At the start of 2006, Charlotte Hatherley found herself at one of life’s great turning points. She had just had her ‘leaving home’ moment, ten years after first leaving home. She had chosen to leave Ash, the band that took her round the world, and made her name. In 2004, Charlotte’s low-key solo debut ‘Grey Will Fade’ had earned critical plaudits and two top 40 singles, and Tim and the Ash boys were keen to relocate to New York. It makes for a boring story, but the truth is that the alliance came to an amicable, natural end. “It’s cool,” she says, because it’s not like it was a short amount of time. I was there for almost a decade; that was my little bit; three albums that I’m happy with.”
And by now, plans were also taking shape for a follow-up to ‘Grey Will Fade’ “I’d already written half of it, and had recorded some songs produced by Rob Ellis, and I was gonna try and finish it while doing the Ash thing. I realise now that it was never going to work because it’s such an involved record. And it wouldn’t have been half the record it is if I’d been doing two things at once.”
‘The Deep Blue’ is what Charlotte did next.
After making the decision to go it alone – “like coming out of a relationship with three men” – Charlotte went to Australia for her sister’s wedding, spending a couple of months taking stock. “If I was going to make another album after leaving the band,” she says, “then I knew it had to be a million times better than ‘Grey Will Fade’. No mean feat for an album whose giddy bubblegum punk had earned her considerable respect as a songwriter. So after getting her breath back in Australia, she hooked up with producer Eric Feldman and headed for San Francisco. “It was a little bit like ‘pack your bags, you’re going on an adventure’. It was the best thing I could have done. If I’d have been sitting at home taking my time, it would have been awful, I would have scared myself too much to actually have done it.”
So for recording, their next stop was Italy, in coastal town Senigallia for a blissful three months of seclusion, scooter expeditions and red wine. “It was the best fun I’d ever had recording,” remembers Charlotte. “A really special time, just me, Rob and Eric having a party. We came back to London to mix with Ben Hillier, and the summer just kept going”.
‘The Deep Blue’ sees Charlotte step out from under her rock chick charade and throw the whole of herself open. The jagged perk-pop that characterised ‘Grey Will Fade’ survives onto ‘Behave’ and ‘I Want You To Know’, but this a more ethereal, thoughtful work, informed by her love of Kate Bush, David Bowie and Mercury Rev. “The thing I’m really proud of is it’s an album, from start to finish,” says Charlotte. “It really conveys a mood. It’s got particular vibe to it. The production is a lot more thoughtful. It sounds like I spent a year on it, which you’d hope it would! Something I do quite a lot is throw shitloads at something. There’s loads going on, every time you listen to it I hope there’s something else which you can latch onto. It’s a record, in an age of downloading songs on their own
And with this mood comes a more honest lyrical approach. Where ‘Grey Will Fade’ was a carefree adventure starring Kim Wilde and light-fingered lotharios called Antonio, the fragile likes of ‘Dawn Treader’ (written with XTC’s Andy Partridge) or the sombre ‘Again’ see Charlotte mine new depths of her soul. “It’s a lot more honest, a bit more vulnerable. There was a discipline of thinking, ‘I feel a little bit embarrassed about singing this, so it must be good.”
In spirit, ‘The Deep Blue’ is a cathartic, emotional, bittersweet and beautiful journey. A deeply personal record, it’s the story of what happens when, after signing up as a rock star and travelling the world at 18, you decide its time to come home and discover who you really are. A lot of this year, she says, has involved growing up, and dealing with the arrested development of growing up in public. As befits such a personal piece of work, no record company A&R departments or statisticians have had a hand in ‘The Deep Blue’. Instead, after making it herself, Charlotte and her manager Ann-Marie Shields have set up Little Sister Records, with distribution by Vital, to make sure the artist has complete control. “Plus,” says Charlotte with a glint in her eye, “if we can pull it off we’ll be laughing!”