Charlotte Church has spoken to NME about her decision to bring her famed Late Night Pop Dungeon to an end, and what to expect from her “joyful” but “naughty” new material.
The former opera singer turned alt-pop solo star and political activist gained a reputation on the festival, club and grassroots venue scene over the last seven years for her Late Night Pop Dungeon gig series – performing a range of high octane covers by the likes of Destiny’s Child, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Beastie Boys, Beyoncé, En Vogue, Black Sabbath, Prince and many more, along with cuts from her solo career.
Speaking to NME backstage at the village ahead of her performance, Church explained how the gig series came about in the first place – seeking to do something different and separate to her alt-rock leaning set of EPs ‘ONE’ through ‘FOUR’ released from 2012-2014.
“The origin story of it really is that [comedian] Stewart Lee asked us to play All Tomorrow’s Parties, which you know is super arch, chin-strokey, ’Patrish’ and all the rest of it,” she explained. “We very far away in time from the EP project so it didn’t make much sense to do that.”
Church and her band then came up with a concept of “old school covers” they found to be “really disruptive” but still “fucking excellent”. After ATP, Pop Dungeon then found more fame with a now legendary set at Glastonbury 2016 in the Rabbit Hole, where the now infamous “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte Fucking Church” chant began”.
Speaking of how she would come up with each setlist for the shows, Church said: “Me and my husband Johnny [Powell] make a playlist when we know we’ve got a bunch of rehearsals coming up. We go through way too many the songs, the band come back with what they want to do and then nearer the time we syphon it down and test it out.
“Eventually it becomes like clockwork. It’s very composed.”
Asked what her personal favourite songs were from the Pop Dungeon throughout the years, Church named En Vogue’s ‘Don’t Let Go’, Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ and Robyn’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’. Hailing the latter, she said: “It has a crazy magic to it. It’s like a mantra. It’s just perfect heartbreak disco pop. It’s so meaningful but so vast in its simplicity. I absolutely adore that.”
As for highlights from her own record collection, Church revealed: “One of my favourite albums of all time is [Ursula K. Le Guin’s] ‘Always Coming Home’, we’ve got an amazing live Clark Sisters album which is absolutely phenomenal. I love absolutely everything: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I’m obsessed with Donny Hathaway [and], of course, the master Jeff Buckley. I listen to anything I can find I’m really lucky that my husband is a real searcher and is always veraciously finding new music. I’m constantly having music curated for me.”
On the decision to end Pop Dungeon, Church said that it was more of a “hiatus” than a finale, as she was building up a “landscape” of new original material that she “just can’t ignore” – hoping to “synthesise” all the ground that she’s covered over the years and the lessons she’s learned while running her wellness retreat The Dreaming and nature-driven education initiative The Awen Project.
“I’ve been writing, but only very recently dipping in – there’s such a landscape of music that I’ve been listening to and I’m hoping that I can synthesise all of that,” she said. “Things have been creeping in over the last couple of years that I just can’t ignore little chorus bits, little melodies. I’m writing it all down as it comes and I’m going to put it all together.”
Church added: “I’m looking for a collaborator and a co-creator. I’m not an auteur, I love to collaborate with people. I think that it’s probably going to include everything I’m learning about sound meditation too. It can really help people to heal and find a place of rest and peace. All of that ecstasy and joy and freedom and naughtiness that the Pop Dungeon has taught me along with all the mad, prog, alt stuff that I did the EPs – I can hear it in my head.”
Having been a vocal political activist for the left over the last decade, Church said that her new record would be touching on the social upheaval being experienced across the globe “Without a shadow of a doubt”.
“I feel deeply, deeply involved with the world,” she said. “We need to make sure we don’t cause mass extinctions – both to our headspaces and ourselves. The Dreaming and The Awen Project are extension of my values and activism. I’m trying to live it a bit more and walk the talk. I imagine the music will be just the same.”
Living by the mantra that “rest is resistance, but so is fun”, Church spoke of how the world would be a much better place if people were more open to ideas of mindfulness and meditation.
“It’s really simple; it’s so simple that just to say it makes people go, ‘Wow, that’s bullshit!’ But actually when you do get into it, and do sing together as a group over a period of time and you get to harmonise and everything makes sense,” she said. “For me, music is at the heart and core of it. Music and nature are the extremes that we have in this existence – which for me can bring the most transformation.”
“Just to be able to witness people coming and hearing their stories, and how they’re leaving so much lighter and in touch with nature makes you realise the power of the really simple things that we do.”
Looking ahead to what the rest of her year has in store, Church said: “I’m at the retreat a lot. I’m practicing there. I do sound meditations, so I’m really developing my practice there and writing different compositions for a couple of different people in the group to creating soundscapes and experiences and a narrative journey. That’s really got all of my fires going.”