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Behind the Noise: Interview With Philadelphia's Richly Dynamic Rock Artist Comprador

Edited by Anna Mengani

An upward angled photo of Charlie playing guitar at a show.
Photo Credit: Al Harmon

Philadelphia's non-binary singer/songwriter Charlie D’Ardenne released their fifth studio album under their solo artist name, Comprador, Please Stay Off the Statue, on May 16th. Getting their start in the local Ohio and Philadelphia scene, Charlie has been making an unforgettable impression in their scene wherever they go. We got the chance to speak with Charlie about their upcoming album, their evolving creative process, and more in this exclusive interview!


Iceis: So, I thought we [should] start off with a few fun questions before we get into anything too deep or serious. My first question for you is, what is the last song you listened to? And what were you doing while you were listening to it?

Charlie: I'm a weird jogger. I don't run with earbuds in. I'm afraid if I go through an intersection, I’ll get hit by a car or something. I'm doing a record release show later this month, and a couple of people asked me to do an Elliott Smith cover. So, I was listening to that last night. Just to make sure I was learning it in the right key. The most recent thing that I listened to [was] ‘Waltz #2 (XO).’

Iceis: I’ll have to check it out after this.

Charlie: You might have heard it before. I feel like the piano hook is pretty [popular].

 

Iceis: The next one is if you had to choose an animal sound to come out of your mouth every time you talk, which one would you choose?

Charlie: I think whale sounds are pretty cool. That'd be kind of fun to just bust out in an unsuspecting conversation and make whale noise.

Iceis: Do you have a specific whale? There are lots of whales.

Charlie: There are lots of whales. Let's do a sperm whale. I feel like they're underrated as far as whales go.

Iceis: Yeah, because everyone's talking about the killer whales and the blue whales.

 

Iceis: If you could create a TikTok that is guaranteed to become a trend, what would the TikTok clip be?

Charlie: I deleted my TikTok because I can't come up with good TikTok content. Also, my friends [would send me thousands of] videos a day, and you feel compelled to watch all of them. I can't always come up with a good TikTok response on the spot. One that I really liked [was of] two friends who are hanging out, and then they shake hands, and one is like, “Alright, see ya.” Then he turns around, walks into a pond, and goes underwater. And then Godzilla music comes in. So, maybe variations on that. I guess you could do different bodies of water [and] people doing different activities.

Iceis: That would make sense. But then you have to you have to find a way to come up with new ways that people haven't tried yet. They always say that no idea is original anymore. I don't know. Content is hard. That's why I don't do it.

 

Iceis: If you were to create a new city, what would the city be called?

Charlie: Let's call it Swag City.

Iceis:  Hell yeah. So, what's drawing all [of the tourists] to Swag City?

Charlie: All the TikToks that they export. That's [the] main source of revenue for Swag City. Everybody there is a successful TikToker.

Iceis: I can see it now. You’ll just be raking in the millions.

 

Iceis: Finally, what is your most recent, most useless, or unused purchase?

Charlie: Not anything exciting, but I got some conditioner from CVS that I returned to the store the other day. I'm always getting band shirts.

Iceis: That's not useless.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s not useless because [you’re] promoting artists. I'm not good at putting laundry away. [There are] maybe six shirts that are in constant rotation, and the rest of them are stuffed in the bottom of the closet somewhere.

Iceis: That you've never worn. So, the important question is, why did you return the conditioner?

Charlie: I just realized I could get it cheaper online. It's not a funny anecdote. It's pretty boring.

Iceis: But it's totally valid. Why keep it when you can return it, get your money back, and get it cheaper?

 

Iceis: I feel like every musician has that defining memory that really cements to them that they want to make music and become a musician and do that for the rest of their life. What does that memory look like for you?

