Wonder Stuff - Interview with Miles Hunt

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 18 / 10 / 2004

Wonder Stuff - Interview with Miles Hunt

One of the big names of the early 90's, the Wonder Stuff have recently reformed and have a new album, 'Escape from Rubbish Island' out. Frontman Miles Hunt chats to Anthony Dhanendran about the new album and being back together


Miles Hunt is back – the Wonder Stuff have a new album, 'Escape from Rubbish Island' out. It’s not 1993 over again, but a new line-up and a refreshed sound for the band. Pennyblackmusic talked to him at the September 2004 PB : Hi MH : Hi. I’m just trying to re-adjust my bag – I’m on my way home on my bike. We’re just starting the tour – we did a couple of warm up gigs last week and Saturday we start rehearsals. We’ve got about three or four very old songs to brush up on and then we start actual gigs on the 30th of this monthup in Leeds. It’s just 12 gigs, or is it 10? I think its’ 10 gigs. PB : Is it going to be mainly stuff from 'Escape from Rubbish Island' ? MH : There's going to be a lot of stuff from 'Escape from Rubbish Island?'There’s 25 songs we do live and 7 of them are from the new album and the other 18 are from the previous 4 and there will also be some b-sides. PB : Could you talk me through the album? MH : The first track on the new album is called 'Escape From Rubbish Island'. That song is unfortunately from a very London eye view. For some reason I’ve lived in London since 1989, but I’ve never enjoyed a day here. I hate it here. It’s from personal experience of how Britain rubs me up the wrong way, how this particular government we’ve got rubs me up the wrong way, to how British pop music rubs me up the wrong way. And Rubbish Island, it’s unfair because I actually do really really like England, I like Britain. I like it, I like the way it looks. It’s just that there’s an atmosphere in London particularly of fear and hate. Whether that’s just somebody on the street or that’s our government – I mean, I don’t know what we ever did to have a leadership that seems to hate its people so much that it wants to bully them and forget that they’re our representatives and not our masters. That song deals with that. What the rest of the album is about, which wasn’t intentional – I can only write what’s on my mind, is change. It’s funny. It was only after I put all the tracklistings together and listened to it in one go that I realised that. This album’s all about departure, arrival and most of all, change. Whether that’s departure from a regular monogamous relationship, or departure from a country, the want of a departure from the country that I was born in, or the love that I feel for a new bunch of friends in my life that I’ve met by going to Dublin quite a lot, you know, musicians. Ithas got me as usual whining for an hour, but I do feel like I managed to throw some optimism into the mix this time as well. It’s sort of surprised me that that’s a lyrical thread through the whole album. I might be reading stuff into some of the lyrics that I know was in my mind that I didn’t quite manage to get down onto the page, but that’s sort of what I feel – change and the want and desire of something new, whether that’s environment or mood. PB : You’ve been spending a lot of time in Dublin, then? MH : Yes. I’ve been really lucky. The company that managed me that are also a record label. Their mother company is Hummingbird Records, which is out of Dublin. They’ve worked with Sinead O' Connor for years, and Sharon Shannon, but they’ve also been working with a new – well, relatively new – young folk singer called Damien Dempsey.I met him probably about two years ago at a friend’s house and we all sat around the table singing songs until the wee hours. I actually saw him play live with his band for the first time in October last year in Dublin. I was just blown away by the spirit of him and he seriously put a rocket up my arse without really knowing it. To the point where I’ve covered one of his songs, which is on the b-side of the first Wonder Stuff single. So, yeah, I try and squeeze a weekend off every month to go over there. It might just be sitting in pubs drinking and singing, but it beats sitting around London feeling hateful. PB : Are you thinking of working with him? MH : Actually, yeah, he played at the London Borderline a week or two ago and when we were having a drink after he said to me that we should do something together. He actually goes on tour with Morrissey for six weeks, and I know he’s on for the Pogues’ December tour of the UK. He said to me the other day that we should do something together. I was with Tom Robinson at BBC 6Music and he asked if we would come in and record something, particularly with a Christmas flavour to it. But, yeah, I desperately, desperately would love to do some actual writing with Damien, but as I say he’s away for the next couple of months. PB : Do you feel there’s a Celtic flavour to the new stuff? MH : Probably not, no [laughs]. You know, Damien stands proud and says “I’m a folk singer”. In the tradition of folk, a story is a song, and I don’t really think I’ve written anything in the tradition of a folk story, beginning to end. There’s one track, 'Comic Tragedy', but that was more influenced by things like 'Up the Junction' and 'Cool for Cats' by Squeeze, where you want to tell a story. I always try to give a large proportion of my personality and sometimes, probably mistakenly, my private life, into lyrics. I think the one thing that gets me down when listening to contemporary music is lyrics of no particular consequence. I remember feeling that I really liked the sound of Oasis, but I hated them with a passion for being so lazy, lyrically. There’s a library on most fucking corners in most towns, go and do something about the fact that you’re thick. I’ve always tried to go the extra yard with my lyrics. Then particularly being around the passion and the honesty of Damien Dempsey and some of the other people that I met out in Dublin that had an effect on me – "Don’t just put two or three hours in to a lyric and go, ‘It’s done', because all the lines and the blank bits of the page are full’”. Go back over it and see if you can put any more honesty into it, you know. PB : Who’s in the touring band? MH : It’s me and Malc [Treece, long-time Wonder Stuff guitarist-AD], who have always been there, and we have a new bassist who co-wrote at least half of the album – Mark McCarthy, who used to be in Radical Dance Faction. The drummer’s Andrez XXX, who was on my last solo album and he’s from New York. He’s an extraordinary drummer and he runs a studio out