Musician and milliner Charlie Overbey splits his time between his two passions. It’s a difficult balancing act but he’s not one to complain.
Charlie Overbey is quite literally a man who wears many hats. When he’s not writing music or performing live with his band the Broken Arrows, he’s creating one of a kind hats for musicians, actors, and anyone else looking for unique headwear. He’s toured the world supporting acts such as Blackberry Smoke, Social Distortion and Motorhead. His own music has spanned a variety of genres including Punk before arriving at what feels like his home in the Country/Americana realm. His most recent LP, Broken Arrow, is a sole-bearing effort, that delves into some of the darker aspects of life.
Charlie took time out to chat to Loud Hailer about how it all came about and his plans for what looks to be a busy and eventful year ahead.
LH: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We’ve been really keen to do interviews with people who are making their living and working on the road, real working musicians who may have also had to do something outside of music to make things work. That’s what we find really interesting about you, is that alongside your music career, you’ve got your own very successful hat business.
Charlie: Yeah, it’s a hard juggle. It’s a lot to make happen. I say it probably 10 times a day, it’s a quality problem. Not having enough time to do everything.
LH: It means things are going well, I guess.
Charlie: Absolutely, for sure. We’re frustrated when we’re not doing anything, and we’re frustrated when we’re doing too much.
Charlie: So you’ve got to find that fine line of being grateful for all of it. I’m lucky because my hat gig is still somewhat artistic, and I get to meet a lot of great folks and deal with whacky artists and normal folk as well. So it’s a good balance.
LH: Yeah. That’s nice. I wanted to go right back to the start in terms of growing up. It sounded like growing up, you were in a musical family and that your dad was a musician, right? He liked Johnny Cash.
Charlie: Well, my old man grew up in Arkansas picking cotton as a kid in the same fields as Johnny Cash was in. He never made a living or was a touring guy. But he was a picker. He got his ’47 Gibson J45 brand new when he was a kid. That’s my baby, that’s my prize possession.
LH: I was going to ask you, you’ve got that guitar; right? That’s a beautiful guitar.
Charlie: Oh, yeah. I love it, man. It just sings like a bird still to this day.
LH: I play guitar a lot as well. And I just turned 40 last year. And in Chicago, there’s a music store called Chicago Music Exchange. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in there. It’s just maybe the best guitar store in the world, I think.
Charlie: It’s crazy. Yeah.
LH: And we go in there all the time. I used to pick up this J45 in there. Well, I started picking it up about a year ago. And normally, I’m not one for vintage guitars, but this one was a bit special. And every time we went in, I picked it up. And then I remember, we went in last March, and I went in to go and play it. And it had gone. I was like, damn it, I loved that guitar. I was going to buy it at some point. And then on the morning of my 40th birthday, it was at the bottom of the bed. My wife, all my friends, and my family had chipped in and bought it for me for my birthday. I absolutely love that guitar.
Charlie: Oh, wow! Oh, that just gave me chills, man, from my head to my toes! That’s incredible!
LH: Yeah. That was probably the best birthday present I’ve ever had.
Charlie: Of course it is. It’s the best birthday present you’ll ever have.
LH: Yeah. Yeah. It really is an awesome guitar. So that will be with me for the rest of my life, I think.
Charlie: Yeah. Yeah.
LH: Sorry I digress. I just thought I’d tell you that story because, yeah, I love J45s as well.
Charlie: Oh, yeah. That’s such a beast. They are so well made and just … there was so much love that went into the old stuff.
LH: Yeah. I think that Gibson acoustics, you’ve got to really like them. They’re not like the Martins and the Taylors. My other acoustic guitar is a Taylor. And it’s a beautiful guitar and I love it. But those companies have got so good at making them pretty much perfect now and easy to play. What I kind of like about those old Gibsons is you’ve got to fight with it a little bit. It’s got its own feel all to itself and it’s not quite perfect, but it’s perfect in its own way, I think is what I’m trying to say.
Charlie: Right. It’s just got such a body to it. It’s just got that sound. Like, a Taylor, to me, is just always so thin and tinny sounding. I’ve got a Martin as well. I like the Martin, but it just doesn’t have that … It doesn’t feel like it’s attached to my hip like a Gibson does.
