What's The Problem?

We write about very modern events and politics and what it's like to be a person dealing with 21st century existentialism.

Charlotte Kemp Muhl of Uni

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

Firstly congratulations on the new single What’s The Problem? An amazing track and one that has an equally amazing video clip. Not content with just writing and performing the track you also directed the clip. Can you elaborate on how the concept for how the single took shape. An idea with a very precise storyboard or a little more of an organic approach that unfolded as filming took place?

We thought that song would be a good introduction to our aesthetic, which is inspired by both the 70's and the 90's. David (Strange) and I wrote it a while ago, it's actually the first song we ever recorded. For the video, I wanted to shoot on 16 millimeter and create some studio portraits like Diane Arbus or John Waters spoofing 1950's gender roles. I was also inspired by the Life On Mars video, which is so simple yet texturally striking, with his bold colors and makeup against the white background. Plus Pulp's video for Babies a bit...

In terms of the writing and lyrical content, was there an overarching narrative tying the album together or an assortment of topics and inspirations that zig zag throughout the record?

Our first release is going to be a vinyl 7” of What's The Problem? and another song called Adult Video, and the latter will have another video coming out soon. I guess the theme for that 7" is pop art, politics and sexuality. After that our full album is coming out and the theme is pretty similar. I tend to write more of the music while David writes more of the lyrics, but we both wanted to focus on subjects like politics, sex, and 21st century disillusionment in love and technology. There are a few love songs but you won't catch us being saccharin. We try to keep it surreal- Dali and Bunuel are big heroes."

Given your diverse range of musical and artistic abilities and being the driving force behind Uni, how is the band dynamic with Dave Strange and Nico Fuzz and what each of them bring to the table that really shines through in the music you produce?

We're all such different cartoons with different superpowers, it's funny. I do most of the writing / music arranging / production / engineering from behind the scenes, but David brings the ripping guitar and understands vintage gear and how to get cool weird tones better than anyone and he writes lyrics like Bukowski on acid. Nico has an incredible voice like Jeff Buckley and coming from classical music royalty he is absurdly talented on every instrument while also being the class clown. He helped kick our asses into the 21st century by playing synth and electronic drums on top of our old school tape tracks. It's a great collective, and when we're not fighting like siblings, we're having a lot of fun and being relentlessly creative.

It’s no secret that your partner is Sean Lennon and although he does not explicitly feature on the upcoming LP, were there a lot of exchanges, discussions and musical ideas tossed around between the two of you that subtly made their way into this record?

Of course, as couples vent about their work day or ask advice, we would chat in bed about Uni every night as I was making it. He's seen me go for weeks without sleep or food and pour all my blood and sweat into this project. Sean has been amazingly supportive considering I temporarily left the GOASTT to do this. And he's given invaluable input and even played drums on a couple tracks. It's been weird having separate jobs for once, but I think it's healthy for relationships. We'll do the GOASTT again one day.

Clearly a fan of the glam rock scene, in what ways do you borrow from the original and in other ways reinvent, modernise and expand upon the genre?

That has been an interesting dilemma for me as the producer. I gravitate to "retro" sounds like tape delay and 70's boards and real drums etc, in a day where everything is digital EDM. Our songs also have more classic chord changes and melodies. So I thought combining aspects of modern pop music, like electronic drums and synths would take our aesthetic to a new place, but the comprise is I always run the electronic drums through a guitar amp and have Nico play them live, and the synths are mostly analog moogs. Some of the synth sounds are from a 70's keytar Yoko gave me for Christmas, haha. That thing is hilarious but fat sounding! As for the lyrics, we write about very modern events and politics and what it's like to be a person dealing with 21st century existentialism.

Having worked with and met so many amazing artists over the years, were there any memorable instances or words of wisdom spoken to you that really resonated with you and altered the way you approach your craft?

Haha, getting to play bass for Lou Reed once, I noticed he kept pretending to not even know what a G chord was called because that just wasn't cool to him. And the cymbal he'd keep pointing to and say "that thing there, less of that," then he'd point to the snare drum and say "that thing there, more power!" I was so young and pretentious about chords and music theory, that it kind of changed my whole paradigm to realize that's not what music is about. I don't write punk music, but ever since I've tried have a punk approach to whatever I do.

As someone who works in music, modelling and fashion, for you is the relationship an equilateral one or disproportionate in the energy and expression one form receives over the other?

Fashion and music have been supportive sisters forever. Fashion today would be very dull indeed if you removed the influences of rock and roll. Then again, maybe rock wouldn't be the same if people like Angie Barnett hadn't put Bowie in his first gender defying dress, or Vivienne Westwood hadn't dressed the Sex Pistols in the first safety-pinned ripped clothing.

What does the rest of 2017 have in-store for Uni?

The release of our first album, live shows around New York, booking our first tour and festivals, and writing our mockumentary and rock opera for down the road.

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