Charlie Marshall & The Curious Minds


Music and science both have the potential to take me out of my everyday existence and give me a peak emotional experience.

Charlie Marshall & The Curious Minds - Sublime

Melbourne singer, songwriter and science teacher Charlie Marshall has produced a fascinating new album Sublime which is a unique fusion of music, science, philosophy and politics extolling the wonders of our universe.

Hi Charlie and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Musicology.

Speaking of ologies, you are an avid fan of many. Tell us how you fuse your interest of the sciences with that of music?

Writing a song or hearing a gorgeous piece of music excites the same part of my brain as doing an amazing science experiment or finding out something wonderful about the natural world. Music and science both have the potential to take me out of my everyday existence and give me a peak emotional experience.

You have a new album, Sublime and in particular side A of the album is titled Physics and Side B Ecology, I imagine this is tying together that of the heavens and the earth into one grand uniting theory?

Exactly! Side one is about the wonders of the universe and side two concerns what is going on here on planet earth. And a lot of that unfortunately is not all that wonderful.

There is a science to music, in its structure, mathematical patterns and so on. Do you see music as a hard science and introduce philosophy in your lyrics as a soft science to compliment the sometimes rigid constraints of music?

I do take a bit of a mathematical approach to music. The thing that excites me most about song writing is harmony – the intervals between the notes that you put together – and that is beautifully mathematical, but also very emotional and soulful. It can be rigid if one follows the very well-trodden path of the simplest of Western pop music harmony, but there are so many possible permutations that I am sure there’s still a lot more for me to explore. Lyrics are great because they are completely open and unbounded, which adds an exciting ‘anything is possible’ factor on top of the music.

The album artwork frames the concept of the record perfectly in terms of its nod to the scientific community. Featuring images from the Hubble Telescope it must have been an enjoyable challenge to pick just a select few but what was it about some of these images in particular that really appealed to you?

The Hubble telescope and the other powerful telescopes developed in recent times are absolute wonders of our age. When I was a young child the images we had of the universe were unbelievably primitive compared to what we have now, just a few decades later. It blows my mind!

It was really hard choosing a few to use on the album cover but, yes, a great pleasure checking out so many incredible images of nebulas, stars and galaxies. There are hundreds which are just as amazing as the one’s I used. The main criteria for choosing what to use was how they worked aesthetically with Tommy Balogh’s nebular painting on the front. Plus, I chose the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image on the inside sleeve as much for its poetic associations – it shows galaxies that are like….12 billion years old! – as for its visual appeal.

In I Have Landed you say “so very lucky to be here” which is as true as it is astute but do you feel that this comprehension of such a mind boggling concept is one that we only truly understand with age and further to that, part of the timing in releasing such an album?

Yes definitely. I am way more aware of how ridiculously, inconceivably lucky I am to be here now, compared to the mindset I had 20 or 30 years ago. We tend not to think that way when we’re young. That’s a kind of wisdom I guess. And it’s definitely a part of where I am now. The clarity of vision I think I’ve found in recent years has helped me to release this album now.

Your track Not A Cruel Machine, is not only a scientific account of the universe and its processes but an uplifting track putting those sceptics minds at ease. At what age did you come to the realisation that the universe is not a cold and pointless thing but one that is full of wonder and an entity that is capable of creating consciousness in which to reflect and look back upon itself?

That was one of the hardest songs to write and possibly the one that I am most happy about as far as how the lyrics turned out. I actually made an attempt at writing it about 25 years ago. I only had a few lines and it was called “Everything Connects” and I remember talking to Warren Ellis about it, when he was in the Body Electric. And he said.….“Hmm, sounds like heavy shit Charlie”, or something to that effect! It was too hard and I gave up on it. But I found the original lyrics about 2 years ago and after all the scientific reading and pondering I’d done in the meantime, I was able to finish it off really quickly! I was wrapped. The thing was, that soon after the conversation with Warren, I studied Environmental Science for a few years. And there was lots of philosophy in it. And it was really interesting, and challenging, and also a bit disturbing. Especially learning about postmodernism and relativism, and the idea that all knowledge, including science, is subjective and determined by ideology. It nearly drove me crazy to be honest. But I came out the other side with a broader understanding and the realisation that a lot of that relativistic stuff is crap. Thus the song!