LH: Yeah. And when I’ve got my other acoustic, I play it a lot. The only one of the newer Martins and Taylors that I could find that I liked was a Taylor, but it was a mahogany one. And it’s got a really different sound than the typical Taylor. So that’s the one I ended up going with. But the Gibson’s got a sound all of its own, I think.
Charlie: It’s true. Fender just gave me a little parlor guitar that sounds absolutely incredible. I was really surprised because Fender’s not really known for their acoustic guitars. But this little parlor guitar really sounds great. It’s a mini. My daughter loves it.
LH: Yeah. I quite like those small ones. They’re handy to have sitting around the house, like easy, you can pick it up any time.
Charlie: Yeah. For sure.
LH: So, I guess back in those days, when your dad was playing, did you start playing then?
Charlie: You know, I would just listen to dad play. And he was, of course, playing the Cash covers all the time and “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window.” Old songs, “Sick, Sober, and Sorry” and when I started playing as a kid, I initially played drums. And then when I started realizing, fuck, man, you can’t really write songs on the drums unless you’re Phil Collins. I started tinkering with my dad’s guitar a bit. And, it was in such mint condition and I really beat the shit out of that thing writing punk rock songs on it. But, you know, I kind of self-taught myself to play guitar on that old guitar. My chords are completely unorthodox I’ve kind of made my own chord structures and my own … I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just doing it.
LH: Yeah. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve spoken to quite a few musicians for Loud Hailer, and it’s kind of split. You get the guys who are just all about the technique and the theory and they know everything. And then, you get guys who maybe don’t know anything or much about music, but can just play and have just taught themselves to play. And often times, it’s those guys who come up with some of the really unique stuff because they’re not bound by any of those kind of rules. You just play. You play what you know and you do it the way you want to do it.
Charlie: And you play with your soul. I think that in all my years of playing and playing with lots of people, there’s the guys that are really, really incredible and knowledgeable and savvy with all the chords. They know all the theory and all that shit. And nine out of ten times, they’ve got no soul. And they can’t write a song to save a fucking sinking ship. So, to me, it was always more about learn those three chords and then by the time you’re fucking 70, maybe you’ll know six or seven. And that’s all you really need to write songs.
LH: Yeah, to write songs, it is. When you go listen to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers stuff, some of the greatest stuff written, so many of those songs are really three-chord songs. Some of the most famous ones.
Charlie: Right. I think it’s all about telling the truth and telling the story and tell it with sincerity. And that’s all that really matters. Nobody listening to them. I mean, there’s, of course, that group of people that like, oh, I don’t like this. The guitar’s not cool. But generally, I’m not listening to guitars. I mean, I listen to guitars, of course. But I’m not listening to the music. I’m listening to the song. And I’m just one of those guys, I just come from the school of songs. I like songs. I don’t care about how great the guys are playing them.
LH: Yeah. I can understand that.
Charlie: Same with the vocal. I’m obviously not that much of a singer, but I like a good story and I like to … I like to tell the truth and I like to bullshit a little bit, which is key to songwriting (laughs).
LH:I think there’s got to be a bit of that in songwriting; right?
Charlie: Right. Right.
LH: So, then, you started on your dad’s guitar. And then, you didn’t take a route straight into this kind of music. You went into punk music. Was this something, as you were growing up, were there records that you heard that suddenly lit you up in terms of punk and which direction you went at that point?
Charlie: You know, I was always driven by being a free spirit and what I was feeling at the moment. And I still live my life like that. I don’t wake up and say, okay, today I’m going to write a great new country record, or I’m going to write a new song today about this or that. I think you’ve got to be driven and it’s almost gifted with whatever the universe is going to give you at that time. So for me, as a kid, I was a pretty angsty kid. I got in a lot of trouble and I went to a lot of schools and I went to rehab at 15. I was kind of a fucked up kid from a nice family. I just kind of went about life as life delivered itself to me.
The progression of going from punk rock to rock and roll, back to punk rock, to cowpunk… Actually, the progression from cowpunk into doing what I do now was a totally natural progression. And then as far as writing songs, even when I was playing in these loud crazy rock punk bands and stuff, I was still writing quiet love songs in my room and never playing them for anyone. I mean, I’ve probably got 300 or more. So, I have a hard time remembering them all these days and I wish I would have recorded them. But sometimes I’ll remember a song that I wrote 25 years ago and go, fuck I forgot about that one. It’s a great one.
