This May Hurt A Bit – interview with composer Charlotte Hatherley

7th Apr 2014

The incidental music in This May Hurt A Bit has been specially composed by Charlotte Hatherley. Charlotte has released three albums in her own name, was a member of rock band Ash for many years and more recently has played guitar on tour for Bat for Lashes and KT Tunstall. She also DJs. Here she talks about new directions, life on the road and writing for theatre.

Charlotte Hatherley

What are you listening to at the moment that you’d recommend?

I’m listening to ‘Hearts To Symphony’, the great new record from Carly Paradis who you might have heard playing on Clint Mansell’s Moon soundtrack.

How did you get involved with the play?

A playwright friend of mine in New York put me in touch with Stella Feehily. Stella had punk pop guitar music in mind for the play – my friend thought we’d make a good fit. We met up and, despite never having written music for a play before, I was immediately seduced by Stella’s enthusiasm and the idea of entering a completely new musical arena was very exciting.

What did Max and Stella ask from you?

Initially the references were The Pixies and Violent Femmes, quirky punk pop. Max wanted the play to end with an epic version of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’ and referenced Hendrix’s ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. Max wanted me to sit in on rehearsals as much as possible so I could really understand the politics and emotional punch of the play.

With incidental musical, there’s a practical purpose – to cover the scene changes. But it also allows you to set a mood, an atmosphere, a pace. What are you trying to do in that respect with the music in this play?

Yes, essentially you’re trying to get from A to B within a 20/30 seconds time frame. Some scene changes require rhythm to keep the pace up whilst the set gets moved around, so I wrote the guitar tracks with that in mind. This May Hurt A Bit is very funny, but it’s also moving and thought provoking – the music can’t be too invasive in those moments so I introduced different textures to help reflect the mood.

The play is about the NHS – has it made you think about that, about healthcare generally? Have you had any notable encounters with the NHS?

I had meningitis when I was 3, and if it wasn’t for the NHS I probably wouldn’t be here – but I was too young to remember much about it. Working on this play was an education. I was aware of the NHS going through hard times, but it wasn’t until I sat in on a talk organized by Max and Stella with Dr Jacky Davis (who wrote NHS SOS) that I really understood the terrible mess it is in, and the damage political parties across the board have inflicted upon it.

Have you seen much theatre? Have you seen anything that you’ve particularly loved?

My mum is an actress and I spent a good part of my childhood climbing on the concrete sculptures in front of The National Theatre. My dad is also a playwright, so I’ve always been attached to the theatre. In my 20s I dated Michael Cerveris, an incredible stage actor from NYC. I saw him perform as Hedwig in ‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’ MANY times! Most recently I saw Matilda in London, which I LOVED.

What are you up to at the moment now we’ve got This May Hurt A Bit up and running?

I’m releasing a record under the name ‘Sylver Tongue’ this year. It’s about to be mastered.

Why Sylver Tongue? And what’s the music like?

I’ve released 3 solo records under my own name. After my third record came out I was in need of a big creative break. Natasha Khan swept me up and asked me to tour with her band, Bat For Lashes, and I spent three years on the road. I came back to writing with a totally new perspective and a very clear idea of the kind of record I wanted to make. I felt constrained by the familiarity of the guitar so I wrote the entire record with keyboards and beats and hooked up with producer James Rutledge who brought his precision cool and sonic boom to the songs. It felt new, it looked new, so it made sense to call it something new. The music is very cinematic and emotive. I’m deeply proud of it.

You’ve toured a lot with a number of acts. Ash, Bat for Lashes, KT Tunstall. What do you like about life on the road? And, how much creative input do you have a as a musician playing others’ music?

I started touring the world at 18 so ‘the road’ has been a big part of my life. I get itchy if I say still for too long. I’ve had such incredible experiences on tour and have forged some wonderful friendships – I can’t think of a better way to make a living. I’ve always been comfortable taking a back seat and playing a more supportive role in a band. As a solo artist I understand the heat of carrying your own music and enjoy stepping aside where the only focus is on playing your instrument as well as you can every night. I have only toured with creatively open artists who encourage musicians to contribute to the cauldron of sound onstage, so I’m always creatively fulfilled.

When you’re performing your own music, what are you like on stage? Do you look forward to it? What’s your persona?

My Sylver Tongue stage persona is a (fake) fur and leather wearing Mad Max warrior woman! So when I perform I have to tap into that part of my personality – I have myself down as an introverted person but everyone has a chainmail clad Tina Turner inside of them, dying to get out. Playing live for me now is like being in the Thunderdome – and who wouldn’t look forward to that? @iamsylvertongue

About This May Hurt A Bit

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