Video Clip of Darren Hayman performing "Greedy Ugly People", very unplugged, Isle of Man, Jan 2009. Photographer unknown.
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Darren Hayman interviewed by Richard Price
This interview with Darren Hayman took place on 20th July 2007, in the Duke of Uke ukele and
banjo shop, Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane.
Testing, one, two. And you do yours.
Testing, one, two.
It's going through. It might be going through mine.
It's not getting the left but that's not so important. I think there's a little
switch there that I can just do. Maybe the batteryís gone. It doesn't really
matter it'll pick up me, anyway.
a way there's no need for this interview because your web site is so good. But
there are a few things, well quite a few things really, that I'm interested in
which aren't answered by the web. The first is the whole life before Hefner.
Now all I know about you is that there is some kind of Essex connection. Could
you say something about where you grew up and what that was like?
I grew up in a town called Brentwood, which is just the other side of the M25. My
family before then is an East End family, just from round here. My great
grandmother was Mayoress of Bethnal Green and so my, my Dad worked very hard to
move out to Essex and was quite disappointed when as soon as I got to the right
age I just run back to London. I think he thinks we worked hard to get out of
London and now it's the opposite and people work hard to get to London. So I
grew up in Brentwood and I, with my Mum and Dad and I have one younger sister
three years younger than me. And I went to ordinary comprehensive school and
then after my O levels I went to art college and did a two year foundation
rather than do A levels and then from there I went to Maidstone College of Art
to study illustration which is where I met Antony. And Antony went to school
with Helen, who I'm now married to, and so in a round about sort of way,
although that took quite a few years to meet her properly, but by meeting Antony
that would lead on to meeting my wife.
after that, I was about 21, 22, then there's quite a lot of nothing for about
five or six years where I was learning how to write songs and working for the
National Blood Transfusion Service. And I worked for them for about five years
and in that time I also moved to London, with Antony again. We both went home
for about a year because we were just broke, after uni, after doing a degree.
So we both just went back home with our parents for about a year. So then about
22, 23 I moved to Walthamstow, which is where I still live. And so, yeah, about
five or six years then of different bands. And then probably about half way
through that so when I was maybe 25, 26 starting to use the name Hefner with
two different guys that didn't end up being the Hefner that released the first
record. And then, yeah, 96 or 97 releasing the first single and then that line
When you were at Maidstone were you actually living in the area?
Yeah, I lived in Maidstone, yeah.
And was there a scene there, what went on?
Art college there's always people who play guitars. There's always bands at an
art college. There was a place we could play so I think that me and Antony did
a few shows at the college, bands that weren't Hefner. I wouldn't call it a
scene really but there were a few bands, maybe three or four college bands or
something. You know, yeah, and a bar with a PA that you could play. I don't
think that was as important as just being in Ant's bedroom or Ant being in my
bedroom. I think it's really important meeting someone who played guitar and
wrote songs. I think that is the most important thing. And me and Antony not
being afraid to play each other rubbish songs and helping each other with it.
And so we learned together over years and I'd go round to his house and play a
song and looking back they were all bad. We were both writing really bad songs
but it helped not doing it in isolation.
Is that the first time that you had started to play, or were you playing
already by the time you got to college?
I was playing already for maybe a year, about a year, I was perhaps a year into
playing guitar when I met Antony [Harding]. I remember meeting Antony and
working out that he played guitar. So I said 'Do you play guitar, do you write
songs?' and he said 'Yeah, but I'm really bad'. And he said 'Do you?' And I
said 'Yeah but I'm really bad, I'm terrible at guitar, I'm terrible at writing
songs.' And he said 'Well, no, you should hear me. I'm really bad'. And it went
like that [in that] self-deprecating way. And we eventually got together and
started playing guitars and Antony went 'No you're right, you're really bad.'
Antony could play a lot better that time. It took me a long time to catch up
with Antony. It's only really my more pushy nature which ended up with us being
in a band that became successful with me being the singer and him being the
drummer. It's only just that I'm a more pushy personality than Antony. It's not
necessarily anything to do with talent or anything.
Was it all about song making or was there a word interest before the guitars?
I can't remember not being interested in words. I'm always interested in, in
you know learning more about words, or learning more new words. I've always
wanted to be more intelligent. But I understandÖmy wife's an English teacher, a
big reader, and I understand if I talk to my wife and what books meant to her
and what reading meant to her growing up and I know it didn't mean as much to
me as it did to her. So I understand, you know, it was definitely records for
me that did that thing that would make things ok when I was on my own. For
Helen it's books so I know words don't mean as much to me as they do to Helen.
not really no. I think with me and Antony [we] would have both been happy, I
think at any stage in my early twenties, I would have been happy being a
guitarist in someone else's band, or a bass player in someone else's band. It
was just more that we were in isolation, me and Ant, so somebody had to sing,
or if you're just doing it on your own. And then about half way through college
we both blew our grants on four tracks, little four track tape machines not
dissimilar to that [signals to RPís tape recorder]. So then we both
simultaneously learned about overdubbing. And I'd put guitar and a vocal on it
and I would give it to Ant and he would add guitar and vocal on it and so I
think it is purely like, the nec, the necess, the necessity to have words on
the songs. They weren't songs if they didn't have words. So we were kind of forced
to do words.
still think like that a little bit to be honest. [...] I find it quite easy to
come up with tunes but then there comes a point when it's not really going to
be a song unless it has words on it. So I suppose I've got to do the words.
Obviously I'm interested in words and I obviously like to make the words as
good as possible but itÖ I only do words because I do songs. I wouldn't, I
don't, I've never felt a desire to write a short story. I think I've written
maybe three short stories in the past 15 years, probably all about a sheet of
A4. That's the other thing as well because of doing songs I'm so used to
editing so when I try to write a short story I write a short story and it might
be say 1000 words. And I just edit and edit and that's one thing I do think I'm
quite good at, I'm quite good at editing. Like a song normally that you'll hear
of mine is perhaps the sixth or seventh draft of the words. And so I'll edit
the short story and in the end the short story is just about 16 lines because I
know that I can tell a story in 16 lines. So it seems impossible for me to
write anything longer than a song.
sometimes if I can't fit it in a song I think the idea isn't strong enough.
