Interview | Charlie Hilton

Known until recently as the lead singer of Portland band Blouse, Charlie Hilton has stepped out on her own with the release of two new singles from her debut solo album, Palana, due for release next month via Captured Tracks/Remote Control Records. Hilton enlisted Jacob Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Blouse) for production and her latest single off the record,  ‘100 Million’ features Mac DeMarco on back up vocals as well as every instrument on the track. We had a chat to Hilton about how her first solo venture came together. 

‘Pony’ and ‘100 Million’ have already had a really warm reception, how are you feeling now about the album’s release?
I’m really excited. The record’s been done for so long – we finished it in March so it’s almost been a year now and it just feels good. I forget after a while.. it takes so long to put a record out, you kind of forget that no one’s heard it because you’ve heard it so much. It’s been really fun to have two songs out and they seem to be making people feel kinda happy which is nice.

Did you find it a bit of a daunting prospect to step out on your own and release these tracks as a solo artist?
A little bit. It definitely feels different. I don’t really know how different it’s going to be yet because it’s still so new. The recording process felt kind of similar. It kind of felt like I was just making another record with Blouse because I was working with Jake Portrait who produced the record and he’s also in Blouse. It felt really familiar and nice. It’ll be interesting – I’ve put a new band together and I’m excited. It feels kind of fresh which is nice.

Is Palana a collection of songs you’ve written over time or did you sit down and write with the intention of making a solo album?
Some of them have been around a long time. The reason I made a solo record wasn’t because I had these big ideas about going off on my own, it was more because Mike Sniper had heard one of those old love songs a few years ago and he wanted to sign me as a solo artist and record some of these old songs that didn’t seem like they would be Blouse songs. It was really exciting to have the motivation to sit down and write specifically for this record. So yeah, it was kind of a combination.

How did your collaboration with Mac Demarco come about initially?
So that was the first recording I did for this record and Mike Sniper said, “why don’t you come out to New York with some songs and I’m gonna give Mac a train ticket down to Brooklyn and I’ll put the two of you in the studio”. It was right before Mac’s first record came out and I’d heard the record so I knew he was a brilliant musician but I had never met him. We met at the Captured Tracks office and he was so cool and so sweet and we pretty much spent a week together with no preparation and no idea of what we were doing so we didn’t get very far because it wasn’t very well planned out but it was really fun. Unfortunately the only song that was ever really finished was the one that made it on the record. Our idea was to finish it together but we just didn’t get around to it. I’m glad one of them made it on the record.

When was your interest in making music first sparked?
I have been making music since I can remember, pretty much being a person. My dad is a musician and always had a bunch of guitars around the house. He was always in bands and I used to mess around with his guitars and I had no idea what I was doing. Finally – he was a terrible teacher – but he taught me a few chords and… He was really bad at teaching me to drive too, he’s awful. But once you know a few chords, playing guitar can be pretty simple. You can write a song and know like six chords and you’ll be fine. He kind of sent me off with my chords and bought me a guitar one random day even though I’d never asked, and then I started writing in middle school. Ever since and it’s always been really important to me.

What kind of stuff did you listen to growing up?
I was always really into the oldies station. I grew up in LA and there was this really terrible commercial radio station and I’d listen to that. They’d just play the hits, nothing too obscure. I loved The Everly Brothers and I love The Beatles. My parents bought me my first CD when I was twelve years old and that was the White Album. That kind of changed everything for me and I got really obsessed with The Beatles. Then I got into The Velvet Underground and stuff that was a little bit less old when I was in high school. I was in high school during a bad time in music. There was a little bit of a lull there when I wasn’t inspired by anything contemporary so I’ve always been kind of bitter about it – this was the late nineties.

What are your plans looking like for next year touring wise?
There’s nothing set in stone right now but we should have something to announce soon. Definitely going to do a US tour with somebody… I’m not sure who yet. I am going to be playing shows though, it will happen, we’re just not ready to announce yet.

What’s your live set up looking like now – you said you’ve been putting together a band?
Yeah, I’ve been working on it with some friends this week. It’s just going to be four of us, pretty classic set up – drum, bass, guitar, keyboard – some multi-instrumentalist people like the drummer plays saxophone… Everyone in the band kind of plays everything except for me so it’s been interesting playing the songs live. I kind of knew when I was making the record that it was going to be a little bit challenging because there’s grand piano, cello and it’s always kind of depressing when you can’t afford to tour with twenty people, you just know you have to get kind of crafty but we’ll put together something nice.

Are there any plans in the works to maybe come to Australia anytime soon?
I really hope so! There’s nothing planned right now to come to Australia but I would love the opportunity and I’m so glad that I have a label out there and the labels are working together because it’s a first for me, it’s really nice, I’m excited.