Charlie: My dad's a multi-instrumentalist. He plays piano, guitar, and a few other things. So, when my sister and I were really little, there were always instruments around the house. We would mess around [with] them when we were toddlers. We had a Fisher-Price tape recorder. [It has] bright primary colors, and you can record onto a cassette. We had one of those. I didn't learn how to play guitar until middle school. But I remember when I was really little [I made] recordings [by] taking a coin and tapping it on the guitar strings next to the microphone and listening back to it. [I was] mesmerized [of] the resonance of the coin hitting the strings and how the cassette tape made it sound different than it sounded to my ears. That's the earliest memory I have of recording something adjacent to music and being drawn to that as a hobby.

 

Iceis: You [started] learning your guitar in middle school. Going from there, what was the first experience you had with making a song?

Charlie: A couple of my high school friends and I [were in] a trio. I was playing guitar, my friend Adam was [playing] drums, and my friend Zach was [playing]  bass. We would [make] really aggressive, improvisational stuff in Adam’s basement. But it wasn't stuff we could really replicate after the fact. It was just getting out teenage aggression and recording it on cassettes. But when I went to university in Arizona, in Tempe, [during]  summer and winter break, I got a four-track, and I started recording songs on that. I would show the stuff I made to my friends in the dorms when I would get back from a break. So, I think that was when I started writing songs that were composed rather than improvisational.

Iceis: More than just a stream of consciousness, as they say.

Charlie: Yeah, [I was] actually focusing on the verse and the chorus, [and] trying to copy the structure of rock and pop songs that I liked and that I had learned how to play. Just use those as a template.

 

Iceis: You were saying your dad's a multi-instrumentalist. So, I imagine you were exposed to a lot of different artists and genres growing up. What were some of the artists that you listened to growing up that you feel like influenced you?

Charlie: When I was really little, I liked Fantasia a lot. Like the old Disney animated movie, especially the sequence with the dinosaurs, which [features] Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Early on, orchestral stuff like that made an impression on me. It's kind of embarrassing because I think he's [a] xenophobic shithead, but the first rock song I remember making a big impression on me was ‘Layla.’ the Eric Clapton song. I only liked the first half when I was a little kid because it sounds pissed off. When it [got] more optimistic sounding in the second half, I didn’t like that. So, [I’d] just skip back to listen to the first couple of minutes. I liked Weird Al in elementary school. I got into Nirvana through him because he did the parody of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ When I was in middle school, the Nirvana box set came out. There was a very illuminating essay in the booklet about dozens of 1980s and 1990s underground bands. So, I got into a bunch of those through that. I got a Scratch Acid compilation. I found The Jesus Lizard through them because they share a couple of members. I'm still a huge fan of them. I'm really excited to see that they're playing some shows this summer. I think I got into Dinosaur Jr. [through] that same essay. So, they've been a pretty big influence on my sounds as well [as] my approach. I know a lot of the 90s albums, J Mascis would play drums and have somebody play bass with him, and then he [would] go through and overdub all the guitars and vocals. That's been the approach I've used on a lot of my studio recordings since 2016. On the newest album, my friend Parker recorded bass parts [for] my drum parts, and I built stuff on that. Those are earlier influences as far as contemporary stuff. [There are] so many mind-blowing great artists around Philly and touring the East Coast. So, I think both working with some of the other active musicians in the city and seeing a lot of other acts tour through Philly makes an impression. Even if I'm not intentionally learning how to play their songs, I think seeing other bands will influence how you approach writing.

 

Iceis: With your project Comprador, you've had that for about ten years or so. When starting your project, what primary goal or objective did you have that you wanted to achieve through it?

Charlie: I'd moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, because one of my high school friends, he still lives there, had gone to the music conservatory there. [He has] been involved in the Cincinnati DIY scene for years. So, I moved there to play with that group of musicians. I was drumming in a duo, but I wanted songs that I had the final say over rather than something completely collaborative with another person. So, I made a single and released it. And then [I] wrote a handful of songs with a drummer there. I suppose that's a fuzzy, not super exciting goal, but it was just to write songs and play them for people. I just kept doing that since 2013, when the first single came out.

 

Iceis: Over ten years later, you're still doing it. How do you feel like those goals or objectives have evolved or changed at all?

