DOWNLOAD: “I Stole the Cutty Sark”
“Is there owt better than Hefner?” is a question that ran through my head many times in the late ’90s. As a teenager I was a bit mad for the band, and over the past decade or so, they’ve aged gracefully in my record collection. Whilst the band has been neatly filed into the annals of indie rock history, the former members have remained active in sundry pursuits.
Jack Hayter’s work since Hefner called it quits has been particularly interesting. In 2002 he released his first solo entitled Practical Wireless via Absolutely Kosher, but since then has kept busy with a variety of artistic pursuits. He’s worked with the ambient rock band Dollboy, contributed music to a short film, worked extensively with the British Film Institute on various educational film projects, and has even done some gigs with Darren Hayman. It’s this variety that’s the mark of a true artist.
Our quick natter with Jack was quite revealing. Whilst there was no dirty gossip spilt, it was quite nice to get a look inside the mind of a musician who is confidently moving forward. His attitude on reunions is admirable, and most importantly, his partnership with Audio Antihero’s Halliday seems like it’s one that’s built on mutual respect. Just don’t think about smashing a guitar around Hayter.
The first installment of his “The Sisters of St. Anthony” collection is out now. You can purchase it here.
1. Please tell us about your partnership with Audio Antihero and your latest recordings.
I got to know Jamie Halliday, who runs that label, via Benjamin Shaw, a singular chap who writes delightful, moving, and humorous domestic ditties. Ben and I had a mutual fan-club consisting of just the two of us on MySpace for years. Jamie was keen to put something out (there had been a long gap since I put out my first album on Absolutely Kosher). Enthusiasm is everything; so I gave Jamie a load of stuff and he picked the ones he liked and we released the Sucky Tart EP in 2011.
The most recent project is called “The Sisters of St Anthony”. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things and there will be a digital release every month from April for a year. The songs will be about lost people, love, objects, and animals. The first song is called “The Shackleton” and it’s about two teenage lovers during the latter stages of the Cold War. The long-lost Avro-Shackleton was a submarine hunting plane that used to fly out over the sea in the dead of night and its remembered drone is the sonic backdrop to this particular couple’s lost relationship.
2. As you grow and evolve as a songwriter, what inspires you? Do you have any favourite places in which you like to write?
I don’t know if I grow; sometimes I think the first songs I
ever wrote were the best. It gets harder to find subject matter from direct personal experience, and so the songs become constructs of things that I know, things that I see other people do and stories people have told me. In terms of content I admire the way Darren Hayman has coped with this particular problem. It seems to me that he sets himself the task of writing a series of songs about a specific place or historical time – a bit like John Darnielle (Mountain Goats) does. They’re both songwriters I admire because of the intense focus of their output. Now I don’t do that trick very well, but I rather think I may have to learn how to!
I am inspired by well-intended failure. I imagine my songs seem dark but there’s usually a sense of the characters trying to fix a broken thing with hope.
No, I don’t have a specific place to write songs. It does help to be in a different place sometimes, either physically or perhaps mentally, such as severely hungover after a blinding night out with no sleep will do it. But for me it usually starts with a phrase or a stupid idea like stealing the Cutty Sark and the song is built around that…but not always. Walking in the woods is good, especially with a dog.
3. You’ve spent a lot of time in a few well good bands. What are some of the best experiences from those times? Are there any lessons that you learnt that helped you out down the road?
I love touring or any sort of travel with a clear purpose, although
I’m not a great one for ‘holidays’. I always try and get up early to
explore a new city or talk to strangers, so I have good memories of
that. Music is not really very important. Food and kids and somewhere to live come first. Some of the best gigs I have played have been desperately flawed. Either the sound was crap, or the band was ill, or we forgot how the songs went, but we carried on and laughed at ourselves and somehow the audience laughed with us. I’d hate to be in a band that got properly upset if something went wrong on stage. I once saw Kelly Jones get into a terrible strop about onstage monitoring and I once saw Billy Duffy smash a Les Paul to bits because his guitar tech hadn’t tuned it properly – for fucks sake it’s only rock and roll!
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve played with some really interesting singers; not just Darren Hayman, but also people like Mark Mulcahy, Suzanne Rhatigan, Isobel Monteiro of Drugstore, and TV Smith (I’m going way back now!) who have distinctive great voices. The way I play instruments in a band is quite improvisational and and based around the lyrics and what the singer is doing so the more interesting the singer the easier and more fun it is for me.
Always play music with people you like – now that really is important.
4. Given the chance to change one thing about the music industry, what would you do and why?
Oh, I don’t know! Who am I to say? I like the fact that technology now allows me to record dodgy songs on my old laptop and post them online via a small label run by a genuine music lover for people to buy at a fair price. It’s a whole lot easier than it was even 10 years ago, at least I now feel that if I don’t sell many records it’s because they’re not very commercial rather than because a record company isn’t pulling its weight.
How about introducing a 75% tax on the earnings of bands who reform for reasons other than a charitable purpose?
5. You’ve done some gigs with Darren Hayman since Hefner went quiet. Do you see more of this happening in the future? What about a full-fledged reunion?
We all get on well. We always have. I play shows with Darren and play on some of his recordings and vice-versa. Darren, John Morrison, and I play on Ant’s (Antony Harding, ex-Hefner drummer) records, etc. But that’s as far as it should go. Hefner ended a decade ago and I think we agree that bands should have a “best before” date. Obviously Darren’s always getting asked about it and I remember him once saying very sensibly that there ought to be one band that doesn’t reform. After all what would be in it for us and, more importantly, what would be in it for our audience other than nostalgia?
We weren’t really that good, you know and every gig was shambolic to some extent, so much so that chaos had to become a part of the show. All those times we stood on our guitar leads and accidentally pulled them out mid-song or were drunk. Now that we can play our instruments better we would probably sound like a covers band made up of jazz-funk musicians trying to play a request for a Pixies song at a wedding reception. It just wouldn’t be the real thing even if it was good. I chose that rather over-egged simile because I witnessed it once.
They’re divorced now.
For me Hefner was a moment in time, and a bloody enjoyable one. There’s a lot things we didn’t do but the hymn about that has already been written.