Featuring some of her most intimate songwriting to date, Charlie Collins’ sophomore album Undone is full of texture and personality.
After a relationship breakdown flipped her life on its head, Charlie Collins rediscovered her spontaneity and hopped on a flight to London.
The trip involved a mixture of exploring, writing, and self-discovery, with a small side of touring across the UK with Gang of Youths.
Now that Charlie’s back in Australia and Undone is out for the world to hear, we snagged the opportunity to have a chat about the new record, getting chased by Kings Cross station security, and drinking too many pickleback shots.
HAPPY: Hey! How are you going, Charlie?
CHARLIE: Hey! I’m good. How are you?
HAPPY: I’m very well, thank you. Are you back in Australia now?
CHARLIE: Yes! I’m back. And it’s so nice to be back in the sunshine.
HAPPY: Nice. How was London? I’m so keen to get there one day.
CHARLIE: Dude, it was so good. It was a life changing trip.
HAPPY: Wow, nice! What did you love so much about it?
CHARLIE: Just the Sunday roast, really [laughs]. No, I don’t know. I just love the cold weather. I love the food, and the music scene is so alive, and everything is just alive. I don’t know, when you’re in a new place, everything is new and exciting.
HAPPY: Yeah. Did anything take a second to get used to or was it all pretty easy?
CHARLIE: Probably just the trains [laughs]. I’d just be like, ‘Oh, I am completely on the wrong train. I’m going east instead of west.’
HAPPY: [laughs] Speaking of the trains, the video for Backseat Valentine, was that filmed at a London train station?
CHARLIE: Yeah! In Kings Cross Station and all around the stations in London. We got chased by a security guard. So when I was running, I was actually running.
HAPPY: Oh, really? [laughs]
CHARLIE: Yeah, it was great. [laughs]
HAPPY: So when you were filming the shots when you were inside on the stairwell, did you have to wait for people to walk past and then just do quick takes in between?
CHARLIE: Yeah, yeah. No, literally, people would walk past and then we’d quickly shoot and then wait. And yeah, that’s when the security guard came, ‘You can’t be filming here,’ and we were like, ‘Ah! Go, run!’
HAPPY: Oh wow, really? What was their issue with filming there?
CHARLIE: I don’t know! I think you need a licence or something.
HAPPY: Ahhhh. Geez.
CHARLIE: We were also in an emergency stairwell.
HAPPY: Ohhh right, okay [laughs].
CHARLIE: We were being dodgy, for sure.
HAPPY: It’s all worth it for the clip.
CHARLIE: Yeah exactly. It’s all for the art, babe.
HAPPY: Yeah, of course. And you also just finished touring with Gang of Youths. What was that like?
CHARLIE: It was so great. Oh, man. First of all, it was just great to catch up with them because I haven’t seen them in so long. And my first headline tour was touring with them in Australia, so to do it again, it was so great. To get to play Brixton Academy was just surreal, but it was just a whole lot of fun. It was so great to see them because I’ve been listening to their new record for so long in the making, so to hear it all come together live was like… I felt like a proud mum.
HAPPY: Where did you first meet Gang of Youths?
CHARLIE: So I met them when they were like 16. Their first show was actually supporting a band that I was in [laughs]. Yeah they were super young. So we’ve kind of grown up with each other and now my brother manages them. They’re just kind of loose family and it’s nice.
HAPPY: Aw nice. So when you were on tour, was it good to get a crowd’s reception to the new material that you’ve got coming out with Undone.
CHARLIE: Yeah, it was nerve wracking because I was also playing by myself, not hiding behind a band, and playing these songs live. And it was really cool… the responses that I got from the new stuff, I was like ‘Cool, I think this record is okay. People like it… I think.’
HAPPY: Did you feel much of the classic sophomore album pressure when you were writing Undone?
CHARLIE: No, actually. Funnily enough, I didn’t feel pressure. I just had so much I needed to get out, and so this album is just that. So I didn’t really think about anything else, or compare it to the last one because they’re two completely different stories. I’ve been through completely different things in life, so it’s just more of a progression of where I am at now and where I’m heading.
HAPPY: Yeah, nice. I also read that you wrote the lyrics for Backseat Valentine in 10 minutes. Is that true?
CHARLIE: 10 minutes! That’s like a world record. It’s so funny. I’ve seen some that are like ‘wrote it in two hours’, ‘wrote it in an hour,’ but I haven’t seen 10 minutes. It was like an hour though, it was very quick. I wrote it with Xavier Dunn, he’s one of my good friends, and he’s just like, ‘you have all these beautiful, sad songs that mean so much, but I know you and you love to party and you’re a bit of a wild bitch.’
