I’m a big fan of the podcast The Trap Set where Joe Wong interviews drummers. It’s far more interesting than it sounds and they don’t just discuss paradiddles and flams for an hour. If you’ve never listened then I’ve put links to some of my favourite episodes at the bottom of this.
Being a US-based podcast I thought it was unlikely they’d ever get around to interviewing one of my favourite drummers, Charlie Layton from the semi-legendary Wedding Present. So I thought I’d just ask him a load of questions myself.
What was the first instrument you learnt to play?
Drums! Ha… I begged my parents to buy me a guitar when I was 12 and they refused. I did tire of the idea when I realised that most of my mates were playing guitar, so when no one was playing drums and we were talking about forming bands I thought I’d give it a bash (literally!). It was that or vocals and being a shy kid, that was never going to happen.
Did you have lessons or self-taught?
I had my first kit (Premier Olympic) when I was 14 and there it sat for the first month, set-up (badly) and untouched. The threat was, ‘get lessons or it’s going!’ I found a guy called Scott who only taught a maximum of 3 students. He had a slot free and he was like a big brother to me. I had lessons with him for about 3 years until I started playing in bands and then they stopped completely when I moved to London at 18.
What bands did you play with before Wedding Present?
So very many! Though none that you would have ever heard of before.
I really liked your band The Dirty Fingernails who played the mini festival at Holmfirth Picturedome a few years ago, what’s happening with them these days?
Very kind of you to say! That was the 3rd band that I had been in with Sami. He’s like my Finnish brother. We met in London in 2001 and started a band called Librium together and I also loved his songs and him as a person, so ended up drumming with him all the time. The band ended in 2012, as I had moved to Berlin. He’s now back in Helsinki. Leon the bassist is now in band called All Flags Are Grey. They played At The Edge of The Sea this year.
How did you get the drum job with The Wedding Present?
Contacts. Terry de Castro was in a band called Goya Dress in the 90s. Their manager was a guy called Nick Moore. In 2005 he was managing my band Seeing Scarlet (said you wouldn’t know any of them). We had just finished watching Art Brut (my mate Eddie’s band from Bournemouth) headline Tin Pan Alley music fest in Denmark Street when his phone rang. It was Terry asking if he knew of a drummer that could stand in for a festival the following weekend. I said yes, it went well, I was asked back at the end of 2005 for a few Spanish dates and the rest is history.
You don’t look old enough to remember the early Wedding Present records. So how familiar were you with the band’s music when you first joined?
I knew the name and remember seeing the adverts for Watusi in Melody Maker & NME at the time. I started buying them weekly from the spring of 1994 and reading them religiously. Then I began taping John Peel’s shows in about 1997 and by then it was Cinerama, which at that time wasn’t up my street! My musical tastes have changed over time though and some of those Cinerama tracks are up there with my favs. I love strings in pop music!
You’re now one of the longest serving members the band have ever had. What’s the secret to your successful working relationship with David?
Being in a band is tough (oh boo hoo I hear you say! I’d kill to do it!). Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but as it is David’s vehicle, every member has to rely on other work to make it viable to be in the band. For years I was tour managing bands when I wasn’t on tour with TWP. However I didn’t see that being sustainable long term. Since 2015, I have been teaching at BIMM Berlin (a university specialising in the music industry). I’ve been fortunate to be able to juggle it all. David is easy-going and is happy to work things around my schedule as well which helps. We are both Taurus, not that I’m a massive one for the stars, but I can see the similarities. We are both driven individuals who work hard and I’d like to think there is an understanding there. Touring isn’t for everyone. I used to drink a lot on tour, heavily most nights, whereas today I rarely drink at all. Times change, you grow older and you want different things from life. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my personal life and within the group. Long may that continue!
When you’re recording new material, how fully formed are the song arrangements when David first presents them to you?
It’s actually generally the guitarist at the time that will present an idea to David. They may then work on it and develop it together, or that may start in the rehearsal room. We’ll knock it into some sort of shape and get a rough recording down. David will then leave it for a while and return to it with fresh ears in a month, maybe two or three later (depending on our touring schedule) and add bits, chop bits out, move things around and then send it out to us for thoughts. We then rehearse it again, record it and see whether it’s worth keeping. Sometimes songs might go through this process a few times, others might be really quick.
