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New Faces, New Sound: How Federal Charm Moved Forwards on 'Passenger'

Tuesday, 18 September 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Imagine being in a rock ‘n’ roll band with two albums under your belt and a fistful of big-name support slots in the bank. Imagine you spent the best part of a decade building a fanbase. Then, just as you’re preparing to make that all important third album, imagine waving goodbye to half the group. Do you wallow in self-pity? Wave the white flag and call it quits? Or recruit two new members and bounce back with your strongest album to date.

For Federal Charm the answer was thankfully the latter when original vocalist Nick Bowden and drummer Danny Rigg amicably departed following a gruelling tour in support of 2015’s sophomore effort ‘Across The Divide’. Although there was understandably a brief period of wound licking, guitarist Paul Bowe and bassist L.D. Morawski felt their band was too important to die an early death and decided to carry on.

When the duo made that decision, however, they couldn’t possibly have known that they would be able to channel a potentially fatal turn of events into something positive. But two strokes of good fortune darkened their doorway, in the form of powerhouse singer Tom Guyer and tub-thumping colossus Josh Zahler.

Gifting a tougher, tighter, more streetwise attack, Federal Charm’s talented new recruits have helped the band move up a gear on their latest record, ‘Passenger’. Welding vintage ‘70s rock riffs and pulsating grooves to a darker modern feel, which is largely fuelled by character-driven stories that tackle a range of complex contemporary subjects and emotional states, it’s both a storming comeback for the group and an accomplished debut for their new line-up.

With the foursome about to tour the UK accompanied by the Bad Flowers and Those Damn Crows, we caught up with Bowe to discuss the replacing a vocalist, what made Guyer the right man for the gig and how taking some risks paid off.  

It’s been a long road to get to the point where album number three is finally out, so how are you feeling after such a difficult time? 

Mega excited. Really happy with the result and feedback we’re getting. The band’s gelling well and we can’t wait to get on the road and put it in as many ears as possible.  I’m proud because it shouldn’t have been an album that got made. We lost half the band and you don’t have a right to come back after 12 months with something that’s as half decent as this.

In terms of those losses, why did Nick decide to leave?

Over a period of time the amount of touring we were doing, and being away from home, took its toll. Not going into too much detail but Nick, as a person, some of it just didn’t resonate with him and a lot of the industry stuff was pulling him down.  He just decided he didn’t have another album in him and we had to sit down and talk about it as adults.

We didn’t fall out, we shook hands and decided it was best for both of us. I was devastated because he was a founding member, but if it wasn’t making him happy it wasn’t making him happy. I was certainly not going to stop because I had a bit of a mission and the band’s extremely important to me.

Even so, replacing a singer isn’t easy. Was there a point where you thought it might be over?

Yeah, for a few weeks I slumped into a bit of a down point. It just took the wind out of my sails and I couldn’t see a way out because you can’t just find a singer and writing partner. It doesn’t work like that. So I had to resign myself to the fact it was done. But then I just woke up one day, went for a drink with L.D. and we were like ‘There’s no way man. We’ve been here for five years, we’ve toured everywhere – Europe, UK – we’ve built fans, grafted like nobody’s business.  Let’s get back on the horse.’

Were there any acts you looked at as your blueprint for how to replace a singer successfully, such as AC/DC and Van Halen?

I did reference that when I was talking to the guys. To be honest, I just had to put that to one side and say ‘I haven’t really got any choice, this band is happening and you’re either on board or you’re not. If we lose a few fans along the way I’m really sorry about that. We want you to be on board, but the band has to carry on.’ If it does become more successful then it’s job done, isn’t it?

What was the process you went through to find Tom?

We did a standard audition and put, almost like a casting call out online, and saw eight to 10 individuals. There were some good ones but none of them fit. I’d heard about Tom a year before, I’d seen him in a club in Manchester because a friend of mine recommended to go and check him out, which I did, and he was perfect for the role. I managed to grab his number and came out to the train station to pick him up.  He stayed at mine and I never let him go.

What made him the perfect fit?

Just a very mature voice for a young guy. He had the classic, vintage style of singing.  A lot of heart and soul and a great look as well. He just ticked all the boxes.

I hear quite a bit of Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan in his voice. Given they play a similar style to you guys, and have made quite a name for themselves, that must have been a draw?

Absolutely. They’re one of my favourite contemporary bands and I think they do what they do really well. He’s got a lot of soul and power in his voice and, yeah, there is a bit of Jay Buchanan there. You’re right, it was attractive.

What’s Tom’s background?

