Artist Profile | Inspiration

Creative fires, fish lizards and Frankensteins with Charlie Griffiths (interview)

Multi-scale melody maker Charlie Griffiths is a man of versatility. If he’s not joining forces with Richard Henshall in the acclaimed prog and metal outfit Haken, he’s creating his own evolution as a solo artist, based on prehistoric fish lizards.
– I’m just trying to make my brain come alive for a moment, and hope that someone else will get that same feeling from it.

It takes a few minutes, but then he appears on the screen. Charlie Griffiths is bearded, with a t-shirt and orange, knitted hat. Amplifiers in the background.

First, we quickly go through the standard opening questions: the band that got him into guitar playing (Queen), how long he’s been playing (since high school), and why he chose headless guitars (because they look cool). Then we enter the “creative territory”.

– When I create music I’m just trying to make my brain come alive for a moment, and hope that someone else will get that same feeling from it. I don’t do drugs, but I imagine if you take a drug, it does something to your brain. In music, a song, a melody or a section can make your brain fire. And you like that feeling. And those moments are rare. It takes a long time to build up a collection of those moments.

A light bulb moment 375 million years in the making

For the solo album Tiktaalika (released in 2022 on Inside Out Music) it was the Tiktaalik creature itself that made Charlie’s brain fire. A link between fish and land-living lizards, that existed some 375 million years ago.

– I was interested in that thing. That it existed. I just kept thinking about it, and made a whole concept album around the idea of one thing evolving into another. It’s one simple idea you could go many places with. To me, that is inspiration. To have that light bulb moment, “this is my starting point and I want to see where it goes”.

And the Tiktaalika album went places. With great reviews all around it sent Charlie to second place in Musicradars “Best Prog Guitarist in the World” poll.

–  I was happy to be near the top. But I’m not a competitive person. I’m not into sports and I don’t care who wins. I’m happier for the other person to win.

Creating music on his own is quite different from playing in a band, where music and decisions are made on a group level.

– You might think it would take longer because it’s only one person doing all the work. But it’s quicker since you’re doing it alone. You don’t have to worry about anybody’s opinions. You don’t have to email it and then wait for a reply, and can avoid five people telling you different things.

Even though Charlie Griffiths is a hailed guitarist today, he does not view himself as a seasoned songwriter. 

– Songwriting is hard to do. If you want to come up with a body of work with emotional charge, for me that’s hard to do. If I could, I’d tell my younger self to write more songs. When I was younger I was just practicing scales and practicing songs of other people. If I was young now, I would make more of my own music.

Do musicians dream of Chat GPT?

Since 2008 Charlie Griffiths has been a part of the progressive metal and rock outfit Haken, whose seventh release Fauna dropped last year and received great reviews on Metal Injection (8.5), Sonic Perspectives (9), and several others.

The Prog Report even stated that
“The maturation of Haken is in full display with this album and is sure to be a top contender for Album of the Year.”  

Speaking of maturing, so has their creative process

– We don’t argue. On the earlier albums, we did. As time has gone by, we’ve all gotten more skillful at getting our views and points across. We’ve become more open and understanding of how to take criticism and use that to help the songs.

Everyone in the band is involved and pitchs their ideas.

– The demo gets more “frankensteined” over time and once we have that Frankenstein version, everything else is done remotely. When we get what we feel is an album’s worth of demos, then we meet up and go through it to find and set the final structure.

Haken singer Ross Jennings based the lyrics on Fauna on the Philip K. Dick novel Do robots dream of electric sheep? (which the iconic sci-fi movie Blade Runner was partly based on).

But if you ask Charlie Griffiths, we still have a long way ahead of us before the robots take over. His experience with the hyped AI text tool Chat GPT is not a good one.

– I tried Chat GPT for the initial phase of the lyrics, to set the theme. The result was terrible. It was just like reading a high school homework.

And on that note, our digital chat has come to an end. A nice ending too, as it feels safe to leave the creative aspirations to those who can build 52-minute-long concept albums around fish lizards, and still view themselves as “novice” at songwriting, rather than leaving it to Chat GPT.

Charlie’s .strandberg* gear

Charlie’s tips to those who want to play extended range guitars

“The transition takes a couple of weeks. It can be visually confusing at first. It’s all about how you think of fret boards in small chunks instead of a big road map. As soon as you get used to applying the small chunks of information to your extra strings, it becomes easier. And for the fanned frets, you’d think it would be weird but that’s the least problematic thing. When you play you don’ even see them.”

Charlie’s top 3 album picks of 2023

Metallica – 72 Seasons 

“I hold this band in impossibly high regard, but if I try to ignore the fact of who they are, I simply enjoy the blend of performances on this album, with each instrument being filled with character and vibe. The emotional message behind the lyrics comes over as totally genuine and heartfelt too.”

Extreme – Six

“I love the structure of this album. The diversity of styles throughout makes me feel like this is the closest we get to a new Queen album in 2023. Nuno’s tone and playing is better than ever!”

Gross Reality – Return to Ruin 

“This is a brilliantly executed and creative thrash album which I’ve wanted to go back to again and again. The songs, riffs, and vocals just make me smile.”


Strandberg Magazine

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