ALL THE SONGS SOUND THE SAME: Some questions about writing the setlists
The gigs when you do the whole albums, which of those albums is the most enjoyable? And which is the most difficult?
We played Going, Going… in its entirety last year (2017) at Cadogan Hall in London. Accompanied by strings and a choir. As that is an album that I was involved with from start to finish, that was a pretty special night.
I was there and you’re right, it was!
Most enjoyable: Tommy! I love the simplicity of everything. That and the pace of every song. Lots of fun to play.
Most difficult: There honestly isn’t one. George Best is a drum machine and straight-forward, albeit pacey like Tommy. Bizarro is Simon Smith’s debut album and with my style being similar to his, I love playing the parts he writes. He really thinks about the parts that he plays on each record, which makes it enjoyable to learn and play.
Are there any songs that you put on the setlist through gritted teeth because you don’t enjoy playing it? I have a theory that Lovenest doesn’t get played much because the drumming near the end sounds quite tiring.
Ha ha! No Lovenest is great! I had it in the set for our North America tour this year (2018). I think it’ll be back at some point later this year as well.
I’ve just mentioned Simon and our styles being similar. Graeme Ramsay (drummer from 2006 – 2009 & Guitarist until 2011) has a very different style to me. The song, ‘Soup’ on El Rey is one I really struggle with. He has this lovely light touch that I just can’t replicate!
Play Lovenest at the Stoke gig in December please!
Are there any songs you’d like to play more frequently but the other bandmembers don’t like playing?
I don’t think there are. Even the songs that you are most comfortable with need to be changed up at some point. When you start not having to concentrate on playing some thing, it’s time to rest it for a bit.
You change the setlists quite a bit and the fans really appreciate that. Does that also help to keep it interesting for the band or is it a pain having to learn and rehearse so many songs?
I have played most of the songs live at least once now, so learning the songs is a simple process for me. Head to the rehearsal room and run through them on my own a few times. I think it’s much harder for the guitarists and bassists than it is for David or I.
Can you do the “one from each” challenge for us please, choose 1 favourite song from each Wedding Present studio album.
GB: Anyone Can Make A Mistake
Tommy: Once More
Bizarro: What Have I Said Now?
Hit Parade: No Christmas
Saturnalia: Snake Eyes
Take Fountain: Perfect Blue
El Rey: Boo Boo
Valentina: Deer Caught In The Headlights
Going, Going…: Broken Bow
INTERSTATE 5: Some questions about touring
When Elvis Costello was recruiting bandmembers for what became The Attractions, the advert promised “Fun Travel and Excitement.” What percentage of being on tour is that?
Well the one great thing about joining a band like TWP is that though the band isn’t huge, it’s known well enough to be able to play all over the world. As David runs the whole operation himself, it means that he’s able to keep costs to a minimum and make shows to 150 people in Bangkok financially viable.
So though you don’t get to spend much time in each city you do get a feel for a place and the people. Our recent Asian tour was amazing. The places we went to, including 3 firsts for the band and the fantastic people that we met along the way.
I do find touring fun. I think I’ve adapted to it. I’m sure David and Jessica have seen the changes in my behaviour on the road over the years! I’m like David in that regard, I love planning things. I use the time when I’m driving the van to process thoughts and then say to David, ‘Maybe we could do ‘this’ next year?’ We then chat about it and 9/10 it comes to fruition!
So what’s the best & worst thing about being on tour?
Best: Places, People (band / crew and audiences), Playing
Worst: Food. I’m a fussy eater, so anywhere outside of the UK can be hard for me. I need food in order to play and I become a misery if I’m hungry! That and waiting around. A friend of mine, Knox Chandler (awesome session guitarist) when asked, ‘What are you good at?’ He said, ‘ Waiting around.’ You have to know how to kill time. If you are sat in the van, at an airport, in a venue, in a dressing room, then you have to know how to amuse yourself.
Do you all travel together? If so what roles do different bandmembers have? (e.g. who’s driving? who’s navigating? who’s choosing the music?)
