Luke Haines interview
Closing the decade in his inimitable style with the wonderful 21st Century Man is the quintessentially English Luke Haines. Adrian Mules met up with him on the village green for a cucumber sandwich and a chat.
Hi Luke, thanks for chatting to us at The Music Fix. How’s life treating you?
I’m chipper, thanks for asking.
Glad to hear it. So, what can we expect from your new album - 21st Century Man?
The mysteries of the east, the fear in the eyes of an old nag as it is led up the steps of the horse hospital. More than sixteen esoteric symbols ciphered, a sudden and frightening feeling of levitation, and a small child visiting a favourite uncle in the debtors prison steeling a fig from a nearby market stall. That kind of thing.
The usual then! This is album number 15 for you. How has the process of writing and recording changed for you over the years?
It hasn’t really changed since the early BBR days. I think before that I was stabbing in the dark – not that I dislike the earlier records.
You published your first book - ‘Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall’ – this year. How did the idea come about and did you enjoy the process of writing?
Late 2005. Getting the Off My Rocker…. album released turned out to be a major drag. One record deal fell through at the twelth hour, then another label stepped in, a deal was signed, only for me to realize that – for many reasons (insanity, fantasy, compulsive lying) – said label had no intention of paying me the advance they were contractually bound to pay me. After a nightmarish six months I managed to extricate myself from the label. Finally Degenerate Music stepped in and rescued me, and the record got released, but after the Off My Rocker experience I felt I needed a rest from the music ‘biz.’ I was also determined that I was not going to be driven mad by small “no pay” labels. I knew a couple of publishers, they suggested I try my hand at writing a book – that book ended up being ‘Bad Vibes.’ And yes, I think it’s pretty obvious I had a blast writing it.
Has the growth of the internet changed the way you work as a musician and interact with your fan-base?
Not really. A good "record" is a good "record" regardless of whether it's on a wax cylinder, pianola, 45, or clogging up your hard drive. There is too much talk of the "medium" not enough art.
I have very fond memories of the first time I heard ‘Show Girl’ at a night club in 1992. The whole dance-floor was bemused by the pause so early on and found it hard to recover. What are the fondest memories you have of your time in the music industry?
Well, I didn’t really write ‘Showgirl’ as a floor filler, but 1992 was a good year. I’d been on the fringes of the music "scene" for about 5 years before that, so it was surprising and initially a blast to then briefly be at the epicenter of it all. 1997/98 ‘round about the time of Black Box Recorder / England Made Me was good. I couldn’t quite believe how good the BBR collaboration was – it was also the last days of the music industry. By the time of ‘Facts of Life’ and a little success, I’d kind of drifted out of music and was interested in other more esoteric things.
I bought your Christmas single in 2007. Do you have any plans to go for the #1 spot this year or is it in the bag for whoever wins the X-Factor?
That was John Moore’s idea. He was always trying to get BBR to put out an Xmas single. We we’re talking about it in the pub with Eddie Argos and Keith TOTP, and a few weeks later it was recorded. John wrote most of it I contributed the ‘Noddy and Roy’ middle section. By the time Eddie had recorded his vocals it sounded like about 4 songs bolted together. A few people thought it was a bit too smart arse for its own good, but it was recorded with the best intentions, without irony and as a proper seasonal novelty song. It got very serious at one point. I fear we haven’t heard the last of it.
What’s you opinion on reality music shows like X-Factor and Pop Idol?
Oh, I don’t mind. I like so called "low culture". It’s just the same as Opportunity Knocks and New Faces in the 70’s, only difference is that the TV companies make more money now. "Ordinary" people have always wanted to be famous, it used to be football and rock and roll, now that it’s tough making money from rock and roll. The obvious thing is to become famous from reality TV. Why not? It’s better than working in Burger King.
Are you at a point in your career where you consider yourself an elder statesman of rock?
That’s sounds like some kind of award that Mojo - the magazine with no jokes in – would dish out. I’m not sure that the words "rock" and "statesman" should appear closely together.
What advice would you give to a new band starting out today?
1. Concentrate on writing ONE copper bottom classic song. If after six months you haven’t got your classic then give up. No one wants to hear a load of filler.
2. No trainers. You are not entering the long jump competition so no sportswear. Get a tailor and study men who look good in a suit – Lee Brilleaux, Cave, Bowie (‘David Live’). Be wary, you don’t want to look like The Jam. Also, no tattoos - unless you have been in prison or the armed forces. Tattoos, contrary to popular opinion are not Rock. The Beatles did not have tattoos… speaking of whom…
3. Forget about The Beatles, no one needs another band influenced by The Beatles. Even if you love The Fabs pretend you hate them or better still, say you have never heard of them. (The same goes for The Smiths) Say your favourite groups are The Monkees and The Lovin’ Spoonful. This is more endearing.
4. Forget about invoking the spirit of Joe Strummer. Go for a more outré choice of hero. Norman Tebbit perhaps, or Colonel Gadaffi.
5. Don’t witter on about the internet in interviews. You are not a marketing man, you are a rock star. Never blog – rock stars do not blog. Syd Barrett did not blog, Jim Morrison would not have ‘blogged’, and Lou Reed does not blog. Lily Allen and Pete Doherty ‘blog.’
Other than your own, what is the last great album you heard?
Ava Cherry - Astronettes Sessions. I don’t listen to new music, I’m out of the loop.
Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with?
I don’t wish/need to collaborate.
Which decade so far has been the greatest for music for you as a fan? And why?
‘70’s. Bowie, Lou, Sabbath, Modern Lovers, LA singer songwriters, Hawkwind, Hammill, Funkadelic, Early Fall, Big Youth, Jobriath, Kiss, the last good Rolling Stones albums, King Tubbys, Pub rock, Let a little Marc into your life, non ironic rock, etc.
On to the important stuff now. Do you prefer Skips or Wotsits?
When I used to go out of an evening and stay up late I used to swear by a packet of Discos as a hangover cure. That, a Feminax tablet and a bottle of Tizer.
You recently jokingly told the Sunday Times that you had moved to Buenos Aires, which they then reported as fact. Do you want to make an off the cuff comment here and see if we can get it in this Sunday’s papers?
Yep, Sunday Times Lit critic didn’t check his facts. Lazy. It’s very easy to spread any misinformation through the internet. It’s getting harder to get to the bottom of things.
Thanks very much for your time today and all the great records over the years. What’s next for Luke Haines?
At that point it begins to spot with rain, so we quickly pack away the croquet set and head indoors. We wave Luke a fond farewell and wish him all the very best.