And with it being a song your voice can give it a spin and a depth that isn't
Well you can, you can, yeah, you can also use clichťs and stuff. You can sing I
love you in a way that could make it interesting. You can get away with less on
both sides. You canÖ I think cos I'm a songwriter the world does need dumb
songs and just because I have a reputation for lyrics I don'tÖ I really don't,
I don't like Elvis Costello's lyrics - obviously, obviously verbose, clever
lyrics. And some people have, Lou Reed has these ideas [Ö] that I can get, the
ideas you put in a novel you can put in a song. And even though Lou Reed walks
the walk and I think he talks the talk really, and I do like Lou Reed cos I
think his songs are perhaps dumber than he thinks they are, but he has these
aspirations: ĎWhy aren't I treated as a novelist is?í. Yeah, Costello is
somebody that would be better if he were stupider. He just doesn't seem to want
to write a stupid song any more.
long time ago now but Lloyd Cole was someone so preoccupied with his own
cleverness. And I think that can get in the way of writing a good song. [...] Even
though someone like me doesn't get in the charts, it still is pop music and
there's not really anybody that's broken out of that. Even Randy Newman or Van
Dyke Parks, even though they're sort of old men, it still is related to this
teenage pop thing about boys and girls. Like words and music, apart from opera,
haven't really ever expanded out of that. I know there's concept albums but I
like that limitation, that limitation seems to irritate perhaps some people.
And that's why, someone, I don't know, like Nick Cave starts to write a book or
a screenplay. It makes some people feel constrained after so many albums of oh
no I've got to write another four minute song. But I work quite well with
limitations, I quite enjoy the limitation.
I suppose part of pop is often about [the] excitement of being in love. A lot
of your records are like that. It's almost a kind of soul. It's a kind of soul
energy there to do with† this peculiar
energy of meeting someone for the first time, or the first date.
Yeah, I can always return to write a song like that. I can always, I can always
write another song about something to do with that, about the girl not liking
me as much as I like her, or something. I do it less because I've done six or
seven albums now and it's harder to turn out. I also do it less because I am
married and I don't mind, I don't feel that every song has to be
autobiographically true but I just, I just don't think about those things as
much. I just don't think about them as much and so it's just less likely for
those songs to be written. And I'm not afraid to sort of put different types of
things in songs. I'm not afraid to write songs about whatever, songs about
architecture or cars or whatever. I like to put unlikely things and unlikely
language in songs but I still want it to be successful as a song.
Well I know what you mean. I mean, a classic Hefner song would be ĎThe Librarianí
song but you are fascinated by astronauts as well. There's another Hefner song,
ĎAlan Beaní. What's with the astronauts?
Because I don't sell many records and because nobody sells many records it
seems like if there's an advantage to that it could be that you could do more
of those ideas that you used to leave in the pub. You know ideas that I used to
perhaps reject cos I thought well it's OK, it's a good idea but nobody would be
interested and it doesn't seem to make much difference now, if I'm only going
to sell a couple of thousand copies of every record I do. And so a lot of what
I do when I write songs is I set myself exercises. And there's loads of
examples of this throughout Hefner, my career, where I've set myself limitations,
or almost like a writing exercise that would be set in English.
for instance like there's a series of hymn songs. So I'd write songs about
things I like, or things that I consume with a central device being alcohol or
cigarettes. Another series of songs that not many people seem to pick up on is
that I've done a series of songs where the title is the name of another act. So
there's a song called Wu-Tang Clan.
Öand there's a song called China Crisis and a song called OMD. And trying to
work out what would a song called China Crisis be.
It's not mentioned in the song either.
Yeah I kind of cheated there. But then also musically I also set myself
challenges. So in the French album [Local
Information by The French] there's a challenge to not use a guitar and also
that every instrument should be played monophonically. That is to say one note
at a time, not chords. And so it just seems to work, and also because they're
my rules I can break them anyway. Cos theyíre my rules so I can break them. So
often it's a good starting point for the album I'm doing at the moment is there
must be no electric guitars on it.
[Laughs nervously] Are you sure you want to do that?
Yep, yep it's fine. I've done so many now with electric guitars on. So the
astronaut idea is, is a really hard one. It's that I would write a song about
the twelve men that have walked on the moon. But the real challenge for that is
to not make it an album that only people that are interested in astronauts
would listen to. Can't just be every song, can't† be ĎI'm walking on the moon, I'm checking my
altitude and I'm wearing a space suití. They've got to be emotional songs. And
I don't know why I've set myself this because the song ĎAlan Beaní anyway was
really, really hard to write. It took me like about three years to write that
song from the idea of writing a song about him to it actually being finished
and being a successful lyric. I constantly had to return to that every few
months and trying to get that song to work.
even the astronaut album I've been kinda thinking about that now about a year
and I've only written six, seven. Every now and then there's a little burst.
And some of them are quite boring. Some of the people, quite a lot of them are
quite boring. They're quite sort of, they're not very emotive people. If you
read their interviews they're kind of military men so, so you can't get a very
emotional response about anything. Like 'What was it like on the moon?', you
know, whatever. And I've spoken to Alan Bean twice and it's just kind of like,
even Alan Bean who perhaps is one of the most emotive. A lot of them are just
like 'Oh well, I was just doing my job, just doing my duty'. They're very
square-jawed people. But yeah, it's just a way, just a way to write songs, just
a way to keep my mind busy. I mean, I mean I think the astronaut album will
happen but a lot of these ideas don't happen. I set myself a lot of these
things they don't happen. But it doesn't matter, because they might, the whole
album might not work but they might have given me two or three songs so it's OK.
So as I say I can break my own rules and it doesn't matter if tomorrow I do
decide to put an electric guitar on this album. The limitation had already
given me six songs, so that's OK.
Do you think what you could say is, in a way, you've got a quiet concept album
way of looking at things even though they're clearly not grandiose works.
