The BIG Über Rock Interview - CJ Wildheart Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Friday, 20 October 2017 04:30

CJ WildheartGuitarist for The Wildhearts and all-round masterful riff-slinger for everybody from The Satellites to ‘90s power pop heroes Honeycrack, CJ Wildheart is a man with many a tale to tell. Über Rock were lucky enough to catch up to him in the build-up to the release of his third solo release, ‘Blood’, due to drop from PledgeMusic this very day.

 

“I’ve just been checking on the Pledge, which has just hit 200 per cent, so I’m over the moon,” he told me. “I’m actually getting ready to do a mail-out [after we talk], cutting boxes of cardboard to mail out a hundred or so bottles of my new ‘Blood’ sauce. It’s rock n roll!”

 

There was a five-year gap between the release of ‘Chutzpah!’ In 2009 and your first solo album, ‘Mable’ in 2014. What were you up to over that time?

 

At the end of the ‘Chutzpah!’ tour in December 2009 I was turning 40 and I kind of looked at what we’d done that year and where we were at, how much I’d got paid to do this quite horrendous winter tour which included Scandinavia – who the fuck tours Scandinavia in the winter? Only The Wildhearts… – and it dawned on me that I was quite unhappy with my situation at that time. It wasn’t just me though: the whole band were in the same place so we decided to take a break, and I decided to do something really brand new and get a regular job.

 

After six months I went on a course to learn how to build your own computers, which came in really handy, which was great. I started a little cleaning company and got a little specialist cleaning crew and did that for two and a half years. We were cleaning really high end properties and cleaning up after suicides – we went into some really quite interesting buildings and celebrity places, criminal places… It was good, it was an interesting job and it brought me back down to earth and you know sometimes you just have to do the complete opposite – everyone swears it was my midlife crisis, getting a proper job, not the sports car or drugs phase.

 

I mean, you know – the drugs phase had been my complete adult life until I stopped and when I hit 40 I’d pulled right back on drinking, stopped the drugs, stopped smoking and it was a major change in my life. It enabled me, after three years of doing this regular life, to move back to Yorkshire and come back to music. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

 

Going on the lyrics and themes to ‘The Robot’ (CJ’s last album released in 2016), I guess that the 9 – 5 didn’t suit you too well though?

 

 

No… I mean, I appreciate what I learned, because a lot of musicians live with their heads in the clouds, especially those who can make a living of doing it, even more if you’re one of those bands that have done bigger shows and get that big reaction that comes from being successful. It can go to your head, you end up walking a few feet above everyone else; so, it’s really important to have lessons. It doesn’t matter what you do, the minute your ego starts going out of control or you start thinking you’re special, somebody should slap you back down to earth.

 

What was the catalyst behind making a go of it as a solo artist?

 

Well, The Wildhearts weren’t doing anything! I didn’t want to put another band together and I know how to record music and have a set-up at home. I thought “If I’m going to do this, I need to keep costs down and I need to do good business” because I was making good money with my other business. But that’s how I ran it – I wasn’t running it like some crazy, drugged up rock fool – I was a businessman and that’s how I approached it.

 

So, I recorded it on my own – or as much as I could do – in my home studio and played the instruments, then got a drummer in at the end of the sessions if I needed one and get a mixer and producer at the end of the process. And that’s what I’ve done, now I’m on my third solo album and I make enough to warrant calling it a job.

 

In your own words, could you give us an idea of the stories behind each of your solo albums – ‘Mable’, ‘The Robot’ and ‘Blood’?

 

‘Mable’ was all about my moving out of London. There’s a few songs on there which reference my job, what I was doing. There’s a song called ‘Next To You’ that’s all about the job and how I felt coming home, then there’s ‘Kentucky Fried’ all about whizzing about in my van around London. Moving from a big city like London is always a major move in your life, living in a capital city and then moving to the countryside of North Yorkshire was massive, so I just wanted to get that out.

 

‘Robot’ is the bridge album from where I was at with ‘Mable’ and where I am now. The older I get, I just want to get heavier and play more aggressive music. It’s not because I am particularly sitting here thinking ‘I want to go out and kill people’ or anything, it’s just that I started out as a metal musician, I was really into thrash as a teen and rock n roll. It’s something me and Ginger had – the reason The Wildhearts sound the way they do is because one minute we’ll sound metal, then country, then some pop, rock n roll, but I started off as a metal guitarist and for some reason the devil is calling me back into his grace!

 

That’s pretty surprising, as with your other side projects like The Jellys, Honeycrack and The Satellites, it always seemed like you were bringing the power pop element to the band!

