Charlie Boyer sits in an East End café as a Friday morning rush subsides talking about his band’s work ethic.
It’s an approach that he and the Voyeurs have adhered to ruthlessly for the last twelve months; a process that has rapidly thrown Boyer from a tentative first gigs to a much-anticipated debut album, Clarietta.
“We write a song a week, minimum. I like that way. I want to keep that kind of work rate, it helps to make the writing process very intense. I like the idea of having quite strict writing schedules. Every Sunday I start a demo on the 4 track then send it to the band who work out their parts before we learn it the following Wednesday. We then demo it the Sunday after before starting the process again. Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday. It works really well for us. I don’t understand why all bands aren’t working that way.”
Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs look, act and sound like a band that’s joined at the hip. While a statement made in a recent NME interview (Charlie said that they set out to make “primitive, sexy, glamorous rock’n’roll”) may have been intended as throwaway at the time, it neatly surmised the band’s ethos.
Physically, they look like the louche-est gang in town. Musically they conjure a mesmerizing garage racket - a sound as heavy as it is direct, primitive in the best possible way. Although there are time-honoured musical elements (there are nods to – amongst others - the Velvets, Spacemen 3 and T-Rex), in the hands of the Voyeurs it’s all warped into a feral monolithic trance; simple and viciously effective.
“Making music isn’t rocket science is it? The simpler the better. Often we simplify our songs, invariably it improves everything. You know when a song is working, it’s usually when it’s at its most basic. Really, I’d like the band to get more primitive.”
Inception point for The Voyeurs was the start of 2012, although it was initially a vehicle for Charlie to strike it alone after years playing in other bands. Having recorded a 7” for Blank Editions - the double A side ‘Ducks’/’You Haven’t Got A Chance’ - he booked two gigs promote it (one at Dalston’s vinyl only Kristina Records, the other supporting Boyer’s friends Toy at an insanely over-subscribed show at the nearby Shacklewell Arms) and hastily assembled a scratch band to flesh out a handful of as-yet-unperformed songs.
Even in those nascent stages, the Voyeurs sound and Charlie’s vision was present. While so many other bands playing support slots in pub backrooms were in thrall to the sounds of the previous decade, the Voyeurs played things entirely differently.
A singer who looked and sounded like a young Tom Verlaine fronting a band that seemed to owe as much to the Blank Generation as it did to the a long line of truly hypnotic guitar music stretching from Syd Barrett to the Mondays.
“Even at those first two gigs, I knew exactly how I wanted the music to sound. I’m actually surprised at how close we’ve got to the sound I heard in my head. The benchmark, the blueprint is the album version of Sister Ray. That’s the feeling I want from every song we do; that ecstatic, relentless sound. I didn’t purposely set out to try to make the music sound different to everyone else around, I was just following my instincts.”
Boyer’s instincts were clearly sharply tuned. Within a week of the Shacklewell Arms gig, Heavenly - Toy’s record label – had asked Charlie to make a record. The result was a visceral sucker punch of a single called I Watch You, a song that would be described by the Guardian as “one of those crudely simple two-chord affairs (with a third for the chorus) that reduces rock’n’roll to its basics but does so with intelligence, not dumbness. It’s boogie with brains, basically”.
I Watch You was recorded by legendary artist and producer Edwyn Collins (the Cribs) at his studio, West Heath Yard.
“I was a huge fan of Postcard Records. As soon as Jeff suggested Edwyn as a producer, I jumped on it. The sound I hear in my head is maybe more chaotic but I really liked the idea of working with Edwyn because I knew he’d make it poppier, lighter. He gave it a real shimmering elegance. There’s this box in his studio that he calls the Scintillator; it’s just a couple of switches - it doesn’t actually do anything other than encourage greatness.”
With a record deal in place, the Voyeurs settled on a final five-piece line up (Charlie Boyer, Sam Davies, Danny Stead, Samir Eskandar, Ross Kristian) and set about realising Charlie’s vision in a rehearsal space near Docklands.
“We practise in Cable Street Studios down in Limehouse. There’s a great drag club opposite the studio called Stunners; we have cigarette breaks with these really brilliant trannies. There’s a crazy looking S&M club down there too. I think it’s about as close to early ’70s New York City as you’re going to get in London in 2013. I love it there.”
One listen to the band’s debut album – again recorded with Edywn Collins – it’s clear that it’s influenced as much by the capital’s seedy underbelly as it is by the Scintillator.
With keyboards that flow like an eddy current against the measured rhythmic attack of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, the eleven tracks on the Voyeurs debut are primitive, sexy, glamorous rock’n’roll at its very finest.
From the pummelling, out of control ram raid of I’ve Got a River’s to the Syd-meets-Sonic Boom stomp of Clarinet via the album’s second single, the gonzo-riff heavy The Things We Be, Clarietta is insistent, addictive and just a little degenerate, it’s the best British garage record of the 21st century.
In fact, it’s good enough to make you ponder Charlie’s question – why aren’t all bands doing this? --Robin Turner