Theyíre doing something different from what you imagine as a concept album
which you usually think of as symphonic or something like that. Do you think
that started with We love the city
where there's a beautiful feel to that record, there's a beautiful trajectory
across the tracks?
No, I think it starts with Fidelity Wars.
I think Fidelity wars, We Love the City,
Dead Media and the French album are all quiet concept albums. They're more
conceptual albums. That's not to say
they're a story but they are linked. And certainly with Fidelity Wars those songs are in that order for a reason. It's
easier to point out the ones that aren't. Only really Breaking God's Heart, Table
for OneÖ and Boxing Hefner are
really only collections of songs. And the one that's coming out in October also
is just a collection of songs. I don't know why it is; it's just really
natural. I can't imagine being any other way. It's just like when people† show me ProTools, 'I just got ProTools, I can
get any synthesiser sound on this'. You know ProTools is a computer program to
make music on and like 'I've got unlimited tracks'. That sounds like hell to
me. The idea that I would have every sound open to me. I can't ever imagine
that I would make a decision.
the same if someone said 'Here's a studio. You can have any instrument, any
musician you want and you can be here for as long as you want'. I wouldn't know
how to create in those circumstances. I always have to constrict myself. Even
like the way I do the covers, the Hefner covers, a lot of the covers I would
say 'You're only allowed to use five colours'. I guess, I'm starting to think
now, I'm almost a bit obsessive about it. It's like one of my obsessive,
slightly obsessive compulsive things now that I always have to have a set of
rules to create. [Ö] And so many people that do what I do seem to be wracked
with indecision, and I seem to get around indecision by doing that.
Yeah, oh yeah I think that's great. Erm, I recognise it in poetry but I won't
say too much about that.
It's like that rather disheartening thing when you're doing poetry at school
and the teacher says 'Well it doesn't have to rhyme'. And I remember being
crestfallen when they told me that. 'Well, I can't do it then'. You know I need
some kind of guidance to it, otherwise it's just words, and I still think that
a little bit about poetry, like 'Oh it's good when it rhymes though'.
Oh I think you need that to begin with. You can't, you can't do art without a
frame, or a discipline of some kind.
MmmÖ even free verse is, is striking off something, and you have to be very
careful with that. But that's another story.
Well it's good to break from it as well. It's good to, I like having rhyming
patterns where you might have say three rhymes and the fourth breaks off. I
might even have an extra few syllables. Once again you need a rule to break.
You need der der der der de, der der de de der, and then have one go into the
The songs don't all have a regular shape, do they? †Theyíre quite fluid, they move.
I think mess around with that. I think I'm aware of poeticÖ I like internal
rhyming patterns as well. I don't know - the bright light at night, within [a
line] as well. And I like the sound of words. It can be quite frustrating when
youÖ it can be quite frustrating to be the type of lyric writer that wants to
say something specific. You know I don't really do sort of mood songs, or
adjectives or descriptive words just to conjure mood. I often want to tell a
specific story. So it's quite frustrating to be that kind of lyric writer but
also be very interested in the sound of words. So that can cause quite an
impasse at times. You know when you've got a line of words that have a certain
spiky sound. You've got lots of k's and t's and you want another word like that
to have that kind of sound.
You're quite satirical as well aren't you? There's an edginess, and sometimes
just great fun with what you're doing.
Yeah, yeah. I think it has to amuse me. A friend criticised my lyrics once
saying thereís almost always a get out clause. Thereís almost, itís almost
like, you sort of get too cross and hereís almost [always] the bit in every
song where youíre going íI donít really mean ití. A little wink to the audience
and I sometimes wonder about my stage persona because on stage I just, through
nervousness I normally talk a lot and then. Itís not really nervousness. I mean
Iíve just found a way of it working, by being funny. And so I sometimes wonder
how that works with being funny, joking and then doing a song like Hymn for the
alcohol. And trying, that dichotomy of having heartbreak songs or having jokes
and songs that are about heartbreak. And often when it works I think youíre
just sharpening the knife a little bit more, in the way that two blokes talking
about splitting up with a girl theyíll tell it via jokes. [Ö]
know Iíve got a friend whoís extremely depressed in New York at the moment who
Iím quite, quite worried about. Heís very, very depressed but itís impossible
for us to talk, for me to talk to him straightforwardly about his depression,
about why. I just, I just canít. We have to talk around it cos weíre men. And
weíre talking about it in a sense. Do you understand what I meanÖ?
Öso maybe thatís the way I write songs. Iím not sure if I can ever really write
- whoís an example of someone who is incredibly cathartic and emotional? Someone
like Will Olden maybe. Oh I know, I know, yeah. People like Jeff Buckley, or
Muse or Tom Yorke, that sort of thing. I couldnít possibly be that serious. I
canít imagine, even though I probably, I definitely do feel sometimes like Tom
Yorke sounds. I donít really want any one else to, inflict that on anyone else.
Iíd rather tell that more subtly, you know.
Sometimes I feel that you are in character though. That there are some songs
where there is desperation at the same time as there is - itís almost like a
Woody Allen - desolation. Itís funny and has immense pathos at the same time.
It is, it is funny isnít it? It is funny.
It is funny being down and depressed. Thereís quite a lot of funny things about
it. [Ö] I havenít used this in a song lyric but a couple of years ago I was
having this legal battle with Too Pure [record company] and I was very, very
depressed and the way my depression manifested itself, or a coping device I
used, was I became addicted to internet chess. A large portion of my day when I
was feeling moody, that was really funny, that was a really sort of ridiculous,
Thatís quite low.
Yeah, you know I think my wife would have preferred it if it was like
pornography or cocaine.
Erm, but I think it, yeah I am in character a lot of times when I sing. I canít
really sing entirely about something I donít know about. So even if Iím singing
about Alan Bean, or Peter Gabriel Iím [thinking] what would I be thinking if I
was Peter Gabriel. I have to put myself in a bit, but, yeah, but once again,
sort of like, perhaps easier to talk about the things Iím not. I couldnít
possibly [do what] Nick Cave did, an album of murder ballads. I just thought
that was preposterous. I just thought that was a ridiculous thing to do. It was
a really childish approach to writing songs. Itís like a really middle class
thing to do. You know where you have middle class people around a table,
talking conceptually about ĎI was really beaten up at work todayí when they
have never been beaten up in their life or talking about rape in an ironic
post-modern way and not knowing anything about it. I just thought it was a
really immature, middle class thing to do to write a whole album about murder.
