Space Rocks: An interview with former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley

All About Space caught up with the space-enthused musician, ahead of her unique sci-fi set at the brand new space and music event


AAS: Are you excited for Space Rocks? What can we expect from you at the event? 

Yes, I’m really excited! I mean it’s the first actual solo gig I’ve done in years, maybe four or even five years. So that’s exciting. But then the whole event is just so cool, with this mix of science fiction, culture, film and music. This is so up my street as a science fiction fan.

I’m going to be there the whole day, because there’s like three different events, a daytime thing and a panel discussion. I’m just going to be there geeking out and trying to introduce myself to Tim Peake.

AAS: So what’s inspiration behind this combination of science fiction and music?

Well I’ve always been interested in science fiction, particularly Phillip K. Dicks when I was growing up. Then I discovered the world of 1980’s sci-fi with films such as Bladerunner, Aliens, The Terminator, Robocop and The Thing. All of those films made a huge impression on me.

For some reason, I missed out on Star Wars. I don’t know why. I was born in 1979, and I just didn’t go to the cinema to see it, or see it on TV. So I missed that more mainstream sci-fi, and went straight into the dark stuff, like horror. That’s the stuff that stayed with me, really. So when I came to making my new records, I just indulged myself in all those influences.

AAS: What can listeners enjoy from your exclusive sound?

It’s an emotional record and it’s very honest, which I don’t think any of my previous solo records have been. I’ve been quite guarded with my lyrics [in the past], but this time I was going through a difficult breakup and reflecting on previous relationships, trying to fix what I thought was going wrong in my life. I suppose I used this album as therapy, really.

I think that people can really relate to the lyrics and the sentiment of the songs, but at the same time, I didn’t want to do a boring indie-rock record like I’ve done many times before. So now I have a completely different sound. It is kind-of melancholy electro-pop [genre]. With the videos and artwork, I made the decision to be quite out there visually. So the whole aesthetic is like an inspired story about a heartbroken alien travelling the universe.

So hopefully it’s going to a mixture of very down-to-earth, grounded, emotional music mixed with a quite visually interesting presentation of me on stage with the artwork and the video. I really put a lot of love into that.

AAS: What made you go from rock band Ash to this new futuristic sci-fi sound?

Age! I mean, when I was in Ash I was 18, and I primarily wanted to just be a guitar player in a band, I suppose. I spent about eight years touring and travelling with them. So when I left, I was 26/27 [years old] and I knew that I wanted to write music, but I felt a bit lost when I left Ash. It took a few years to find my feet, and I think the one thing that has been constant in my life is that I’ve written songs.

As I’ve become more of a session musician, I’ve played with other musicians and I’ve travelled with other musicians. But I’ve also had the solo projects on the side. I’ve also not been successfully able to promote it, because I’m usually so busy with other people and other projects. So I suppose it’s something I always turn to, and after every record I put out I say, “Well that’s the last one I’ll do, I’ll never do that again.” And then a couple of years down the line, I feel like doing it again.

So it’s quite an unusual trajectory my career, I suppose, with it going from Ash to where I am now. But it has been in 20 years. It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! The passage of time has somehow led me to be dressed up as a full-blown alien.

AAS: Could you have ever imagined your career playing out like it has?

I don’t know, but I think I would have been quite proud of myself, if I’d of known. I’ve always been into quite prog-rock [progressive rock] music, like I love Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. People who are quite flamboyant and constantly changing their style. I don’t think it’s anything that wild, but I guess it is a little bit coming from 4 piece rock band to where I’m at now. I’m just glad I’m not doing the same thing over and over again. I think that’s important.

AAS: We hear that you’ve previously worked with the European Space Agency (ESA) on music videos…

Yes. I did a video for my first single called A Sign from the new record, directed by Gavin Rothery, who worked on the film Moon and is a big sci-fi fan. We did this music video together and I put it up online, and Mark McCaughrean from ESA got in touch. He sent me a direct message basically saying, “I love this video and I love the music.” And he’s like the senior science adviser at the ESA, which kind of blew me away.

He [Mark] was involved in the Rosetta mission, and a big part of his job is mostly outreach, to promote ESA. So we got talking about how we could work together, and Space Rocks was sort of born from that conversation. Then I met Alexander Milas, the promoter, and we talked about how we could make it happen, and that was just over a year ago. It’s amazing how quickly it has all come together.

AAS: What aspects of space excite you in particular?

I mean I could have dipped my toes into reading about new science, as there are so many amazing books out there, but I have limited brain capacity for this stuff.

I just really love reading about it. Then when you just sit and talk to someone like Mark [McCaughrean], it just blows you away. All the stuff he knows and talks about, that’s his life. But I think I’m more of a happy passenger in a project like this [Space Rocks]. I love reading about science, and I’m really interested in futurism and modernity. Also the actual parallels between books, like the Phillip K. Dicks books that were written in the 1950s, which you can see happening now, as if they were living in a really unique time. So I try to digest as much as I can, but I’m in no means a particularly clever person.

Space Rocks takes place at the indigo at The O2 in London on Sunday 22 April. Book your tickets now! For updates follow Space Rocks on Twitter and Facebook

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