Interview: Charles on TV Floats Wild Metaphors on New Single “Golden Alligator”

Charles on TV © Anable Simotas
Charles on TV © Anable Simotas
Charles On TV speaks with Atwood Magazine about using music to raise questions without rushing to arrive at an answer on “Golden Alligator.”
Stream: “Golden Alligator” – Charles on TV

It started as an aimless chant, drain the swamp, and ended with the swamp boiling over.

Unable to look away, Charles On TV broke out his synthesizer and composed the scratch track for “Golden Alligator.” The single and its music video (released May 13 and 14, respectively) bristle with intrigue while grooving along to sounds from the sixties. Charles sings with a voice that is vintage-smooth. He enlivens the song’s retro sonic palette with splashes of modern production. Deep lyrical metaphors soften the song’s political bite, seducing listeners into the uncomfortable gape between truth and lies.

Golden Alligator - Charles on TV
Golden Alligator – Charles on TV
You’re the Golden Alligator
But it’s gonna snow
You’re not ready to exit
Everything you know

In anticipation of the track’s release, Charles spoke with Atwood Magazine to tell us, what the hell is a golden alligator? “I was having a conversation about these kooky people with some friends,” he said. He had been watching a series of documentary shorts about QAnon, the conspiracy theory that lionized the ex-president who then pressed his followers to violently storm the US Capitol. “The past couple of years under the last presidency were kind of a turning point in terms of there being no such thing as the truth anymore, and that’s a really scary thing.”

It’s also a really fascinating thing.
It’s not a swamp up there, baby
It’s something like a desert

In college, Charles studied sociology and film, both of which influence his art. “In sociology,” he explains, “I was introduced to this action in which we would ask questions and we would rarely answer them. Like, general questions about how things work. Not just ask questions, but also bring up issues. And we never decided how to resolve them. We just dissected them. At first it was weird, and it didn’t feel like school in the past, which was just answering questions however we answered them. I think it just inspired me to write songs that, even if they were about issues, I can’t pretend to have the answers. But I do have the authority to bring them up, whether it’s explicitly or through metaphors, and because it’s just on my mind.”

Charles on TV © Anable Simotas
Charles on TV © Anable Simotas

Charles used “Golden Alligator” to raise some fun questions. “I think that night I just decided I wanted to write a song about a fantasy of someone leaving a cult like QAnon,” he said. “What if one of those people woke up one day and realized it was all a lie?” To match this theme musically, “Golden Alligator” moves between feelings of tension and relaxation. The chord progressions build toward a release that never comes. Warm keyboard and bass notes pulse lightly along a slinking rhythm, feeling like business as usual. Synthesized warbles dance around the rhythm, materializing here and there, beginning to affect uncertainty. But it’s not until the vocals come in that the tune fully unsettles. 

“Completely randomly, I started singing ‘golden alligator’,” he said. “I usually start my lyrics off like gibberish, and then a word will come out here and there and I want to incorporate that somehow.” 

You’re the Golden Alligator
And you watch the cypress foam
And you’re wary, it’s scary
To be on your own

Charles self-produced the “Golden Alligator” music video, building it from stock footage as well as original material shot by his cousins while Charles was visiting Los Angeles. The video perfectly matches the bizarre aesthetics of the song, with its movie theatre and world-film-capitol settings adding yet another dimension to the lyrical contemplations of unreality. 

Of course, theatre and films now very much belong to the 20th Century, as do many of Charles’s musical influences. He grew up listening to “old music” per his parents’ musical tastes. “A lot of those songs they played—like Bob Dylan, for example, or like Neil Young—there would be these messages of social consciousness, whether it had to do with the Vietnam war, et cetera. I remember not only just swaying to the music but also listening to the lyrics, and I would ask my parents a lot of questions.” The inquisitiveness, along with those musical hooks, stuck. “I’ve always loved mid-twentieth century sounds and I feel like I’ll always incorporate those sounds into whatever I make, with a 2021 twist.”

When not working out the questions behind social problems, Charles spent much of his time at college playing in bands. But after leaving, Charles wanted to “see where I could go alone. It’s fun to have your own timelines and to try to not collaborate for a second and just see what you can do.”

“Golden Alligator,” and the upcoming release of his debut EPs, might represent Charles in his purest artistic form. “I have a ways to go as a solo artist,” he admits, “and I don’t think I’m going to get much further without bringing in other peoples’ ideas. I feel like I can’t fully rise to my musical or creative potential without sharing ideas and collaborating.”

For Charles, the pandemic put a damper on such endeavours, but he remained determined. “It did, overall, delay the completion of what was going to be an album,” he said, “but it is now going to be two EPs.” 

Charles on TV © Anable Simotas
Charles on TV © Anable Simotas

Like two sides of a vinyl LP, the pair of EPs will each service a separate narrative arc revolving around a common theme, and listeners will no doubt delight reading between the lines to decode meaning behind them. As to why Charles chose “Golden Alligator” to lead the first EP, he said that “it sort of represents the entire idea of that EP.” Specifically, Charles says that the album will run on the themes of truth and lies.

Charles hopes that conditions will soon permit the safe reopening of music venues, and in that event, to put together a band and perform his new, solo material. If things go well, he may develop a following of fans who will be chanting gol-den al-li-ga-tor. Just as with so many mid-century favourites, each fan will come up with their own interpretation—right or wrong—of what that means.

Now the shallow’s getting cold
Deactivating mold and romanticize the old
Parts of you abhorred
But nothing’s really certain anymore
Like truth and lies

“The short answer to that question,” Charles says, “is that ‘golden alligator’ just completely was two random words that came to mind.”

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Stream: “Golden Alligator” – Charles on TV

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Golden Alligator - Charles on TV

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