So, I think that it’s just… Like I said, I mean, I think that it’s got to be done honestly and truthfully for people to get it. There’s a small group of people that get my music and hear it and understand it and go fuck, this is real shit. And I think there’s a small group of people that are looking for that, that are still looking for genuine, honest, songs. I kind of think there’s a resurgence.
LH: Yeah, I think there is. Actually, the way I came across you was back, maybe two years ago I think it was now. I interviewed Suzanne Santo about her new solo album. And she always wears your hats. And I came across you through doing that interview, and then went back and listened to your music. I love that part of doing this. Because I speak to a lot of musicians and they’ll talk to me about people they know of, that they worked with or that turned them on to music. And then I go back and listen to that. It’s like a maze. But, one thing I’ve said in a lot of interviews is that coming from the UK, country music, real country music, it’s not that big over there. So when we came over to the States, it kind of opened me up to some of that music, which I’ve never really heard before. And then, some of the guys who are doing it now, like Jason Isbell, for example, that guy, the way he writes and what he writes, it makes me want to listen to the words as much as I want to listen to the songs.
LH: I think your music, you write in that way as well. You’re very honest. There’s some difficult stuff that you’re dealing with in a lot of this music.
Charlie: Yeah. Well, you know, that last record, that was kind of a product of Ted Hutt, my producer. Because I went in to make one record. And Ted said, I think we should make this record. And I think you should record a lot of those super honest dark songs that are hard for you to sing because they’re painful. And, I said, you know, I kind of wanted to wait until I was older to make that record. And he said, you are (laughs).
So, that record, for me, that was kind of a hard record for me to make. At times I sit with that record and I go back and I listen and I’m glad that I recorded that record because there were a lot of things there I needed to say and it kind of told my story about a long period of my life. With that being said, I’m super excited about making the new record that … I mean, I’m constantly writing. I think we’re going to start recording in June because we’ve got so much, so many great festivals and gigs and stuff and seems like June is the only month that we’ve got open this year. So, I think we’re going to be tracking a new record in June. I would like to think that I could just go in and make a record and not have any preconceived notions or ideas about, okay, I’m going to make this record and it’s going to be about this or it’s going to be a concept record. I watched Bohemian Rhapsody last night for the first time.
LH: I still haven’t seen it yet.
Charlie: Oh, it’s a little cheesy but it’s actually genius. And, the story is just … I didn’t know that much about Queen. I always loved Queen and thought Queen was great. But I never really … you get a whole new perspective watching that movie. But, when they’re in the office talking about making A Night At The Opera and bands used to make these concept records. Pink Floyd and all these genius magical records were kind of concept albums. I find myself, over the last couple days, as I’m thinking about making this new record, thinking, should I make a concept album? Am I overthinking this? But I think in the old days, those guys really put a lot of thought into what they were doing. And I don’t think that happens much anymore.
LH: I had read that you worked with Ted. And it sounds like that relationship really was a big part of the record, right? He pulled some stuff out of you that maybe wouldn’t have been happened without him.
Charlie: It was huge. Yeah. It was a huge … I mean, that record would have never come out without the nudging of Ted Hutt. Ted’s a very good friend of mine and we’ve become very close. So we’ve been talking about the new record. And he’s got his ideas and I’ve got mine. So, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
LH: But it will be with Ted, right? You’re going to work with him again, I guess.
Charlie: Yeah. I don’t think there’s any way around it (laughs).
LH: There’s a different feel to when you did the Charlie Overbey and the Broken Arrows album The California Kid, that’s got a more upbeat feel to it. When I did first come across you, the first song I heard was “1975” from that album. And actually, I thought it had a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers feel to it.
LH: And then I went to back to that album and that was quite an “up” album, I thought, in terms of the feel to it. And then Broken Arrow, the album, you can get right into that thing. You can sink right into that album and listen to it. And that’s the kind of thing I like these days, is where you can get into songs and it’s going to take you somewhere else. Not always, necessarily to a nice, light place. But it makes you think, at least.
