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Hefner - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 19 / 3 / 2006

Hefner - Interview


Former Hefner frontman has recently returned with his first solo album. 'Table for One'. He talks to Ben Howarth about why Hefner decided to part company and the new album

The comeback is an oft used tool to sell more albums. Richard Ashcroft apparently made a glorious comeback at Live8 last year. No doubt it was a significant moment for Ashcroft himself, but had anyone else realised that he’d gone away? Darren Hayman is doing the opposite. Most of his fan base seemed to have forgotten who he was, but in fact, he has never stopped making music. It is just that his work with his next band the French was almost completely ignored. Sad, because Hayman rates his work there as highly as his Hefner material. But with his debut solo album, ‘Table For One’ and a Hefner greatest hits album both released during March, the indie community looks set to embrace one of its most gifted songwriters once again, almost a decade after they first fell in love with Hefner's debut album,‘Breaking God’s Heart.’ “I think doing a solo album was an inevitability”, Darren told Pennyblackmusic in my second interview with him, a few weeks after the release of ‘Table For One’. As the songwriter and the voice, Darren’s personality was always the one presented most to listeners anyway, even if the group aesthetic was important. “There were always solo moments, certain B-sides and a fair bit of 'Dead Media. I did on my own. I knew I would end up here.” There was never a bitter break up with Hefner. Response to 2001's 'Dead Media',which turned out to be their last album, was muted and the band decided that they had done all they probably could. Yet Darren didn’t make what seemed to me the obvious move and go solo straight away. Instead he worked with Hefner bassist John Morrison in the French. It is only now that John has decided to give up music that Darren finally performs on his own. I asked him, therefore, if he was still hoping to work in a band again when the opportunity appears. “I have now got a band for the purpose of playing live and they may record the next album with me, but I think the records will say Darren Hayman on the cover for a while.” It is an inevitable question but I had to ask if he missed working with the rest of Hefner when he was making this album. “I miss not having the other guys around just after the show”, he answered. “They were great people to tour with. I sometimes miss John in the studio since he was so smart at arranging, but by and by I get by and don't miss it too much.” Despite this, however, recording his new album wasn’t as simple as he found recording albums in the past. “The other thing I miss about Hefner is how quick and easy it was. I expect to make great records and records possibly better than Hefner ones, but I don't expect to work with musicians who ‘got it’ so quickly ever again.” Besides that, I asked, what was recording the album like? Surely there must have been an element of pressure, considering that it is the first time you have made an album as a solo artist? “It was done under a cloud of legal pressure, so I tried to do it when I felt like it and make sure I enjoyed it.I was trying not to spend too long on each song as well, because 'Too Much Information',the French album, took forever!” The more relaxed, enjoyable nature of the recording is easy to hear on the album itself. On their fourth album, 'We Love The City' from 2000, as Darren readily will admit, Hefner sought to make a concept album about London life. Then 'Dead Media' was a radical departure, an attempt to make a completely different kind of album, with different instruments and the sudden realisation of what had been before a gradual change in Darren’s song writing style over the course of the band’s life. This, however, seems the least calculated of all the albums he has made, with a wide variety of styles across the 12 songs, and no unifying theme. “Yep that's a fair comment.” Darren agreed. “Its just the best 12 or so songs I've written recently. That's it, no concept.” There was always a nakedly personal element to Darren’s music, which I am sure is why it had its appeal. Sometimes it seems that this has now gone, but perhaps it has just been hidden in other characters? The change in approach does seem gradual (songs like 'Alan Bean' or 'The Librarian' spring to mind from Hefner). I wondered if it was ever deliberate. “A bit of both”, Darren answered. “I always admired people who wrote those types of songs and I was always trying, though sometimes its as easy as changing I to Me, and in actual fact the song may still be just as personal.” It may seem that Darren hasn’t done a great deal since recording ‘Dead Media’, comparatively, but in terms of songs and albums released in the last decade, Darren is remarkably prolific. Hefner weren’t around that long, but released all five of their albums in less than five years. But it seems there isn’t a particular reason why. “I never know how to answer this. I just think all other musicians are lazy really.” Darren’s productivity is, however, emphasised by having a strong greatest hits out in the same month as a new album, meaning that neither can be seen as a stop gap. “The release dates weren't supposed to be quite this close but I don't think it hurts either record.” Hefner were not ever exactly massive, but they remain a fondly remembered group, and part of that must be because they were so strongly supported by both the Steve Lamacq and John Peel radio shows on Radio One. Sadly, the weekday 8-12 evening slot is occupied by neither of them any more. I wondered if it was unrealistic to expect that sort of attention ever again. “I don't think I've had as much attention since 'We Love the City; to be honest. It bugs me a bit but you know I'm happy anyone’s listening at all, and Radio 1 always ask me in for a session, I think it is because I was in a Peel band.” I asked him how he hoped to bring his new album to the attention of people who didn’t know Hefner’s music. “Man I don't know, if you think of a way , tell me!” Alhough ‘We Love The City’ was the best selling of all the Hefner albums, the high point of their career was probably a year earlier, when listeners of the John Peel show voted 5 of the band’s songs into the Festive 50, including two that finished at numbers 2 and 3. That meant finishing above the Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the Fall, Stereolab, Cinerama, Super Furry Animals and Blur. “The Peel thing is a great trophy. It does mean a lot to me. It makes it easier that we didn't become globally massive.” Indeed, Hefner reformed especially for the Peel memorial night at Radio One’s Maida Vale studios, probably the last time they will play together. One thing that will help Darren this time round is that he has a better relationship with his new label, Track and Field, compared to his former one, Too Pure. You may have noticed that the Hefner records are no longer available in the stores, this is because Darren has bought them back and plans to repackage and re-release them (there are also plans for an extensive album of Hefner rarities). When asked to compare his current label to his former one, he replied, “They're not lazy duplicitous scum who aren't old enough to shave.” Finally, I asked him what keeps him playing music, and what music has impressed him lately. He answered by mentioning the new Boards of Canada (an album that hasn’t had as much praise as I expected) and last month’s headline interviewees the Go Team. As for his inspirations, “Making a good song is enough. That's what makes you do it, the idea that the next thing you do may be truly exceptional!”

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