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:: Spotlight :: Interview with The Wildhearts

By: Justin Donnelly

If there’s a band that has truly lived up to the reputation that’s commonly associated with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles, it’s The Wildhearts. Throughout their vast and colourful fifteen year history, the band have continually courted controversy, split and reformed more times than most could ever recount, and had more than their fair share of brushes with death with their enthusiastic embrace of the decadent rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that so many only get to dream of living.

But for all the turbulence, trials and tribulations the band have had throughout their early years, The Wildhearts have not only managed to hold onto a solid line-up over the last couple of years, but also release one hell of a comeback album in 2007’s self-titled ‘The Wildhearts’.

With the band back with a vengeance, The Wildhearts have been making a determined effort to deliver on their early promise, with shows over the last couple of years showing crowds throughout the world what a true rock ‘n’ roll experience The Wildhearts are in the live forum.

Having just released a new album in ‘Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before Vol 1’, and announcing their first ever shows here in Australia, I decided to catch up with lead singer Ginger at home in New York. And despite a slight mix up with the time zones, Ginger was more than happy to try his hardest to turn on a certain amount of charm as he progressively woke up, and speak openly about the group’s latest release.

"The record 'Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before Vol 1’ is a bit of a curiosity, purely because it’s just an album of covers. It was never meant to be a commercial success. All we hoped to ever do with that one was educate our fans to some bands that they might never have heard of before, and you know, just spread the word of music. We never really did that as a commercial interest. All we wanted to do was get it off our chest. And it’s done a lot better than I thought it was going to. I really wasn’t expecting many reviews or anything, but I’ve been delighted with the response. We were surprised because it’s been getting reviewed all over the world, and I’ve been doing a ton of interviews in Japan because of it. I make solo records that get far less attention than this little covers album that we did. So it’s kind of strange for us. But it got received very well, and I’m pleased with it. I’ve really taken to it now.”

And as the title suggests, it’s just a matter of time before the band release volume two.

“There will definitely be a volume two, and possibly a volume three, but only when we get the time, and it’s the kind of thing that we all want to do. Right now, we just want to record a new album of original songs. When we get a break with some real time off, then we’ll do a volume two. But until then, it’ll happen when there’s a time and a place, as they say.”

It’s been more than a year and a half since the release of ‘The Wildhearts’, so the announcement from Ginger about the possibility of a new studio album from the band is welcome news. But as Ginger points out, there’s still some life left in ‘The Wildhearts’ outside of Japan and the U.K.

“Well, it’s been out for a while, but it still hasn’t been officially released here in the U.S. There’s still talk of people possibly releasing the album in the U.S. And if that were to happen, then it would be seen as a new album from us. I’m a little bit bored of it to tell you the truth, because it’s been out for a while as far as I’m concerned. So I’m looking forward to doing a new one. We would like to get a new album out by the end of next year, possibly around September or October. But opening up all these new territories that we’ve been doing in the last couple of years has kind of put us in a weird situation, because that album is still relevant in those new places, and we’re still kind of promoting that album. So it’s a bit weird you know. We kind of want to go into the studio and record some new stuff, but then a new country gets into us, and we’re off and touring there. But it’s a nice problem to have, the fact that we have to put off recording because we keep getting popular. Things could always be a lot worse. Life right now is sweet.”

One of those new territories being opened up to The Wildhearts for the first time is Australia, which is surprisingly enough, a territory that has never been offered to the band prior to now.

“No, we’ve never been offered to come down to Australia before! We’ve had a bunch of promoters saying that they were going to get us down to Australia, but nothing has ever come of it in the fifteen years we’ve been together. I got so pissed off with the situation that I phoned a friend of mine, and told him to get us a couple of gigs down there. We just took it from there. The way we figured it, if the promoters won’t come to us, or at least meet us halfway, then we’ll go over there and meet them. We just got so sick and tired of not going over to Australia that we decided to book a couple of shows ourselves. I have no idea why it’s never happened before. There are certain things in life that are perhaps best left unknown, or you’ll get yourself even more confused. We’ve been told ever since we started that we would go down so well in Australia, and for some reason or another, we’ve never been over there. I don’t know what it is. I know that rock ‘n’ roll is huge over there. The band is huge AC/DC fans, and I love INXS. I also love Rose Tattoo. They’re such a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Australia knows good rock ‘n’ roll. I mean Airbourne are doing really well over here in the U.S. for the same reasons. They really put the effort in. I love Australian movies as well. I think ‘The Castle’ (the cult classic Australian film from 1997) is one of my top five movies of all time! (Laughs) I’ll tell you something, where we come from, in the north of England, we always had Australian T.V. We had things like ‘The Norman Gunston Show’, ‘The Paul Hogan Show’ and ‘Skippy’ over there. So there was a ton of Australian influences in our culture. So I’m a bit disgusted that I still haven’t been over there. I have no idea why we’ve never been invited, but there you go. So we’ve invited ourselves. It’s a case of doing whatever it takes you know. I’m so looking forward to it, it’s a bit obscene. I’ve been looking forward to this for the last fifteen years!”

