Next weekend’s Indietracks festival takes place in and around the Midland Railway train line from Butterley to Swanwick, in the heart of Derbyshire. The musical theme of the festival is unashamedly indie-pop, both past and present, and among those gracing the stages will be the likes of Los Campesinos!, The Wave Pictures, Comet Gain, Ballboy, The Lodger, St Christopher and Airport Girl.
Two of the most established and respected names on the bill are those of Darren Hayman, formerly of Hefner, and David Gedge, still going strong with the latest incarnation of The Wedding Present. DiS thought it would be a good idea to get these two legends to question one another, so off to a hotel in Brighton they went and here’s what happened…
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DG: Actually it was West Hollywood. It’s surrounded by Los Angeles but it’s a little town in itself. I’d lived in Leeds for years and years and I split up with my girlfriend and I felt like I wanted to get away because I didn’t really know anyone there anymore. And then I met the person who became my girlfriend, who’s from Seattle, so we lived in Seattle for a couple of years. And that’s where we did the last album. When it came to writing this album I thought, “I like writing in a different location,” and I guess it was a realisation that I could do my job anywhere. All you need is a guitar and a piece of paper and a pen. Our bass player has lived in LA for ten years and I’ve been doing more writing with her. I suppose I was attracted to the pop culture there.
DH: Is that a new thing, writing songs with someone else?
DG: It’s always been the same really, which is I write the songs, but it depends. Sometimes people will come up with a riff or something, but it varies from song to song, but to a certain degree people have always pitched in with ideas.
Video: Hefner, 'The Sweetness Lies Within'
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DH: How does that work with deciding how and who to credit a song to?
DG: In the old days, they were all credited to Gedge, and that’s primarily because I was the only member of PRS (The Performing Right Society), so we had this sort of agreement where Gedge is a sort of pseudonym for The Wedding Present and the money would get shared but as the line-up changed, and new members were already members of PRS, we’d start having multiple credits. On this new album, I think Terry (De Castro, bass player for The Wedding Present) co-wrote half of them, and the other half are co-written by our new guitarist, Chris McConville. Our old guitarist Simon (Cleave), who you met, has left now.
DH: I met him once, quite apart from The Wedding Present. He lives in Cologne doesn’t he?
DG: Oh I think he said he’d come to one of your gigs or something?
DH: No, I think he just cycled past as we were unloading, and we chatted for a bit then he went off home. I don’t think he came to the gig.
DG: Oh right (laughs), and our drummer Graeme (Ramsay) is a multi-instrumentalist and he’s written some of it too. I think Paul (Dorrington, previous guitarist) was a bit miffed because he was on The Hit Parade and in those days we were quite minimalist on the sleeves, so we didn’t say who played what, and he said: “I’ve just realised I’m on this Guinness Book of Records record for most hit singles in a year, and my name’s not credited anywhere.” I felt a bit bad about that because his name wasn’t on the writing credits or the musician credits, so after that we felt everyone should be credited and then we added musician credits and nowadays, for some reason, I’ve gone totally the other way, and I credit everybody.
DH: I think there’s a different thing you want when you’re buying music from when you’re putting music out. I think when I’m doing my records I would like it to be more minimal. I do a few things outside the music too, like for instance I do the artwork and if I was to credit everything I did it would make me look like Prince or something you know: “Mixed, written, arranged, danced, produced by Dar’en” is a bit ridiculous! Isn’t it obvious it’s me…
DG: Did you do those cartoony sleeves?
DH: Yeah I did all the sleeves.
DG: Oh yeah, they’re brilliant them, I’ve always been a big fan of comic books.
DH: Yeah it’s quite strange. The sleeve is something that comes in my head at the same time as the title of the album and the first few songs, so for example the album I’m doing now, I’ve got a cover idea and I’ve only got two or three songs written.
DG: Right… (laughs)
DH: It kind of grows that way and I find myself rejecting songs because they don’t fit in with the cover. It’s all funny with my parents because that was my degree, in illustration, so my mum likes to show off my CDs and say, “Darren did the cover,” and I have to point out that I wrote all the songs on it too!
DG: So have you done art outside of this in general?
DH: I’ve done a couple of sleeves for other people…
DG: No I mean exhibitions, or comic books.
DH: Well, the missed opportunity with the Hefner sleeves is that they were designed on a computer so there’s no original artwork as such, so it misses out on the chance to sell or show it. I guess you could do limited prints or something, but now the sleeves are hand drawn and painted so I have been thinking about an exhibition.
Video: The Wedding Present, 'Kennedy'
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DH: How well do you get on with the ex-Wedding Present members then?
DG: I don’t really see them to be honest. I get on with them, but I don’t really have the chance to get on with them really because I don’t see them. The only time I contact them is when we get a bit of money that needs to be shared out. The last time that happened was when Sanctuary released a box set of John Peel sessions.
DH:Yeah, I bought that.
DG: It’s brilliant isn’t it? Well its not for me to say it’s brilliant, but it’s one of my favourite Wedding Present releases.
DH: Antony (Harding), the former Hefner drummer, got me into The Wedding Present. When we were at college it was around the time of Bizarro, so I had to work back to George Best and Tommy retrospectively and I remember that Peel Session with the songs that would go on to be on Seamonsters, with ‘Dalliance’.
DG: Oh yeah, John Peel session of the year that one!
DH: I remember Antony taped it and I went round his house and it seemed like a really exciting time for the band, a real shift, so I was really excited about having that on CD, that session. I remember the songs changed quite a bit when they came out.
DG: Well I guess doing Peel Sessions is like doing works in progress. John Peel quite liked bands coming in with half-formed ideas and then trying them out and making demos, which is great because you usually have to pay to make demos but they paid you. When we did that I had to write to everybody who is on it and say, “Look, Sanctuary have given me all this money, here’s your share.” I think I’m a little bit obsessed with what I do; I don’t really have friends outside the band. That’s all I seem to have time for, the musicians or the people working with us, and obviously through the years people have come and gone. Even Simon (Pearson, previous drummer), who’s just gone, he was one of my best friends really, and I don’t talk to him now, because I hate to say it, I’ve got no need to.
DH: It’s exactly the same for me. John (Morrison), the bass player in Hefner, was… not my best man, but my witness when I got married to my wife Helen, and then… well, it’s just similar for me because it’s such a little gang…
DG: Yeah exactly.
DH: When you’re on tour and you’re stuck in hotel rooms, and you know all the things that can go wrong on tour, and you have to stick together, so when it ends it’s tinged with some sadness. Recently I’ve tried to be a little better at it, and better with the Hefner guys too. I’ve sent a few more e-mails to them and also Jack (Hayter) has joined my band now, so that helps, because I think he’s really great, and although there’s a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t want to reform Hefner there’s no reason why I shouldn’t want to do music with those guys.
DG: Of course not no. It’s the same with Simon and Cinerama. He was in The Wedding Present and then in Cinerama. It’s weird when people leave that little group. I’ve had it more over the years, and they break way, or you have to ask them to leave, but then you get someone else in and you get that new enthusiasm and people want to prove that they’re as good as the people who went before them and it kind of rebirths the band again.
DH: Does a new Wedding Present guitarist or drummer have to have a certain loyalty to a guitar part that a previous guitar played on a certain song, or are they able to play, say ‘Kennedy’, with a slightly altered guitar part?
DG: It’s funny you should say that. I mean, there are no rules. Simon had his own interpretation of lot of the stuff and I didn’t really realise at the time until Chris joined the band and we did the George Best tour last year and he went back, and it’s exactly the same, every note. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know because it’s nostalgic for me, but sometimes I guess we have to improve things. Sometimes, like twenty years later, you can think to yourself, “We can make this song better”.
DH: Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really listen to Hefner records all that much. I found that with a bass player I had recently he did the same thing, he’d learn them, and I’d be like, “Oh right, that is how it goes”. But why would I know how a Hefner song goes? That’s the last thing I’d play at home.
DG: So what’s the name of your band now?
DH: Darren Hayman and the Secondary Modern. People can book me on my own or with a band so it started to become cumbersome to say Darren acoustic or Darren with band, so it was just easier to have a band name. I quite like it. I decided to give up music and thought I’d become a teacher, so I did a teacher training course, but I realised being a musician is a walk in the park compared to teaching! Quite a few of the songs are about schools and education so the name Secondary Modern fitted!
DH: Pretty much. I very rarely write a song on its own. I tend to write groups of songs that have a theme.
DG: I’m completely the opposite. I just take each song individually, so when people ask, “Is this the LA album?”, it’s not at all really. There’s a few little references obviously that I find quite amusing, though…
DH: Pretty much everything from the second Hefner album onwards really. Sometimes it’s a concept that’s just there for me, and isn’t put on the sleeve or press releases, but sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s something I want people to know about the record.
DG: The only time we did it was on the mini-LP called Mini, and it was all car themed. I thought it was quite funny. I think it was one of my favourite Wedding Present records. It should have been an LP because they were really good songs, but only six of them.
DH: Was that the last Wedding Present album before Cinerama?
DG: Second to last yeah. There was Saturnalia after that. We’d done loads of gigs actually and decided to have a break in 1997, so that’s when I started Cinerama.
Video: Hefner, 'I Took Her Love For Granted'
DG: I think with Cinerama, I didn’t want it to be a band. I wanted it to be a solo project but my friend said people will hate that, that you should make it a band but then it became a band anyway because I didn’t want it to be ‘The David Gedge band’. How do you feel about that?
DH: Yeah I don’t like that. It’s weird having your name on the front of a record.
DG: I saw Cinerama and I thought, “That’s a great name”.
DH: Once again, you can’t always decide these things for yourself. Hefner had ended and The French had ended and despite The French record still being the best record I’ve made it sold less records and I didn’t think that reforming Hefner was an option for me. It seemed like the most sensible thing to do in terms of business was to call it Darren Hayman. To call it anything else would just split the fan base even further.
DG: We got so many letters even after five years of Cinerama from people saying, “I just realised you’re in this band Cinerama”.
DH: You can’t take any of that for granted. I was doing a show in Grenada last week and I met this guy at the airport who was like, “I love Hefner. I’ve got all the albums. I saw you five times”.
DG: Let me guess, he then asked: “What are you doing now?”
DH He was asking, “What’s your band’s name?” When I did The French I assumed people who liked Hefner would buy it, because I would!
DG: It’s quite surprising isn’t it? It’s a smaller minority than that isn’t it? It’s like probably ten per cent of your fans buy everything you do.
DH: And also the fans that you meet are only the sort of fans that would come up and talk to you. I saw the Wedding Present six or seven times and never came over and spoke to you. I just saw the band and then wanted to go home. You have to remember the 80-90 per cent who don’t come up and talk to you I guess.
DH: What is your least favourite album that you’ve made?
DG: George Best. But isn’t that obvious really? I just feel I’ve got better, as a singer, as a songwriter and as an arranger. I think Bizarro was the album George Best should have been, its just better. George Best sounds really flawed. I was talking to Andrew Collins and I was saying it was a flawed album and he said: “That’s why I like it”. It’s the sound of a band trying to do something and failing, but as an artist, you don’t want to hear that, you want to hear I’ve tried and I’ve achieved…
DH: But once again, it’s a different thing you want as a consumer to an artist. I also like those ‘tried and failed’ albums. I like Wings albums because it’s much more interesting hearing McCartney screw it up rather than get it right on Beatles albums. But I don’t necessarily want to make a screw up record myself, although I don’t like going to rehearsal studios to practise.
DG: Why don’t you like rehearsing? I’m interested.
DH: Just because you’re repeating things, I guess.
DG: But that’s how you learn isn’t it? That’s how you get it into your stupid brain.
DH: I’m getting the impression that because writing is a little more collaborative for you, that makes it a little more interesting and a certain amount of arranging happens in rehearsal, maybe?
DG: Oh yeah, a lot of it.
DH: That type of rehearsing I like, and Hefner rehearsals were more like that. Because we were touring so much we didn’t really need to go back and do the album. I think when I have a band now there’s part of it which is, “These are the new songs from the new record,” but then we have to learn four or five Hefner songs and that’s less interesting.
DG: I know what you mean, but its part of the job isn’t it.
DH: Oh well, you know I do it and I put up with it. I don’t cry and refuse to go in.
Video: The Wedding Present: ‘Brassneck'
DH: How often do you write a song?
DG: It’s become kind of compartmentalised now, so we record, then do the shows and then get back to writing again. When I’m writing it’s all the time, but in between it can be a long time. The last album was written around 2004, 2005, so it’s been quite a long time this time. What about you?
DH: An idea will occur to me once a week, maybe.
DG: Do you write it there and then, because I just write notes and come back to it later.
DH: People say I’m prolific. I had an album out in November and I have another ready now, so I write more songs than most people, but songs take a long time right. I have lots of songs being written at the same time, a lot of drafts. I rewrite a lot. My lyric book has pages and pages crossed out.
DG: Do you do the lyrics and music at the same time or do you do the music first and then do the lyrics later?
DH: I think a song idea starts with a lyric idea.
DG: Oh that’s the complete opposite to me (laughs).
DH: A song starts when I think of something and think, “That would be a good idea for a song”. It starts from there. I like mobile phones now, and the little recording facility they have for recording ideas and stuff.
DG: I’m completely the opposite. I used to write them more at the same time. We had a few songs where they didn’t make the mega standards that The Wedding Present required, so we ditched them. I thought I wasted all that time writing those lyrics, thinking of all those good rhymes, and you can’t just pluck them off and use them on another song - well I suppose you could do that.
DH: Well that is what I do. Some of my better songs have been Frankenstein creations of other songs.
DG: Does it not have to be scanned though, so they don’t become slightly different versions of the other songs?
DH: Well scanning is important to me, particularly that the lines scan. I think one of my strengths is making lyrics fit the music. I’m good at internal rhyme patterns, using one long note, mixing up the rhythms. I’m very flattered when people say I’m a good lyricist, as I don’t think I am. I just think I have a knack for making unusual words fit the music.
DG: It must be very hard to take a lyric that’s already there and fit it to music.
DH: In some ways I think it would be easier for me if people hadn’t been so generous in their comments to me about my lyrics.
DG: Ha, ha!
DH: The reason why I do this isn’t really to do with the lyrics, it’s because I like the sound of guitars and putting music together is really exciting. I didn’t really have a desire to be a wordsmith but now I feel a bit of a duty to have a certain quality threshold. That reason makes me do rewrites all the time. I have a lot of songs unfinished and it’s just about me finishing them and making them good.
The Wedding Present’s new album El Rey is out on Vibrant Records. For more information on the band visit their MySpace page. Darren Hayman also has a new collection of songs entitled Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee available now on Fortuna Pop! Records (review). For more information on him and his numerous co-projects, visit his MySpace page.
For full details on the Indietracks line-up and how and where to obtain tickets go to the official festival website.