He was in a band called the God Complex, which is a metal band. Very heavy. He used to go absolutely apeshit on stage, there was blood everywhere. He’d done a lot of local gigs but I don’t think he’d done much before that. So this is a completely different direction for him and a bit of a learning curve to get into a band where I needed him to write. It was a proper session. I got him writing, making melody lines and, instead of it just being a hobby, living it.

Was there any awkwardness when you started writing together or did it click quickly?

We took it slowly. I showed him some riffs, he jammed over it. We had to break some boundaries down, there was some confidence stuff and nerves because we were new to each other. That kind of thing. But it didn’t take long.

What’s he brought to the table that’s different?

He brings more of a narrative to the songs. He’s a storyteller, so it’s characters, concepts and ideas that are definitive. His voice is a lot bigger and he doesn’t have to put a lot of effort in to sing. It gives you more scope because his range is that big and you can shoot for the stars with where you want to go. You can pull him left or right and he gives you a lot more options.

He’s not the only new member either. Why did Danny leave and what can you say about Josh?

He wasn’t interested in a new brand of Federal Charm and I didn’t want to drag him along. There would have been a lot of unpleasant conversations, daily, on tour. It was one of those decisions where, again, we did it amicably. I’ve known him for 20 odd years so if his heart wasn’t in it after that, and he wasn’t interested in the direction, he had to go. It sounds ruthless but it had to be done.

Josh is an unbelievably organic, natural, fluid drummer with chops and skills I’ve not seen before. It makes me very excited and the sky’s the limit with him. He’s got all kinds of different influences but he’s still a big hitter. He loves his groove and is very easy to play with. 

Did it take long for you to gel or was the chemistry instant?

Looking back now, pretty instantaneous. The Bristol gig in April at the Louisiana was a definitive turning point in terms of live chemistry. It absolutely felt like we were in a band together at that point, just feeding off each other. We were tight, the crowd were into it and we gave them everything back. We all came off and said ‘There we go. That’s it.’

How would you describe your sound on ‘Passenger'?

It’s a very organic evolution, but there’s still a lot of Federal Charm in it because I bring most of the riffs to the table, so there will be a slight identity that remains.

Swing Sinner is a wonderfully dark bluesy tale and gets things off to a great start. What can you say about that one?

It’s a simplistic story about murder, alcoholism, guilt, abuse and the justice system.  We wanted to play around with those ideas and wanted that to be a mini-western/1900s Britain mash-up. Basically, just putting all those ingredients to a concept. It’s just a good story about a young boy.

Concrete Creature is one of the most interesting tracks on the record. It moves through a number of different phases and almost has a slight progressive feel too.

That’s an L.D. riff. He came up with that and I started playing it acoustically. It sounded so great in drop D, like that heavy Delta sound, and I just love how it moves.  It sounds bluesy but it isn’t a blues riff at all. We wanted that to be as punishing and brutal as possible and when you’re playing it live it gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. That was the first time I heard Tom sing and the first thing we played and wrote with him.

Tom’s lyrics cover a variety of themes too. There are songs on the album about relationships, which are well depicted and not you’re your standard breakup fare, but it’s refreshing to hear a rock album that covers relevant and important topics.

I thought it was a bit risky, to be honest. I wasn’t sure about some of his topics, that it was maybe too personal and people couldn’t relate to it because they’re maybe not as important to them as to Tom. But it’s paid off. He was obsessed with the storytelling and I was happy that he wouldn’t write something he didn’t believe in. I know every time he’s singing he means it. That’s a draw. It’s not just grabbing subject matter out of the air for the sake of it.

You took longer making this album than you did your past records, and you’ve done more promotional work for it than you’ve ever done before. With all that in mind, what are your hopes for the record?

I want it to be heard by as many people in this genre as possible. I think they’re gonna have a really good time with an album they can sit and grow with. My family have got it and it’s clicked with them. The first two with Nick didn’t click straight away, but this one they keep listening and listening to. We didn’t want it to be three singles with lots of fillers on it. We wanted it to be a proper concept album with characters, stories, every different kind of emotion and vibe. Hopefully it’s one of those that you can keep coming back to. 

'Passenger' is out now.

Federal Charm Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 19 2018 - BRISTOL Thekla
Thu September 20 2018 - PONTYPRIDD Muni Arts Centre
Fri September 21 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City Basement
Sat September 22 2018 - GLASGOW Classic Grand
Sun September 23 2018 - CHESTER Live Rooms
Mon September 24 2018 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Wed September 26 2018 - HUDDERSFIELD Parish
Thu September 27 2018 - NEWCASTLE Think Tank
Fri September 28 2018 - SHEFFIELD Corporation
Sat September 29 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute 2
Sun September 30 2018 - LONDON Borderline

Click here to compare & buy Federal Charm Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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