Charlie: Oh, yeah. I mean, I love the songs that make you feel. It doesn’t matter what it makes you feel. And I think the songs that make you feel sad and remember things that you don’t necessarily want to remember are very important songs. The most important, really. Because it’s those times when we realize how good things are as well. So I think that’s very key in songwriting, is taking people to a place of despair. And I think people get comfortable in their discomfort. But you don’t want … you can’t wallow there. You can’t stay in it for too long. But it’s a good place to go to remind us where we are and where we don’t want to be. The comfort zone is an important thing.
That first album, that EP, when I went in to make that record, I went in to make the bummer record. I went in to kind of make the record that Broken Arrow had. And that vibe. And once I got in there and I started recording a couple of bummers, I was like, I can’t make this bummer record right now. Because I had gone through such heavy … It was a heavy time in my life and I just wasn’t ready to make that album. So that’s when I pulled out “1975” and I decided, okay, I’m going to put some stuff on here that’s upbeat and I’m going to make a … I don’t want to call it a “happy” album, but a more upbeat EP. So, yeah, it was kind of funny how the albums ended up being reversed.
LH: Yeah. Do you think about it all? With Broken Arrow, you’re dealing with some pretty deep stuff there and a lot of it sounds quite personal. As you’re writing it, do you think about that? Because it’s a big thing. I think that’s a lot … You’re basically giving someone an insight, probably, into some of the deepest levels of yourself. And you’re going to stand on a stage in front of people and basically sing that. Effectively, sometimes I feel like it must be like reading your diary out in front of a group of people. As you’re doing it, do you think about it?
Charlie: It is. It’s very hard to do. So to be honest with you, I don’t do it much. Broken Arrow, like you said, there’s a lot of that album that’s very deep. And it’s very personal. There’s a lot of truth and darkness in that album. I think, when I go out to play, I’ve found that if you spring an album like that on people that don’t have any idea who you are and it’s Friday night and they’ve gone out to have some cocktails and party it up a little bit, and you spring a couple of those songs on people, it’s not generally great for the for the environment (laughs).
LH: Take them by surprise, right?
Charlie: You know, I think you have to be in the mood for it. It’s definitely … those songs are … they’re deep and you’ve got to be wanting deep. And if you know the songs, then you can flip into that comfort zone and then I’ll throw in something else that brings you right out of it.
I love the live roller coaster. But I tend to not do a lot of those songs live. Live it’s more of a … I like to party. People go out to see a show, they want to party. And a couple years from now, when Broken Arrow has been out and people know it, I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll go out and just do an acoustic tour and call it “A Night of Bummers.” And people can come out and get drunk and cry in their beer and I’ll sing all those songs.
LH: I do like, on your Facebook page, when you guys put up clips of playing live and stuff. And I think a while back you put up that one where you closed out with “Crossroads” at Pappy and Harriett’s. That was a really great version of it as well.
Charlie: Oh, thank you.
LH: Yeah. And it made me think, because we literally just drove past the Crossroads the other day in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. When you talk about Robert Johnson going to the crossroads and selling his soul to the devil, I imagine these crossroads in the middle of the Delta with nothing around, like just fields. No, no, no. The official ones have a big sign and everything. There’s a barbecue place on one side and a tire place on the other side. It kind of ruined my expectations of it. But you know.
Charlie: (Laughs) Yeah, there’s a … we’ve got a Crossroads of the World here in Los Angeles. It’s on Sunset, and it’s just a bunch of offices. And, they say it was … it’s a lot of musical offices and they say a lot of people sold their souls in those offices.
LH: Yeah, I can imagine that, back in the day.
Charlie: (Laughs) Yeah.
LH: Going through your history, as you came up, you played music in a number of different genres. You had Custom Made Scare, and Charlie and The Valentine Killers was as you probably started to cross over a little bit. Right? And some of those tracks were great.
Charlie: Well, the Valentine Killers, that was a band of brothers. And that was really when I decided, okay, I’m going to start really writing and playing the songs that I don’t really care about being the cool punk. I’m not worried about what anyone thinks and I’m just going to do my thing and play with my bros and make some great music. The Valentine Killers, for me, really was the crossover of growing up somewhat. Somewhat. And then, The Valentine Killers really actually ended up turning into Broken Arrows.