Another standout track is Shoulders Of Giants and one that would make the Flaming Lips weep. It’s a richly layered song, ethereal with anthem qualities to it. Were there any particular artists you were listening to at the time of writing / recording that spurred you on to create such a wonderful track?

That is very astute about the Flaming Lips. I think it has the same opening chord as “Race for the prize”. That is a song that I have always been fascinated by, and no doubt had an influence. Musically I absolutely love it. I think it starts with Fmajor7, which is probably my favourite chord, and one I use a fair bit. Lyrically, I think it’s a shame that it’s a rare song about science, but it presents a kind of caricature of scientists as ambitious, heartless, inhuman creatures. But I still like it. Other than that, there no specific references for Shoulders Of Giants. It’s a song that uses a lot of my favourite chords. That said, there are two records that influence the whole Sublime album – Pet Sounds (Beach Boys) and Superfly (Curtis Mayfield). And I acknowledge this in the liner notes. Those records helped shape the vocal approach and arrangement/orchestration of all the songs in a big way, and particularly this one.

With the current state of local and global politics there is something of a war on science, is this something you are addressing in Walk Lightly?

Yep, for sure! I just went on the “March For Science” yesterday. The song’s about all the “climate deniers and their rabid green hating”. Plus, it quotes the Flaming Lips song mentioned before with regard to its anti-science message – “Some people they go and they blame the scientists, who race for the prize irrespective of the costs”.

Having been in the music industry for so long and performing with so many varied outfits and genres, is this project (musically speaking) a simple extension to your body of work or something wholly unrelated and a completely new venture that required a whole new skill set to pull it off?

It’s not something I could have done earlier. To bring together a scientific lyrical perspective with songs that are musically satisfying took all my experience of playing music and song writing over many years. Along with a lot of reading, and just thinking, about science.

You have worked with the who’s who in music and this project is no exception. Can you tell me why you cherry picked the artists you did to work with you on this project and what each of them brought the table?

Bryan Colechin played with me in The Body Electric in the 90s and I think he’s the most complete and distinctive bass player I’ve worked with (though there’s been some other good ones). I was really keen to get back together with him. He’s a really emotional, dynamic and creative player. Which is a thing to cherish when it comes to the bass.

Clare Moore was the drummer in one of the first bands that inspired me early on – The Moodists. I played with her briefly in about 2005, but it was just for a short time, so I was wrapped to get her properly on board for this. She’s a really musical drummer, comes up with great parts and is really solid. And I always loved her voice so I was super keen to have her do backing vocals.

Tim Deane has been a revelation to me with this record. For some reason we had never crossed paths before. I think Clare put me on to him and he’s been perfect. He’s got a variety of great keyboard sounds, really great feel, and he really gets in to the song. He is passionate about songs and he loves these new songs of mine, so it’s a privilege to have him play with me.

Andrew Watson is also someone I just luckily got in touch with. I didn’t know him before this. But I talked to lots of people about these new songs before I got a band together and recorded. So Alicia Sometimes from 3RRR told me he played on her poetic science/music show she had been performing in Planetariums. Of course, I was fascinated and checked him out. And found he is a wonderfully organic, soulful, improvisational violinist who complemented the rest of the instruments I had put together perfectly.

Another great thing about this band, that is really special, is that Clare, Tim and Bryan all sing beautifully and this really contributes to the sound of the record.

What does the rest of 2017 have install for you?

Launching the album June 17 in Melbourne and then around the country after that. A special show in Melbourne in August for Science week. Then possibly getting to Europe at the end of the year, otherwise next year. Lots to do!

Charlie Marshall & the Curious Minds

with support from

Ross McLennan and The New World

@ The Spotted Mallard

314 Sydney Road Brunswick

Sat June 17