 

Oh god yeah. My heart has always been pulled towards melodies and riffs in equal measures. A lot of people are surprised by how my latest album sounds, but I played in The Wildhearts – who at times could be one of the heaviest bands around. I’m not fighting against wanting to sound like Abba, it’s a natural thing.

 

‘Kiss It’ is probably the heaviest solo song you’ve released, what’s the story behind that?

 

A lot of my songs, they end up being about myself and I make mistakes the same as anyone else. Everybody makes the same mistakes, so ‘Kiss It’ is about adults not being able to apologise. It takes real guts to say sorry, it takes stupidity to fuck up, but real guts to put your hands up and say ‘I’m sorry’. I’ve had times where I’ve found it really hard to say sorry, but when I have said it, it’s always been better. So that’s where that song is – get down, kiss my butt and apologise!

 

 

Lyrically, I always want to make people laugh, no matter how serious the song is. I will put the lyrics for ‘Blood’ up on the Pledge site eventually, but if you read the lyrics there’s a lot of humour in there as well, because easy as it is to come out like ‘rarrgh! I fucking hate you!’, but if you can do that in a way that makes people smile… yeah. I think it’s nicer.

 

Also, what’s the story behind the awesome ‘Tired of Sex’ cover?

 

I’ve always been a Weezer fan. My producer is a massive Weezer fan as well and it was his idea – he said it would suit my voice because I can sing quite high, which Rivers also does. I love Pinkerton, the album that song’s off, but the production is horrible so I thought I’d be a bit cheeky and record a sonically more rounded version of the song. But, I’ve always loved Weezer – they’ve got one of those sounds that I’ve always just liked, I always say if you don’t like Weezer, you don’t like life. They’re a burger and chips band, like Green Day or Foo Fighters, one of those bands that you like some of their songs, or all of their songs, but you don’t often meet people who are out and out die-hard fans.

 

I think it’s the last of the covers on my solo albums anyway – the next one won’t have one. On Mable I did ‘Vitriol’, which is a cover by an Australian band called Bluejuice. On ‘Robot’, I can’t even remember… I did a cover but I can’t remember it! Talk about attention to detail, I don’t really listen to my albums once they’re done. It’s a Split Enz cover, called ‘I Got You’.

 

I think, when you add a cover to an album, say like when you send an album to Japan and they ask for extra B-Sides, so you can’t be arsed to write anything and just stick three covers on – extra B-quality songs that are just tagged onto the end of an album, which is then ruined. I spend a lot of time on the tracklists for my albums, it’s a piece of music and then you’re expected to just stick an extra three tracks on top, it ruins the album. It’s not right. If you are going to cover something, it should fit the flow of the album and obviously it worked – some people hadn’t even realised there were covers!

 

Is the song ’50 Percent Indian’ autobiographical? (in particular the part about being confronted by a skinhead?)

 

Yeah, it’s about when I moved back to the UK. I was out of the UK for many years, I grew up in the army bases – I was born here, but I moved to Singapore, Malaya and Germany, then came back here when I was fifteen, my last year of school – my first ever civilian school. I’d been in Germany for seven years, then moved to Clacton-On-Sea in Essex. Back in the 80s it was a pretty horrible experience, it really wasn’t pleasant, but it made me who I was.

 

It was my first major run-in with people who sniff glue, skinheads in Docs, Harrington jackets. They were always quite vocal about telling me to fuck off back to my own country, stuff like that and being a man who used to be described as a swarthy motherfucker, I used to come across this quite a lot. But, I was also quite tall and quite gobby and I’d stand my ground – it’s never pleasant when people say stuff like ‘you smell of curry’ just because of the colour of your skin.

 

I was actually reminded of that a few years ago, I was having dinner with some family friends when a certain person said most Indian people smell of curry, then wondered why I took offence to that statement. I explained to her at school, many people would say I smelled of curry because of the colour of my skin and most people who know me know that I always smell quite good, because I strive to smell better than everyone else in my class and wear nice fragrances. It’s not fair to generalize like that, but I got a song out of it and it pinged in my head.

 

A lot is thought and said about representation in the rock scene, do you think things are improving now?

 

I mean, no. Rock will always be predominantly white, it’s that type of music. I’ve no idea why you don’t get more black people or Asian people playing rock, but you don’t. Same reason you don’t see more Asian footballers – it’s just one of those things. When I first came out playing, reviews used to accuse me of ripping off Slash because I used a Les Paul, which always made me think if I’d have been using a Stratocaster I’d be ripping of Hendrix, if I played the bass I’d be ripping off Phil Lynott, because there’s only a few people they can compare it to.