Charlie: As [it has] gone along, I've played with a bunch of different bands, and you get a taste of playing with different audiences playing tiny basement shows to playing medium-sized venues around Philly, New York City, [and] festivals. So, I've tried to expand my songwriting approach to not just stick to one specific genre but to see if I can stretch myself in terms of my writing and make things in a wider array of styles that I still find listenable and not embarrassing or annoying.

Iceis: As an artist, you’ll always think the stuff you write at some point is annoying.

Charlie: Yeah, I'm not a sculptor., so maybe it's not really like this at all, but I feel like you have the rough idea of it [and] you just keep chipping away at it. Then, the more time you spend on it, [the more] you keep noticing more flaws and try to address them. But at a certain point, you just have to leave it alone and move on to something else.

Iceis: I draw and paint in my free time. And that is exactly how that process goes. You’ll think something is really cool [at] the moment, and you keep working on it and keep working on it, and by the end, you're like, “Eh, that kind of sucks, but we don't mention it.” And then you have to leave it alone.

Charlie: Yeah, making any kind of art [is] tied to emotional states. You get involved [and] emotionally invested in what you're making, and you derive emotion from art that you're experiencing. So, your response to anything you've made is going to change depending on how you're feeling emotionally at the moment. I think sometimes you'll make something and you'll be annoyed by it. And then time elapses, and you can come back to it later and [be] like, “Okay, I like this again. I'm not annoyed with it anymore.”

Iceis: At some point, once enough time passes, you can see everything is wrong with it. But at the same time, you’re like, “Okay, we can work on those problems [in] the future [and] make something better!” But in the moment, you’re just like, “No, this sucks] and I hate it. But I also feel like it's always important for anybody who is creative to be able to be versatile in what they do and always want to improve and evolve.

 

Iceis: when you started your project as Comprador, what personal meaning did that name have that resonated with you when you picked it?

Charlie: I wanted a three-syllable exotic-sounding word. [I’ve] been a big Nirvana fan for a while. Also, [I listened] to a lot of Fugazi and Seb Lowe around that time. I kept seeing the word comprador pop up in stuff I was reading. At the time, somebody sent me an article that featured it [and] it was in a William Coleman novel I was reading, and it wasn't taken. It does have an English definition, but it doesn't get used very often. Initially, I liked the image of it referring to a colonial state under the British Raj in India. An indigenous Indian working for the British would be a comprador. So, I thought like, “I'm not from Ohio. I'm from the East Coast, but I'm representing this web of influences and conveying them to tell the Ohio natives.” That was the thought process going into using it as the band name.

 

Iceis: In addition to Comprador, you are also in a couple of other bands. You play drums in Best Bear and guitar in Humilitarian. How did you originally get involved with those two bands?

Charlie: For Best Bear, I had just moved back to the east coast. I had been in Ohio, but I moved to the Philly area in 2019. I was [on an] affiliate DIY musicians page, and I saw Blue, our front person, had posted that they were a songwriter and looking for people to form a full band. Originally, I reached out to play bass, and I sent some audition videos [of me] playing potential baselines for a couple [of] songs. We did a few practices as a trio with Parker on guitar, and we couldn't [find a drummer]. We auditioned a handful of drummers, and we couldn't find anyone [who] seemed to fit the group. So, I suggested it might be easier if I just switched over to drums, [and] we might have more success finding a bassist. So, that's what we did [in] late 2019. Then [COVID-19] happened in early 2020. So, we had a long period of doing Zoom meetings, and Blue and Parker were both writing a bunch of stuff. In [the] spring of 2021, stuff was starting to open back up again. Public shows were starting to happen. So, we were going to play this big DIY outdoor festival in Philly called Porch Fest. That was our live debut, and we were sharing the same stage [with] Humalitarian. I was friends with their drummer, Eli, ‘cause he had helped engineer some studio sessions that Best Bear had done. And he had mentioned they originally had two guitarists.  But when COVID [happened], one of the guitars moved to Texas. So, they were down to a four-piece. I mentioned to them, “If you want to have somebody to play the second guitar parts, I could learn this stuff and start playing with you.” I weaseled my way in there like that. I saw them a couple of times at Porch Fest and in Philly as a quartet to get a feel for their set. [I] learned a bunch of the songs [they] released at that time, and then we started playing together after that.


