans like what they’ve seen for the gigs that he’s played. You know I’ve had him in the studio daily; he doesn’t live near us, he has to get on a train every day, so it’s like an hour and a half round trip. We’ve just had him in the studio that I own so he’s got nowhere to go because he stays with me day in, day out so he’s learnt the back catalogue, and he’s brought a lot of great things with it as well.
He’s got youth on his side, this is the first kind of touring band he’s been in with relentless touring, writing and recording. It’s a new kind of arena for him as well because of the blues circuit associated with it, which he’s not familiar with, he’s more from the rock department. So he’s learning about a lot of the old stuff. He’s just basically making the songs his own, people are just going to be blown away when they hear this guy’s voice, he’s insane.
NRR: You amicably parted ways with Nick and Danny. Did you think at that point that it was curtains for the band or was it always your intention to carry on?
Paul: That’s a good question, I’ve not been asked that. It did cross my mind that I thought you know at this level now, at a mid-level is changing the format going to be detrimental? You know I didn’t want it to feel like I was starting again. That was the kind of thing that was brought to me, bringing me out of kind of not desperation, but I was really under at that point because of everything we had worked for, I didn’t think it was possible to replace Nick.
But after a few months, I just thought from where I’m coming from it’s my life, it’s not just a hobby, it is who I am – this band and it is what I’ve dedicated myself to and there’s a lot more of it to come. It’s simple as this, you know bands at this level, it’s great that we are out there and doing it and it’s brilliant that it’s kind of taking off, but you need support and shit loads of money, and you’ve got to fight for that. That’s what everyone’s fighting for as well is working with the right people and you know that kind of kept me going.
So for the year, I’m not carrying on because I think I have to prove to myself because I’ve given five years to this I’m not quitting yet, I want to do it. I have to carry on doing this because I love doing it and I love this band and I love what it’s developed into with the very limited resources that a lot of bands at our level have. I’m forty in three years time and I need to tick a few boxes, you know what I mean (laughing).
NRR: So how did you come to meet your new bandmates, Tom and Josh? Have you known them for a while, what’s the story, how did you get together?
Paul: Tom – funnily enough, I saw at a club in Manchester when Nick was in the band. He was introduced to me literally a year and a half before Nick left. We saw him in a band called The God Complexion, it was a very heavy band with kind of melodic rock vocals over the top.
He had a great stage presence and I just thought that guy has got it, that’s a serious frontman there. I didn’t see him after that, I never spoke to him, never heard of him, it never crossed my mind after that date because everything was fine with what was going on at the time. His name popped up in auditions and we auditioned about fifteen singers. He came down and it was no contest, he just blew everybody out of the water and it was almost just a bit of a coincidence that I had seen him at a gig before just in passing.
With Josh, I had seen Josh, he was someone who I had met through a mutual friend at another party. I had heard about Josh Zahler as a versatile kind of Bonham-esque drummer but with basically a lot of strings to his bow, you know funk and Motown, the whole lot. Literally, you can put anything in front of him. He is drums, his life is drums and you know it was great to have somebody who lives it and breathes it.
I didn’t audition him, I knew he was the perfect replacement for Danny. He’s a powerhouse, he’s perfect for Federal Charm. If Josh hadn’t of turned up, I don’t think I would be in the position I am now with the rhythm section, because I don’t think we would have used anyone else, to be honest.
NRR: I know that you are working on the third Federal Charm album at Willow Terrace Studios. I was just wondering how that going is.
Paul: We are still in the studio at the moment. I’ve just finished my guitars on Friday and then I went away for the weekend and only got back about an hour ago. Tom starts tracking his vocals tomorrow at 10:30 am, so we are only halfway through.
NRR: With a new line-up, has the sound changed within the band at all or is it the same old distinctive Federal Charm that your fans have come to know and love?
Paul: Yeah it is because I’m the guy who brought 99.9% of the material to the table including a lot of the rhythm patterns, bass patterns, guitar and guitar solos and the direction, the main spine of it is there.
We are definitely keeping the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson element there because that was something I was obsessed with doing from day one was marrying those two guitars up. I love the challenge of those two guitars being in the same band, doing the same thing and having their own characters. The riffs are there, it’s still a big sounding kind of, I hate using the word blues all of the time but it’s still there, and it’s still fused with it.
