Mississippi-born singer-songwriter Charlie Worsham is rapidly building his reputation as one of the standout musicians in Nashville.
Following the release of his critically acclaimed second album, Beginning of Things, in April this year, he’s spent the summer out on the road with acts including Tim McGraw & Faith Hill and Brandy Clark. He’s also continued to win over fans in the UK following his appearances over the C2C: Country to Country festival weekend and a short follow-up tour.
I spoke to Charlie on his latest whistle-stop visit to London ahead of his tour supporting Lucie Silvas in the UK next month. Read on for what he loves about touring over here, his favourite books and his hopes of playing C2C 2018.
Hi Charlie! How are you?
What’s up everybody? [laughs] I’m doing great. Loving being in… I was gonna say sunny London, it’s not that warm but it feels as warm as sunshine here.
You come over to the UK a lot. What is it that keeps you coming back?
It’s actually my second trip this year – twice a year for the last two years and I’m coming for a third trip this year in three weeks with Lucie Silvas. It’d be easier to list what it isn’t [that keeps me coming back]. It’s the folks that I’ve come to know and see at shows and the way that they’ve embraced me and my music – definitely that first, that connection. But it’s the culture and the history and the food and the beer and the travel by train. There’s just so much good stuff here to see, and being a creative person and a songwriter I’m looking for places that inspire me. I get a lot of inspiration here.
When you come here do you find you get much of a chance to explore, or is it very much one show to the next?
Yeah, this tour coming up with Lucie is actually gonna be my first time performing with a band over here, which I’m excited about. But it’ll also be my first time not to just be throwing my guitar on my back and hopping on a train. The thing about doing the trains and just me and a guitar and suitcase is that there is a lot of time to explore. So I don’t know if I’ll get to explore as much next month. But that’s my favourite thing other than playing the music. I’ve come enough now that there are a handful of places in each city where I’m a regular – I know everybody there and they know me so I can walk in and be familiar.
Do you find that people are starting to recognise you in the street or can you still be quite anonymous?
Oh no, I haven’t had that happen just yet! Although it’s funny you mention that because we were flying over here just a couple of days ago and it was a Sunday, and of course in Nashville a lot of tourism passes through the airport. So I played the Grand Ole Opry the night before and I got stopped three or four times at the airport by people saying ‘oh my God I saw you on the Opry!’ There’s a Warner display at the airport and normally I could literally stand by my picture and be all ‘look everyone!’ and people just walk right past, but something about playing the Opry the night before – when you’re trigged in people’s minds they recognise you.
Was that your first time playing at the Opry?
Oh no, I’ve been very fortunate to get to play the Opry – especially this year – a lot. I guested on the Opry when I was a kid thanks to Opry member Mike Snyder. I was 12 years old and went backstage and got on stage to play; it was a life-changing moment. And now officially I’ve gotten to play a couple dozen times which is kind of crazy.
This summer you did your Every Damn Monday sessions in Nashville – can you tell us a bit more about how that came about?
It’s an East Nashville staple now – it started three years ago on a Tuesday, Every Damn Tuesday at the Five Spot and then the past two years we moved it to the Basement. It’s become a couple of things. One, I love to play music period but when I’m done doing music for a living I play music for fun; it’s non-stop. And it’s a chance to get to play music I don’t normally play. We did a John Mayer-thon where I got to dig into the John Mayer catalogue, and we did a bluegrass night this year. So every week’s a different theme and a different musical curiosity.
But it’s also a chance to raise attention and raise some money for my hometown stuff that I’m doing. So we’ve raised some money for my hometown Follow Your Heart Scholarship, and then this year we branched out and opened a second part to this endeavour which is the Follow Your Heart Arts Programme. And the difference is the scholarship fund is gonna help kids afford to go study what’s in their heart to study in the arts, if it’s music or acting or whatever. But the arts programme puts guitars in kids’ hands and lets them study and learn music after school.
I’m just starting to talk about this but I’ve been working on a book with a guy named Peter Cooper who’s a dear friend and a dear member of our community in Nashville, and it’s based on Follow Your Heart, which is also this tattoo I have on my arm. For anybody who’s been following me on social media has probably noticed that I posted a lot of pictures of my tattoo in various places in the UK, and so the book’s kind of all the stories of getting the tattoo, the story behind it and then all the places I’ve been since. And then all the proceeds are going to go towards the arts programme.
You’ve been out on tour this summer with Brandy Clark and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill – what have you learnt from being out on those big tours?
