Sometimes a little story can serve as a good icebreaker. Here's one that serves that function now... "Down here you're never far away from a casino, you know?" Charlie begins. "I was touring and my keyboard player and I went over to Biloxi. I had like 400 bucks and lost down to like 50 bucks, and I just went on a streak. Won some money on a slot machine and then ended up [winning] about 16 grand. The only reason I didn't lose that money, I think, is I was so drunk that I passed out at the blackjack table, and my keyboard player had to carry me up to the suite that they comped us. [When] I woke up the next morning, I had $16,000 in cash, and it was all over the bed and all over the floor and everything. And my keyboard player, he had passed out in the Jacuzzi and it was ice-cold and his lips were blue [laughs]. I woke him up and like, 'Fuller, man, get up!' Anyway, drove home, really didn't worry too much about touring for a while. If it wasn't for that window of time where I didn't have the financial pressure, I just don't know if I would've been able to get things back to a point where I was writing good songs -- and everybody who's ever been on the road for any period of time knows it just does something to you, good and bad...My lucky streak."And the streak keeps on going. Charlie has been on another, somewhat more significant lucky streak, which has lasted, starting with the making of the album in December 2002 and his self--titled debut release on V2 in May 2004."It's pretty unbelievable, the whole thing," Mars says, the marvel in his voice obviously real "I mean, I toured for seven years and I put out three indie records that no one paid any attention to. I never talked to an A&R guy in my life until this record. What a turn of events. If one domino had been out of place, I don't think I'd be talking to you right now."Since his debut hit stores, Charlie has toured relentlessly. He's been on the road with everyone from the legendary REM to crowd-pleasing Dave Matthews Band to Mindy Smith and the Old 97's. From shooting video's here in the States to pleasing crowds all over Europe, it's not only been a streak...but a pleasant surprise.Charlie says, "Look, a year and a half ago I had no manager, no booking agent, no album, no band, no label; I had these songs written and that was it. I had no job. The money had run out. If you had told me then that I would be signed to V2, booked by the William Morris Agency, managed by the same manager as Goo Goo Dolls and Green Day, that I would be working with David Campbell, that Jim Scott was gonna mix my record, that Danny Clinch was going to do all the photography and the movie, I would have said you had lost your fuckin' mind. If I had written down on paper what my dreams would be, they've already come true."Mars had made this album on his own, borrowing the money to pay for it, and what they heard was what you're hearing, apart from Campbell's and Scott's masterful mix. What they heard were thrilling songs like "Gather the Horses," "Close to Home," "White Out" and "When the Sun Goes Down" - anthems every one, simultaneously widescreen and intimate - delivered by a distinctly southern voice.Mars says that these dozen songs "came from a really personally hard, painful time that I don't ever want to have to relive - that's what I needed to get out. This record is about a desire for redemption, being human and accepting your faults. It's about a child becoming a man."Mars, who grew up in the hamlet of Laurel, whose inhabitants think of nearby Hattiesburg as a bustling metropolis, had what he describes as his "conversion" (a perfect term for a guy whose home region is said to have more churches per capita than anyplace else in America) when he was 15 or 16, listening to Thriller and Slippery When Wet. "The first time I remember hearing something that I thought 'What is this?' was the first Violent Femmes record," he recalls. "I took the tape to the store in the mall and I said, 'Give me everything that sounds like this.'"He discovered Springsteen and gobbled up the entire Neil Young catalog, then fell in love with R.E.M. "That band was a huge part of my life as a teenager. I deciphered all of Michael Stipe's lyrics and bought into it hook, line and sinker." Inspired, he formed his first band while in high school and started writing songs.While majoring in English at college in Dallas, Mars focused on the romantic poets, a concentration that sharpened his verbal acuity. "I had a band in college and made my first record in '95," he continues. "It sold 15,000 copies, mostly in the Southeast, enough to pay for itself. There was definitely a legitimate amount of success for a good three years there. For the two years following that it was a lot of fun. We toured, played clubs and made a good living - everything you'd want at 21 as far as a good time."After graduation in '96, Mars made two more albums and practically lived on the road. Eventually, though, he tired of the endless gigging, and after hitting the jackpot in that Biloxi casino, he abruptly hit the brakes. "I just disappeared for a while," he says. When he returned from his self-imposed exile, having confronted and vanquished his personal demons, Charlie brought a new attitude and some unfinished business back to Mississippi with him.Charlie pulled his own best stuff from deep inside him and fashioned it into a work of art, seductive and moving in his debut Charlie Mars. "When I make music," he says, "I think, 'What's the shelf-life of what I'm doing? Is it five years?' Well, then I don't want to do it. I want to write songs that carry it past a moment in time."