Iceis: All of these things are very much a time investment. You gotta try to figure out how to [put some of] your time [into] each of them, which I can imagine can be hard at times. How do you end up balancing all three [of these] projects at the same time?

Charlie:  I think part of it [is that] I play a pretty different role in each one. For Comprador, I'm writing everything, and I gotta book and try to promote it, too. [However], other members serve those functions for the other two bands. I'm mostly just trying to play the songs, serve the parts that other people are writing, and show up on time for practices and shows. [It doesn’t involve the] same kind of headspace.

Iceis: It doesn't require as much of the creative effort.

Charlie: It's a different kind of creative effort. I'm still engaging with what the other musicians are doing. But in the bands, I'm a contributing member, but [I’m] not the main writer. It's a little easier to suggest ideas, and then if people don't like them, I'll throw them away or use them for my own songs rather than having to provide all the raw material for the songs.

 

Iceis: How do you separate what you suggest to them and what you keep for yourself? What distinctly signifies, “Yes, this is for a Comprador song!”

Charlie: it all melts together here. Each song is like a living thing. You have an abstract vision for it. You try a bunch of different approaches, and some of [them will] stick to [that] one idea. But then you'll have the leftover energy that might make another idea for that same project. Or, [it] might turn into its own thing that isn't really suited to those players, but it might work as a solo recording. So, I think you're always coming up with [ideas] like, “This could be a drum groove for something. Or this could be a little guitar lick or a melody [for this project].” And they don't always end up in the same place. You can take one from one project if it's not working and try applying it to something else.

 

Iceis: In the music industry, and just society in general, we have become a lot more open-minded and inclusive of [people in minority groups] in recent years. But [there are] always things that we could do better. So, from your perspective and your experiences, what do you think we could and should be doing in the industry to make it more inclusive and involved [with] people [in minority groups]?

Charlie: I feel like I've run into a lot of accessibility issues. I have friends who have problems with stairs and stuff like that. So, it's frustrating to try to help them book shows around Philly. We’ll be like, “Well, we can't do this venue because [it has] three flights of stairs and there's no parking.” So, that like really sucks for them. I think [there are] always ways to make space to elevate voices that are prone to getting ignored in public. [I] don't know if I have any good, easy policy changes at hand. But [I’m] definitely open to any suggestions for that kind of stuff

 

 

Iceis: When it comes to your music, what elements do you feel like make a song distinctly a Comprador song? What makes it so that when people hear that, they're like, “Yep, I can tell right away. This is a Comprador song.”

Charlie: I think I have an unusual voice. I've practiced to work on my pitch and stuff, but I think it's both a blessing and a curse in some ways. I feel like I might be more prone to sounding goofy or weird than someone with a classically trained or standard rock'n'roll voice. But it also makes it stand out a little more than somebody who sounds like a classic FM radio rock singer. I think both the timbre of my actual voice [and the] weirdness in my writing approach [make me stand out]. I like to think the awkwardness, the intrinsic imperfections, and flaws make [my] stuff more approachable than if everything [was] perfectly polished and I were able to sing perfectly in tune effortlessly. [It’s] kind of a bleak answer, I guess.

Iceis: It piques people's interest because it's not something you can listen to and understand instantly. You have to go back, relisten [to it], and think about it. Some of the best artists are that way.

 

Iceis: You have your fifth album, Please Stay Off the Statue, that drops on May 16th. Congratulations! What did the creative process look like for this album from start to finish?

