Mr Charles Jenkins had a birthday at the weekend, and as he is one of the finest pop craftsmen in the country that demands a raised glass and a turn in the Wind Back Wednesday hot tub time machine.
In this interview from 2014 we discover how things can go so very wrong when a fanzine writer approaches, why he’s never likely to write a song suggesting “I’m too sexy for my shirt”, and just how much – or how little - he might resemble George Jones, or wish to be Randy Newman.
Cheers to you Chuck.
Bloody kids. You can’t hide a thing from them.
Ask Charles Jenkins, usually the main boy in Melbourne guitar pop stylists the Icecream Hands and at the moment solo singer/songwriter with an album of his own wry, sometimes romantic and quiet pop songs.
When we speak it’s a couple of days before Fathers Day and Jenkins, who has been touring, will be back in time for the festivities.
“A fine meal will await me and a nice bottle of red. That’s all I’ve asked for,” Jenkins says.
A bottle of red? They know you well then.
“Yes, too well,” he says ruefully. “My son often will remark ‘you were drinking last night weren’t you?’ Why would you say that? ‘Oh, nothing.’ Hmm, yes.”
Could it be the large red stains on your shirt, the bleary eyes?
“My inability to make myself a cup of tea? Refusing to look at my wallet?”
Because you can’t remember where you left your wallet? He sighs knowledgeably. But there aren’t any drinking songs on his album Bungalow I point out.
Jenkins is flummoxed, racking his brain. “Look I’m sure if we look at it closely every song will have a drinking reference to it,” he chuckles. “I’d hate to paint myself into a corner here as a songwriter who mentions more drink than George Jones does. Hardly.”
Actually, if Jenkins was going to channel someone it would not be George Jones but rather Randy Newman, one of the giants of the character song and a man whose music will often be heard in Gaslight Records in Melbourne, where Jenkins works.
“He did open up to me that style of writing where you adopt the persona of the lowest scumbag available,” explains Jenkins. “There’s a huge influence there.”
You can see Newman’s influence on Jenkins’ song I Don’t Care and its central character based on a particularly odious real life Melbourne figure.
“Most of the fun there was in inventing the rest of the family. It’s so much more enjoyable [than the real person].”
You feel comfortable taking on personas?
“Absolutely. Real comfortable,” he says. “The last thing I’m sure anybody wants to hear is another mawkish songwriter mooing about his personal life. We’ve all had too much of that. It’s far more enjoyable and more interesting to me to adopt those different personas.”
Ah, but can you do sexy?
He snorts a laugh. “No, no. I must be the non-sexiest guy. I do describe myself as the world’s most boring guy off stage so that covers non-sexy as well.”
If you created a character that was sexy maybe you could do it.
“That might be the only way to approach it,” he says, pondering the notion. “It would be incredibly laughable. I could surround myself with sexy players to get the point across.”
You wouldn’t want to have them too sexy to distract attention. Hmm, maybe that’s why he’s solo at the moment having temporarily put aside Icecream Hands.
Of course one of the other “pleasures” of being the solo artist is not having to share what Billy Bragg once described as the 15 fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer. Consider this next Charles Jenkins yarn 15 Fame Filled Minutes Part II.
“I was at this Gold Coast university yesterday,” he says. “I had this, well let’s call it an interview, where this guy came up and said I do interviews for the local newspaper maybe I can interview you. He’d written out this list of questions like name, age, previous bands, where do you want to be in two years and all this shit. I lied my way through the first five questions, even told him my middle name was Alphonso until he said ‘future ambitions?’ And I said to launch my second album I plan to top myself on top of the Sydney Opera House.”
As he’s telling this story Jenkins voice is ratcheting up noticeably.
“He’d had enough by then and said ‘right if you’re not going to do this seriously I won’t bother’. I said what do you mean if I don’t want to do this seriously? You’re the one with all the crap questions. It degenerated into this thing where I’m telling him to get fucked and he’s telling me to get fucked. It was just priceless.”
Maybe this aggression goes back to the days before Jenkins and his touring band went on tour.
“We spent time rehearsing for this tour in this 12-room rehearsal complex in Melbourne. It’s metal mayhem. No matter what type of band you enter the studio you come out the same way due to the fact that you’re surrounded by Slayer tribute bands and Sabbath tribute bands.
“Let’s say I won’t be wearing spandex but there will be an element of hard rock with these gigs.”
For those about to rock, we salute you.
Charles Jenkins, along with Lisa Miller, Shane O’Mara & The Luminaries, will perform Raising Sand – an interpretation, (in lieu of R. Plant and A. Krauss) at Caravan Music Club, November 8.
Icecream Hands play “all the hits and classics” at Northocote Social Club, November 24.