We got on Zoom with Charlie Hickey and talked about his longtime collaboration with Marshall Vore and Phoebe Bridgers, the music video for “Ten Feet Tall,” and his upcoming EP. You can listen to this interview here!
Your new 6-track EP Count the Stairs drops February 26th, can you talk a bit about what inspired these songs and what the process of making this project was like?
At this point, these songs have bene done for a while. Most of them are about a year old at this point. I recorded them all in Pasadena, California with my friend Marshall Vore at his studio. We wrote 5 out of the 6 songs together, and most of what you’ll hear on the EP is us. We had a few friends come in and play some stuff, and we had Phoebe Bridgers do background vocals, but most of it is us. It’s a pretty stripped-down thing. Nothing too crazy going on. I’m excited for it to come out.
It’s the most intentional release I’ve done. I’ve self-released some EPs, but they’re not on the internet anymore. They might still be on Bandcamp actually, you can check them out there. But I like to think of this as my first statement, in a way.
You can’t always think that way, because whatever you put out, you’re always gonna be past it by the time you’re hearing it. At least for me, I move on from things very quickly mentally. It’s been a year, but I can still stand behind these songs and I’m excited for people to hear them. I think that’s a good sign.
“10 Feet Tall” and its corresponding music video have a very nostalgic feel, was that the intention behind this? What makes you feel particularly nostalgic?
I don’t think that was intentional. I’ve heard a lot of people say that, actually. The song, when we recorded it, ended up taking on this very 90s rock thing. That was not planned, we recorded it very quickly. It was kind of a happy accident.
In terms of the music video, I wouldn’t say it was meant to be nostalgic. I think the intention was for it to be fun and sweet and silly. I think the combination of the VHS and the song, which is very 90s sounding, kind of has a Freaks and Geeks energy.
[There’s a part in the video where we’re on razor scooters and] it’s been so long since I had ridden a razor scooter, but it’s so fun. It’s good exercise, my ass really hurt afterwards.
The guy skating is not me. The sort of premise was supposed to be that I have this body double, who is my skater twin, basically. He was taking my place in my life, that was what was meant to be going on. But he does look exactly the same. He has the exact same hair as me. We were gonna put him in a wig, but we ended up not needing to. It’s pretty uncanny.
It’s also about feeling kind of crappy at a party. On a lighter note, what’s one of the most memorable or favorite celebrations you’ve ever attended?
Awhile before the pandemic, Marshall had a Fourth of July barbecue. Which is a dumb holiday, but it was fun. I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer. We were listening to a lot of country.
Actually, I had my first beer at a Fourth of July barbecue when I was sixteen. Marshall was there. I drank my first beer with Marshall in a pool. I’ll tell you that. I was fucking wasted.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I don’t really have any method that I follow, really. A lot of times people ask if I write music or lyrics first. The answer is kind of neither. I have a hard time thinking of words non-musically. I sometimes challenge myself to do that, like write a poem or whatever. But if I’m thinking of words, it’s usually set to music in my mind. It kind of comes out simultaneously. I’ll think of words, and sing them, and plan some chords. That’s usually how songs start.
I used to sort of finish songs in one sitting, but lately I’ve been sitting down and writing one or two lines and being like, “Okay, we’ll finish this in a month.” Which sort of works well for me because sometimes when I sit down and try to finish something in a short period of time, it’s not good, but I finish it anyway. It kind of saves you some time, like you think of one good line and you’re just like, “Okay, I’m gonna stop until you have another one.”
I really haven’t written this whole time I’ve been in Portland. I wrote half a verse and a bridge kind of section. I think one of these days I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night and enter a writing frenzy.
Sometimes people say you should force yourself to write. And I think that can be beneficial if you’re in a place where you’re really stuck. But ultimately, I don’t know how much I advocate for making yourself sit down and write. To me, it’s just a very painful thing. Not usually when I get my best work done, I feel like.
The songs you’ve released so far have been in collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers and Marshall Vore, how would you describe your creative relationship with them?
I met Phoebe when I was like 13 years old. We’re both from Pasadena. A close family friend knew her. My godmother’s daughter was one of Phoebe’s really good friends in school, kind of when Phoebe was playing little clubs in the area. She was like, “You guys have to [meet!].” At that point, I was playing music, but I wasn’t as serious. So, we went to see Phoebe at this little small venue. My little 13-year-old self was so blown away. We sort of became friends after that. I did a cover of one of her songs on YouTube, she heard some of my songs, we started hanging out and played some shows together. That was the story of our friendship.
I met Marshall through her a few years later, when I was 16. At first Marshall wasn’t that into producing stuff, at that time. He was mainly playing drums with Phoebe and some other artists. I was one of his first production projects. We recorded some songs when I was 16 that I don’t think anybody’s ever going to hear. It was really clear when we started doing that, that we were really creatively compatible, and compatible as people. He’s one of my best friends in the whole world. “Ten Feet Tall” was the first song we wrote together, so more recently we started writing together.
I really like doing it that way. I like having his voice, whether we write a song fully together, or bringing something to him and having a voice to be like, “That’s bad. That’s good.” There’s not many people I’d trust to tell me what’s bad and what’s good, but he’s definitely somebody I really trust with songwriting. He’s one of the best songwriters himself. That’s kind of the story there.
