King Charles has always been enigmatic – never directly definable. His music, his image, his style (even his hair), forever transforming and renewing. The 2012 debut album, LoveBlood introduced a debonair, characterful performer with a touch of the eccentric, flash forward to 2016’s follow up, Gamble for A Rose and a completely different scene and tone is established. Gone are the deadlocks and fanciful dress, in its place occupies Charles Costa’s natural essence, free-flowing melodics sinuously set in motion alongside evocative, poetic soliloquy. Where we find the artist in 2019, again, is in a state of new creative freedom. Adopting a release programme of a new song every month, until July, we’ve already received half of the output including the deliciously alluring ‘Freak,’ the temperamental ‘Out of My Mind’ and the soul-searching ‘Melancholy Julia.’
Embarking on his first tour since 2016, King Charles played shows up and down the country this May. Completing dates in Leeds, London, Brighton, Southampton, Preston and Manchester he was joined by a new band of musicians (with the exception of long-standing bassist and bandmate Max William), together they performed songs from across the KC catalogue capturing the beauty of his penmanship and the breadth of sonic range that continues to develop. His music bursts with playfulness and presence, tales of love and romance delight in ways which linger on the nuances of human connection, while other themes tackle deeper, more intricate aspects of the human condition. The older tracks remain just as addictive as they’ve always been, the new material feels electric and brings an upgraded energy to the show. It’s an exciting time to be a follower of this artist, Costa’s vision is incredibly focussed and his artistic whims are more expressionist than ever.
Keen to learn more about his process and the motivations behind the new music, we arrived early at Manchester’s Night & Day to speak with Charles Costa. Delving into light discussion, but often venturing into more pensive, profound territory, we talk about Costa’s passion for love songs, the evolution of his art, critique and interpretation and how the live show has taken a new form.
Firstly, welcome back to Manchester—
Charles Costa: “Thank you.”
It’s been over three years since you last played here. That’s quite a lengthy break, what have you’ve been up to in that time?
CC: “I toured in the States a bit, I lived in the States for a bit, came back, made a record… I’ve been working quite a lot. I’ve just been figuring out how to get more music out, how to keep things exciting and fun for me, keep digging into it all and figuring it out, and writing… I’ve missed being on the road, I always want to be on the road more than I am but it’s just, yeah, you know, one of those things. But I’m back! And I wanna stay, so.”
Has your relationship with music changed over the course of the last three years?
CC: “I like how you describe it as a relationship. You know, there are ups and downs in these kinds of relationships, sometimes it’s intense and you have to get away from each other for a bit and sometimes… it changes. I think, yeah, the last five / six years has been… I’ve been learning a lot about the industry, about myself, about building careers, what kind of artist I wanna be and I think that’s part of the journey, part of the relationship. Yeah. But it’s good, we haven’t broken up or anything! [He says with a chuckle.]”
Leading us nicely onto talking about the new music, it is fair to say that the songs released so far are a departure in terms of style and sound from what we’ve heard previously. When did you realise you were branching off into new territory, or did you?
CC: “I think part of the digging in that I’m talking about is figuring out what sounds I wanna make, and what I want the energy of the shows to be like, and what I want the experience of listening to my music to be like, and, you know, that coupled with what I wanna express of myself and what I want to manifest as a voice of my own, so, yeah, I wanted to change direction because that’s just how I feel at heart. I’ve always wanted to do something new with new projects and I, kind of, had been able to. I haven’t had any outside pressure saying ‘you should make another this, make another that.’ I’ve only released two records so far, so this is in the process of the third and there have been amazing and different reactions to both records. I’m happy with it being like that. You know, sounds develop and change and people come and go, everyone likes different stuff.”
The lyrics specifically venture into stark, introspective places. I think you’ve never been more honest than in these new songs. They don’t hide behind flowery words or grand gestures, they speak bluntly and unapologetically. Is this a depiction of where your head was at when writing these tracks? Or is it more abstract than that?
CC: “No, I think you’re right. It’s a bit more on the not hidden [side of the spectrum], that’s true. I wanted it to be like that. You know, sometimes you go through phases where you’re just like, blindly happy and blindly angry. You wanna take that out and share it… you wanna take out your anger or you wanna share your happiness. Yeah, I wanted to do that in a kind of naked way, lyrically anyway—and sonically. I wanted that energy to be punching. It’s kind of where I was at throughout the last, however long [I spent] writing and recording these things.”
When I first heard ‘Freak’ I felt strong Prince vibes from the instrumentation and the vocal direction, whereas ‘Out of My Mind’ feels edgier, more experimental, almost dangerous. ‘Melancholy Julia’ on the other hand feels candid, mature, grounded and even hopeful. A parting of the clouds and a move into the light. When creating and building a song, do you think about the character it will embody?
[Charles ponders this one for a while, I interject—‘The songs each feel like they have a different character…’]
CC: “It is about character really, different emotions have different characters, different muses and subjects have different characters… it’s like wanting to express a different part of a thought process or a feeling, you it want to sound different. You can write a lot about a particular emotion, you write a whole album about a particular emotion BUT I’ve wanted to encompass the whole arch of what was defining a period, and that goes in and out of different colours and tones and noises of emotions. Melodic, nice sweet-sounding things and then a-tonal and dystopian things. Just different pictures, really.”
