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21st Century Man – Luke Haines Interview

Without Luke Haines, there would have been no Britpop. He wouldn’t want your thanks for that. With The Auteurs debut album, he helped an angle-hungry UK Media find the British response to grunge which would eventually lead to Cool Britannia and all that. The ironic thing, of course, was that he bore absolutely no resemblence to the monster he helped create.

Scabrous, engaging and deeply funny, his 2009 autobiography Bad Vibes is a viciously comic stab through the heart of the British music industry in the 90s. He’s also released an excellent new album titled 21st Century Man. Ladies and gentlemen, the ever-engaging Luke Haines;

21st Century Man is an album full of people who characters who just don’t seem to fit in. Is that how you’ve felt through your career?

Yep. I’m an exile and I like it.

There’s a caustic humour at the heart of your work which is sadly lacking from the rest of the current musical landscape. What do you think of the Great British music scene in 2010?

I’m entirely out of the loop with ‘modern’ music. I have a lot less ire towards the latest bunch of 20 year old chancers with guitars/plug ins/wotnots than I did when I was 25. But I am nearly twice the age of the new groups (or hope I am) I should shut up and get on with my own shit, reserving my barbs for my decrepit contemps.

You were a proto-Simon Cowell without knowing it – I remember hearing New Wave thinking ‘well, I could never do it as well as that.’ How does it feel to crush a young boys dreams?

When I first heard Robert Forster’s songs I thought I could never write any thing like that… as it turned out I could write songs – some times almost exactly like Robert’s – then I worked out how to write my own kind of songs.

After Murder Park must surely be the most genuinely mental album ever to have a track played on daytime Radio 1. Similarly, I doubt very much there has ever been a song as clever as ‘Lenny Valentino’ on heavy rotation. Do you feel any pride in things like that?

At that time – especially 1993 – it felt like Radio 1 was starting to play anything – Auteurs, Suede, pre big hits Pulp, Denim, Holy Bible Manics. There was a brief period where it was, whisper it, really good! As I’ve written in my book the change really came with Kurt’s death and Parklife, and the change was to light entertainment. In the Auteurs I never tried to write anything that was a ‘radio’ record. The first serious attempt at that was with ‘The Facts Of Life.’

Despite being far more interesting than most of the contemporary music of the time, Black Box Recorder never really got much attention. Do you think any of that was down to you having previous with the music industry?

I disagree. The first two BBR albums got as much if not more attention than early Auteurs. By the time of Facts Of Life we were well and truly bobbing along in the mainstream –I remember playing a kazoo with a coupla puppets on the Big Breakfast. I don’t ever recall any resistance from the music industry towards BBR. This isn’t Mossad were dealing with – it’s just some divs in the music industry.

You were genuinely, proper indie when such things mattered. How do you feel about it being marketed as a genre like r’n’b or dance?

The indie ethos was a con. I’ve no time for any of that cobblers at all. The history of independent labels has been rewritten – because it suits some sort of liberal/socialist/utopian ideal that musicians/fans/journalists are comfortable with. The truth is that ‘indie’ labels are often deliberately run into the ground as limited companies, and the bands rarely get paid what they are owed. Whenever I have dealt with major labels I have been paid properly and on time. The same cannot be said of every independent label I have been on.

Bad Vibes is an absolute masterpiece. Refreshingly, there’s none of the ‘a star I can’t name’ stuff and you are brutally honest about the people you ran into in the 90s. How did the publisher feel about that?

It was kind of difficult not to name names when you’re writing about well knownish groups. Obviously there was quite a lot made of the bits about Blur/Oasis – even though those bits probably amount to not much more than a couple of paragraphs. I thought John Harris book was far more indiscreet, especially the weird Elastica bits which read partially like an infatuated love letter to Justine and partly like prurient drug porn. That Harris bloke is now the Guardian’s leading political writer – beggars belief, he was out of his depth interviewing Sleeper.

Reading it back, anyone you feel you were unkind to? Anyone you felt you weren’t unkind enough to?

I thought long and hard about what I said about each person. As I say in the introduction it’s all very much from my point of view as a 25 year old – no hindsight applied – but there’s still a damned if you do damned if you don’t element to a book like Bad Vibes. The Boo Radleys bit was the only bit I wavered on. I’m pretty harsh on them merely based on a couple of unpromising meetings in 1993… But then when ever I hear that bloody cornflakes add song, I don’t regret it.

Although you imply you’ve mellowed over the years, the lyrics don’t seem to agree. Do you create a persona as a songwriter?

I think in interviews when I have talked about getting older that has been interpreted as me ‘mellowing.’ I don’t think I have or was in need of ‘mellowing.’ I create personas all the time; today I’m Kate Adie, tomorrow I may be Rod Hull or T.E Lawrence.

How do you feel about performing live these days?

It’s better than it used to be, my band are really young which is good. I’m like Ronnie ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins. ‘The money might be bad son, but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra’ etc.

Do you ever feel like just doing the solo stuff live?

I regard all The Auteurs albums as solo albums anyway. If you mean do I mind playing old songs because that’s what people wanna hear, no I don’t mind. You’ve got to remember that no one liked After Murder Park when it came out, now when I talk to people after gigs that album is their favourite. I might do one of those gigs where you play an album in sequence. After Murder Park and Baader Meinhof would be the ones.

Does the internet make it too easy for bands to get stuff out now? There doesn’t seem to be any apprenticeship.

Yes. Good rock n roll should be a rare jewel. In 1980 it was almost impossible to get the Stooges albums in a provincial town like Portsmouth. Working hard to find stuff you like is a good thing – makes you understand the value of it. I remember it took me 3 months to track down Chelsea Girl by Nico. I played that album so much as a 14 year old I need never listen to it again. Every single thing has been devalued by the internet and young bands spend too much time becoming cottage industries. Sadly, Grandad doesn’t have any solutions. The music industry is irreversibly fucked. Let it rot and die.

Suede are reforming and several other bands who were nowhere near as good as the Auteurs have reformed and made a fortune. Ever been tempted to ‘get the band back together’?

Nope.

How do you feel about your 90s contemporaries?

I don’t really listen to any music from the ‘90s. Didn’t then, don’t now. I always wanted the Auteurs to be apart from everything. I used to get very annoyed if my band members socialized with any one from another band. The Auteurs were run in a very totalitarian manner. I was very against fun or levity for the band. Different rules for me of course.

What will you be up to this year?

Writing another book, and preparing for a simultaneous outsider art/outsider music/mail art event later on this year.

Finally, we always end on this – you have one bullet and immunity from prosecution. Who’s getting it?

Oh I don’t need any of that. I’m planning on living to a great age, then, when my family are grown up or no longer need me I shall take my revenge on every fucker who has ever slighted me – those who are still living that is. I’m a live and let live type of fucker you see.

21st Century Man is out now on Fantastic Plastic Records. Bad Vibes is available at all good bookstores.

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5 Responses

  1. Great interview ELM….well done ELM.

  2. He’s a proper star, isn’t he? Today’s bands get the guitars and the haircuts, but not one of them get what it is to be a star. Someone like Luke Haines would be a star if he never left the pub. it’s about creating your own aura.

    And he’s fucking funny.

  3. It’s amazing such great information can still be found on the internet. Will be coming back for more for sure. Great job and keep up the excellent work!

  4. A shame many people thought ‘oh, like Sleeper but with a male singer’ as they weren’t really Brit Pop at all.

  5. No, it’s odd. Auteurs and Suede helped get the doors open for all that came through after but were far more intelligent and interesting.

    It was as if they founded this great club and then the chavs came and took over.

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