Singer, guitarist and Chicago native, Omar Rashan, has been writing and recording music under the name Charlatan since 2011. In that time, he has developed a distinct style of well-crafted dreamy noise pop that calls to mind the ’80s post punk scene with a healthy mix of ’90s shoegaze thrown in.
Busy recording his first full length LP, he took a minute to talk with Midwest Action about his songwriting, the recording process, and the new album. Psychedelic Sunday is proud to introduce you to Omar and the music of Charlatan.
So how did Charlatan start? What made you decide to start writing and performing on your own?
Omar Rashan: I’ve been in quite a few bands, but none of them ever really went anywhere. I think I had originally been inspired by artists like Kaki King and Andrew Bird, who often were a one man, or one woman, show. That idea gave me a bit more hope for achieving my own artistic ambitions as a musician.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being in bands and there’s a lot that I miss, but there are some freedoms I really enjoy being a solo act that just haven’t come to me in my experience with other bands.
The Kills using a drum machine really made me feel good about using my own machine as well. That was a large influence.
It’s always hard to find the right group of like minded people when everybody is trying to pull the band in a different direction. Branching off of that topic, what is your songwriting process like? How do you generally begin composing a song?
OR: It’s pretty much the exact opposite of how I approached it in bands. In those bands, things would usually come along with a guitar riff first, maybe drums, and or bass, not in any particular order – but it was the guitar riff that usually drove a lot of that.
In Charlatan, it starts with a beat. Usually a pretty simple one. Then I fill it in with more percussion on the machine. Then I add a synth line. This becomes my bass line most of the time, over which I layer guitar parts. I enjoy this different approach, as it really pushes me to explore new avenues to write in.
I really love the lush, layered sound your songs have, do you play all of that in real time using synths and guitars or do some of those sounds come to life in the editing process?
OR: In terms of what you hear on the demos, everything is really just the machine, one guitar track, and one vocal track. There’s just one song where I layered two guitar parts on the ending, but that’s it.
I think a lot of that lush-ness, if that’s even a word, comes from a combination of those synth elements and my use of effects on my guitar. It also helps that there can be multiple synth parts programmed to play simultaneously, thanks to the machine.
All that being said, I like to keep things pretty simple overall. I think there’s just a good mix of different elements at play that mesh well.
You’ve done quite a few home recordings, and now you’re working in a studio, with an engineer, how has this changed the way you write and record your songs?
OR: Being in the studio is a pretty amazing experience. Of course, it allows me to do a lot more than what I could do in my apartment. I’ve been layering guitar parts through all sorts of amps with different effect configurations, layering noise on top of that, and allowing it to really tailor my sound on the drum synth by giving it some space, so to speak, on the recordings. Things really start to get a dimension of their own in the studio.
Your home recordings have a great lo-fi sound to them, that reminds me a lot of early Joy Division demos, do you find yourself losing that lo-fi quality in a professional studio or does it still shine through?
OR: Lo-fi and me have a strange relationship. I really like lo-fi sounds, but I still want that enormous, wall of sound effect. What I really want to go for is the use of lo-fi sounding elements mixed in a large sonic space. I think in the studio, we’re doing just that. I’m singing vocals through amps, using analog effects, using things that have limited frequency ranges, but mixed well in order to achieve that.
I can pull out a wide range of influences I hear in your music, like My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain, even maybe Sonic Youth during the noisier moments, but what has been the biggest influence on your songwriting?
OR: Man, that’s a tough one. In songwriting alone, I just try to keep it poppy. Sometimes it can be an upbeat, poppy song, many times, it’s dark – but I still just try to stay in that vein. Just keeping it simple. If I’m to name one influence, it would probably be Crocodiles. I’ve been a long-time admirer of them and their ability to really make some killer songs while developing their own, very unique sound.
You’ve lived in and around the city of Chicago your whole life. Do you find being so close and connected to a city like Chicago, that has such a great music scene, a benefit when it comes to getting your music out there?
OR: It’s truly nothing short of a miracle that I just happened to grow up around here. I used to take a lot of it for granted, but when I think of all of the traveling I’ve done, I realize that I could have very easily ended up in just about any abysmal little town in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no artistic community like Chicago. Between the seemingly endless venues that I love and the droves of people, there’s an outlet for just about any kind of musician in this city.
My music will never make any charts, I’m pandering to a pretty narrow spectrum of people, so it really helps when you’ve got this many people to draw from. Just playing out, I’ve made a lot of good connections with similar-minded musicians and bands. It’s been a fantastic experience, no doubt.
Where do you see Charlatan going in the future?
OR: Who knows! I’m going to keep at it, hopefully Charlatan doesn’t break up or anything, haha. I’m really excited for this LP being released, so we’ll see how that does. I’m thinking that soon I’ll start writing for the next one. I’m going to keep playing shows, doing what I can to draw folks and get my name out there. I really foresee this possibly just becoming a life-long project. It’s been a great outlet for my musical ambitions. I’ll probably play in more bands in the future, but I’ll always have Charlatan too.