 

But I’m not ripping them off – a Les Paul is just a guitar, I just happen to use it. If I could choose to join a band who are minorities, I’d have chose Bad Brains anyway – I never wanted to be in Guns N Roses. No offence but it’s Bad Brains, always. I like ‘Appetite for Destruction’, but I like singers who have a bit of grit in their voice and Axl isn’t my type of singer.

 

Do you think you’ll ever release a biography of your own?

 

A book? Nah, you’ve got to be joking! If I was going to release a book, it’d have to be a cook book because cooking’s my passion – I love food and I love making food. Another musician, another autobiography? They’re all the fucking same. You could cut and paste your name over anyone else and most of those stories are the same: ‘I joined a band, I got fucked up on drugs, I fucked a lot of groupies, I’m in a band and we hate each other, I’m in a band and we all love each other, we split up a hundred million times, we’re idiots…’ it’s the same, all the time.

 

We’re all cut from the same cloth – we all tend to be similar people, slightly on the edge of the spectrum of weirdness.

 

Has becoming a dad had an effect on the types of songs and sounds you write?

 

 

Oh definitely. Becoming a dad is the most major thing that’s ever happened to me. It affected every aspect of my life, changed me as a person. I know it’s not for everybody, but for me it feels like the reason I was put here was to be dad to my son. It gave me massive, massive purpose. If I hadn’t had my boy, I don’t think I’d be going down a darker road, musically. The sleep deprivation of him being a newborn, that losing your grip feeling, it pushed me towards rock-ier roads, the ones I’m on at the moment.

 

It’s good – I come out in hives when I hear acoustic guitars. I’m allergic to it; acoustic, folky, classical guitars… those and bagpipes are probably two of my least favourite instruments. I was born a rocker and I’ll die one.

 

Funnily enough, you mention allergic reactions – the PR blurb to ‘Blood’ says that you ended up with a particularly nasty case of food poisoning – what happened?

 

We have a smaller label in Japan now. When we used to be signed to massive labels we were taken out to grand restaurants, but we were playing in Osaka and got taken to a really dodgy place to eat. The label swear blind it wasn’t their fault, but they chose the restaurant so I’m blaming them! I was fed undercooked pork and got a nasty case of food poisoning.

 

I came back to the UK, felt really bad, looked at Ritch [Battersby, Wildhearts drummer] at Kings Cross station and said ‘I think I’m going to be sick’. I had no idea how ill I was going to be – I was passing blood for almost two weeks, at the worst I was going to the toilet between 20 and 25 times a day and consequently I was in so much pain because I had ripped up all my innards, which led to a year and a half of constant pain, having to take painkillers each and every day and having two operations.

 

I was facing a third operation this month which looked likely to leave me incontinent and I thought fuck this – years ago I had a problem with my hand and somebody recommended acupuncture after an operation failed. I started a course of acupuncture two months ago and I’m feeling much better – I’ve said goodbye to Western medicine for the time being and have gone down the traditional Chinese route, and for the first time in two years I haven’t been in pain.

 

I tried Western medicine twice and both times they got it wrong – sometimes they get it right, but others they don’t and I thought I’d try something a bit different. I’ve come off painkillers and somebody very close to me has got cancer, they’ve been smoking weed instead of painkillers. So, I’ve started smoking weed again in a dry vaporizer, baking it rather than burning it, what that has done is absolutely amazing. Now I’m just stoned all the time, eating pizza and chocolate – it’s a terrible circle!

 

You’ve said that you won’t be playing any live shows this year, but do you think you’ll get to hit the road in support of ‘Blood’ in 2018?

 

 

I was facing being incontinent and having to wear a nappy. I’ll tell you how bad it was – I crapped myself twice doing vocals on ‘Blood’, horrible as that is. I was facing wearing nappies onstage and can you imagine the piss that would be taken out of me? I’d be coming off stage to changing mats, talcum powder… there was no way I was going to put myself through that!

 

I couldn’t face wearing a nappy onstage, there’s no way I’d want to do that – I’d rather stay home and look after my chickens. It’s working – whatever I’m doing is working. I recorded the whole of ‘Blood’ in pain, so there’s a sense of anger and it’s quite a full-on album where I’m letting it out, but I was in pain during that whole process and I think you can hear it. I made a promise to myself that I’d get better and I’m at 85 per cent now, but when it was bad even doing something like this and sitting down to talk to you, I’d only be able to sit down for like 15 minutes and I’d have to go lie down from being in agony. I can’t remember the last time I was in acute pain. Next year I’ll be getting a band together to hit the road though, it all ties into the next solo album which I’m working on now.

 

And what might that tour look like, considering the 'Mable' tour was largely acoustic, 'Robot' was your first as an electric band…

 

I will never go down that acoustic road again. My manager made me do it to come out of my comfort zone, but it’s not for me. I enjoyed it, but I absolutely love the sound of the electric guitar and that’s part of why I got into music. Can you imagine if the Pistols were an acoustic band? Jesus Christ! I’ll never be into acoustic music.