It has more impact I think in terms of, I think we’ve just cranked it up from a kind of block style, it’s a bigger sound because we’ve been working on this album since July the last, last year – we started working on this album with Nick in Wales. So this isn’t a rushed album if anyone thinks this album is a Tom Guyer and Josh Zahler album it isn’t, it’s an album that even Nick had started working on. So you can definitely hear that because the spirit of the band is still there.
On Across The Divide we did that to a deadline and we wrote on the road and rehearsed when we rehearsed, but this has been more of a sit in the studio and I think we’ve demoed each song five or six times and kind of pulled it apart and put it back together again. So yeah, you will probably see a more refined sound but you will definitely hear Federal Charm within it.
NRR: What’s the timeline for the new album? Do you have a timeframe for when you want the album or maybe the first single to come out?
Paul: Yeah, well basically now that we’ve just started working with TKO agency that’s a big step forward. There are plans in the pipeline for touring post-August. Basically, you will be hearing some announcements in spring about that, there’s a Planet Rock tour. Then an album, we will be putting an album out with a lot of PR and promotion – more than we ever have done because we really want to capitalise on the last five years’ worth of work, it’s not a starting again point. We want to make sure that every Federal Charm fan that’s ever bought a CD gets this one; we are looking at September. It took a year to rebuild, these short tour dates in April and then some summer stuff and then TKO Planet Rock stuff as of September. We’ve got a tour at the end of the year with Molly Hatchett. So we are booked up for the year for the first time ever.
NRR: I know that you’ve done a few shows recently with the likes of UFO, Y&T and Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous. Did you get a chance to preview any of the new material and if so what was the response like?
Paul: Yeah it was 50/50, we played half of album one and album two, and then we put in four or five of the new songs. The Downey shows in November just gone, that kind of solidified and cemented what we’ve been working on – they were fantastic shows, I mean better than I expected. I went there mainly to get road ready and just to take anything we could get at the moment because we’ve been off the scene for a year and I’m just hoping that people accept the change. It was sold out from front to back obviously, they were there to see Brian Downey, but there was a hell of a lot of Federal Charm fans in the crowd as well, which was nice to see. Over the two nights, we had some of the best nights I’ve had in the five years. Tom makes it seem effortless as well, which is nice to see if I’m looking over the stage, this thunderous voice that he’s got. The guys loved it and they were all over him, so it’s promising.
NRR: So how did the new guys in the band feel about performing the first two albums worth of material? Are they putting their own little stamp on it?
Paul: Yeah, definitely, I’ve insisted that they do that. These albums are important to me and to LD and important to people that have bought them and come to see us. That’s just a fact of life, the back catalogue is not a line drawn, it’s a let’s see if you can make them any better. We played “Silhouette” in Holmfirth and it felt completely different; it had a really good vibe. We’ve peppered a few different details on some of the songs and Josh is expressing himself on drums, he understands the groove but he is very experimental. Tom just obviously has a different attack to his voice. Yeah, I’ve just said to enjoy the old songs but as long as you are within the parameters of the feel and the soul of it then go nuts.
NRR: You’ve got a short mini touring coming up in April. You are going to be calling into Norwich, Bristol, Manchester and also coming back to The Cluny in Newcastle again which I know you’ve played at quite a lot of times over the past. Now with three albums worth of material and a new line-up, I just wondered what we can expect from the show this time around.
Paul: Yeah I kind of want to show you what we were doing at the Brian Downey shows because for me they were just tip-top. It was essentially a 50/50 split between all of the favourites from album one and two, and then a few decent covers and some new covers as well, which we are really enjoying playing.
Yeah, it’s visually a different thing, it just feels that there is something on a grander scale. It’s just a fact of life that when you lose original members, you know the core or the soul from the beginning it’s gone and there is kind of no dressing it up, people have to either get on board with it or don’t. So I’ve just tried to install that our live goal was just to be an energetic, mind belting you know live band to look at and that was one of our strong points with the old line-up as well and I want to maintain that. I think you guys are going to see it and I think you will see hopefully a better performance as well.
Federal Charm will embark on a short mini UK tour from April 14th. Dates include Open Club in Norwich (April 14) The Louisiana in Bristol (April 22), The Deaf Institute in Manchester (May 12), and the Cluny in Newcastle (May 18). Tickets are now on sale and can be booked from www.seetickets.com/tour/federal-charm or from the 24 hour box office: 08702 183 805.
Very special guest at the Bristol and Newcastle shows is Gabriella Jones featuring Planet Rock radio’s Wyatt Wendels on drums.
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Photo: Simon Reed