Yes, we all travel in a Splitter van. David, Jessica and I all drive. The co-pilot navigates when the sat nav goes wrong! Music: We have weird rules. As David is generally in the passenger seat, he’s always working, so there’s no music for the UK / European drives.
In North America it’s different. The drives are so long and so the rule is that the driver chooses the music.
I really enjoyed the recent Marc Riley session. “Getting Nowhere Fast” / “Felicity” sounded amazing. The new songs there were great too, so the big question is are there plans for a new album?
Thanks, it feels great to be working on new stuff again.
We’ve been so busy touring since Going, Going… came out, that there simply hasn’t been the time.
As things start to settle a bit more now, the plan is to get cracking on a bunch of new ideas. These (Panama & Jump In, The Waters Fine) were worked up over summer. We now have a couple of months before the next shows and files are being sent back and forth which is very exciting!
Whether it’ll be an album I don’t know. That’s for David to answer! But hopefully they’ll be some more new tracks being played at some point next year.
In your glamorous rock’n’roll lifestyle, have you got to meet many of your heroes? If so who was really lovely and who was a disappointment?
I’ve VERY briefly met Damon Albarn at the America Embassy. Blur were my favourite band as a teenager and of course David knows him! They had a little chat and that was that. I’m generally too ‘star’ struck to talk to people, however once you do, you soon realise that you have a lot in common, know the same people and well, you do the same job after all!
Now I’m not just wriggling out of the disappointment question. The fact is that I’ve not been.
You mentioned being friends with Art Brut before. Are you playing on their new stuff?
Yes we recorded the album together in London last September (2017) I’ve know Eddie since we were teenagers and our bands used to grace the same line-ups back in Bournemouth in the last 90’s. We both live out in Berlin, I love Art Brut and it seemed like a good fit!
Are you playing their live dates next year?
Yes I will be touring with Art Brut. With some forward planning it’s easy to make the schedules work for two bands.
If you could magic yourself into any band, past or present, which would you choose and why?
The Clash! Love them. So prolific. Great songs and great new look to accompany each album.
A few bonus questions from @Shinpad11 on Twitter…..
What does Charlie pin to the back of David’s shirt to make him smile so much whilst playing?
Ha! Well the songs are a lot of fun to play. As I’ve said already, it’s a perfect fit for my style. Also the facial expressions are just part of my style. I don’t even realize that it’s happening and then I’ll see some photos afterwards and think, ‘Oh boy that looks terrible.’ I physically can’t do anything about it though!
Are Mr & Mrs Gedge surrogate Mum & Dad to the rest whilst on tour?
Nah. We look out for each other though. Jessica does always make a cracking brew as we get set-up for soundcheck. That’s always nice. She’s also great when you are feeling poorly. So maybe a little bit actually!
Will they ever get around to playing “Box Elder” live? (since we asked that question it’s actually been played quite a bit, including the Sheffield and Chester gigs I went to)
As you know, we played it live earlier this year. As David often says, ‘There are about 300 songs to chose from. We can’t play them all!’
Last 2 questions now, these are the ones we ask everybody we interview…..
You’re in a caff ordering a breakfast. You can have toast and your choice of tea or coffee and then you’re allowed 4 more items. Go.
Extra crispy bacon, fried eggs (over easy), sautéed potato (like in a Little Chef, Olympic Breakfast!) and beans.
The Breakfast of Olympic Champions
Cricket, is it any good or is it just bollocks?
It’s bloody amazing! I’ve played from the age of 10. Medium pace, right-arm over, swing bowler. Terrible with the bat unfortunately. The last side I played for was the Tower of Dudes in London. It was made up of musicians and writers. It was mainly about the drinks after though!
Catch The Wedding Present’s “Tommy 30th Anniversary Tour” in December in Portsmouth, Exeter, Bristol, Stoke (see you down the front!), Bradford, Galashiels, Carlisle, Leicester, London and Liverpool.
Full details of “All this and more” on Scopitones website.
Also follow Charlie on Twitter along with his bandmates David Danielle and Terry. But most importantly follow Doris the Wedding Present dog on Instagram.
Other Wedding Present related articles on this website:
Recommended episodes of The Trap Set podcast: