DiS calls Micah P Hinson’s mobile on the eve of Latitude 2008, where he and his band are scheduled to play a mid-afternoon slot the next day. The night previous, Hinson played a triumphant set at London’s esteemed Bush Hall, leaning heavy on his new Red Empire Orchestra album (review), though not without a smattering of the ragged, impassioned screams that so informed his earlier material.
The venue was the first he ever played in the capital, and near the end of his set he takes a moment – the self-confessed “sappy bastard” – to “thank each and every one” of us for attending. The Texan seems a man rejuvenated: content in his (newly married) situation, comfortable on stage, blessed with a sense of calm palpable on aforementioned latest record. And so: Hinson in an Ipswich hotel room, DiS borrowing a friend’s desk: lengthy conversation ensues…
Video: Micah P Hinson for BBC Collective
So how are you finding things over here at the moment, and – a broad question, mind – are you pleased with Red Empire Orchestra?
It’s been kind of stressful but also really positive – it feels like I’m in the right place in my life, doing the right things, you know? I wish I didn’t have a cellphone ‘cause the thing goes off constantly. But it’s great – the reaction from everybody, and the newspapers and the magazines, has been great. When all is said and done, it feels like it’s the record I’ve been trying to make for the past four years. I feel it’s more focused, and in that way reflects me much more, in that I feel much more focused as a human being.
How was it recording with producer John Congleton (Explosions In The Sky, Modest Mouse, Black Mountain)?
He really pushed me, you know? Like, if I did a guitar part he thought was shit, he’d tell me it was shit. And that was an interesting thing for me to deal with, because I’m not used to people so directly telling me things are crap. It was hard – definitely a new experience, but I still felt like I had the freedom to do what I needed to do, like he wasn’t going to force anything on me. And the fact that he’s worked with such phenomenal musicians – to be a part of that – to be sought after (Congleton sent Hinson a note expressing interest in working together via MySpace) by someone like that was nice.
One thing that jumped out at me is the contrast that can be found with your previous work. For example, Opera Circuit closes with ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’, which is more like a distraught… plea almost, opposed to ‘Dyin’ Alone’, which is rather more tender.
That’s the thing with Opera Circuit… the label didn’t even want that on there, let alone the last song! But it starts off quite sensitive – almost afraid, before these… screaming sounds. I remember this woman Debbie, who worked for Sketchbook Records, she called me up saying she didn’t want to use it after listening to it home alone – she said it really, actually frightened her, and I was glad she said that, ‘cause that was the point. Which kind of irritated her. But I think the ending of the new album is – the last two songs – much calmer. I’m a bit more at ease with myself._
I’d definitely say that. It seems to be something lots of people are picking up on this time ‘round…though there is still a definite element of darkness there – not least lyrically on ‘The Fire Came Up To My Knees’. I remember reading you once saying how you found it easier to draw inspiration through a sense of melancholy, which almost stands at odds with the new album…
I guess that makes sense; I don’t think I’ve always been a miserable person at all – I always try to have as much of a laugh as possible. But with ‘Knees’, that darker side is where I tend to dwell. But writing from a different perspective, where I don’t feel like I have to dwell on that stuff, feels like it’s opened a whole other arena; a whole other means of writing songs and approaching things. Especially when it comes to writing songs about love and relationships, as I feel I’ve found that one relationship, and I’ve found that person – so there’s none of this longing for anything else, no always looking for something better. When you find a foundation in something like that I think, clearly, the things you write about are going to change to a certain degree, you know? Even though there is quite a bit of darkness on the record, in songs like ‘Tell Me It Ain’t So’…but it’s kind of both. So maybe the record now is a truer reflection of life as a well-rounded circuit as opposed to just one side of it.
I was going to ask about that song – you mentioned it last night as particularly important?