Have you been reading any of the feedback coming in regarding the new music?
CC: “Not really, actually. I’ve read one comment on the ‘Out of My Mind’ video, it was like, ‘Yeah, you don’t look very good. You should get a stylist.’”
Charlotte, BSS: “Yeah, I saw that one. You wanna avoid the YouTube comments, I think.”
CC: “Yeah, so, I dunno. I’m not too fussed, I guess. Why do you know something that I don’t?”
Charlotte, BSS: “I mean, there’s a mix, like with everything. Some of its positive, some of it, I think they wished they hadn’t seen a change, you know? Because everyone doesn’t like change, so…”
CC: “Yeah, it’s true. I’ve been kind of thinking about that. That in the same way you never really wanna stick with the same particular sound, you, kind of, would like to forever be in that same state when you’re… I guess, when you’re getting older you wanna be where you were at when you were writing your first album because that’s always an undeniably electric spirit, but then everyone else, I guess, feels the same: why don’t you just make the same sounds and the same stuff so I can feel like I felt then when I was younger? I dunno, maybe it’s a feeling or a kind of existential discomfort with time passing.”
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, I definitely think that you’re branching off into deeper themes these days. You’re thinking about different things, getting more expansive, I guess, in terms of the ideas you’re looking at, instead of just looking at the one thing.”
Charlotte, BSS: “It’s refreshing but it does take some getting used to.”
CC: “Yeah, I think it’s probably a bit more challenging to the listener, but I don’t think anyone really… I mean, maybe its production questions, tying things together to make it an easy ride. It’s like what I was saying about career, it does interest me because I’m ambitious but it’s hard to sit down and plan what you want your career to look like in the writing and recording and production process.”
Charlotte, BSS: “It’s two separate things [the business side and the creative side].”
CC: “Yeah, exactly. I’m not very good at it. I don’t have any real instincts like that but, you know, it’s important, you don’t wanna be static forever.”
How have you found the process of translating the recordings into a live number?
CC: “Loving it. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know whether things would sit well together, but you know, you put all of the same instruments on the same stage in the same set and it comes together [when] picking a setlist you have that in mind. It’s been great, I’ve got three albums to choose from, so I could just play my favourites. Bangers only. The fun ones.”
The delivery method of six songs in six months is suited to the current climate, but because you’ve always been an artist who releases albums, has this method been challenging in any way?
CC: “No, not really. It’s been more exciting for me, you’re more active and doing more as far as releasing’s concerned. You’re treating each song as… I mean, it’s not a single. I mean, it is a single but it’s not really a ‘single’ single, it’s much more informal so there’s less pressure, you’re not so concerned with it being, like, really important. It’s just a different way to do it.
“Some people listen to albums, some people can’t be bothered. It’s just the way it is.”
The visual aspect is also integral to the world you create with each album campaign, the artwork has done a great job of capturing the essence of each song this time around, I think. But I wanted to specifically zone in on ‘Out of My Mind’ and its accompanying video. It’s lavish, heavily conceptualised and strikingly so. It features yourself on multiple instruments, performing the song to camera with a host of outfit changes. It strikes me that this video shoot would’ve been pretty intense and lengthy considering the amount of takes you must have needed to achieve this… can you tell us more about the shoot and the edit?
CC: “Well, we shot it in Preston with some students there. Honestly, it was a very, very brief shoot because we basically just had to shot between the rain. From their side of things, from the direction point of view, it was a little bit complicated—technical—getting the right this and that, but it didn’t take a long time. I loved it. Yeah, long shoots are long, but this was great. I just turned up with a couple of outfits and some pyjamas, and it was great. I enjoyed that shoot.”
Mississippi Isabel, Lady Percy, Melancholy Julia, Coco Chitty, Lady of the River… these characters span the King Charles catalogue, what does each signify to you?
Charlotte, BSS: “Have got any more characters coming up in the next songs?”
CC: “Probably going to do another version of ‘Coco Chitty’.”
Charlotte, BSS: “I think that’s the song you said you’d always want to travel with you.”
CC: “Yeah. Yeah, I like that one.”
You’ve written and released many heroic love songs, ‘Melancholy Julia’ is the closest mention of romance we have heard from you recently. So, do you still believe in the value of a love song?
CC: “Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That’s my greatest passion, wanting to make a declaration. I still feel like it’s the highest calling. I absolutely love it. I mean, writing them and singing them, and having that to write about, it’s so inspiring for me. And that’s my appreciation of it. I think love songs that other people have written… it taps into something so wonderful in yourself—it’s everything. It’s just so deep and rich, it’s joy and misery and everything. You can never stop writing about it. It’s one of those things that can be a cliché, but f*** it, if it sounds like a cliché then it’s a cliché, but if it doesn’t sound like a cliché then it’s not. You can always add new insights, everyone sees things in their own way, so.”
Ultimately we’re here to celebrate your return to music and tonight’s gig, so have you got anything special planned for tonight?
CC: “It’s the first tour of these new songs and I’m loving playing them so much. Putting them all together in a new set, you know, there’s a new band, it’s a new feel and it’s a new King Charles. I’m loving it. Being back on the road and doing this new thing. Gearing it all up again. It’s great.”
King Charles is confirmed to play Leopallooza this July (26th/ 27th/ 28th) in Cornwall – tickets can be purchased here.