BERKELEY'S NEWS • SEPTEMBER 26, 2022

‘Better to lead with what's real’: Charlie Hickey talks songwriting process, opening for Samia

article image

OLOF GRIND | COURTESY

SUPPORT OUR NONPROFIT NEWSROOM

We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

FEBRUARY 07, 2022

Charlie Hickey writes music on authenticity-powered autopilot. It’s the kind of art there isn’t really a playbook for, but nevertheless creates compelling, plangent artistry. On his 2021 EP Count The Stairs, this translucence is exquisitely apparent; it lacks frills and obscurity and instead brims with diaristic wit.

The EP is conspicuously laced with nostalgia and familiarity but also a throughline of disquietude that pokes holes in an sonically placid landscape.

“It’s always better to lead with what’s real, even if it isn’t the sexiest thing,” Hickey said in an interview with The Daily Californian.

Like other Saddest Factory artists, Hickey’s acuity and specificity is a calling card of his. But lyricism rarely functions as a surrogate for interpretation — there’s always something obfuscated below the surface too. It’s the kind of songwriting that he prefers, characterizing it as “nam(ing) something without telling you how to feel about it.”

“Sometimes you don’t have to work as hard as you think you do to convey something,” Hickey added.

The songwriting on the EP does not require the suspension of self, but rather, it reaches in and grabs you, resonating on a level somewhere between trenchant and existential. They’re the sort of songs to listen to while driving around your hometown and thinking about how different things are now.

Yet Count The Stairs, for all of its late adolescent reminiscence, eschews any sort of cloying sentimentality. Instead it’s cavernous, tapping reservoirs of regret and distress; it dissects past anxieties in vivid detail, all layered overtop a plaintive guitar.

His hometown Pasadena finds its way into the EP in subtle, somewhat understated ways. “Shall we look at the city/ it’s pretty when it’s far away,” he sings on “Notre Dame.”

Hickey notes how Pasadena feels simultaneously both insular and connected: “That sort of juxtaposition of being really in the middle of things, but also being kind of isolated,” he said. “I feel like that’s maybe made its way into my songs.”

For Hickey, meeting Phoebe Bridgers when he was in middle school marked a pivotal moment in his life. Even though he grew up in a musical family and attended an arts high school, meeting and later collaborating with Bridgers still felt life changing.

“I had been around a lot of people that had been making music. But it was the first time that I really identified with what a peer was making,” Hickey remembered.

Now, Hickey is on the road for the first time with indie-pop artist Samia for many of the West Coast stops on her “Thanking U, Loving U” tour. Hickey described meeting Samia for the first time when she came to Los Angeles on tour last year.

“We started talking on the internet,” Hickey said. “I went to see her and we just met up, and immediately it was clear that we were big mutual fans and just got along really well as people. So we’ve done a bit of writing together.”

Even when he ditches songwriting for covers, recurrent themes and emotions still percolate. This January, Hickey released a cover of hyperpop artist 8485’s “Hangar,” a song that fits within his nostalgia-suffuse niche like a missing puzzle piece.

“This is like a beautiful, classic song in a way that I was really not prepared for,” Hickey commented. “I kind of knew immediately that I needed to do a version of it that was just stripped of all the production. … I just felt like that’s a song that can completely stand on its own, which is just rare to find in any genre of music.”

Hyperpop may seem like an unlikely influence for an indie-rock artist, but Hickey attributes his inclination toward the genre to its unique nonconformity, epitomized by artists such as 100 Gecs and SOPHIE.

“I’m sort of interested in anything that elicits such a strong response,” Hickey said.

Hickey also spoke about this type of highly reactive, affecting response to art in relation to comedy, something he says he watches a lot of.

“There’s humor in songs, even when they’re not explicitly comedy songs, and then there’s sadness and meaning in comedy … laughing at something or crying after hearing a song, you know, it’s sort of a little bit the same,” he mused, before modestly adding that, “I feel like I didn’t make that up.”

Original wisdom or not, it’s a cogitation that holds true, adhering with gluelike persistence to an era demarcated by atomization and peaked anxiety about the present and future. With vocals that gleam with earnest lucidity and lyrics that deposit listeners right in the midst of whatever emotions he sifts through, Charlie Hickey posits an antidote: “(The feeling of being) connected to something bigger than yourself. I think that’s comforting.”

Contact Emma Murphree at 

LAST UPDATED

FEBRUARY 13, 2022


Related Articles

featured article
As a lawyer and former ACLU deputy director, Jeffery Robinson has dedicated his life to righting wrongs — the pressing and the cataclysmic.
As a lawyer and former ACLU deputy director, Jeffery Robinson has dedicated his life to righting wrongs — the pressing and the cataclysmic.
featured article
featured article
The album engulfs the listener through its harrowing lyrics and somber instrumentals, which remind its audience of forgotten feelings of claustrophobia and distress in early pandemic days.
The album engulfs the listener through its harrowing lyrics and somber instrumentals, which remind its audience of forgotten feelings of claustrophobia and distress in early pandemic days.
featured article
featured article
Since the original production of “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” premiered in 2019, a polarizing pandemic and the 2021 capital riots have proven Arbery’s story to be as relevant as ever.
Since the original production of “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” premiered in 2019, a polarizing pandemic and the 2021 capital riots have proven Arbery’s story to be as relevant as ever.
featured article