Itís like what would you feel like Nick, if your wife got murdered? Would you
feel like it would make a good song? I donít think it would make such a good
song then, would it? So even if I write songs about astronautsÖ
[Laughter] So thereís no moral-high-ground-taking here then?
Yeah, I just find I can write songs about astronauts but thatís the joke in
itself really. Youíll find when you hear this album youíll find the astronauts
seem to talk like someone who grew up in Essex. They seem to use slightly
colloquial Thames estuary slang. So itís always really what is Darren dressing
But what about America? You have a love hate relationship with America in the
songs donít you?
I guess I do. Yeah, I havenít been to America for ages. I kind of donít really
want to. It just doesnít seem like the sort of place that I want to go to.
Did you live there at any point?
No, Iíve been there quite a few times. I was really good friends with a band
called the New Bad Things, at the beginning of Hefner, and they would come over
and tour England and sleep on my floor. And so before I signed a record deal or
anything I went and stayed with them for about a month or so. So I had a really
long holiday in the West Coast and played shows.
did a really long tour of America, just once and we spent like a month out
there, and a few odd trips as well to play shows in New York. [Ö] Some people
liked us but I just think there are probably more interesting places to go to
at the moment. Jack, in Hefner, made the observation that you go round Europe,
you travel these places, and theyíve got different languages and stuff but when
you go to America then you really feel that youíre abroad. Like Americaís like
far more foreign than France or Spain or Italy, even though we share a language
and itís true you go there and think God this really is abroad, this is nothing
like England at all. And so it makes it ridiculous how we are supposed to think
of it like a close cousin. I just think, you think just because youíve watched
CSI on TV that you understand whatís really happening. Itís odd, Americans are
But of course youíre influenced immensely by country, and folk to some degree.
Yeah a shop like this. Yeah, well the ukulele comes via Portugal, [with a] Hawaii
American background, yeah, and Iíve got a blue grass band. Yeah, but I can live
without. I can leave or take the bit I like and leave the rest. Itís always
been really important to me to Ö
from customer in shop]
Ö Yeah it always been really important to me not to sing in an American accent.
Thatís always been important to me from day one.
What is your singing accent?
I think itís just, I think my talking voice is perhaps a little, little posher
than my singing voice, but I think theyíre both just Thames estuary, arenít
they? Just glottal stops, just a non-descript South East England accent I
I want to go back to that in a bit but I want to stay with America just a
little bit longer. Thereís at least one America baiting song [...] about [...] terrorists
who are setting fire to a forest. Can you say anything about that?
Only that was written before September 11 which I always feel I have to always
point out because I think it was released after it. And, I donít know what
happened to American terrorists. They just like just disappeared, didnít they?
There used to be loads and you used to have Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson would
always be going up to the mountains to see weird Americans who thought there was
a new world order and had loads of guns. And they just like, as soon as 9/11 [happened]
they didnít exist any more, cos all terrorists had long beards and had dark
thought that was a shame really and that the American terrorist has been
slightly undersold by that and they should speak up more, cos I think theyíre
losing the propaganda war. Yeah I guess the most famous terrorist thing before
then was the uni bomber.
And the Oklahoma bombing?
Yeah Iím now trying to think what it was specifically about. Iím trying to
remember, it definitely was a documentary I was watching that specifically made
me write that song. And [Ö] I think it was the Oklahoma one or something about
that. I guess, I guess the idea of the song is that even terrorists fall in
Thereís something taunting about it. And quite a few of your records are
taunting, or baiting, teasing. Thereís Peter Gabriel, thereís [an attack on] Margaret
Thatcher which is much stronger. But thereís also a witty, class thing going on,
particularly for people on the borders [between the] working class [and the]
middle class. Suburbia gets brought into all that. Whereís that coming from?
Well the new, new record. The record not thatís coming out soon but the record
Iím making is all about that again. Itís all about similar things to what The
French albumís about. I find that what I tend to write about more and more now
is where Iím from. I think with We love
the City I was trying to write about the city cos I love London, Iím very
much a city person. But in actual fact when Iím subconsciouslyÖ I drift to
write on about the suburbs. And I think itís tricky, I think itís interesting
for me to write about because I really donít like the suburbs. I often find
them quite irritating but then Iím very aware that thatís where Iím from, and
thatís where I grew up. And so, and I also struggle with that. I understand
what you mean when you say taunting, and I struggle with that a little bit. I
really like, do you know who Martin Parr is, the photographer?
Oh yes, yes Iíve met him.
Yes OK, I really like him but heís even more on the edge of that thing of ĎAre
you laughing at them or with them?í And I find that quite difficult because you
know my Dad did work very hard. My Dad striked, I remember my Dad being on
strike. I was brought up as working class socialist and then I of course went
to art college and then the minute I went to art college really I kind of
kissed goodbye to something working class about me.
What did your Dad work as?
My Dad worked for British Telecom and they had a lock out in the 80ís, it was
as they were privatising everything. So it was kind of like my early education
was trade unions and how that all worked. So I have quite confused things with
that and, and, I, these songs Iím writing now, I find it very easy to makeÖ Thereís
a song, new song called ĎThe White Countryí and thereís a, thereís a, well. So
I think about calling the album ĎThe White Countryí, and Helen, it was last
night, advised me that it isnít such a great idea to call it ĎThe White Countryí.
thereís a verse in there about carveries, you know what carvery is? It doesnít
happen inside the M25, Iíd be surprised, I bet weíre ten miles away from a
carvery now. I think itís since you get into Essex. But anyway [ Ö]. Itís very
funny, itís very easy to take the piss out of it, in some ways you should take
the piss out of it. You know loads of people with their plates sky high with
bad meat. That is funny, you should, you should take the piss out of it. But I
also have affection for those people, and also my family are those people. You
know Iím writing about my sister, and Iím writing about my Mum and Dad so I
canít be too cruel. [Ö] Thereís a video for ďProtons and Neutronsí we filmed on
Iannapa. You know my sister got married on Iannapa. So this one video is just
pretty much drunken women falling out of bars.