But as excited as Ginger is about coming to Australia, he has little expectations for the two schedules shows.

“I have absolutely no idea what to expect. If we turn up and there are ten people there, then I wouldn’t be that surprised. But then if there are a hundred people there, I won’t be that surprised either. I’m just kind of winging it you know. I really don’t have any idea what to expect. It’s kind of like that the first time you go anywhere. It’s best not to have any of these preconceived ideas of what it’s going to be like. If you do, then you run the risk of an anticlimax or a distortion of what your original idea was. All I know is that I’ve been waiting a long, long time to come to Australia, and whatever it is, it’s going to be amazing.”

As far as what fans can expect, Ginger is again unsure of just what The Wildhearts have planned up their collective sleeves, apart from delivering the band’s trademark over the top rock ‘n’ roll performances.

“We never know what songs we’re going to play. We’ll know what songs we’re going to play about five minutes before we go onstage. We were never really good at deciding what songs we were going to play in advance. So in all honesty, I don’t know what we’ll be playing to Australian audiences. But what I can tell you is that we’re a very energetic group, and I’m sure the audience that are coming out to see us will see that. I think Australian’s are going to know that The Wildhearts are the real deal. We don’t have to tell them. They’re going to know. I’m confident that we’re going to have a home down there in no time. You’re going to take us to your hearts, whether you like it or not! (Laughs) What we would like is for people to walk away from the show telling their friends, ‘You’ve really got to go and check out The Wildhearts the next time they come back!’ I’m hoping that promoters will come along to the shows and bring us back again soon. That way, next time we’re down, we’ll have a proper agent, a press person and promotional people, and we’ll play a place that’s twice as big. And hopefully, the end result will be that the people who come to the shows will go and tell another person, and we’ll come back three times as big. We’re doing this from the ground up. We have no expectations. It can’t be an anticlimax. We’ve waited too long to come to Australia for it to turn out like that. I’m not expecting anything, and I’ll be delighted if someone turns up. Even if no-one turns up, I’ll be like, ‘F**king hell! We might be playing to an empty room, but we’re still here in Australia!’ (Laughs)”

Throughout The Wildhearts’ lengthy career, there’s always been an air of self destructiveness and impending danger. And sure enough, following the release of 1997’s ‘Endless Nameless’, the band finally called it quits due to internal tension between members and growing drug problems. But ever since the band’s reformation in 2006, the issues of the past seem to be nothing more than that, issues of the past.

“The band these days has a completely different feeling than anything we’ve had within the group before. We’re all really focussed, and we’re getting on with each other. We’re having a good time. We’re enjoying being in the band, and that was never the case in the past. We really didn’t enjoy being in the group. And at times, it just facilitated the finances with which we took drugs. A lot of the time, the band just funded the drug habit.”

Having witnessed the band several times between 1996/1997, I pointed out to Ginger that the band gave the impression that The Wildhearts could self destruct at any moment while onstage.

“Oh, absolutely! It was always like that. It was annoying. To the outsiders, being the fans and the press, it seemed like it was cool. But there was a lot of volatility within the group. And it’s absolutely no fun being stuck with a bunch of people that you don’t get along with, no matter how cool it looks to everyone else. And if the most uncool thing that the press think is being in a band where you all get along with the other members, then I would choose to be uncool, and be in that band. I’ve been involved in bands that don’t get along with each other, and bands that do, and I would prefer to be in a band that really get along with each other. It’s great. The band is really tight now. We’ve all grown up a bit, and I think we all appreciate things now. We never really appreciated things before. We were a bit arrogant in the early days. I think we’re a bit more humble now. We’re a lot more grateful for the things that happen now.”

