It is very difficult to write the introduction to a musician feature without being pretentious, but Charlie of No Home pushes me to try harder. When we spoke over Zoom a month ago, we discussed the double-edged sword that is the word “authenticity” as a qualifier of one’s art. Nevertheless, I have been writing and deleting and rewriting this paragraph for the past half hour, trying to grasp at honesty within a medium that encourages hyperbole. When Charlie told me that the most underrated quality in a person is honesty, I couldn’t help but nod. The honesty and integrity with which they create their art is fully congruent with how they discuss their work and relationship to the world as an artist. I think that I often mistake over-thinking for thoughtfulness, and the music of No Home always tends toward the latter. They are a brilliant producer who knows how to create balance, how to use asymmetry in a way that compels, how to find points of convergence in sonic and linguistic ideas. Their writing is self-aware without being self-conscious, a trait to which most writers can only aspire.
No Home’s 2020 album, Fucking Hell, can be full of nerves and indictments, but during the moments of repose nestled within tracks like penultimate “The Perfect Candidate,” their music is liquid upon which you find yourself afloat. When you get the chance to lie on your back atop the ocean’s mercurial skin, you enter a limbo between peace and discomfort. As your thoughts drift toward clouds alongside the evaporating saltwater, that same water laps across your body and into your nose, stinging in a way both tolerable and unpleasant. The peace does not negate the discomfort, nor does the discomfort negate the peace. No Home reaches an exquisite equilibrium despite the emotional crests that their voice launches and lofts toward. I have lost points this year on multiple physics tests from forgetting that a body can be both in motion and equilibrium at the same time; when the forces acting upon it are balanced, it can move without accelerating. The next time I come across a question that probes this area of the syllabus, I will think about No Home and I will think about Fucking Hell as a balanced body in motion, lofting toward something that I strive to feel but cannot name.
Headlight Spirits: Hi Charlie! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I wanted to start on a fun question, but let me know if this is not a fun question. If you could live in any fictional world, what would it be and why?
No Home: Maybe this is not really fictional– like, it can happen in real life if you had like, a cabin in the woods type of vibe. Just simplifying, just living in a cabin in the woods. Sort of, like, growing your own food type of stuff. And that’s, that’s the best I can answer that question.
Have you ever played Stardew Valley?
It’s like this video game where all you do is plant crops, and then you water them, and then you talk to the townspeople, and that’s all you do. It’s the best game ever
I’m writing it down
I am super stoked to get to talk with you about the LP that came out last year. The production is so exciting and unlike anything I’ve heard recently– especially on “Burning the Body.” It made me wonder, do ideas for production come to you while you’re writing? Or is production something that you work on afterward for the most part?
For specifically “Burning the Body,” I had something that was just very interesting going on in another file. And then I pulled it over to another file and I felt like, oh, those two can just sort of sit together. I’m trying to think of how to explain it. I feel like it was such a mishmash LP. I was trying to have this complete sound with drums and stuff that I hadn’t done before. If you listened to a lot of the previous music, it really didn’t have drums, it didn’t have any sense of percussion, because I didn’t know how to build a song that way. It’s just like, “let me know the concept of writing the song first, and then I’ll know the production.” And that was sort of the first time I thought, “oh, okay, I’ll produce a song.” But, you’re sort of, most of the time when I have the lyrics, I’m like, “okay, well, this sounds like this, the guitar sounds like this.” Okay, but then how does the whole scape of it sound? And I just thought about it in that way. So it’s more like lyrics and concept first and then production later, and trying to puzzle-piece it. It feels like when you’ve got one of those, like, really fucked up puzzles, and you’re trying to fit everything together so it’s perfect. And they just, they put the wrong piece in the box. And you’re, like, squashing it in, like, “it has to go in!” It has to go in, but also, it looks really odd. That’s the best way I can describe it.
I was really curious about the guitar tone especially. I see your record often get described as punk even though the guitar is not all, you know, riffs and power chords. Do you do most of that analog or is it on your laptop? How do you get that kind of tone?
It’s literally me– remembering the album, it’s literally me plugging the guitar into the computer through the interface. And I was like, “oh my God,” ‘cause I know people who actually produce records with more money now, and I was like, “oh, shit, that’s not how you do it.” But for me, I listen to so many albums just through my phone and my headphones. The process was so insular because I didn’t play it out on speakers. I was just like, “no one’s gonna hear this album.” So I’m like, let’s just put this all together and then… It’s just such a one-to-one experience, to just put the guitar in and produce that insular sound. There had also been such a lack of space that I couldn’t really mic up an amp in my room, because the room that I recorded it in was way smaller than the room I have now. It was literally a single bed with this tiny spit of walkway. It really is an exercise in trying to make something in the smallest room possible, which I guess sort of reflects in the sound, but also the guitar tone.
You were talking about that insular world that you were exploring, especially recording this inside of your room, and that made me think about how… It’s really hard, in music, to be able to balance introspective thought, focusing on your own emotions and your own experiences, with commenting on global conditions like imperialism, like capitalism. How are you able to tread that line between the personal and the expansive?