Iíd have to give that quite a lot of concentration I think.
Yeah and that is very Martin Parr, itís very influenced by Martin Parr. But
definitely a few people said to me thatís really quite cruel. There you are,
youíre sober, three oíclock in the morning with your video camera and theyíre
in a completely different mind set and here they are in the cold light of day,
overweight, red faced, from too much sunburn the day before. And so then the
one after that which is the video for the Caravan song I was trying to be much
more affectionate. I was trying to be much more affectionate about it. Itís
this caravan park in the North East where my wifeís from, my wifeís from
Newcastle, a little village outside Newcastle. And I really, really do like it
there [Ö] but unfortunately I was filming it, I was filming this woman with
kids. And then she sits down and sheís, sheís trodden in some dog shit and
sheís wiping the dog shit off her shoe. And I got the clip and itís so good and
itís so funny and I was like Iíve really got to use that. So, yeah Iím aware of
what youíre talking about and itís something I think about a lot and Iím just
constantly going either side of the line. I definitely couldnít be as cruel as,
I definitely couldnít be Martin Parr, if you know what I mean. I think he does
like the people heís taking photographs of but he definitely is playing a more
daring game with that line than I could I think.
Heís literally using lenses that are used in operating theatres. Heís playing
with the filtering which is literally a clinical approach.
Yeah, yeah. Itís all great, I mean he never does anything boring. Thereís
nothing heís done that I thought was boring.†
Yeah that last retrospective, the very last room he was doing it on Xerox
paper, or copy paper, so it was all super real colours. [Ö] There were lots of
photographs of food heíd done, and heíd pretty much made it look inedible.
One of the things that comes up, perhaps as an index of the way youíre
interested in suburbia is thereís a lot of actual stuff in the songs. Lots and lots of clothes, sometimes mentioned
by label. There are lots of brand names and theyíre named as a kind of class or
taste marker, a shorthand for placing people. Thatís quite risky in song
Itís not a very successful thing to do in terms of publishing you know. Mark
Lamarr was interviewing Nick Lowe who makes his career out of really writing an
album and then having people more famous than him cover the songs on it, and he
was saying how he has to. Do you know Nick Lowe?
Yes, but I didnít know he did that.
Yeah I mean, he, I think there was this famous thing where somebody covered a
song of his and it was on the sound track of Four weddings and a Funeral. And I heard him say once that he earned
more money from that one song than all of his career put together. So he says
he finds it hard to forget about that now when heís writing a song. Itís kind
of trying to write these songs that anyone could wear or sing.
I do that, I do do that. And I do it and it does what you say it does, those style
and taste markers.
But if itís good enough for novelists I donít see why it shouldnít be good
enough for song writers.
I just think it, I just think it, I just think it makes songs more believable.
And I think I am always trying to find a way to use the way I talk. Iím trying
to find a way to bring conversational elements into songs. To use an example that
we used earlier I just know Tom Yorke wouldnít use those words in conversation.
And nobody ever says to me íHow do you feel like, how do you feel today?í and
they say íOh my heart has been torn wide open, itís a flame of desireí. Nobody
talks like that and so Iím quite interested in songs being conversationalÖ but
still emotive. [...] You know a line about somebodyís iPod being dropped to the
floor and breaking in two is quite heartbreaking, if you do it in a minor
chord, that could be quite sad.
It would. [attempts diddy-widdy nanny voice]. And they can take them away if
theyíre Iranian they can, they can confiscate those if youíve been caught in
allegedly Iranian waters. It can be quite a severe thing if they take your iPod.
I suppose another aspect of that is the way you talk a lot about very specific
places. Thereís a lovely line about the North London line and how you would lay
yourself in front of it [for the singerís lover]. And with Local Information thereís references to extremely specific places,
Canada Water and [so on]. I can see that within a kind of modernity of the
local. Thatís one of the great pleasures I get from all the work: that youíve
had the bravery to push them into a wider world. I canít see anyone being
alienated by that, by a very specific reference. These arenít difficult songs
because you are mentioning very specific places.
Well it never bothered me when Old Blue Grass and me are singing about Cripple
Creek and I donít know where that is, or somebody singing about Alabama, or
something, and it doesnít bother me when Jonathan Richman is talking about his
local corner shop. I donít have to have been there to understand the song. It
just makes me think Iíve got a little keyhole into his life. And so when, if he
mentions his shop, and he mentions the street he lives on and he mentions a few
of these details and then he says that his heart is broken, I am more liable to
believe that his heart is broken, because heís set up all these other details
leading up to it. Itís more likely that heís going to convince me. Erm.
My view is [that for] the great English song writers itís just part of how they
write. There are localities within these songs. You think of Ray Davies, you
think of Morrissey.
Still not a lot though is there? There are a few. Theyíre examples. I think
actually, recently thereís been a bit of an explosion of writers like that. The
guy from the Streets and Lily Allen and now Kate Nash. I think they would all
put a brand name in a street. I can imagine Kate Nash singing a song about
Hanbury Street and being quite specific in her detail. But still generally in
England thereís not a lot.
Talking bands, song writing. Is it fair to say there was a generation around
you that were either your friends or if you can have colleagues in in the music
business [then colleagues] Ė who were with you, or just ahead of you and that
you were influenced by or that you were, as it were, sparring with?
I donít know, I donít remember really sparring with people. I felt that when we
started some people would mention Stuart Murdoch, from Belle and Sebastian, but
I never really saw a connection really, I mean apart from I guess he does
similar things with details. I think heís written some really good songs but I
generally donít really understand the world that heís talking about. I donít
really recognise it. Trying to think of anyone else...
And you briefly worked with Stuart, didnít you?
