Charly Bliss Battle Mice & Heartache with ‘Young Enough’
Veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli had just arrived at Charly Bliss’ Bushwick rehearsal space for pre-production when the band heard it: a scabbering in the walls, the distinct tread of a mouse. Although Danbro Studios has been known to house an errant drummer or two, the band had never seen a rodent on the premises before — and they were horrified.
“It was so embarrassing,” front person Eva Hendricks recalls. “Joe’s worked with Elton John. And we’re like, ‘Welcome to our practice space!’” There are jazz hands in her voice.
Juggling vermin and Grammy-winning producers is basically the norm for Charly Bliss nowadays. They’re ready to release their second album, Young Enough, and they’re on the precipice… of something. They’ve graduated from playing DIY venues in front of loyal friends to touring with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and Wolf Parade, but they’re still aware of the fact their place in the rock & roll firmament — and they’re grateful.
Charly Bliss released their debut album Guppy in 2017 to an avalanche of critical and fan acclaim, a record that they had spent close to six years laboring over. Former theater kid Hendricks met guitarist Spencer Fox when they were teens, and the two formed a band with Hendricks’ brother Sam when they moved away from Connecticut to attend NYU. Bassist Dan Shure joined soon after. They then recorded and re-recorded their debut, polishing up their initial garage rock sound with a liberal dose of pop sheen. The result was a pop punk-tinged sonic diary about growing up and falling in and out of love.
For LP two, Charly Bliss aimed go a bit more universal, according to the Hendricks siblings. “With lyrics, I can be hyper-specific, which can lead to me being esoteric, like ‘Dairy Queen,’” Eva says, referring to a song off of Guppy about working at the titular ice cream parlor. The rager of a track contains such lyrics as, “I jumped so high/I peed the trampoline.” Perhaps not the most common of experiences.
“That song’s like, ‘What is she talking about?’” Eva continues. “I took that to heart. My tendency as a writer is, whenever I’m writing about something difficult, to make it a banger. With this album, I wanted to let people in more.”
Consequently, Young Enough is not as replete with “bangers,” as Hendricks calls them; it’s tempered with softer, straight-out-of-the ‘60s tracks like “Heaven,” its dreamy first single, and the Big Star-esque “Camera.” There are still plenty of bangers, though — like “Capacity,” a saucy ode to anxious over-achieving, and “Chatroom,” a thoroughly fun pop song that synthesizes rage into joy.
“I was sexually assaulted by someone I dated and I wrote ‘Chatroom,’ and most of Young Enough, as a way of processing that experience and explaining it to myself,” Hendricks said in a previous release about the song. “Simply put, it’s a colossal ‘fuck you’ and a celebration of reaching the point of a ‘fuck you’ that isn’t diluted by self-blame or apologies.”
Hendricks is less candid in person when the subject matter of the album comes up. “I had a really brief but sinister relationship that had me rethinking my previous and current relationships in a totally different light,” she tells TIDAL. While the overall emotion behind Guppy was frustration, she says, processing this darker experience allowed her to look at the relationships she sang about on the first record in a new, more positive light.
“I feel really grateful that the blueprint for my love life was something that was, overall, really sweet,” she says, referring to a first love. “The lyric that inspired the album title was, ‘We’re young enough to believe it should hurt this much.’ I feel so grateful that I don’t believe that anymore.”
Along with being a catalyst for emotional change, “Chatroom” — as well as “Capacity” — signals a new sound for Charly Bliss. Although traditionally a guitar-driven band, Eva wrote “Capacity” on a whim on GarageBand using the synth tool. She wasn’t sure that it was a Charly Bliss song at first, but producer Joe Chiccarelli convinced the band to grab that sound and go.
“It’s still a guitar-driven band,” Chiccarelli says. “It still has the energy and bigness of that, but they really wanted to try some new sounds and incorporate more dimension into things. With ‘Capacity,’ I heard it and instantly went, ‘Wow, this has so much charm and so much personality. You have to do this.’”
Chiccarelli, who has produced everyone from U2 to Beck, came into the Charly Bliss fold after the release of Guppy. He started seeing their name on Best Of lists in tandem with albums he had worked on, and looked up the band that was capturing publication’s hearts. When Charly Bliss’ management called to ask if he wanted to work with them, he jumped at the chance to produce their next album. “They were such great people,” he says. “And very clear about what they wanted from the record.”
Chiccarelli worked with Charly Bliss both at their mouse-infested practice space and Sunset Sound studio in L.A., where Chad Smith of the Foo Fighters was also recording his own project, as well as the theme song for a Finnish Hockey team. The band met Smith and hung out for a while after running into him in a common courtyard where they played basketball during breaks.
“Our recording engineer saw how excited we were that Chad was recording there,” Sam Hendricks says. “So, in the middle of a take, he’s like, ‘Seems like a good time for a break. Why don’t you go play basketball?’” The band was confused, but followed his advice. “So we go out there and Chad Smith is smoking a cigarette and we were trying so hard to be cool,” Sam says.
Between hanging with Elton John’s producer and recording in the same building as a Foo Fighter, one might think that Charly Bliss has finally “made it” — or graduated beyond playing to empty rooms, at least. Not so, according to Eva.
“We got ‘Best New Track’ on Pitchfork when ‘Heaven’ came out. We were so over the moon,” she says. “That night, we played in Aspen, Colorado, to, essentially, a giant empty room. It was part of an X Games event. There we 10 people in the back eating wings.”
But that doesn’t matter much to Charly Bliss, a band who used to celebrate playing Taco Tuesdays at local dives just as hard as they did opening for Death Cab for Cutie.
“I looked back recently at my chat history with Spencer and it almost broke my heart it was so sweet,” Eva recalls. “It was like, ‘We just hit 100 followers on Facebook! Should we go out? What should we do?’ I can honestly say that every tiny step that we have taken to get to where we are now — and there’s a long way to go still — we have really enjoyed and really appreciated.”
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