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Charlotte Hatherley talks to Marshall

Published: June, 2000
Source: Marshall

Plucked from relative obscurity in ’97, Charlotte Hatherley has honed her guitar performance skills on tour with Ash and has played a vital part in their continuing success story.

After the initial frenzy of their early and dramatic rise to fame, the band have matured and expanded their direction with their last album, Nu-Clear Sounds, confounding and delighting both fans and critics. Having written the title track to the film “A Life Less Ordinary, scored numerous festival successes, had a regular crop of hit singles and a number 1 album, the world, it would seem, is definitely Ash’s oyster.

We caught up with Charlotte during a brief quiet spell, before the serious business of recording the next Ash album.

The first question is obviously about your background. For example, were your family musical and how old were you when you started playing? Well, I have two older sisters who are both into music and they have both been writing since I can remember, so I’ve been surrounded by that. I guess I got the guitar when I was 14. I kinda inherited my sisters guitar and just used that. I taught myself for about a year, then started getting lessons.

Basically, I learned how to improvise with the guitar around all basic blues stuff. Then from there I kind of developed my own style, through to joining the band at sixteen and I kind of progressed from there.

Is there anybody who was particularly an influence or a hero to you, and is there anyone that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with you that you listen to?
I have always been a big fan of David Bowie, he always used amazing guitarists, like Robert Fripp and stuff like that. I was into the crazy style of Scary Monsters and that kind of really fucked up Brian Eno sound. Then I got into My Bloody Valentine which was amazing guitar - I’ve never heard a guitar played like that and Joey Santiago from the Pixies and stuff. So they kind of influenced me in the sound I tried to get out of the guitar. I tried to do something a bit different, sound a bit more interesting than playing in the straight-forward style and those guitarists kinda shaped me into that.

I am listening to a lot of American music, The Flaming Lips stuff, but not any specific guitar music or any particular guitarist. Though Sleater Kinney are a big influence on me at the moment. They are three girls, who play drums with two guitarists and just like really innovative guitar playing - much more interesting than anything I have heard, so that really excites me. It makes you think there is a lot more out there. But I’m listening to all sorts of music at the moment. I kind of grew up learning classical music and studied it, I have a soft spot for that. I listen to a lot of soundtrack music, kinda instrumental, a lot of Brian Eno albums and keyboard orientated stuff. Sometimes I much prefer listening to that kind of thing rather than straightforward rock music.

You have obviously been using Marshall for a little while now. Is there one particular thing about Marshall that you could pick out as a favourite feature?
With my first band, Nightnurse, I was using a Marshall amp, coupled with an SG, that I managed to get hold of. That was a pretty awesome combination. I still use that now in Ash. It’s kind of the best combination at the moment. It’s quite a straightforward set-up, with the Marshall 6100 and my Gibson SG and I’ve got a new Les Paul and just a Marshall footswitch. I got hold of some of the new Marshall Effects pedals, but I use them more in the studio than live.

Definitely the crunch sound - for the kind of stuff that Ash does, particularly live, to get that kind of crunch when it’s overdriven and it’s got enormous power. If I want to go for power and make it sound really big, then I use Marshall every time.

There always seems to have been a lack of successful female guitar players, though it has improved in recent years. Do you think there is a particular reason for that? Also does being in a band where the rest of the members are all male present any particular problems?
Definitely when I was learning guitar I never had any female guitarist that I listened to. I mean I was a big PJ Harvey fan and Debbie Harry, you know. A lot of female artists I admired, but none of them really played guitar. They weren’t known for their guitar playing. They are more front singers. But recently I have seen a lot of bands that have got great female drummers and great female guitarists, especially in America, there is a lot of it going on.

It was quite confusing to start with ’cos I think I got a lot of attention for the fact that I was a female more than the fact that I was a good guitarist. It took quite a while for people to realise that. It has been a bit of a struggle, but at the end of the day I just play guitar the way I want to and now it is getting more and more recognised that I am quite an adequate player.

I was on the tour bus for like seven or eight weeks round Europe and out of twelve people on the bus I was the only girl. At first it was no problem but towards the end it was pretty hard. There’s not much female company when you’re out on the road, it’s a very male dominated thing. It’s a case of maintaining your balance, it’s like being one of the lads but retaining your femininity. Luckily the boys in the band are great and Rick is the biggest girl of all of us, it’s quite comforting to have him around.

How do you spend your free time when you’re not actually working with the band. Do you try to escape from playing or do you still play recreationally?
Well, I kind of set this mini studio up in my room. I’ve got an 8 track and a Marshall amp and I just come home and try to write and chill out. I also get to spend some time with my sister when I come back off tour, which is a great comfort. The rest of the time I am just going out to see gigs and stuff. Just hanging out really. I try to do something with myself rather than just staying in.

We gather that you have started work on the new album. When you work on a project like this do you all work individually, then present the ideas and go through them democratically? Or do you all come together and just thrash it through?
It is a bit of both actually. Tim writes a lot of the stuff on his own, as does Mark in Ireland, then we group all that together. So we all get together in London and play through the demos that we have done. Then we’ll play live around the stuff and arrange that. A lot of the new stuff we have done has come from just jamming around and bits of riffs, then putting them together. All four of us work together.

Both ways it’s pretty productive. I am really happy with the way things are going at the moment. I mean the songs we are writing now are really different, for some reason it’s a lot more exciting than Nu-Clear Sounds was. I think it’s a question of we’ve got our shit together and actually got a lot of songs written before going into the studio.

You have performed all over the world, done film soundtracks, but is there one particular performance which stands out as having been a highlight?
For me, when I first joined the band, one of the first gigs I did was V97. So in the space of a week I had left my old band playing to like 20 people, then I was playing headlining in front of 20,000 plus. It was pretty phenomenal. That’s one of the things I will always remember. Also the peace referendum gig we did in Belfast, with bands like U2, that was pretty amazing as well. To be a part of something so historic, as we all believe that it helped to change the turnout for the referendum. Especially for Tim, Mark and Rick, them having grown up in Northern Ireland, it was a very moving thing to be involved in.