Ex-Hefner man talks Essex and dinosaurs!
As a massive fan of Hefner I always kept my eye on what frontman Darren Hayman was doing. Whilst looking through this year’s most played songs month on month I’ve been listening to his album Pram Town consistently. It’s a splendid album themed around the extremely un-rock-and-roll subject of Harlow. That’s Harlow in Essex, not Jean. It’s a beautifully performed and observed record that always puts a smile on my face.
I gave Darren a shout to see what’s been going down and what we can expect next.
Hi Darren, I’ve been a fan of all the things you have done and wanted to catch up with you for The Music Fix. Some of our readers may not have kept such a close eye upon you, so would you kindly introduce yourself and let us know a bit about you?
My name is Darren Hayman I used to sing and write songs for a band called Hefner that were a little more famous or well known then I currently am. I spunked my career up the wall spectacularly with an electronic album under the name The French. I have released 4 solo albums.
You released Pram Town this year, an album with a central theme set around the new town of Harlow in Essex. Was it a close call on subject matter between this and a robot dinosaur from the future?
Every male, at least in the western world, has a favourite dinosaur. If you go up to a guy and say, “When you were young, what was your dinosaur?”, they will answer instantly without blinking. Many females don’t know about this and my wife was fascinated by it when she discovered. My dinosaur was Stegasaurus.
Mine was Triceratops! Some of the situations in your songs are wonderful. Is this an insight into the life of Darren or fiction?
It’s both. Put in a blender. People that know me may notice instances or references but few people (other than my wife) would be able to say with assurance, that song’s about me.
Last year you released a set of EPs themed around the great British holiday. There seems to be a love of all thing English in your lyrics. Is this a love of England now or an England of days gone by?
It’s a love of days gone by. I’m currently researching the 17th century and it’s interesting to note that at almost any time people thought that life was better 50 years before the present. Even in 1645 people were going, ‘remember the good old days?’
Staying in 2008 for a moment you also released an EP last year entitled Songs for Harmonium and Drum Machine. The harmonium always makes me think of Ivor Cutler, are you a fan of his?
Yes, I saw him shortly before he died as part of … someone’s Meltdown at the Royal Festival Hall.
There is a cover of Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Holiday Road’ on the Caravan Songs EP, which was used in the National Lampoon movies. Whilst touring have you ever crossed America by road?
Yes. Two different parts on different occasions. I travelled down the West Coast with a guitar and some friends before Hefner kicked off. Hefner also did a three week tour from New York to Chicago. We were supposed to go back and do the other half but never did.
It’s a strange country when you traverse between the cities. Much more foreign and alien then anything in Europe. Having said that it reminded me at times of Thurrock in Essex.
You’ve stated in the past that the material you did as The French is one of the things you’ve the enjoyed the most. I think ‘Gabriel in the Airport’ is genius. What makes the French stand out against other things you’ve done?
I have a personal attachment to it because of how it felt to make it perhaps. It was very liberating to pack the guitars away and feel like you were learning music all over again.
The songs have a detail and maturity to them which I’ve tried to take through all my subsequent albums.
The late John Peel was big fan of yours. I’m currently writing a piece on his life and legacy coming up upon the fifth anniversary of his death. Do you have any memories of him? Either as a listener or in meeting him?
He was a very shy man whenever I was with him. Funny and generous with his time but always reticent to be the centre of attention. Perhaps this is why radio was his medium. He seemed somewhat relieved if musicians steered the conversation away from music, especially if he could get onto football. He had a large, beautiful but still somehow modest house up in Suffolk and all his family were wonderful.
In reference to what we were saying earlier about days gone by, it seems hard to imagine someone like him succeeding in media today, sadly.
What bands are you into at the moment?
I’m pretty much listening to Roots Dub reggae from dusk til dawn. There is an excellent series of re-issues called Evolution of Dub. I’ve also discovered Charlie Haden and his Liberation Music Orchestra.
There is often a lot of dub on at our house, King Tubby is the current favourite. So, what’s next for Darren?
The next album is finished and is about the dark country lanes of Essex. The one after that has been started and is about the Essex Witch Trials in the 17th Century.
We’ll certainly be looking forward to the next albums here at The Music Fix, we wish him the best of luck in his Essex -related endeavors.
You can listen to what Darren has been up to on his myspace page here: www.myspace.com/darrenhayman