Getting along and remaining focussed has had its rewards, with things slowly building for the band, without the backward steps of the band’s past hindering them.

“I totally agree. For the first time, I can see how bands get successful. In the past, the quote that was always used to describe us was, ‘The band that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory’. And that used to be the case pretty much one hundred percent of the time. We would always do something to jeopardise the situation for ourselves, which would always fuck things up. Now it seems like we’re not going to do that. We’ve gone from strength to strength. More often than not, a little light bulb goes off above our heads when things go right from making the right decisions. We’ve finally came to the realisation that this is the sort of things that bands do. If we keep working hard, all of a sudden things start happening for us, and it all keeps on getting bigger and better. I mean, look at the Hammersmith Odeon gig we’re playing in London in a few weeks time. I always wanted to play there. And sure enough, we’ll be playing there in December. That certainly never happened in the past. And then there’s the shows we’ll be playing in Australia. Of course, we’re only coming to Australia because we invited ourselves, but I’m sure that won’t be the case next time.”

Despite taking some time off from the road, Ginger insists that it won’t be long before the band is back out in the bus, and hitting stages again on a regular basis.

“Well, all we’re doing right now is breaking into new territories, and then going back to them. The more territories that we can visit, the bigger the schedule gets, and the smaller the gaps get before we can go back and visit them again. We do have to take some time off to do a new album, but at the same time we really have to get out there on the road again in order to make up for the lost time we’ve had in the past. We’ve always just toured Japan and the U.K. really. That’s slowly starting to change. We’re ready to raise that bar. We’re all ready for that, and we’re all fit. You know, you have to be fit in this game, and we’re all at athletic fitness at the moment. There’s nothing that we’re not prepared to do. The hard work isn’t scary for us. It used to be scary, but now we embrace the idea of a gruelling touring schedule. I want to be on the road forever. Stick me on a bus for three years straight if it’s going to help the band succeed. I think we all have that attitude now. None of us had that attitude in the past.”

Aside from a career within The Wildhearts, Ginger has also maintained a successful solo career, with his latest release ‘Market Harbour’ again earning the singer/songwriter more critical acclaim. But as Ginger points out, it may be the last you hear from him in the solo sense for a while.

“Well, it’s kind of kept me busy in recent years. Well let me say that I was quite busy, until I had a big issue come along. That kind of stopped me writing anything there for a while. I had to focus my concentration on the band once again, so my solo stuff has kind of been put on hold for the time being. If we’re going to make this band succeed, then we have to give it one hundred percent. And although I like the idea of being able to go out on tour as a solo artist, and release solo albums and do the same with the band at the same time, it’s not in the band’s best interest at the moment. So I’ve been devoting my time to The Wildhearts. At the end of the day, that’s what’s paying the rent. I’d be crazy to let go of The Wildhearts in favour of a solo career. It’s great to make solo albums, but if you put the name Ginger on a CD, it sells a whole lot less than anything you put The Wildhearts name onto! (Laughs)”

Another thing that’s been put on hold is the planned tell all book ‘Don’t Try This At Home’.

“It was a book that was going to be written, but was never completed. I think it was more a rough draft of what the book was going to be. I don’t know how far the guy got into doing the book, but he definitely didn’t finish it. The guy that was writing the book presented it to the publishing company that wanted to do the book, and they decided that they didn’t want to do it, especially given that the band is doing well now. There’s talk about doing it at a later time, but I’m not really interested. I’m more concerned about making music and taking the band out there in front of people. That’s all we’re concerned about right now. Making the music, and playing the music. Books and things like that can just wait for now. I don’t know why anyone would want to do a book about us. I mean it’s a great story, and a funny one too with its highs and lows, and it’s very all very dramatic. But all we’ve ever done is a bunch of stupid things. Doing a heap of stupid things is great if you have some success and something to show for it at the end. It’s a great story, but a story based on a bunch of stupid things? Man, just hang out at any train station at night and you can see a bunch of stupid things. You’ve got to do something with that. If we can make this succeed, and we work our balls off, then yeah, we’re justified in screwing up at the beginning of our career because we got it right at the end. But to write a book about people just screwing up just isn’t worth anyone’s time. Besides, you have to spend time doing that stuff, and I just don’t have much of that at the moment. I’d much rather be working with the group.”