What are you most proud of in regard to this new EP? What do you hope others take away from it?
I think I’m proud of how much more we spent on the songs. Production and recording came pretty easily. But the songs, I feel like we really sat with them and wrote and rewrote and got them to a place that I feel we can stand behind. They’re the best we were capable of doing at that point. I’m really proud of that. I hope people take that away from it. I hope the lyrics really resonate with people, and the care and time we put into it shows when people hear it.
If I had it my way, I would release things as soon as they were done. But that’s not how it really works, unfortunately. Most musicians can probably relate to how you’re always a little bit behind yourself. Whatever you’re putting something out, you’re always kind of working on something else, or on to the next thing, or secretly thinking, “I’ve written songs that are better since this!”. Which is sometimes how I feel, but it’s also cool to hear the songs being a little bit removed from them. You sort of hear songs so many times, and they’re so firm in your consciousness, you stop hearing them. It’s second nature. So, it’s kind of like hearing them for the first time. As they’re getting ready to come out, I’ve been listening to them a lot. It’s sort of like listening as someone who has never listened before.
You’ve been recording since you were 13; do you have any songwriting regrets?
No one really knows my old songs, so that’s not really a problem for me personally. I do hear some stuff I wrote when I was younger, and I’m like “Oh, what the fuck was I thinking?”. But I hear some stuff, and I realize I was tapped into something I can’t tap into anymore. The naivety. Before I kind of wasn’t thinking as much then, which is good and bad. There’s lyrics that I’m like, “Oh, I never could have come up with those now.” Because I wasn’t in such a free space. But ultimately, I think I’d always take the now over the then.
How does it feel to be releasing a record during a pandemic?
I don’t really know how to answer that even. I have released music before, so I guess I can kind of answer it. This feels like the first one people are hearing in a significant way, so it kind of feels like the first one. I don’t think about it too much. I would really like it if I could play a show right now. That would be awesome. It’s more like I imagine what it would be like if it were not a pandemic. I imagine it would probably feel a lot more rewarding in a lot of ways. You’d get to go out in the world, and play shows, and be on tour, and hear people respond to it in a different way.
I feel like I’m normalizing [the pandemic] a bit too much. I feel like I’m enjoying it a lot, it feels really good to have music out. It feels better than not having music out.
Do you feel like you’re in more of a place where you can watch it happen?
Actually, totally. It is kind of liberating in a weird way. I love performing live and stuff, but when you listen to a recording, that’s always the intention. For me at least. When you’re playing live, things happen. Things don’t always go 100% how you want. So, you feel like you’re in the safe zone, in a sort of way. You feel like people are only hearing them how you want and what you’re intentionally putting out.
People are doing Instagram lives and stuff, which I’ve done a few times, and it always leaves me feeling really shitty. I don’t know why, exactly. It’s quite alienating, actually. I think I’m sort of done doing those. I would, if there was a demand for it in some way. But I’m done just going live and playing some songs.
What are your non-musical influences, like books or movies, that really inspire you?
I spend a lot of my time when I’m not listening to music, I watch a lot of comedy. I wouldn’t say that’s a direct influence, but it must be in some way. I watch a lot of comedy, some comedians I really like are Patti Harrison, Whitmer Thomas, Mitra Jouhari, and Julio Torres, to name a few bizarre alt comedians.
I don’t read as much as I’d like to, but it does happen. I read a lot of books this year that I feel were really inspiring. I always feel inspired when I read, even if it’s someone that I’m not in love with, it just gets my wheels turning. I read this book called The Topeka School by Ben Lerner that was my favorite book I’ve read in a really long time. I also finished this book of essays by Zadie Smith called Intimations that I really liked. Just to name a few.
[Reading] doesn’t come the most naturally. But sometimes I’m like, “Maybe this is the book’s problem, and not mine.” Shouldn’t a book be fun to read? But I guess think to some people it comes more naturally, because they’ve exercised that muscle more. Sometimes I feel like I need to make myself. But it ultimately feels rewarding, just to have something different in my consciousness. It is kind of a mysterious thing.
You recorded a very wonderful cover of Samia’s “Winnebago” for her Reimagining of “The Baby”. How did this collaboration come about and what was the process like of making this song more your own?
Samia is a really good friend of mine. We met not too long ago, but she’s one of my favorite song writers, I think she’s really brilliant. I was super stoked to reimagine that song. I was assigned that song, essentially. Which was probably because a lot of other songs were taken, I don’t know how it worked, really. But I love that song, and I just sort of fucked around with it for a while, until I found a way to play it that I thought was cool. Kind of more folky, Elliot Smith vibes than the original. It was fun, it was a really fun challenge. I recorded it over at Marshall’s, a really simple, sparse recording. We both ended up being really stoked on it. I’m really proud of it.
What are your upcoming plans?
It’s hard to have plans right now, you feel? The next musical plan that I have, is I’m gonna start making a record pretty soon. That’s next on the docket. We’ll see what happens with when there’s shows again. I’m hoping to be able to get out on the road sometime this year, hopefully. I don’t know if that’s pushing it a little bit. Besides that, keep fucking doing it. Waking up every day.