I’m not going to get into the gory details of it, of my life, but let’s say that I was making a lot of very bad decisions. I was craving after things that I really had no need of going after, resting importance on things that are completely useless. So I guess when I wrote that song – these songs – there was a sense of realisation, that I’d been walking down these roads and following certain people, doing things that aren’t going to help me in life or get me any further. It’s kind of like,_ fuck_: look at this mess that I’ve made, without really intending to do so. That song… it does mean a great deal to me. Realising that life doesn’t have to be like that. And even though it is very personal, I’d hope a lot of people find a universal meaning in that. I guess that’s I really strive for as far as songwriting goes – to be personal, but in such an ambiguous way, you know; so that anybody in the world that listens to it can work these things into their own circumstances. ‘Cause life… it isn’t easy, and I think when you hear a musician – at least for me personally – sing about that, you can take comfort from it. And being lonely, being lonesome… that spawns all sorts of evils.
*One of my favourite songs of yours is ‘_The Dreams You Left Behind_’ – *
Oh, right on man!
– for me, personally, despite – or maybe because of – it being so desperately sad, it really grabbed me. But that was the first stuff I heard of yours, from The Baby & The Satellite.
Well, that was probably a really good place to start. I wanted to release that first actually – those old songs, just the track on the album with all of them on, and then there’d be a really nice progression you know, like Baby, then Gospel – which I think is much grander. But Baby & The Satellite man – to this day, is probably one of my favourite collections of songs I’ve ever done.
I wanted to ask a bit about how you find the interviewing process. As obviously there are issues with a past you could describe as ‘chequered’. How is that, for you?
I think… I’ve found it’s really starting to change actually. When people ask about my past they sort of ask like you did – in a more sensitive kind of way. But in the end I understand that – let’s say my first record came out and I wasn’t these stories and there wasn’t this stuff – I might not have gotten as much attention. So it was important – all those decisions and mistakes have got me to where I am today, and as far as interviewers go, why wouldn’t people want to talk about it? Some crazy kid at 19, getting thrown in the pokey, having massive pill addictions, dating stupid models and stuff like that. The funny thing is, some of that stuff has just turned, like… I mean, with my jail-time – I never went to a proper penitentiary; I was never in jail for a year, two years, or even a month. There were just like two or three days here and there. And it wasn’t fun, you know. But I guess at this point – the thing to say is that I understand it plays a part.
Another aspect of Hinson’s life that has plagued him in recent years is the persistent back problems he’s endured, since a friend of his struck him while out celebrating a Burns Night. After explanation of a forthcoming procedure involving huge needles, spines, huge needles in spines and electronic ‘pulses’ that effectively trick the brain into believing there’s no pain, we discussed the injury and its perpetrator…
He made you a guitar strap? Are you still friends?
Yeah – the guitar strap I take around, he handmade it. I’m not sure whether that was an apology for what he had done. Our friendship has definitely… suffered from this, though I don’t – I guess initially it was his fault, but I can’t lay the blame squarely on him; maybe I didn’t take as good care of myself as I should have either. But I wish he wouldn’t have done that. And in the end I think he’s probably lucky he’s a really good friend of mine, because if he wasn’t I might completely sue his ass off. It’s a hard thing.
Moving on to something more positive, then! You proposed to your girlfriend onstage at the Union Chapel last December…
Yeah man! We’d talked about getting married, and it was odd – coming from this past, these problems we had; from a point where we didn’t even want to be friends. But then next thing you know we’re talking about marriage, we went out and bought a ring, and so I started thinking: what would be the best way to ask somebody that I loved to marry me? So I didn’t tell her I was going to ask her or anything… next thing I know I’m onstage calling her up and – there’s this video on YouTube I think, where she points to the ground – she said if I got to my knee she’d say yes; so I dropped! And it was a very beautiful, healing moment for us, to be in the midst of my music and my touring – and like I said, it’s quite honestly proclaiming to the world that this is the woman who I love – anybody can look it up, you know, in the world! It seems quite special.
Video: Micah P Hinson live at Rough Trade, London, 2006
Micah P Hinson returns to the UK come September, playing a string of dates taking in Bestival and End Of The Road. Catch him as follows:
2 Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
3 Leeds Holy Trinity Church
4 Liverpool Academy 2
6 Cheltenham Frog & Fiddle
7 Isle Of Wight Bestival
9 Cambridge Junction 2
10 Nottingham Bodega
12 Dorset End of the Road Festival
Photos:* Julien Borgeois*