there – he produced my last album. Actually, that’s the touring band, there’s a different drummer on the album, that was Luke Johnson from Amen. PB : Amen the metal band? MH : Yeah. I’ve known Luke since he was five. He was my old manager’s son. He’s 23 now, and I think he’s actually quit Amen. He was with them for about two years and I think Casey’s [Casey Chaos, Amen’s vocalist-AD] driven him over the edge. He was back for Christmas to visit his parents in Birmingham and I was in Stratford starting the recording of the record. I was programming a lot of the drums and Luke phoned me up – [puts on bad Birmingham accent] “Do you want me to come and fuckin’ kick it around for a week?”, and I’m like [puts on bad Cockney accent] “That’d be beautiful!” As you can imagine, playing for Amen, he’s quite a powerful drummer and he really brought a lot of the songs to life. The songs took serious left turns, because I’d got them how I wanted them and then Luke said, “How about we do this?” He didn’t just sit there and do as he was told. I didn’t even play him them with the drums, just with click tracks. He said, “What do you want?” and I said “Whatever you want to do, put your personality into it.” He’s a phenomenal player and at point really brought the songs to life for me. PB : Is it a West Midlands album, then? MH : Yeah, everything but my guitars and the vocals, they were done in London. The rest of the album was done in a studio up in Stratford-upon-Avon. Matt Terry, the producer, is from Stratford-upon-Avon. Luke’s from Birmingham, I’m from Birmingham, Malcolm’s from Wolverhampton. PB : Did you feel like you were outside London but also looking in? MH : Yeah, I suppose so. It was great, we lived on a farm, it was just beautiful. It was so nice to be out of London and the whole lyrical content of the album – I was writing lyrics right up until the last minute – I wasn’t writing things from a London perspective all the time. PB : Where does the current line-up fit in to Wonder Stuff history? MH : Well, we can never have an original line-up because poor Bob (Jones, the band's first bassist-Ed) died in 1993. So basically we’ve replaced Bob and switched drummers, with about nine different people in between. Mark’s our fourth bass player, we’ve had various guest vocalists over the years, we’ve had Martin Bell as a multi-instrumentalist, James Taylor’s been through the band, playing keyboards on the middle two albums, and then we had Pete Whittaker playing keyboards on the last album. If you want to count all the different singers from Sprit of the West, Vic Reeves and Kirsty MacColl, there’s a lot of different people who’ve been through the band. So we can’t have our original bass player and we have switched drummers, really. PB : Are you turning into the Fall? MH : The Fall? I don’t know. Our band’s two years off our 20-year anniversary, and I think it’s nigh-on impossible to keep a line up for that kind of time. For two decades, it’s absurd. Oasis have replaced virtually everybody that they can in 10 years. It’s not like we’ve committed some cardinal sin by changing drummers. I’ve heard that from other people and it’s like, “What fucking planet have you been living on?” PB : Are you into technology [Miles has written about technology for a website]? MH : I love it. It permeates every part of my life. PB : Does it permeate your music? MH : Yes. I don’t want a major record deal again, so I’ll never be in a position to have those lovely hundred-grand advances to go into a studio and fanny about, and now, thank God, you don’t need to. I’ve got a nice [Apple Mac] G4 set up in my lounge, and that’s where the whole album got written. I know I could be very traditional and sit there with an acoustic guitar writing stuff, but I tend to be a little bit more excited programming drums and stuff that you could only use to do in studios. I guess it’s a huge step up from using Portastudios, which I’ve always done, but it’s a brilliant step up for me. In principle, it’s exactly the same thing, but a lot more fun. PB : Do you find it influences the style of your music? MH : Um, I guess it must do – there’s no point in saying no. It must do in some way. But if I’m programming drums, I am aware that I don’t want things to sound like loops. I was a drummer before I was in the Wonder Stuff, and I have a pretty decent understanding of what drummers do, and I’ve never been interested in dance music, other than the fact that I appreciate new art forms, but it doesn’t do anything for my ear. The monotony angle of what a lot of people tend to do with machines, I try to avoid. I don’t get excited by pressing go and letting the machine do all the work. PB : Have you really got rid of your CD collection? MH : Yes. Gone, sold and given away. PB : What about records? MH : They will eventually go because I just haven’t got round to converting them to MP3s. I want to be totally unencumbered by stuff. I’m a very happy tourer, I can live happily out of a small bag, and I like that. I don’t like dragging much stuff round with me. I tend to move house every two or three years, as well. The same goes for all my photo albums from when I was a kid and through the band, all that period. I shall be scanning everything in and just have everything on a few discs, put ‘em in a lock-up somewhere. And then in years to come, when it’s all winding down, I can dig it all up and appreciate it. PB : As someone who’s seen the music industry from both sides, don’t you miss being in a huge band on a major label? MH : No. Not at all. I don’t think having that sort of privilege and not having to watch the clock it didn’t help to create music one iota. We didn’t benefit from having that luxury over not having that luxury. We’d have still written good stuff. We’d have still worked hard. In fact I think it made us lazy, it made us fat and lazy. You see it all the time when successful bands can spend two or three years in the studio. Unless they’re very lucky, or spend even more money having great producers coming in and saving their asses, you generally do hear the quality of the work go down. The kind of work I do and that I’ve always been involved in, I think there is a certain amount of urgency needed. And if that comes from watching the clock because of the bank balance, then so be it. PB : Thank you

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Wonder Stuff - Interview with Miles Hunt

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701 Posted By: Mark Reed, United Kingdom on 08 Jun 2014
OK, so its taken 10 years for me to notice, but those are my photos fellas!

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