And so he’s like, ‘Let’s write something like that, that brings out that side of you that people have never seen.’ And so we just were riffing off each other. He’d write a line and then he’d be like, ‘Go!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ And then it was like, ‘Oh my God, we have a song’ [laughs].
HAPPY: So it was a really smooth process?
CHARLIE: So smooth! And then I recorded the vocals, just one off straightaway in like, 10 minutes and everything that is on that song is just from the writing session.
HAPPY: Oh nice. I must have confused recording it in 10 minutes with writing it in 10 minutes. That’s what I’ve done there [laughs].
CHARLIE: Ohhh yeah, yeah, yeah.
HAPPY: That’s still so impressive.
CHARLIE: Yeah, it was very quick and fun and I love it. I love that you can kind of see that fast paced energy in it. And even when I was singing, it was like, ‘Okay, go! Record, sing!’ and I was like ‘Argh!’ And I thought about redoing the vocals because it was just in his little studio in his bedroom. But I was just like, I don’t think I’ll be able to recreate that because it has that desperation and chaos in the sound. So we just kept it all.
HAPPY: It was meant to be. I also wanted to ask, because this is some of the most intimate music you’ve written to date. Do you find it difficult to open up in that vulnerable way when you’re working with other people?
CHARLIE: I think because all the people that I worked with are just good friends, so it would just be stuff we’d talk about anyway. But in this case we wrote about it. So I would have told them all this stuff, but it just happened to turn into a song. So it was actually easy. Yeah, it was very seamless.
HAPPY: Do you think solo traveling helped open up your song writing to reach that level of vulnerability? Or is that kind of unrelated?
CHARLIE: I don’t know… I think my vulnerability truly just comes from within [laughs]. That sounds so stupid. But it’s true. I’ve just always been a writer where I can’t make up a story. It’s really hard. And when I write, it has to be exactly the truth, and exactly how I’m feeling. So it kind of just all comes out because essentially it’s like therapy for myself. And if I don’t talk about exactly how I’m feeling truthfully, it’ll be something I’ll bury and it’ll eat me away. So yeah. Always keeping it honest. Sometimes too honest [laughs].
HAPPY: You also talked about how your last few years have urged you to get in touch with your more spontaneous side again. Other than flying to London, what other spontaneous things have you been up to?
CHARLIE: Well, London was definitely the most spontaneous. I’ve only been back in the country for like a week, and I’m still getting over jet lag. So I haven’t had the chance to do something spontaneous… yet. Oh! I went out the other night and did like five pickleback shots, which I regret. I don’t know if that’s spontaneous. I think that’s just stupid.
HAPPY: Nah that’s spontaneous. Yeah, that counts [laughs].
CHARLIE: Okay, did that count? [laughs] Alright, sick. I just did a bunch of picklebacks, it was great. And then spewed like an hour later! [laughs]
HAPPY: Oh no! That’s so rough.
CHARLIE: It was rough, yeah. I can’t drink whisky for a bit.
HAPPY: [laughs] And so with the release of the new record, you’ve also got some shows coming up in Australia. What can fans expect from those shows?
CHARLIE: Obviously new songs, I’ve got a new band and I think it’s just going to be an emotional experience. Just playing these songs live, wondering if I can even get through them without breaking down, yeah. It’s going to be very raw and emotional. And I’m also excited to share that with other people, so we can all connect together and be in it together.
HAPPY: When you’re performing without your band, do you have any tactics to replicate a similar amount of energy when it’s just you performing or do you just completely strip it back and make it a solo performance?
CHARLIE: Yeah, I think it’s something that you have to consciously think about, definitely. Even when I did the Gang of Youths shows, I definitely brought things down a little bit, because you’re also responsible for creating the light and shade, and the dynamic, just you and your guitar. So you’ve got to think about that. For me, I don’t just smash it out. You have the moments and the softer moments and you can create new moments. So yeah, definitely. I do think about that [laughs].
HAPPY: Nice. Well, that’s pretty much all the questions I’ve got for you. Are you about to jump into a rehearsal?
CHARLIE: Yeah, I’ve got a rehearsal.
HAPPY: So fun! Well, thank you very, very much for taking the time.
CHARLIE: Of course! My pleasure.
HAPPY: It was lovely speaking with you. And lovely to meet you.
CHARLIE: Lovely to meet you too. Enjoy the rest of your sunny day.
HAPPY: Thank you! You too.
HAPPY: See ya.
Charlie Collins has three shows left on her ‘Undone’ album tour, playing Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge May 9 and 11, then Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on Saturday the 14th of May. Grab tickets here.
You can get a taste for Charlie’s new album below.
Interviewed by Lochie Schuster.