Manchester band Federal Charm was on the way up, releasing two superb albums and being nominated by Planet Rock as Best New Band. Shortly after co-headling the Planet Rock Roadstars headline tour in winter 2016, Federal Charm amicably parted ways with vocalist/guitarist Nick Bowden and drummer Danny Rigg. It could have easily been over at that point, but founding member Paul Bowe and bass player LD Morawski were not prepared to let a good thing go. Like many bands before them, they set about rebuilding the band and brought in vocalist Tom Guyer and drummer Josh Zahler. With album three in the works, the future for Federal Charm is very much what they make it; an open highway for one of the most groundbreaking blues-rock outfits to come out of the UK for years. We caught up with Paul to find out about their new album and how the line-up change will impact on their explosive sound.
PG: Its been an interesting few years for the band, everything was going really well, and then you lost two members, what happened?
PB: It was an amicable parting of ways to be honest. Nick are still really good friends, but we wanted different things after the Planet Rock tour. So the band took a hiatus and things moved on. Nick's really looking forward to hearing Tom, which I think is really nice of him.
PG: You're working on a new album at the moment, tell us about that.
PB: We've spent longer on this album than any other, and I'm extremely proud of it. It's the best album I've ever worked on, and our new singer is going to blow people away. Not many people have heard Tom from a vocal point of view, and I'm trying to build it around his voice. He sounds like a mix between Chris Cornell and Robert Plant, and he's only 23! It's insane how good this guy's voice is; I don't know how he's never been discovered. When we auditioned he came from Southampton; he was under the radar, he's never pursued looking for a band that was touring and doing it professionally. In terms of the sound, because of that Chris Cornell/ Robert Plant-esque voice we've got a much heavier tone. It also leans more towards the way I play which is riff based. It's still got a bluesy roots colour to it, but it's more contemporary. It's a very heavy blues rock album. You can hear a lot of Rival Sons, Led Zep, Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age in there – that's Tom's favourite band, so there's a bit of Josh Homme in his melody lines. It's not the traditional Nick Bowden/ Paul Rogers sound that we had.
PG: How will the new members impact the band's sound?
PB: In terms of the singer, our frontman Tom, doesn't have a guitar, so visually it's new, and it opens up different possibilities for live work. I think we have a more traditional look to the band. We hired Kyle, and he's a utility man, he does everything that I put on albums that I've never been able to do live. He still uses a Fender which is important because it retains the same guitar qualities and the structure of the original sound; which is what I always wanted. The backbone is still there, just visually it looks better. It's my band, I started it, so it's the same as what's in my head, but now you're going to get a steroid supercharged front man. I think that's a positive thing. Tom sings the old stuff brilliantly and expands them in places that Nick couldn't do.
PG: Previously you've written the songs, is that the same now?
PB: Tom is pretty prolific in his writing he comes up with lots of stories, lyrics, poems without melody lines. He's good at that, so we give him the responsibility for the content which is what we want. It's become a bit of a collaborative event when we all sit in the studio and bash out the best melody lines. Tom insists on collaboration and wants everyone's input. It's good that we are all on the same page and nobody's precious about anything, it's about what's right for the song.
PG: You're doing a small spring tour, can we expect a more extensive tour once the album is out?
PB: Yeah we will be. These dates are to say to everyone 'hey, we're back'. Our fans were getting a little bit frustrated and asking if we were ever coming back on the road again. Now that we're ready we want to get out in April and do four gigs with the new material and line up, and in the summer we're doing festivals in the UK and Europe. It's been discussed that the album will be coming out in September or October to coincide with a full UK tour with another band which Planet Rock are putting us on a joint headline tour with, but I can't say who at the moment. (Paul did tell us who off the record, but Photogroupie's lips are well and truly sealed, and we will let the band have the honour of announcing it when they are ready!)
PG: How did new members Tom and Josh join?
PB: I'd seen Tom in his previous band (God Complex) on a night out with friends in Manchester a few years ago and didn't get the chance to talk to him because we were busy. I remember my friend saying 'this guy would be perfect for a band like yours.' But obviously, because we had Nick, we weren't contemplating anything like that as everything was fine. That was two years ago, and then everything went downhill, and we auditioned about 15 singers. I got hold of Tom's number and said do you want to come and see us, and he came up and blew everybody out of the water. If I'd not seen him, I probably wouldn't know who he was. There might be something in there that's a bit like fate. Josh, the drummer, was introduced to us by another mutual friend and I've always rated him highly as a drummer. He's unbelievable if I didn't have Josh now I don't think I'd be able to replace him. He's one of the best drummers I've ever played with or seen. He's got this Bonham, Keith Moon cross over going on.
PG: A bit of a crazy drummer then?
PB: Oh yeah Josh is nuts. He's the kind of drummer I've always wanted to play with; you can experiment with him. His life is drums as well, which is another important thing as well because other people have different work commitments and things like that, but I'm in a band now where for everybody this is what they do. You can really feel it when it's the only thing that matters at that time.
PG: You've careful not to define yourself by other bands, so how would you sum up the music of Federal Charm?
PB: I hate using the word blues because blues is different, but it is blues. It has a classic rock spine, it's influenced by bands of the past, but it's also by us directly. I don't listen to lots of music when I'm writing and recording, I listen to myself and pick up the guitar or play the piano and whatever comes out, comes out; so if it's heavy rock it's heavy rock, or if it's folk it's folk. It's whatever I feel like at the time. I've been doing this for twenty odd years and I always come back to my music and listen to everything from Fleetwood Mac to Black Sabbath, to Rival Sons and Led Zeppelin will always run through my veins.
PG: Where did the band's name come from?
PB: It was between Nick and me. It took us about two months because we couldn't figure anything out. Then we had a gig and a session booked and needed something now. I was obsessed with the name Federation, and Nick liked the word Charm. So it was as simple as that, and it became Federal Charm.
PG: Why do you think that blues rock is getting a bit of a revival at the moment? Do you think it's because people are fed up with manufactured music?
PB: Definitely. You keep hearing about it for years that rock's dead and then somebody on the other side saying it's back. When we're dead and buried, the same argument will remain.
PG: They've been saying it wouldn't last since 1956.
PB: It died in the 60s... (laughs) It keeps getting reborn.
PG: What are your plans for the band in the future?
PB: We've just signed with TKO, and that's been essential for our live work. It will be great when we get off to the States. We've got a lot of fans there that have never seen us, and we've never been which is weird as our album's done quite well on the west coast. It's our ambition to get to the states, expand our fan base and our touring portfolio, make albums and keep enjoying it.