While Ginger has reservations about sitting down and recounting The Wildhearts’ inglorious rise to fame, one can only hope that it will happen one day, especially given that this is the band that survived the rather turbulent times surrounding the release of ‘Endless Nameless’.

“People tend to be a bit divided over that album. I like it, but I can understand why people don’t like it. But then I can understand why people don’t like us. We tend to do things slightly different to most. We make different albums every time we go into the studio. I think people must have thought we were joking when we released that album. But we’ve always said that we didn’t want to make the same album twice. That time around, we just wanted to make a really noisy album. I mean, that’s where we were at around that time. And all we heard initially was, ‘Well why didn’t you make another album like 1993’s ‘Earth Vs The Wildhearts’?’ All I thought was, ‘Well, did you not just listen to me? We told you we were going to do this. You can’t honestly be that surprised?’ A lot of people say they’re going to make a different sounding album, and then the record company tells them that they can’t. But I don’t know what people don’t like about the album. It’s just a really noisy rock ‘n’ roll album. Everybody I know has really divided opinions over it. My musical peers and people that I really respect, such as technicians, players, writers and producers, they just love that album. And what that says to me is, ‘Great! At least I know that I’m not going crazy!’ I could see why it would upset a lot of people who were expecting a carbon copy of one of our other albums. To me, ‘Endless Nameless’ is my favourite album from The Wildhearts. I think all bands should have the balls to do something that’s totally non commercial. There’s nothing to be ashamed of that’s an artistic statement that doesn’t succeed commercially. There’s no shame in that. That’s something to be proud of. You’re leaving behind a legacy that you believe in, and that you’re proud of and that you will stand by. The rest should be ashamed of making commercial albums that don’t sell well. It’s then that you have to question yourself, ‘Well who are you actually pleasing?’ You’re not pleasing your label, your management or your fans. And at the end of the day, you’re not pleasing yourself. So I believe in the idea of people making albums that kind of stand out in an overview of your career marked as ‘Approach With Extreme Caution!’ I think everyone should have at least one of those in their collection.”

The Wildhearts may have seen their fair share of ups and downs, but according to Ginger, they still have something to prove.

“Yeah! The thing is, because The Wildhearts f**ked up so much in the past, we never really had any success. So it’s not like we’re trying to relive past glories if you like. So as far as most of the world is concerned, we’re a new group. And that’s kind of weird. The success story, if this band does actually manage to succeed, would really make a good movie. We’re no longer a bunch of teenagers. We’re grown men that have been doing this a long time. And we didn’t get all our tattoos over a six month period either! (Laughs) We wear our tattoos like we do our passport stamps. The story behind The Wildhearts is a hardcore and hard living story that deserves a successful ending, if only because the story or movie would be pretty bleak if it didn’t. It feels like a new group, and a lot of people have taken to the band like a new group, so it would appear as far as the world is concerned, it is a brand new group. So I truly believe that The Wildhearts still have a lot to prove, and can succeed in the process.”

With barely a week and a half to go before the band hit Australian shores, I decided to leave Ginger with the last words for fans eagerly awaiting the group’s arrival, and those still undecided as to whether they should go check out the band or not.

“Be first in on the action. People are going to get into us, and I believe that we will start taking off in Australia. I have no doubt about that. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but it will happen. And besides that, it always feels good to be one of the first ones coming in through the door. The band is really going to fire the place up. Like I said, we’re really fit at the moment. And we have a lot of songs, and they’re great songs too. We have enough time to cherry pick a perfect set list. There’s a whole lot of energy within the group right now, and people that have ever seen us in the last couple of years have always been surprised that we’ve always been a whole lot better than they expected us to be. I think they get used to seeing bands of a certain effort level, and I’m tired of seeing bands at a certain effort level. They don’t really put it in. We really put it in, and we really do f**k ourselves up there onstage. We treat it very, very seriously. But along with the music, we also bring the party. The Wildhearts are a great party band. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in Australia, but in the rest of the world, we do bring a healthy mix of the sexes. So people do tend to be able to go to The Wildhearts’ gig, and go home with someone of their desired choice. And that’s always a good thing to do after a heavy night of rock ‘n’ rolling. But we’re just a great party band, and we’re as loud, energetic and heavy as f**k. It’s f**king great.”

I would like to thank Ginger for his generous time, and Marty at Bleed Records for making the interview possible.

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