Interview / Video Premiere:
words & interview by tom johnson
Over the past half-decade, Charlie Martin, alongside his songwriting partner Will Taylor, has released a beautiful run of records under their band name Hovvdy. Initially more raw and brooding, the band’s sound ~ which seamlessly weaves efforts from both songwriters ~ has evolved from the humid brink of a storm into the gentle hum of the immediate aftermath. On 2019’s Heavy Lifter, they married their ingrained, ever present sense of nostalgia with a playful undercurrent that tenderly adjusted their sound once more.
Released on the last day of April, 2021, Imaginary People, the first solo record from Charlie Martin, exists in a similar world as those songs found on Heavy Hitter: every time it feels like its about to fall apart it finds a wry smile, a small ripple of energy that helps it right itself once more. Lyrically, thematically, it’s presented as a snapshot of people; imaginary, yes, but with all the surrounding context pulled from the real world Martin has inhabited over the last few years. Written between texas, where Charlie lives and grew up, and his family’s home state of Mississippi, the songs here are empathetic and understated, Martin’s ruminations on childhood, growth, and the testing comfort of relationships delivered with the same, somewhat magical sense of grace that has shimmered through all of his (and Hovvdy’s) work.
Indicative of the record’s mellow, mesmerising heart is “Courage”, a quietly upbeat song loosely based around what it means and requires to share parts of yourself with the wider world; about art as a coping mechanism through terrible times. Shared here today, the song gets a suitably affecting new video, courtesy of Charlie’s friend and filmmaker Erik Gatling. We caught up with Charlie for a short chat about the record and “Courage”; you can check that out here and catch the new video below…
Hi Charlie… How have you found the reaction to Imaginary People?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised! I really didn’t have any expectations — I was just happy to throw all these songs out into the world — but it seems like the record is resonating with folks like they are seeing where I’m coming from, and that feels real good. The circumstances were unique with no Hovvdy touring in 2020, and I was furloughed from my day job, so I just put my head down and got to work. It was a scary time but the music felt good.
How different was the physical process for Imaginary People compared to your Hovvdy work? Did you change the approach at all?
For me, the magic of Hovvdy is getting to merge my songs with Will’s. There’s an innate dynamism that’s subtle but really beautiful. So the challenge of working solo is not having Will to lean on. Ultimately I feel like I achieved my goal, which was making a record that covers solid ground and maintains its steam; but it’s a little harder on your own no doubt.
When did you come up with the idea of fictional characters and what do you think it brought to these songs?
Over time I noticed I had these songs piling up that were centred on characters. It had become one of my favourite ways to write songs; almost like folding fiction into memory, which sounds a little sketchy, but memories can be so elusive. I think often we embellish or use our imaginations in an effort to learn lessons or make sense of our lives. Maybe I’m leaning into that instinct, but it really wasn’t an intentional concept.
Do you see this as a Texan record or does it exist in its own world?
Most of my songs live, for me at least, in Texas (where I was raised and have lived) and/or Mississippi (where all my family’s from). In fact, I recorded half the record in TX and half the record in MS. But I see the settings as a swirl of places.
There’s some really beautiful playing across the record. How much did these songs evolve over time or were they written fully fleshed as we hear them on the record?
Thank you! In terms of arrangement, I think I’d had the sound mapped out for a while. But some of these songs were in the back of my mind for years, so finally fleshing them out fully was so fun.
We’re sharing the video for “Courage” today, what can you tell us both about that song in particular and the accompanying film?
“Courage” was the first song I wrote when I decided to make Imaginary People. There were a big handful of songs I had shelved from previous years — all with the intention of sharing them one day soon — but i knew I wanted to bring a lot of new life to the record. “Courage” was sort of the first step. It’s about staying within yourself and acknowledging that it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. I’m so inspired when I see my friends and people I love putting art into the world — it’s actually the best thing. Especially lately, it’s such a wonderful coping mechanism — creating and receiving art — within all the flux. I’ve never felt more compelled to dive in head first.
My friend Erik Gatling, who directed the video, called me up in the fall of 2020. The record was nowhere near done, but he had heard the demos and wanted to work together. The “Courage” mix was already in an exciting place, and it felt like a great song to build on. Erik had some free time and extra film, so we went ahead and shot the video. It was a super genuine process, it felt so good and true to the song, and I think that comes across.
Music videos are a different beast these days; from an artist’s perspective what do you think they still bring to a project?
That’s a good question! To be totally honest, I give music videos a hard time, haha. I usually feel like they distract or take away from the music. Sometimes a whole lifetime goes into a song, and then you spend two days shooting a video that aggressively contextualizes it — it’s easy for it to fall short. But I’ll admit that’s a harsh take. Sometimes videos are so damn good, and i’ll say this “Courage” video feels truer than anything I’ve put out before.
‘Imaginary People’ is out now, via Grand Jury
Available on Bandcamp here
A Music Journal ~ Issue 8
Our Curious Printed Magazine
out now // visit the gfp store