Charlie: I approached [this one] a little differently than the previous albums. Normally, I would write all the instrumental parts, polish those, and then try to write the vocals at the end. But I think I felt like that was getting increasingly frustrating. I would write something really elaborate, and then I would try to add my vocal parts, [but I] just couldn't think of anything, or it wouldn't work. So, for the new one, I worked out solo acoustic and vocal arrangements in most of the songs beforehand and then went into the studio and did the instrumental parts. So, everything would feel a little more intuitive this time than it [had] on the previous albums since the vocal melodies were generally there from the inception of writing each song. The one exception [is from] a leftover old studio session on this album. It's called ‘Ripcord.’ That was one of the ones I wrote all the rhythm and guitar parts for, and I couldn't think of anything to sing over it. So, I sent it to my friend Gina, and she wrote lyrics and vocal parts. She does lead vocals on that song on the new album. I wrote acoustically [for the other ones] and then made full-band rock arrangements for them. Also, [going] back to Elliott Smith, my friend Eli, the drummer from Humilitarian, had mentioned covering one of Elliott Smith’s songs ‘Better Be Quiet Now’ early last year. I liked a handful of songs, but I hadn't really delved into his catalog before then. So, I learned how to play that song. I felt like, “Wow, this is really awesome.” I'm really struck by his songwriting style. It's a lot different from other things [that]  I learned how to play on guitar. So, I developed a fixation over the next few months and learned how to play a few dozen of his songs. I think that altered the palette I was working with as far as guitar chords and vocal melodies [go]. [I’m] approaching it differently and making moves as far as songwriting that I wouldn't have done previously, [and I’m] thinking like, “Oh, well, he did this weird chromatic descending thing. So, I'll try doing that in my song and see if it works.” And that had an impact on the approach as well.

Iceis: I feel like, as creators, our process evolves anyway, just naturally. Sometimes, that's for the better. Sometimes, you gotta approach something completely [differently] in order to get something better than what you previously had.

 

Iceis: I have a sentence here for you that has a couple of blanks in it that I would like you to fill in for me. “Please Stay Off the Statue is the best album to listen to when you're craving blank, because blank.

Charlie: Let's say “Please Stay Off the Statue is the best album to listen to when you're craving that super crispy drum tone because Dylan did an excellent job engineering most of the songs that we recorded in New Jersey, and Jon Delvaux and Steve Wellington also did great jobs mixing the drum sounds.” I tried to write all the songs [well]. I've lived in Philly long enough. I've found a couple of studio rooms that I really liked using. So, as far as the drum sounds [go], I think we had a better idea of what I wanted going into this one. So, I think the sound of the whole thing is a little more unified than it's been on the previous couple of releases.

Iceis: Hell yeah. Shout out to drummers and drum engineers.

 

Iceis: When people are done listening to this album for the first time, what thoughts or feelings do you hope they walk away with?

Charlie:  I think a ton of people are struggling at the moment. There’s a lot of infrastructure that's currently failing in the US. [The] cost of living [is] skyrocketing. I think a lot of people are struggling with anxiety and depression. If I want to send a message, it's just one of empathy and to convey that I think it's a shared experience. The only way through is [by] engaging with one another,  talking about it, and making our art.

 

Iceis: Before we get to my last question, what's the most important thing for people to know about you and your project Comprador?

Charlie: [Currently, the] most important thing [I want people to know is] I just want everyone to come to the release show. It's on May 16. It's at PhilaMOCA in Philadelphia. If you fly in from out of town, I'll let you sleep in my bed, and I’ll sleep in the basement, my car, or something. Bring all your friends. Bring all your relatives.

Iceis: Throw a big slumber party. Start a bed and breakfast all for that show.

Charlie: Yeah, I'm sure my roommates would love that.

 

Iceis: Post-album release once this is out. Once the celebratory moment happens, is there anything after that that you're looking forward to personally, professionally, or both?

Charlie: I've been trying to have some stuff on the back burner that I can record once this whole rollout cycle is done, so I'm not like, “I don't have any ideas for where to go.” So, [I’m] just going to keep writing more songs. There's a festival in West Virginia. I might try to play at the show booked for June with some friends from out of town. Humilitarian is going to be going out of state in October and, hopefully, playing a bunch of shows. We're also wrapping up like the first Humilitarian album. Hopefully, [that’s] out later this year, and we'll be touring in support of that. So, those are the two main things artistically at the moment.

Iceis: Super exciting. [I] can't wait for all those things to happen.



Comprador is playing an album release show on May 16th. You can find more information here!

 

Comprador

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