Yeah, I met him a few times. He did something on the first album and then we
played maybe two or three shows with him and then also just ran into him a few
times but probably only met him six or seven times. He wrote me a letter once,
which was quite odd, and his letter was exactly like one of his songs. I donít
know like he was like sitting in a laundrette and the window was misting up and
he had like a Raymond Carver. It seemed quite ridiculous and I thought wow you
do really live like that, itís not just in a song, like every day is like that,
donít really remember, I donít really remember thinking that but that doesnít
mean that I think that I was better or anything. I just donít remember thinking
that of contemporaries. I think there were like people that sort of I nicked
ideas off of and listened to a lot but I think [most] of them being really
And who were they?
So, like a guy called John Darnell, heís got a band called The Mountain Goats
and heís doing better now actually. Heís on 4AD now so. You can buy anything of
The Mountain Goats and heís a really clever lyricist, heís really great. I stole
quite a lot from him, I nicked quite a lot so he would be someone that I
listened to and thought Iíd like to do something like that, or try and do it
better. Yeah, a lot actually, really quite a lot. So, that would be an example.
I think heís better as well, I think heís a lot better than me.
Can we talk about Dead Media?
Listening to it, the first time I heard it, it was a shock. But listening to it
since then it doesnít feel like the big departure. Really the only shocking
thing is the extent of the electronica, which isnít as extensive when you
listen to it again as you originally feel.
Well I think when people listen to it now they listen to it in the context of the
other electronic album now [The Frenchís Local
Information]. So now Iíve done a couple of electronic albums people can
take a step back from it. Now Iíve kind of got a reputation of someone who
occasionally does bits of electronica but I didnít when I did it I suppose. I
donít think itís very good really, I donít think itís that great. I think it
ranks pretty low amongst the records Iíve done.
And whatís wrong with it?
I think itís probably shy of two or three better songs. I think if I like waited
six months, perhaps for two or three, maybe four songs that should be taken off
and better songs [put] on. Just the songs not being good enough is one thing
and I think also itís actually too much of a half-way house and it should have
either been really, really electronic, or not. [...] I think probably what
should have happened is we should have taken longer over it and then perhaps
there should have been two albums, because there were enough songs for there to
be two albums.
a lot of the reasons with that record were financial as well so at the time the
band could support all of the band as long as we did an album a year. But it
was actually quite hard to do an album a year. I mean it wasnít up until then
and perhaps isnít now. At that point I donít think Iíd written enough good
songs really. So there are all sorts of things, quite aside from the fact that
I was using synthesisers which also contributed to it not being popular. But I
think often people talk about it being because of synthesisers, rather than it
just being that it wasnít very good. Even if it had been on guitars, those
songs had all been on guitars, it still might end up not being good.
Synthesisers. When did it all begin?
I think when I was on tour in America and my friend Joel in New York sold me
his Moog synthesiser and then I think we used that quite a bit on We Love the City. There is quite a lot
of synthesiser on We Love the City. And
I just canít explain it. Like when I had guitars I was never bothered when
somebody was saying oh this guitar is a, this guitar is a 1960 Telecaster or
whatever. Yeah, never found that particularly interesting. Are you OK?
Iím good, Iím just you know, OK.
I never found that particularly interesting. I could never fetishise it but as
soon as I found synthesisers I could. As soon as I was interested in what the
difference between a Pro One and a Prophet 5 was.† Yeah I just like it. They just, the way they
look. They look much more exciting than guitars, you know, I like all the knobs
on them. Thereís a certain type of synthesiser that I like which is an analogue
synthesiser from the 70ís pretty much with a cut off point of about probably
about 1983, 1982 and any synthesiser after that Iím not really interested in. Perhaps
a bit later from sort of 75 to 85.
And is that because at that point the different synthesisers could sound
Itís just once again a [productive] limitation I guess. There would be
limitations to what they could do. It wasnít like a keyboard that could do
anything. Itís quite funny: my Prophet 5 has got this booklet that comes with
it and tells you how to make the sound of a tuba or a banjo, or this or that,
and you can follow all the things and put the knobs in. And it obviously
doesnít sound like that at all. And now what Iíve got is a modular synthesiser,
which is where it looks like a switchboard. And it doesnít even have a
keyboard. You play it by [...] loads of leads that connect it together. Just
when youíre on the internet type in modular synthesiser and youíll see the
instrument Iím talking about. Itís very odd, very anal and not many people
have. And this modular synthesiser I have I actually have the phone number of
the person who built it so when something goes wrong I phone up the person that
built it and he talks me through it.
I know that Iím better on guitars. I know that my records should really sound a
little folky and stuff and I might be a little way off doing aÖ Oh this ladyís
back. Hi, did you make a decision?
Yeah Iím just going to get it.
And how did the ukulele start?
Well I was looking for something when we were going to do some shows for The
French and the live shows for The French were pretty much miming. You know we
just had backing tracks or the synthesiser. So I just wanted something to have in
my hand really. So I thought a ukulele might be quite funny against the
electronic so I just bought it almost just as a visual prop. And then just
started writing songs on it. I know itís small, take it as hand luggage.
One of the things that occurs to me about Local
information is the way that your voice is different from the previous
Yes itís very...very... very under-sung isnít it? I think it was quite hard. I
can remember writing the songs and, and recording all the songs and I can
remember just constantly re-singing them. Just very hard to... to... to sit a
voice on top of that instrumentation. And you know when you listen to a lot of
80ís records which have a lot of synthís on them the vocals are often quite
affected in a way, with an effect or something, so we experimented with that
but that didnít seem to work. And I guess just with these instruments, like
guitars and stuff, the musicís more dynamic so your voice is more dynamic
thereís more of an up and down and thatís why people like drums and guitars. I
guess itís more human, to have more ups and downs, whereas when you have something
metronomic and very precise perhaps the singing needs to be more precise. Itís
a tricky one, itís a tricky one to work out how to sing.
remember it being quite an issue, and I remember several different approaches
being taken whilst we were making the record. Yeah I think Iím singing very
quietly and very sort of close to the mike. I guess also I forget how I sing
live if I donít sing live for a long time. I think the way my voice is often is
because of live gigs, cos the way I sing is to try and make my vocal go above
the guitars and stuff. Maybe itís something to do with that and after Iíve done
shows I think I sing louder.