 

Word has it you’ve already started work on your next album too. What’s going on with that?

 

I wanted to be almost finished, but I’m one song in and a hundred ideas down. I’m always working six months ahead, as I was working on 'Blood' I was six months ahead, but this one is going to be a lot heavier. Being ill, having a baby – all these things have pushed me on a path. This next one will be called ‘Siege’, as in ‘under siege’ and it’s also my name, so it’s a play on words.

 

It’s just, letting more of that shit out of me. I look at music now as shouting into a pillow, getting all that negative anger and angry emotions out for the music. Hit the bottle, or hit someone else.

 

Pledge certainly seems to be the way to go for artists like yourself who have established fan communities they can appeal to. How do you think the Pledge model works for newer bands?

 

You need a fanbase for Pledge to truly work – Pledge isn’t going to break any new band. Hardwork, not money breaks bands. If I hadn’t got the fanbase that I have, there’s no way that I would do it. It takes me six months to make an album, I need to get paid for those six months – it isn’t a hobby, it’s my job.

 

You see these big artists who do incredibly well on Pledge, but like myself they’ve had major labels spend millions of dollars promoting their records, which is how they can tap into that fanbase, hit that jugular. You gotta keep it fair, you gotta keep it realistic and you’ve got to make it value for money – I’ve heard some horror stories of bands ripping fans off horrendously on Pledge. I see some Pledge stuff which just isn’t packaged to a high enough standard – you’re releasing an album, it doesn’t matter if it’s through pledge, a small label or a big one, you’re releasing something that should have a certain standard. It’s a weird one – don’t be greedy and you’ll be alright.

 

Do you ever miss label life?

 

Oh yeah! I find it odd when you find big bands complaining about being on labels, when let’s face it – if Warner Brothers hadn’t invested a million pounds into The Wildhearts nobody would know who the fuck we are right now, so they helped us in the long run. I fought against Warners and I fought against Sony, but they helped me. Twenty years on, because of their work and their investment, I can still make a living. You need them – you need promotion, big tours; nobody has the money to keep going on tour all the time without building big debt, but that’s a gamble they take and it’s something you need to do.

 

We’d be idiots to think we’d get a big deal now – I’m 50, I had my shot years ago. I’m just lucky enough to make some money making music still.

 

Switching tracks then to the perennial elephant in the room - how was it having Danny re-join The Wildhearts for the encores of your sets this past 12 months?

 

I like The Wildhearts, they’re one of those bands that you can never say never say never. Look at my relationship with Ginger – we fell out at the beginning of this year, but we’re friends again now. We’ve always been like that – everyone calls us an old married couple, always falling out and always getting back together. I said, last time I saw him ‘we’re getting on now, but we’re going to fall out again at some point, so let’s make the best of this moment’.

 

It’s great though – Ginger and Danny didn’t speak for a long, long time and it’s so nice when you sort shit out and get back onstage together. I love Scott and I love Jon, but Danny is The Wildhearts bass player, isn’t he? It’s like I’m The Wildhearts guitarist, Ritch is The Wildhearts drummer, Ginger is our caterer… The Nottingham gig for ‘Fishing For Luckies’ this year is in my top five Wildhearts gigs ever, it was so special. That was amazing.

 

Moments like that make me feel really lucky and fortunate. Going back to having that day job for three years, it makes me so happy that we can still elicit a reaction like that. No, we’re not the biggest band in the world, but our fans are so vocal that we do little big gigs. I think we have some of the most intense and devout fans! We’ve been around for a long time and I think we’re a genuine cult band – Ginger can come across as a genuine cult leader too.

 

The way we are as individuals, that contributes a lot to the band’s sound – chemistry is so important. You can have great songs, be great players, but it don’t mean shit if you don’t have the chemistry. It’s that little ‘X’ thing that everybody is looking for.

 

The past few years you’ve toured the three big classic albums: are there any plans to revisit the more modern releases like ‘TWMBD’ or ‘The White Album’?

 

I don’t know. I think, ultimately, The Wildhearts have to make another album at some point. 2009 was the last album we released, so that’s quite a long time, so I think you could be seeing this band in wheelchairs by the time the next album comes out. That’s the thing though – you can never say never with this band. Hand on heart, it’d be great to do anything with any line-up of The Wildhearts, but it’d be special if we could do something with Danny.

 

‘Blood’ is released today (Friday 20 October). You can get your copy HERE.

 

www.facebook.com/CJWildheart/

 

Artwork by Rich Jones.

 

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