Interview: Charlie Hickey No Longer Nervous At Night

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Shot by Frank Ockenfels

Origin Story

Charlie was always surrounded by music because both of his parents were in 90s bands.  One band Chris Hickey fronted was called Uma, and another called Show of Hands who toured with the Indigo Girls.

“I became weirdly obsessed with the Indigo Girls”, which might seem like an odd choice without that context.

Songs like Closer to Fine hit the alternative stations and even I remember loving that song, but it was video footage of Show of Hands playing with the Indigo Girls that Charley watched incessantly at the age of 3 or 4 years old.

“I remember having this sense of:  I want to do this.  This is it!”

A dream began to form, one that was more tangible, seeing his parents and their friends achieve it.

OCD Superpower

Charlie has OCD, but somehow found a way to channel that into his musical universe.

“What it is to me is that you are ever so slightly less in control of your mind.  A thought, that to someone else would be meaningless, you can get really fixated on and concerned about in a way that is disproportionate to its actual importance.”

Charlie explains that most don’t have time for these types of thought explorations.  

“Songwriting is where you are supposed to explore all the corners of your mind.  OCD is a little bit like storytelling to yourself because you’re fixated on thoughts that really aren’t true.  A song is like an intrusive thought, in a way.”

Songwriting

For Charlie, the words and the melody are not two separate things.  

“Lyrics are incredibly musical to me, so it’s not just about saying something profound.  It’s about saying it in a musical & emotive way.”       

Charlie realizes that there are constraints to songwriting versus what makes a good book.  

“It’s a different muscle.  Sometimes, it’s about reigning it in, which could be harder than letting ‘er rip.”

The challenge is to simplify your thoughts to fit into a song.

“It is the medium that effects people emotionally in the strongest way.”

Signed to Saddest Factory Records

Charlie got signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory Record and was named employee of the week.

Well…everyone gets that certificate, but still, he was now in the family with the support needed to move the needle in his career.

“The whole thing was organic, a non-traditional label signing process.  Phoebe and everybody on the label respect the art.”

Charley and Phoebe have been friends since they were kids, growing up in the same town.

“I got to watch her rise, which was obviously very formative and inspiring for me.”

Seeing your friend & favorite writer rise to the point of being able to have a label to sign Charlie felt like “a full circle.”

When someone close rises ahead of you, you can either be happy for them, or let the jealousy & resentment take over, which wrecks the friendship.

“There was no doubt the whole time, from the first time I saw Phoebe play.  There was this universal thing, everyone thought she was going to be big.”

Charlie loved the music so much, he was just happy others were feeling the same way.

Music Business Lessons

Between the ages of 13 to 21, Charlie learnt what the day to day of a rock star entails.

He always knew he would have to tour, but now the abstract is a reality.

It’s a small portion of being on stage, and a large portion of waiting around.

“Being on tour is exhausting even if sometimes you are doing even less than what you would be doing at home.”

Charlie feels both fascinated and disillusioned from the business side of music, knowing that it simply takes hard work, which not all are willing to do.

Fame

Being a musician does have a certain mystique that puts one on a pedestal so to speak.

“People relate to music in a different way because of how emotionally impactful it is, but at the end of the day, it’s a job.  Sometimes, it can be a little dangerous, the way that people relate to it or idealize it.”

It becomes this one-side relationship, that brings along a certain amount of entitlement on a musician’s time and attention.

“If you are admired by lots of people, that could make you feel good about yourself, but it truly has nothing to do with who you truly are.”

In the end, what people think about you is not as important as how you feel about yourself.

If someone is only looking for validation from others, it will never feed the black hole it goes into.  

As Charlie gains popularity, he does strive to hold on to that sense of self.  “I don’t want to get too caught up in having my whole life and identify wrapped up in performing and having a public persona.”

When meeting with fans at the merch booth, Charlie will be attentive to his fans, and make a real connection.  He will balance the connection with a certain level of distance, in effect not feeding off the attention, but instead giving his gift of attention towards the fans.  

Nervous At Night

The Nervous At Night LP will be released May 20th, 2022. 

Pre-Order/Pre-Save Nervous At Night

What makes Charlie nervous?

“It has changed a lot over the years.  What makes me most nervous is the fear of not being happy.  Being scared of being scared, which is sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

If the new album is a success, will that make him happy?

“You get the things you want, then you find new things to worry about…worrying that it’s not enough.”

The lesson is to enjoy the journey and not the destination.  If you only focus on the peak, then you will have a miserable climb.  Once at the top, you will see the next peak, and feel you need to conquer that one to be happy.  It’s an endless quest that doesn’t have the expected payback.

If you enjoy the journey, then the ups and downs become enjoyable because you know you will eventually reach another peak.

“Especially in this business, it’s important for me to remember that THIS IS IT.  It will just be this at different scales.”

Some of the fears have gone.

“I used to have terrible social anxiety, but that’s gone a lot better.”

Champagne Question

If we were to open a bottle of champagne with Charlie one year from now, to celebrate something he just accomplished, it would be:  

“That a lot of people listen to this album and like it.  That I get to the next level of people knowing me and listening to my music and identifying with it.”

He would also like to revisit some of the venues he’s played as an opening artist, but as a headliner.

Fantasy Rock Band

When asked to create the ultimate Rock Band, here are Charlie’s choices.

Vocals:  Matt Berninger (The National)

Guitar:  Blake Mills (worked with Band of Horses, Weezer, Lana Del Rey and more)

Drums:  Jim Keltner (worked on Beatles solo recordings, Travelling Wilburys)

His first choice was Jim, but his final choice is Joel Amey (Wolf Alice) whom we could hear doing soundcheck before the gig.

It’s interesting that Charlie went with session players for their skill, and the warmth of Matt’s voice to the mix.

Growing with parent musicians helped Charlie understand the power of good musicianship.  Add well selected lyrics that flow, and you have the foundation of Charlie Hickey.

While Phoebe Bridgers might have helped with a little push in the right direction, it’s the hard work, day in and day out that is now propelling Charlie to greater heights, enjoying the journey as he gets to see the world from the windows of a tour bus.


Connect with Charlie Hickey

Charlie Hickey Website + Social Media Links


Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their day jobs with out-of-the-box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives. He created the Rock Star Today Music Business Jam Session for musicians. Randal is a collector of signed vinyl, cassettes and CDs.

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