I think if you have a lot more time on your hands, you can think a lot more. I had no job. And then it’s like, if you have no job, and you think about the way people tell you that you’re supposed to lead your life, like, “oh, you’re supposed to get a job straight after uni, it’s fine.” And you expect all those things and when you don’t get those things, you start to interrogate the systems that work against you or work in a way that really is not in your favor. So you think about it, and you’re like, “okay, how do I talk about it without being extremely corny?” And, you know, I’m not Rage Against the Machine and neither am I, like, Downtown Boys. But I understand that politics and life are so marred together. And a lot of the politics that goes on on a day to day basis with politicians doesn’t really affect normal people. You talk, like, “oh, the Prime Minister did this,” but it’s not like it’s gonna affect someone who’s lost their job or who’s struggling to pay rent. Maybe it’s just that I’m super honest, that I hate suffering in silence. I hate the degree of, “I don’t have any money, but I can’t say anything because of public perception.” You know, a musician who has x, y, z amount of followers, people are gonna think, “wow, what have they done with all that money?” But actually, streaming is screwed. Several things that were meant to help musicians a decade ago and two decades ago are not there anymore, you know? So I guess that’s the answer for you.
In terms of that honesty, I was reading the comments on your Bandcamp page. And there were so many people who were like, “I love No Home, they’re just so authentic. They’re, like, the most authentic musician.” How does that make you feel?
Sometimes I go on there and I’m like, “what?” I don’t even know. I’m so… I’m not unbothered. But I just, I don’t pay too much attention to that. But also, I’m just making the music that I want to make. And now that I’m thinking about it, this is such an old album. Like, I left university almost three years ago. And this album, I finished it the year after. So for me, I’m not past past it. Like, I’m past some of the ideas of the album. But also, I’m not past the ideas of the album, you know? It’s just interesting to think of, like, what was important to you at the time. On authenticity, I don’t know, I just like to be honest. I have no one to answer to. If you have no one to answer to, you’re just yourself. I’m not a media-trained musician. I’m just a person who makes music. And also, it’s like, I’m not above anything. It’s not like I fantasize about being like a celebrity. I just fantasize about stability. Stability, clear-headedness, and less chaos.
That makes a lot of sense. Maybe this is an odd tangent, but I worry a lot about the commodification of authenticity, this idea that, like, “this artist is the most authentic because they write about their life” or whatever, and it’s so silly, because it’s your art. It’s your music. It’s your thinking. It doesn’t need an accolade for authenticity. Does that make any sense?
Yeah, I feel you, because I feel like that’s a conversation that was also had, like, five, six years ago on the internet. Sometimes I see conversations about authenticity, and I’m like, “okay… What else?” You know, there’s people who are gonna make club music, there’s people who are going to make music that’s specifically pop, and there’s people who are going to make music about their life in an honest way and it’s not going to be a commercial success, but…
Do you have a vision for what success means within music?
Literally… I think I just want people to listen to my music, but then at the same time, I’m very glad that it’s not the biggest album ever. Because now, like, the pressure is less to produce something really quickly again. And I can just turn away and do something else or, like, do something that is sort of different for the next album. Yeah, I don’t know, I think success to me is to be able to just produce the albums that I want to produce. And, yeah, like, I’m not looking to be a huge artist. I’m not really a person who’s extremely into, like, “I wanna win an award!” I think I just want to do interesting work and be able to sustain myself. And that’s what success is to me, you know? Even now, “success” to me is very scary, because I think a lot of the time about stan accounts, and I’m like “oh my God.” When Tumblr was at its peak, you were like, “oh, you can be a stan there, or a mega fan.” And when you bring it onto Twitter with all these people who try to be professional… I don’t know, it’s the cult of personalities that is sort of scary to me. I think I just want to sustain myself. I think I want to get to a point where I don’t have to be on the internet all the time. Because as much fun as it is, like, what do I do? I don’t use my Instagram that much anymore because you’re just scrolling through and trying to find somebody but nothing’s there. And then you regret following all these people who you followed years ago. But, like, if I take one of you out, I have to take all of you out.
Is there like a band or an artist with a very different style from yours that you would like to play a show with? Or really, any dream artist to share a bill with?
I don’t know; I’m like, “what’s a show?!” I just want to play a show at this point.
Even if everyone is vaccinated, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to be in that environment and feel comfortable again the way that I used to in, like, a pit. I don’t think I’m ever gonna have that feeling again where I’m okay with all those bodies around me. Are you feeling that at all?
Yeah, and no. I think I’ll be more like, “oh my God, what is happening?” at like, a club or something. And just the concept of going to the bar or, like, meeting strangers? In my head that’s such a concept. Like, what? Even with playing a show, I’m like, “how do I play my instruments?” Yeah, it’s just such a thought. I think if it was a crowd of, like, a thousand people, I would be like, “okay.” If it’s a festival, I might be a little bit overwhelmed. I would probably be somewhere just like, “what the hell’s going on? There’s so many people!” Especially if there’s no social distancing, I’ll be like, “oh my God.” I mean, once this is all over, like, no social distancing included, it’s gonna be very weird.
