Keeping things real and rather authentic, Junk Food Charlie had a chat with us recently all about tasty cookies, learning Greek and telling us all about the exciting debut album which drops on January 31st.
Hello Junk Food Charlie. We appreciate your time. First, how are you doing today and what is the best way to create music that matters in your eyes?
Hi, thank you for having me! I’m doing well, thank you for asking. I hope you are well also. As far as creating music that matters, I think authenticity should be put first. Creating something simply because I believe it should exist and following that instinct wholeheartedly is the biggest part of it for me. Whether the music is super conceptual or completely nonsensical, if it’s genuine, that’s what matters to me and I think that ultimately stands a better chance of connecting with others.
Your name is fascinating. Please let us into the story?
Thank you! I used to eat A LOT of junk food, specifically cookies. I could go through a couple of packs of dough a week with no problem. Around that time I ate a lot of s’mores too and just a lot of sweets in general. It didn’t have any discernible, negative effects so I just kept at it. Of course, as I got older, I started to notice those kinds of effects more when I ate like that and I realized it was even a kind of coping mechanism at times. I’ve cut back on all that quite a bit in recent years but the relationship fascinated me and how something that used to feel so purely enjoyable turned into something toxic. That’s informed a lot of my writing under the name Junk Food Charlie and my fixation on themes of consumerism, cost/benefit relationships, and unhealthy ties to a substance or even people. On the other hand, junk food, being sweet and having little to no substance is a good metaphor for some of the more nonsensical songs I want to write. I have some stuff I want to say but I certainly don’t want to take myself too seriously or feel like I have to be making some grand statement all the time, so there are different layers to it.
The “Charlie” part is based on a nickname from my mom. Way back in the old days of YouTube when that “Charlie Bit My Finger” video was popular my mom started referring to me as Charlie every now and then as a joke (not because I was biting people) and after a while, it just stuck. And that’s the story!
You grew up in Glasgow, Kentucky and are now based in Bowling Green, Kentucky. How did these two cities define your sound?
Glasgow isn’t a huge place but there was a bit of a music scene when I lived there. I don’t really know what it’s like now but when I was there, there were a few artists doing this kind of music, a few artists doing that kind of music but there wasn’t a “Glasgow sound” necessarily which was probably just due to its size. Since there was no mould to try to fit into, I just did whatever I felt like doing and made it a goal to have my own sound.
Bowling Green, on the other hand, is quite a bit bigger and so there is much more diversity and also more in the way of music venues, art galleries, and that sort of thing. Being able to explore a wider variety of art has really enriched my life as an artist and while it’s difficult to pinpoint what parts of my sound I can attribute to Bowling Green’s influence, I wouldn’t be the artist I am without it.
How did the creative process unfold in the making of your upcoming release?
It all started with a vague impression of a concept. I had been watching a lot of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and The Eric Andre Show when I thought about how it would be cool to do something music related with the whole parody talk show idea. That idea stayed an idea for a while up until I went to a songwriting conference in February of last year. I had a one-on-one session with a music industry professional and he gave me a lot of great advice on how to broaden the scope of what I was doing. In particular, he recommended releasing short tracks every so often, like wonky remixes of previously released songs or even something akin to skits so as to keep a steady stream of content flowing. I absolutely loved the idea and started recording once I was back home from the conference. During those initial sessions, I ended up with what would ultimately be the tracks “Promo” and “The Junk Food Charlie Variety Hour” from my upcoming release (the latter being the album’s title track.) It was incredibly energizing to finally be doing something with that initial inspiration while also incorporating the short song approach and those first two tracks gave me the momentum to keep running with it all until I had an album. However, while a lot of the album happened very quickly, it didn’t all happen during a small window of time.
I took a nearly two-month-long trip to Austin, Texas the following April for an experimental filmmaking course which required me to make a short film as my final project. I immediately thought about creating a film to go with my album. I knew it would be more work than I could probably imagine, but after realizing no other idea was as exciting to me and how much context a film would add to the concept of the album, I went for it. What followed was a string of frantic filming, re-filming, making my best attempts at acting, and finishing my album (at times writing songs on the same day that I was shooting footage for their respective scenes within the film.)
Fast forwarding past the countless hours of editing and a horrid burnout phase that occupied the next several months, I ultimately finished the album and the companion short film.
I learned a lot about myself in the process and one particular song on the album relating to my hometown (the title will likely stand out in light of this interview) may very well be the most therapeutic song I’ve written up to that point. Everything was moving so quickly and I was relying on my gut for so much of the time that I think it ended up having a certain magic, lightning-in-a-bottle feeling. To say that I worked hard on this release would be an understatement and I’m proud of it both as an artistic statement and as a documentation of my 2022.
What’s the best thing about being in the music industry?
I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. Meeting other creatives, in general, is great and every now and then I find one of those kindred spirits that I connect with on an even deeper level. Plus anytime I meet someone, whether they’re an artist, an A&R person, or whatever the case may be, that genuinely enjoys what I make, it’s always a great boost. The friends and support I’ve gained through the industry have been so huge in keeping me going.
Where is one place you wish to play live and why?
I’d love to play around Greece eventually. I’m fascinated by the culture and, naturally, the food. Plus, being into philosophy, Greece is a place that makes sense for me to visit. I’ve also been learning Greek over the last year and a half, so having the chance to practice that would be great too.
Last, what’s next in store for you music-wise?
I’ve been writing a lot of new material, exploring different sounds/styles and how I can continue to further the lore of the album and short film. I can’t make too many specific guarantees right now but I can say that whatever comes next will probably be, at the very least, somewhat of a departure from this upcoming project. There’s too much ground I want to cover for me to stick to just one thing for too terribly long. The approach may be different and I may even be playing a different character entirely but, in a broad sort of sense, it’ll still sound like me, whatever it is. I certainly don’t plan on staying quiet for the rest of 2023.
Interview by Llewelyn Screen