Me and The Valentine Killer guys are still kicking around the idea of making another record. Just because we love each other. We’re brothers. And with those guys, that’s something that I wouldn’t do with the Broken Arrows, that type of … it’s a different animal. So, even Custom Made Scare, we’re talking doing a new cowpunk record because it’s the 25 year anniversary or whatever it is.
LH: That was a good album. I went back and listened to that album. And I’ve had it on walking into work quite a bit as well because it gets me going at the beginning of the day.
Charlie: (Laughs) It was a fun band. It was fun band. Yeah. There’s a second Custom Made Scare album as well that was only released in the UK.
LH: I didn’t know that. So maybe I’ll have to dig that one out, as well.
Charlie: It’s pretty good. It was one of a progression into away from cowpunk and more into a heavy rock. But there’s still some great cowpunk on it as well.
LH: So where in the progression through the bands and everything, when did the hats start happening? I think I read that you started making them for yourself because you couldn’t get what you wanted.
Charlie: It was like in ’93. The hat thing has always been kind of a … I didn’t really, seriously start making hats until about four years ago, with the nudge of my lady. Like, you’ve got to do something.
LH: Make something out of it, yeah.
Charlie: Right. So I had always kind of reshaped some hats and, back in the Strip days, ’93 … ’90, ’91, ’92, ’93. I didn’t do anything for quite a while. And with Custom Made Scare, I was kind of reshaping my own, all my straw hats. And then I didn’t do anything again for, until about three, four years ago. And then, I did a couple of hats. And then, yeah, it just kind of snowballed and turned into this crazy business that …
LH: Yeah, I mean it’s really taking off. Weren’t you in a Stella McCartney show or something with your hats?
Charlie: Yeah. She used them in a campaign. There’s … you can pretty much look at Rolling Stone these days and everybody … at least one of the people in ten photos is wearing a hat, if not two or three. So it’s crazy. I mean, the hat thing right now is … It’s a blessing and a curse.
But we just did a … No Depression Magazine did a spread about me and the hats. I said to them, I said, you know, it’s an amazing thing because the hats and my music really compliment each other. And they’re both bridges to each other. So, I’m meeting people through hats that are helping my music. And I’m meeting people through my music that are totally into the hats. It’s a real blessing, honestly.
LH: That’s a really good place to be. And like you say, as well, it’s another artistic endeavor. It’s not like you’re having to do an office job to make ends meet.
Charlie: Right. Thank God.
LH: You get to do something which really, sort of pulls some art out of you as well.
Charlie: Right. Yeah. I mean, I’ve never really had a real job. The hats, really, was a lifesaver for me because I’d either be just in a van constantly touring and … which would make me a really shit dad. Or I’d been living where I’m living now, doing what I’m doing and I’ve got a great gig and a great band and a great kid and I’m able to be a good dad and a good partner. And, you know, I feel like I’m much luckier and blessed than I deserve, to be honest with you.
LH: Yeah. It’s a good place to be, though. But at the same time, Charlie, you’ve got to be pretty fearless, I think, to go after music as a living.
LH: I wasn’t fearless enough to do it. I would have loved to have been a musician. But I didn’t have that part of me that was just like, I’m going to go after this, forsaking everything else. And I think whenever I’ve spoken to musicians, there’s that switch in their head, this piece of their brain, which is, like the first time they ever pick up a guitar or the first time they hear Led Zeppelin or something like that, they’re like “that’s it, this is what I am going to do with my life, I’m never going to do anything different”. So you’re saying it’s lucky, but I think, also, there’s an element with any musician whose made it to any level of notoriety, that you’ve got to be pretty fearless to do that / to get to where you are. I’m sure, obviously, in everyone’s life there’s some luck, but there’s a lot of hard work and single-mindedness goes into it as well.
Charlie: Oh, it’s a lot of hard work. Of course. And, you know, there’s people that do it because it’s what they do. And there’s people that do it for a while because they think it’s what they want to do. And, like you said, it is a hard road and there’s a lot of disappointment. We put a lot of … we expect a lot of ourselves. And a lot of times we don’t get it. So, it’s not an easy … It’s definitely not an easy job. But, especially because with a job, you’re supposed to get paid.