Is there a possibility of The French being another project where you keep those
same rules but you make a different sort of record?
No, I donít think there will be another French album. No I think it was just
too disappointing to us what happened after that. Even though I think itís my
second favourite. I think my favourite is We
Love the City and I think my second favourite is The French.
Itís a great record.
The French, that experience of it is still a bit tainted by the legal case with
Too Pure and just having a few years where I wasnít able to record. The memory
of it is still tainted by that. Well firstly The French album itself was like
10 songs chosen from about 30. So when we reissue The French album which will
probably be next year - we are going to start with Breaking Godís Heart in autumn, then it will be every two or three
months it will go through - and The French reissue will be two CDs. So thereís
going to be a whole CD of 16, no probably more probably, about 20 songs that
you havenít heard.
And these will be proper extra songs?
Yeah they wonít be like different versions. As well as that we did make a
second album which never was released. Thereís a second French album called
Home Time that hasnít been released, although some of the songsare coming out
on the other albums so, for instance, ĎEnglish Headí and ĎProtons and Neutronsí
and ĎTable for Oneí were from the second album. But I think what I might do,
most of the songs are with this next album, I think most of the good ones are
out on the album. So what I might do is when I feel like itís all been
plundered I think I might just release it free, like totally free. I must just
put it on the websiteÖ
that record is a proper concept, like a proper little story. But we did finish
it, but it was just John, John was just, I donít know his heart wasnít in it. I
just couldnít, I just couldnít release an album, which we had, we just had
enough of The French. And then I just thought well these songs are good. I
think perhaps the album doesnít work, the second French album doesnít work and
I think there are some good songs and it would be better just taking those
songs off. I guess it would be quite interesting to fans to hear some of these
songs that perhaps are out and when you put them in an order make sense and
they are different versions, The French versions are all electronic and some of
the versions on my albums arenít. So there is a lot of French stuff but I donít
think there will be a new album. Yes I think when this 2 CD thing comes out I
think there will almost be everything on 2 CDs, a reissue.
Do you feel a new lease of life now you are recording under your own name?
Erm, I think Table for Oneís OK. Itís
pretty good. I think it was really hard to write cos once again it was written
under that cloud of the legal action and it was such a relief to get anything
out at all. I donít think I felt a lease of life by releasing a Darren Hayman
record. I think probably more whatís been a lease of life is the last 18 months
and thatís starting the shop, Simonís studio, Ellis Island Sound and just there
being a community of bands. Yeah, I think thatís perhaps more which has made me
feel much more creative. And Iím writing. I think there was quite a drought
really. I think like itís quite lucky that Local
information and Table for One are
as good as they are, but if you look chronologically at how much things slowed
up I think I did dry up a little bit. I didnít find it as easy to write for a
few years and now Iím finding it easier again, writing more songs now.
What was the legal issue, as far as you can say?
Oh I can say whatever I like I think, cos itís over. The only reason that I
wouldnít say is cos itís a bit boring. But when I finished Hefner Too Pure
wanted to sign me but they didnít want to give me the money to pay for the
whole band. So I said to them well thatís OK but then perhaps probably what the
best thing to do is perhaps end Hefner because itís very much a band of 4
people and perhaps just re-sign me on my own. Anyway I wanted to do a
synthesiser record and perhaps it might be better not to do it under the Hefner
name. So they said fine and then they signed me to this contract. And thereís
all sorts of negotiations when you are doing a recording contract. But in one
of the meetings Martin Mills who is the head of Beggars Banquet a reasonably
powerful man in the music industry, certainly a millionaire, said to me íOh and
Darren the first 2 albums is 2 albums firmí. And Iím not even sure if I
properly understood what that meant but it transpired what it meant was that
they were legally obliged to do 2 albums. So The French album came out and it
didnít sell any copies and I guess it wasnít what they thought, it wasnít what
they expected. There seemed to be this constant thing. I think Martin Mills saw
me very much as he wanted me to do something with strings, he would always
mentioned strings. He wanted some kind of very much more sombre album. So [one]
day after The French album they said weíre not going to do another album. And
then I remembered this thing from the meetings - Iím sure they said they had
to. So I took it to a lawyer and the lawyer said yeah, you do have to, they do
have to. They either have to pay you for the album or release the second album.
So that was the start of the dispute really, about me saying youíre legally
obliged to pay me for this second album. So that amount of money was 25 grand.
And itís hard with legal things. Itís like if I knew at the beginning of it how
much trouble it would be, how much heartache, I would probably have said itís
not worth 25 grand. But you donít know at the beginning. And certainly at the
beginning when I took it to a lawyer he said, ĎWell you know Iíll win this
easily for you. Weíll do it on a no win no fee. Iíll just take 10%í, or
something, canít remember. So OK, fine, if itís going to be that easy. You
know, if itís not, if heís that sure.
he was sure and we did win it but it just got really nasty. You know, people
talk about lies a lot but itís very unusual to see, like to get a letter, or a
fax saying you said this and you did this and itís just like a lot of it. I
think a lot of what they do in those things is that they try and make you
scared to go to court. They say look do you really want us to say this, itís
horrible, really horrible. And eventually what happened was is that they instead
of just giving me this 25 grand they said weíll just give you your back
catalogue back. But even then like on the telly when somebody wins a court
case, youíve been awarded so much money and they go out and shake hands and
theyíre like that. Even from that moment when I won, even then it took like
another 8 months of negotiation to get the contract, the settlement contract
done, from which time also I couldnít record or release. So thatís kind of it,
does that make sense, as much as it can in the music industry?
So the dispute was with Too Pure, but what did Beg..
