silver stairs title2

CHARLIE ROMIJN and Terrascope go back a long way, to when a fledgling Thought Forms used to rehearse at Editor Phil McMullen’s place (praise be for thick, sandstone walls and benevolent or else deaf neighbours) [they sold up and left! - Ed] As a principal organiser of Woolf Music in 2013 Charlie can also share credit/vilification for helping kick start the most recent spate of Terrascope gig activity, which culminated, appropriately enough, in 2019’s Woolf II.

 As well as Thought Forms, Charlie records and performs as Silver Stairs of Ketchikan, whose long-awaited debut album, EDEIDA, is soon to be released, and which we were delighted to be the first to review (see April reviews pages). She recently chatted with IAN FRASER about the album, why it’s taken her until now... and Richard Brautigan

It’s been a funny old year. How is Charlie faring and what has she been up to?

“I’m pretty good right now, all things considered! I’ve been lucky that my job has kept on going throughout and have been using the extra downtime to try and sort my shit out, go a bit slower and be outside - as well as recording this album and having much fun in the studio with Thought Forms too”.

Charlie’s solo project, the wonderfully named Silver Stars of Ketchikan (SSOK), has been percolating for a long while now. When and how did it come about?

“I started using the name in 2006 just to “house” some of the recordings I was making at home - I was recording a lot of really free-form, one take improvised stuff that was never meant to be repeated and was really just for my own amusement. I just liked exploring sounds and feeling my way without worrying about what it would be or taking it too seriously”.

So what does this allow her to do that she can’t in band format?

“Technically, there’s nothing I couldn’t do with Thought Forms - there are no rules with the band! But the music that comes to me either feels like Thought Forms or not and I know it’s the same for the others. It just comes down to the feeling, you have to obey that”.

It begs the question as to why keep it pretty much under the radar until now?

“I always used the excuse that I was simply too busy with Thought Forms to take SSOK any further than a shadowy bedroom project, as there was a period of about ten years straight where we were recording / touring / rehearsing pretty much constantly - not to mention all of the less fun time consuming “behind the scenes” admin stuff I do for that band.

I guess that’s not really an “excuse” because I was really busy with that and work, too, but if I’m telling the whole truth I also found playing solo shows incredibly scary and stressful so I was quite happy to put it all on the back burner.

I knew that if I was ever going to bother doing more solo music then I wanted to do it “properly” - as in, recording something that was closer to how the songs I was writing sounded in my head than I could achieve at home by myself with a handheld Zoom recorder”.

Despite the project’s longevity, EDEIDA is the first “proper” SSOK album. What had inspired Charlie to make it and why now?

“This has felt like the perfect time for me to record and release these songs - some of which I wrote / started playing live as long ago as 2009 - because with Thought Forms not having been as active (largely due to some health problems of mine which had been left undiagnosed) and then covid hitting, there wasn’t much else I could do (creatively or otherwise) other than RECORD!

My husband Jim (who also plays bass in Thought Forms and Get The Blessing) owns J & J Studio here in Bristol, so while he couldn’t have clients due to lockdown restrictions, we could work on stuff together. I literally had no excuse not to get on with it. Now or never, as they say”.

There is in fact a body of intriguing, online digital-only releases from which the album differs in some key respects

“All the Silver Stairs Of Ketchikan that I’d previously released online were improvised / one take / basic home recordings done quickly and I still really like those recordings, but EDEIDA is a whole different thing; the songs were meticulously crafted and developed and then painstakingly recorded over many, many months”.

To what extent, we wondered, did the lengthy, existential hiatus prompted by Covid impact on the mood of EDEIDA?

“All of the songs were actually written before Covid hit so I don’t know how much the mood was impacted beyond the enforced intimacy and restriction it placed on the recording process; Suvi, Jake and Pete all recorded their parts remotely and I actually loved that, the excitement of just being sent something that somebody has taken the time to create weave into my music, loving it instantly”. 

The name Silver Stairs of Ketchikan comes from a poem of the same name by Richard Brautigan, famous for his surrealist, black humour and emotional bluntness. What, if any influence has he had on Charlie beyond the project name?

“The first time I came across Richard Brautigan was actually in Phil’s front room. We’d often go and sit with him after he’d tolerated us making a noise upstairs and there were always so many great records and books to have a good old nose at. ‘The Pill Vs The Springhill Mining Disaster’ really captured my attention and as luck would have it, he had two copies and a generous spirit. I fell in love with the way he wrote and the raw, direct emotion and humour. It was hugely influential to realise that it was actually ok to write like that - some of the poems are only about a sentence long. It gave me a sense that maybe the scribblings in my notebook were something, and something that didn’t have to remain private.

From this distance, the emotions (both lyrically and musically) seem quite raw and personal. Is this a fair comment, or is Terrascope heading into the fridge with that one?

“I’d say that’s a fair comment. I like that the music feels emotionally raw, that’s always a good thing. As mentioned above, these songs span quite a number of years, that’s a big part of life. When I was listening back to the masters so I could write out the words for the release I was quite surprised at how powerful it felt”.

So when it comes to composition, is Charlie a music first or lyrics first person?

“I wish I could remember, it would make the whole business of writing new songs a lot easier”.

There are some familiar names on the playing credits for EDEIDA. Is there a danger it could be misconstrued as a pseudonymous Thought Forms album rather than a self-determined solo effort and was she tempted to form new alliances outside the immediate musical family?

 “When you’re a woman in music there’s absolutely always a danger that your work will be credited to any men you may have chosen to play with, but with regards to me inviting my Thought Forms band mates to play on EDEIDA - Guy plays drums on two and a half songs and Deej does some screaming and guitar on half a song. While their contributions to my album are absolutely brilliant, I think they’d actually be quite offended if people thought they had so little to do with the making of a Thought Forms record.

I played the majority of the parts myself but occasionally there’s something in my head (for instance a guttural scream, free jazz drums, double bass, soaring horns) that I know just the person for; I definitely don’t feel the need to break away from talented people I love just because I’ve worked with them before. (It also sounds like quite a lot of hassle).

That said there is actually one new alliance on the album, in the form of Finnish-born/Bristol-based composer Suvi-Eeva Äikäs who contributed the beautiful lap-steel part on Pylon. Two new alliances if you count my dad Paul, who played the tambourine on Old God’s Tongue in his recording debut”.

On a broader note, Bristol has always seemed to have a great music scene and one that’s quite mutually supportive. Does Charlie see it surviving all the upheaval of the past twelve months and if so how does she see it evolving?

“Bristol has always had a really strong scene and musical community - there’s so much stuff going on that I’m only peripherally aware of and I don’t see that changing. I honestly think the music scene here is more at risk from housing developers than from Covid. I think, or hope, that Covid will just make everybody appreciate what we have a lot more when we can start going out to gigs again - I know I won’t be taking it for granted again”.

There’ll be more SSOK releases...won’t there?

“I daresay… though it’s high time to release some Thought Forms first!”

Having almost cleared Terrascope customs, was there anything else she wanted to declare before leaving?

   “Be excellent to each other”.

(photo: Phil McM & Charlie R at Woolf II by Andrew Young)

EDEIDA by Silver Stairs of Ketchikan is released on 5th June. Get it here Silver Stairs Of Ketchikan (