LH: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing. I always think that about music. And one of the things about going around some of the music towns in the U.S. You know, you can go to Nashville, walk down the street and there will be a guy there playing on the street who’s just like, a phenomenal musician. People can be amazing and they might never, ever make a living from that, ever. That’s the risk, right? That’s the gamble, if you go down that route?
Charlie: Yeah. I mean, there’s so many amazing, talented people out there that, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t happen for them. And I think a lot of it is drive. It’s a hustle. You’ve got to be willing to constantly hustle. And bear your soul. It’s a hard, hard thing, man.
LH: So, you’ve got a new album coming up. You’re going to go into the studio. In terms of your writing, we’ve spoken a little bit about it. Are you constantly writing? Do things come to you and you just stop and put them down? Or do you put time aside to go and write songs? How does it work with you?
Charlie: No. I’m pretty much constantly writing. I used to be a little more prolific. I think it depends on what’s going on in your life. There’s times when I’ll hit ruts where I won’t write a song for two, three weeks. And, then there’s … The majority of the time where I’m just overflowing with material. You put stuff down and usually the ones … I don’t have a recording set up at my place. So the ones that I remember are the ones that I end up working. I’ve got a phone memo thing, obviously, on my phone, there’s hundreds and hundreds of song ideas. I should probably go back and listen to more of them more often than I do. I’m constantly writing.
LH: When you write, you’d write lyrics and then, do you tend to come up with the vocal line first and then … When you were working with the Broken Arrows, do you take something to them and then you all work it up?
Charlie: No. I generally, not to sound like an asshole, but I generally write the whole song and then bring it in. Even down to guitar melodies and lines for the solo melodies. On this new record, though, I finally have put together a band of musicians that I really want to give the freedom of … like Mickey Madden, he’s a magical guitar player and so, on this new record I’m focusing more on making it a group effort and letting these guys have some freedom to lay their feet on it, so to speak. It seems to be working.
LH: That’s good news. So you’ll be back in, probably June, in the studio, working with Ted. When you’re in there with Ted, how does it work? Are you recording to tape or is it live in the room or do you track?
Charlie: We’re recording the tape and with Broken Arrow, we did it kind of unorthodox where I … It was such an acoustic driven album, that we basically went in and did the acoustic first with a scratch vocal. Acoustic and drums, basically, we kind of built it around. But, the new record I really want to make more of a live feeling album, which tends to come out being a little less produced. And Ted, being the producer that he is, loves to produce and loves to build. So that’s where it’s going to be tricky.
LH: There’s going to be some tension there, right?
Charlie: (Laughs) There might be a little bit of boxing going on for that.
Charlie: I’m really excited about the new one.
LH: That makes for good results sometimes and I’m looking forward to hearing it.
Charlie: There’s also going to be a video. We’re finally releasing a video for the single Slip Away, the duet with Miranda Lee Richards. And, that’s going to be … I’m not sure where it’s premiering, but it’s going to premiere real soon. So, it’ll be … in April, it will have been a year since Broken Arrow came out. So, I probably should have already been tracking a new record by now. But, you know. I try not to put any time limits on anything.
LH: Yeah. Well, with everything else going on…
Charlie: … especially at my age.
LH: And get yourself touring around the Midwest. We’ll come and see you if you do that.
Charlie: We’re going to be coming. We’ve got a lot of great festivals this year. Coming up, we’re playing … I get to do a NASCAR show here coming up …
LH: Oh, yes. I saw that.
Charlie: We’re playing NASCAR in March. And then, in May we’re playing with Willie Nelson at the Beach Live Festival. In July, we’re playing The Big Sky Festival up in Montana with just an amazing cast of musicians in August, we’re going to be going down to Muddy Roots Festival in Nashville. It’s actually in Cookeville, just outside of Nashville. And then, there’s a little talk about us doing something in Kentucky and a festival in Louisville, and that’s in September. So, one of those is going to bring us into the Midwest, I’m sure.
LH: That might be a good reason for a trip back to Nashville!
Charlie: Right. For sure.
LH: Well, Charlie, thanks for taking the time so early on a Saturday morning, I really appreciate it.
Charlie: Thank you.
Photos By: Chris Phelps