Beggars Banquet owned Too Pure. Too Pure has been lots of different things even
in the time that I was on it, like by the time we did Dead Media there was no-one at Too Pure when we did Breaking Godís Heart, like not one
person. Too Pure was like completely different. Too Pure was a company started
by a really nice guy called Paul Cox who now runs Art Rocker magazine. And heís the guy that kind of signed Polly
Harvey, Stereolab, myself. But yes, a label with a troubled history. But itís
nearly, for most of itís life Too Pure has been owned pretty much outright by
Beggars Banquet, so itís not as indie as it may appear, itís got big people
Whatís the Secondary Modern?
Oh itís just a name really. It becomes a bit tiresome on the website to say oh
this gigís an acoustic one or this oneís with a band, or Iíll be playing these
sort of songs. I wanted to just make it easier so people go OK this is Darren
Hayman and Secondary Modern. So actually already weíre on our 3rd
line up with Secondary. So just anyone round the shop or anyone who can make a
gig, as long as I can rehearse the songs. Simon [Trought] was the bass player
in the Secondary Modern for a while. Iíd like it to be a bit more permanent.
Itís been a bit bad, Iíve had a bit of bad luck really recently. Just a lot of people
that have jobs really, people that have jobs and they use up their leave and
they canít do it. And then the band Iíve got now are good, they can really
play, but theyíre about 22, theyíre just so young.
Yeah, I think I saw them at the 100 Club, is that the same band?
Ah no, that, thatís Secondary Modern version 2
That wasnít long ago...
Well SecondaryÖ the band at the 100 Club are... thatís the Wave Pictures. So
they are their own band. When Iím not with them they are called the Wave
Pictures and theyíve just finished their new album downstairs [in the studio
beneath the shop]. And thatís who me and Simon were talking about, the Wave
Pictures tomorrow night at the Macbeth. And so really that was only ever for
this Spanish tour. I wanted to take them to Spain so they were the support band
and it just made sense. And they were all Hefner fans. And theyíre a great band
and they knew the songs already so it was really easy.
Tell us about touring, because youíre a god in your own lifetime in Spain
Yeah I mean itís, itís smaller in Spain now than it was in the same way as it
is in the UK. Less people come now. Did a really nice show last week, last
Thursday in Seville. We played a monastery, played in the grounds of a
monastery. I donít really understand it really. I donít really understand why
it took off. It was around Fidelity Wars
we did this festival called Buena Casa and we had an unnaturally high place on
the roster because somebody pulled out. It might have been the Manic Street
Preachers and they jumbled it all around and we ended up really high up so we
played to a lot of people. And then people started talking about it. It was a
lot to do with Fidelity Wars. Like in
Spain Fidelity Wars gets mentioned in
lists about lists and they really like that album. I like the way Spanish
people like music. Itís kind of funny when you come off stage theyíre very kind
of like íOh that was really good, do you wanna beer, or a game of pool?'
Theyíre very, very casual about fandom. Theyíre never really intent or ask you
about lyrics. The other weird thing about Hefner in Spain it was very much to
do with the music. It was never interviews. Theyíd be quite happy interviewing
John or Jack or Ant. It wasnít so fixated on the lyrics, it was just about the
sound of the band, whereas in UK or other countries it was much more about me
and the songs, rather than the band. Yeah itís great, yeah. It still gets me
out there every now and then and [I] still sometimes release records on Spanish
labels. That one, Cortinaland, from
last year was on a Spanish label.
I noticed in some of the things you said just now, but also in some of the
things on the site, that you are often trying to spread the interest around
with the band. But do you think you sometimes struggle with being the focus,
being perhaps even the engine of whichever group youíre with?
I think Iím used to it now because the records have my name on it and I just do
do everything on my own. And so when like Secondary Modern, whoever they are,
or people who are working with me downstairs you know Iím paying them to do it,
I pay a wage to do a gig with me. So it is me. And also as a fall out from the
legal case. And this, I wonít tell this story cos it is boring and itís not as
juicy as it may sound but I am also Hefner now. Itís not that I actually own
He.. with the other three guys at various reasons have dropped out of the
business part, mainly because with the legal case there was legal costs and
just generally, I donít blame them at all, but people were just like you know I
canít handle this. I donít think it means as much to me as you and obviously it
meant a lot more to me. So in terms of the reissues now itís one and the same
thing. Itís obviously only a difference in terms of branding that Hefner was different
to Darren Hayman but in terms of business itís the same thing; that all my
records are my own. So no I donít find it hard now, I think I did and I think
it was, I think sometimes it could come over as false humility but I donít
think people genuinely appreciated how much the other three did. And I think
when you have all songs written by Darren Hayman that can be quite misleading.
It is true that all the songs were written by me, [but] particularly John the
bass player, you know they really did produce the records and I really didnít.
Iíve had to, since Hefner ended, Iíve really had to learn how to arrange music.
I wasnít very good at arranging music. And John was very good at it. You talk about
the brass on We Love the City, l mean
I didnít have anything to do with that really, I mean apart from making the
decision that Iíd really like to have brass. John arranged it all. So I
genuinely felt that they were underplayed. I felt that in contrast to other
bands that have a main song writer, definitely the band produced the records. I
think it was OK to be that way then but I think Iíve got used to it now. You
know I get so little attention now anyway compared to then that I donít think I
could possibly be uncomfortable about too much attention now. This week, Iíve
done two interviews, thatís quite a lot, you know.
Well if you want it to, I hope that changes. I think things will change.
I think that some of us are just in it for the long game. I think my friend
Pete, Pete Astor whoís in Ellis Island Sound and used to be in bands right
through the 80s and 90ís, is just like some of us, [we] are in it for the long game.
And the reason why a lot of people disappear, the reason why people stop making
records is they just stop and thereís not really a secret to it. You just donít
stop making records. And I think that itís a war of attrition sometimes. And I
think people like Robin Hitchcock and Billy Childish, if you make enough
records the Guardian Weekend will eventually do an article about you.
They might do it at album 20 but they will, and sometimes you have a relevance
by your own tenacity and I think thatís my plan now. Iíll release so many
records that people canít possibly ignore me. You know once Iíve released, like
you [and your poetry books], 10,000 albums somebody will surely find that
noteworthy to say something about.