You learn so much from everybody on tour. My first tour experience was going out on the Speak now tour opening for Taylor Swift, and that actually helped me get my record deal. And the lesson I learned from her is the same that I’ve learned from Miranda and Dierks and especially from Tim and Faith – just their graciousness. There’s a reason that the people that are at the top are at the top, and it usually has to do obviously with their talent but as much the kind of human being they are and how they treat people. And so that’s really the biggest takeaway is just being kind to everyone, whether it’s the person whose name is on the ticket down to the person who is moving the spotlight around or driving the truck that the spotlights ride around in, because it takes every single part of that organisation.
You’ve said before that you try to write every day. Do you find that changes when you’re on the road?
I definitely did not write this morning – I slept three hours cos we were jamming til 3.30 last night, and you gotta give yourself a free day every once in a while. It can be harder [to write on the road]. The biggest thing for me is that anything I do, if I’m gonna cook I’m gonna cook for the entire week. If I’m gonna exercise I’m exercising an entire hour every day, y’know? I’m all or nothing, and with writing and the life on the road you have to be willing to settle for somewhere in between. That’s the struggle. It’s not exactly being on the road that’s hard, but once I’m in the rhythm especially if there’s an idea that really has me fired up and I won’t be able to sleep til I get it written. That’s the struggle – just constantly fighting the mindset of ‘well you’re not gonna get to completely indulge this so don’t do it’. No, no, no; take five minutes.
Do you find you ever get writer’s block?
Yeah, I’m struggling with it right now. But I’m coming out of it. It’s a weird thing. I think of it like creativity is sort of like digging a well, and it has to do with where you dig your well. That’s why when I was making my record Beginning of Things I didn’t listen a lot to things that were going on currently. Even though friends of mine were having big success and I was excited for them, I constantly didn’t listen to what was around right now because I didn’t wanna dig my well close to somebody else’s well. And then there’s that whole keep your well full, and when you’re writing songs you’re drawing water out of that well. I wrote a lot when I was on the Brandy tour in the summer and I kinda emptied my well. I’m filling the water back up but I’m starting to have enough water that I think I can draw a bucket or two’s worth out.
Is there anything that inspires you when you write?
I’m always studying lyrics because lyrics were always the more challenging part for me. But I’m letting myself have more fun with melodies and the musical side right now. And of course I need to get back and work on lyrics because you can’t have a song without both, but I’m really enjoying trying to come up with cool fun melodies and grooves for a change, and study that. It was always so second nature for me, the music thing, because it’s all I’ve ever done. So now I’m actually practising it for the first time in a while.
I’m always trying to read great books. In a weird way that’s the best thing, especially for lyrics, because good writing is good writing no matter what form it comes in. And there’s always something musically. The two songwriters I’ve been studying the most lately are Ed Sheeran and Paul Simon, because they both have such a unique sonic DNA to what they do. And they both got their start here – I know Ed is from here but I don’t know if everybody knows this part of his story or how much it’s been documented, but early on after Simon & Garfunkel’s early success Paul Simon was starting to think about going on his own way. And he basically crashed on couches here and tried out these new songs, and in many ways got his start over here. And I can certainly identify with that.
Are there any books you’ve read lately that you particularly loved?
Oh yeah – I’m reading a book of short stories by Edith Pearlman right now. It’s called Binocular Vision and I’m enjoying her writing. But there’s a book that knocked me out here recently, and it is called… drum roll… The All Of It by Jeannete Haien. And I’ve also been reading a lot of Wendell Barry. Not to get political but Wendell Barry helps me understand a lot of the things that are going on in my home country right now that are scary and disturbing, and Wendell Barry is a Kentuckian who wrote a series of fiction stories about a fictional town in Kentucky named Port William. But it’s very non-fiction in terms of the stories and the people there – it’s drawn from his experience. And then he’s written these beautiful essays on community and how losing community has probably been one of the main sources of so many in our problems in America right now. Not to bring things down but that’s one of the things I love about being over here. I get a sense of community here; you go to a pub or you go to a show and there’s a communal atmosphere that you don’t always see in the States sometimes. So everybody read Wendell Barry and help us, please! [laughs]
Do you think that sense of community is because the country scene is still relatively small here compared to the US?