It feels like half the news is saying, “the world’s gonna be back to normal in three months!” And, you know, then half of the news is just saying, like, “nope, that’s not gonna happen.”
Alright, I did all of the heavy ones. What is the most underrated quality in a person?
Do you have a favorite song of your own?
That I’ve written? I mean, it’s very much a tie between… I’m inclined to say it has to be “YY” because it took so long to figure out… But then, I also really like “4×4” because it’s weird. And “Exile…” Sorry. That’s really bad. But it had to be three.
Do you have a personal favorite lyric that you’ve written?
“No one ever told me it was this goddamn hard to find something to do with my own life.”
That’s so good. When you’re writing, is it sort of like a percolation over time as you develop ideas, and then finally it all comes out? Or is it more of a step-by-step process?
Well, most of the time, it’s very much step-by-step, bit-by-bit. Like, I’ll write something initially, and sometimes it’s the best time to just put everything down because when I go back in, I need to find something of substance from what I was talking about the first time around. And if a line doesn’t fit, then I need to write something else. The only non-example of that is “The Perfect Candidate” because I didn’t even know I was recording the song. I didn’t write anything. Even now, to this day, I don’t know what the lyrics are to that song. One day I just played the guitar. It was so rubbish. But I just sat down and I played this song. And I said everything that I wanted to say, and then I stopped recording. And I was just like, “oh. This is a song.” I’ve been thinking, “oh, I should play this song, it’s really cool,” but then, I don’t know the lyrics. I’m sure someone out there knows the lyrics to the song more than I do.
I think the first time I heard that song, I was trying to jot down the lyrics as I listened because I couldn’t find them on the internet. Now I know.
I should put them on Bandcamp. I think one time I had to type them all out for someone, and I told them, “okay, I know all the lyrics to everything, except for that one song.”
That’s so great. That’s also just… Maybe this is cliché, but that is so punk. Just saying, I’m going to pick up my guitar and I’m just going to talk and I’m going to tell you what I’m feeling. Is punk a word that you identify with?
Probably not now. Punk is really complex and more complex than even people who talk about it understand. I think now I make music that’s a bit more expansive, and that’s a bit more than guitars and drums and stuff. But I think if it wasn’t for punk or DIY I wouldn’t have a sense of what it’s like even to play live or how to change your song live and stuff like that. And how your work is perceived and, like, “what could community be?” or, “what can you do if you have the space?”
What were some bands that were fundamental in shaping that perception for you?
The first time I heard the LP, I was reminded of the Mitski Tiny Desk concert. There’s that part where like, she’s holding up her guitar, and she just starts wailing into it. And… I don’t know, when you’re 13 that feels like something you’ve never seen before. And it’s so exciting. And I feel that when I listened to your music–
You’re making me feel old now!
Sorry! I’m sorry.
I think when you watch that Tiny Desk performance, like I saw it, and I was like, “oh, this is really cool.” I know a lot of people are like, oh, Nirvana, you know, Dinosaur Jr., and, like, Sonic Youth, when you think about what they do with guitars and how the guitar doesn’t really perform as a straight out of the box guitar. They do certain things to it, they modify it, they play differently. You know, you use your guitar and you use pedals and create drone music, and I think also just finding experimental music was super important, too… I think almost that is what the combination is about (Fucking Hell), finding bits of experimentalism. And it’s sort of like rock music that is really good. Just living in it. And to me, people were like, “oh, wow, this is super new,” but also it’s, like, one, I didn’t know what I was doing. But then in not knowing what you’re doing, you sort of have a sense of knowing what you’re doing, you know? I don’t know how to explain it, but you do know what you’re doing in a way.
I didn’t send any press releases or anything out, and the Pitchfork review was actually quite accurate, like in inspiration, except for the Suicide references. I’ve never really listened to that band Suicide. Like, I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never listened to them, which is interesting. But you go and read some of it, and you’ll be like, “oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Okay, this is interesting. Yeah.” Like, I just sat there reading it and I was like, “oh, yeah, this is good.” I didn’t really care too much about the score. Like, I cared at first. And then I was like, “okay, let me read it.” And now I’m like, the lens of the review was just… I don’t know, it was interesting. I think that was more interesting to me, because it was like, “what the fuck is she talking about?” It’s like, people being like, “what the hell’s she talking about on this album?” And I’m like, if you understand, then I’ve done my job.
I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but before we say goodbye, I need to ask– is there anything you’re working on right now that the No Home Twitter stans should be looking out for?
I’m so glad not to have Twitter stans! I have a track I made that is probably coming out in the next few months, but I don’t know when it’s coming out. And, yeah, buy the vinyl. That’s all I can say to people, buy the vinyl! It has 8 tracks instead of 10, but it’s still good. If you have the money, buy it, or you can stream it, or whatever is in your capability– come to a show when shows happen again! Which, hopefully, will be in the UK at the end of this year. We all like to dream and hope. Hopefully we’ll get this country under control.