Oh, not just in music though – we’re staying in Shoreditch right now and Shoreditch is one of the areas in London where I can say I’ve become a regular. There’s a buddy I know that works at one of the vintage clothing shops and I always go by and check in on him, that sort of thing. It’s really easy with technology today to bypass those human interactions, especially the uncomfortable ones. And maybe I’m wrong but from what I see when I visit over here people on a daily basis have more of those interactions – when you’re riding the Tube together, when you’re walking down the street or when you’re buying the newspaper or a cup of coffee or something. There’s a little bit more of looking one another in the eye. And it does translate into the music scene because when you play a show, like the show we did last night – we’re in a bar, but you can hear a pin drop. Because there’s an understanding, a human connection there and I just believe in that so much.
You’re very well known for your sense of style – is there anyone you particularly look to for that or is it just whatever catches your eye?
My sense of style is about my sense of wine – I couldn’t tell you what it is I’m tasting and if I did I would be totally full of crap but I do know what I like. And that’s what I love about being over here especially Cheshire Street and Brick Lane; you walk in the shops and you just never know what you’ll find. If there is anything I do love tipping my hat – same way with my music, I believe in making future music and I believe I make future music – but you have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going. And so I love the vintage styles because if a piece of clothing has managed to remain relevant and cool for decades then that says a lot about the clothing.
You did an interview recently where you spoke very openly about the difficulty of making your second album – do you think it’s important to be open about that side of the business?
I think it’s important to talk about because going back to that community thing, I think there’s two kinds of music. There’s ‘forget’ music and ‘remember’ music and we need both – we need music that helps us forget our troubles and then we need music that helps us remember our pain and process it. I think I lean more into the ‘remember’ music category, so this record – with Beginning of Things, the making of it required a little bit of remembering. And I just think everyone is in the middle of a great battle in their life and a lot of times other people don’t see that battle, it’s a very private thing that we all carry I think. And the best way to open up that door in our hearts is to be able to say to someone ‘hey, me too’, and I think making Beginning of Things and that interview in particular was a chance for me to say to people that I’ve talked with after shows and gotten to know – ‘hey, me too, this is my great battle. And I think it helps me process things as well.
If you had one piece of advice to give to a young musician starting out, what would it be?
Just one?! It’d have to be more than one. I think be kind to everyone. That’s the biggest thing, not just in music but it does mean a lot in music too. Because you just never know, and we all need each other and lean on each other. And then following your heart. I mean, I got it tattooed on my arm for a reason. The tricky thing about following your heart is there are a lot of louder voices in the music business, so you have to get to where you can hear that quiet voice. But never ever ever ever ever underestimate the power of that voice, and never be afraid to lean on that voice no matter how crazy it sounds.
If you had a career bucket list for yourself, what would be on that list?
[laughs] Uh, there’s a lot of things. I mean, a little more financial stability [laughs]. No! There’s a lot that I am hungry to experience – an example would be I’d love to headline and sell out the Royal Albert Hall and the Ryman Auditorium. Those two venues mean the world to me. But at the same time the thing with this year of my life is I’m trying to get away from thinking in those terms. Like today I have this great opportunity to talk with you and I’m doing some other interviews, and I’ve got an afternoon off in London to go be inspired and to make the most of that. And I think maybe the bucket list really is to look back at the end of my career and think ‘was I kind to everyone? Did I behave and perform in a way that I’m respected and loved and made music better than I left it? And did I make the most of my creativity?’ And I think if I can answer yes to those questions at the end of whatever this ends up being then that’ll be the bucket list.
You’ve mentioned your tour with Lucie and writing – is that the plan for the foreseeable?
Yeah, keep touring, keep writing. There’s a lot that we’re talking about for next year and sort of figuring that out a little more in the next couple of months. Spending some time at home, cause I always get inspired then and there, and I wanna write more sooner so that it’s not so long between this record and the next. And I do wanna do some fun things over here in 2018. I’m not sure what that’s gonna be yet but I got my fingers crossed.
Maybe C2C next year? Or is that something we can’t ask yet?
You can definitely ask and I encourage you to get the word out. I pick up my phone and call people every single day who help me get on stages that I can’t get on without my help and I begged to be on the C2C stage. So I certainly hope so, and I want everybody to know I’m doing everything I can to help get on there. And the more everybody tweets the better my chances are.
Catch Charlie supporting Lucie Silvas on her 2017 UK and Ireland tour on the following dates:
Monday 13th November – Islington Assembly Hall, London
Wednesday 15th November – O2 Institute, Birmingham
Thursday 16th November – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Friday 17th November – King Tut’s: 1PH, Glasgow
Sunday 19th November – Limelight, Belfast
Monday 20th November – The Academy, Dublin
His album Beginning of Things is available now. Watch the video for Cut Your Groove below: