Ep18: Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff) on how Covid-19 stopped him from quitting the music business – Transcript

Ep18: Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff) on how Covid-19 stopped him from quitting the music business – Transcript


SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Miles Hunt


Laura Kidd  
Hello, and welcome to Episode 18 of Attention Engineer. I’m Laura Kidd, a Bristol-based music producer, songwriter, and independent solo artist making music as Penfriend. In this noisy world, the gift of someone’s attention is priceless – so thank you for joining me on my mission to inspire creativity in every listener, through having the honest conversations I’ve always hoped for with some of the artists I admire the most. 

It’s Tuesday night, and for some reason it’s taken me all day to sit here and record this. I love making this podcast and there’s no reason to put it off. I’ve been doing this all day, fudging around with stuff that doesn’t matter on the internet, just because it’s easier and feels more achievable, I suppose, than doing the fun creative projects I’ve set out for myself. The silly thing is I know a bit about the psychology of this from the books I’ve been reading over the past little while, and I still have days when I flounder around like this. It’s very frustrating, but dopamine is a very addictive drug…and apparently, I’m only human. Annoying. Deadlines help of course, plus I really can’t wait to share this episode with you – it’s a corker. Speaking of deadlines, despite my best efforts to get it done by Sunday just gone, my album is not finished yet, but it will be by the end of this week. I spent some long days over the weekend recording noisy guitars and vocals in The Launchpad and have ticked another song off my list of six. Just two and a bit to go now and I’m having a lot of fun making strange sounds. Yay! 

Let’s get on with it. I really want to introduce you to my guest.


Miles Hunt has been the singer, rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter for The Wonder Stuff since 1986. Hailing from the British Midlands, the band are now nine albums deep and continue to record and tour to this day. Hunt also fronts Vent 414, a three-piece band that includes Morgan Nicholls from Senseless Things, The Streets, Gorillaz and Muse on bass guitar, and Peter Howard from Eat, Queenadreena and The Clash on drums. He’s also released a number of solo albums, written for children’s TV, been a presenter on MTV Europe and has a lifelong ambition of becoming a truck driver. 

I first met Miles in 2011, when I was singing guest backing vocals for one of my absolute most favourite solo artists, Carina Round. Miles came along to the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham to sing a duet with Carina, and I was very, very nervous to meet him in the dressing room beforehand because I’d been a Wonder Stuff fan since my mid-teens. He was very nice, of course, and took a copy of my debut album “Disarm” home with him, and we stayed in touch ever since. He’s been on my guest wishlist from the start of planning out this series and I just knew this would be a refreshingly honest, bullshit-free chat.

Let’s get into it.


LK
Hi, Miles. 


Miles Hunt
Hey, there, Laura Kidd!

LK
Let’s continue our conversation with a professional recording of it because that’s not unnatural at all. 

MH
No. Well, I’ve done quite a bit of this during the lockdown period. 

LK
Yeah, you’ve been really busy, haven’t you? 

MH
Yeah.

LK
Tell us about your lockdown. 

MH
I think I was good for about 12 or 14 weeks. And I live on my own with my little dog in the middle of nowhere, so, there was very, very little change to my life other than the pub closed. I like to go up to my local pub once, twice a week to see local friends. And that stopped. But I coped with that all right. And then, you know, I’m able – because I just live on farmland and National Trust land – I was still going out three times a day with the dog cos I’ve gotta, so that was fine. And my plan this year… I mean, I was very, very lucky that for once in my life my timing was right. I toured The Wonder Stuff at the end of last year, I put a new album out at the end of last year. So financially, I was kind of okay for this year. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
Yeah, I was fine. I knew I could sort of get to the end of the summer financially, but my plan was to try and get my Class 1 HGV driver’s license because I quite fancy being a trucker. Just the UK and Ireland…I don’t think I’d enjoy going out to Europe because I’ve been so lazy in my 54 years, I’ve never learned a second language. And I just fancied a life change.

LK
Hmm.

MH
I wanted to learn something new – always with the intention that I will come back to music at some point. So, this year, 2020, was do something absolutely different: don’t touch a guitar, don’t write anything…but of course, lockdown occurred and I couldn’t go and get the lessons driving a truck. So, I just called up a couple of mates and said, “All right, you’ve all get home studios, let’s start writing”. And that’s what we’ve done. And I’ve had a very, very productive time of it. So, lockdown has been very kind to me. But after about 14 weeks, I started to sort of lose my balance a little bit. I had a pretty crappy July. But I’m back. I’m back. 

LK
Yeah. What week are we in now? Because I don’t even know.

MH
I never know what day it is – I have to look at a calendar. But again, that’s completely normal for me. I mean, I’ve lived on my own for nearly three years, and I haven’t had a job since I was 19 so weekends don’t really matter to me. I don’t know. I don’t know what everyone else is doing. So again, you know, I was pretty unaffected in that way.

LK
Yeah. Yeah. I similarly was… No, not similarly, because I’m not learning to be a trucker. My Dad used to do that, though, if you want any tales from the road – he used to do that for a while. 

MH
Oh okay. Well, I’ve always been… because all my time touring America, and for at least the last 20 years of touring America, I’m usually the driver or one of the shared drivers. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH 

But one thing that you and other people might want to look up, there is an all female 70s rock group, like a southern blues group, called Mother Trucker. 

LK
I’ve heard of Mother Trucker.

MH
Oh, yeah? It’s really good. 

LK
Yeah.

MH
I’ve actually got it on vinyl.

LK
Oh, brilliant. So, do you think there could be “Miles Hunt:The Trucker Years”, the next edition of your book, your autobiography series?

MH
Oh, for sure. It’ll takesome catching up, really, because I’ve got to do the Vent 414 years and the acoustic touring of America years. That’s going to be the fourth book. Again, I’ve been putting that off. 

LK
You’ve got a lot of homework for yourself there, Miles. 

MH
Yeah, yeah. What I need to do actually is to talk to Morgan Nicholls, the bass player for Vent 414, and Pete Howard the drummer, and just record our conversations, because the three of us will all remember things slightly differently. And although I would put it out under a “Wonder Stuff Diaries” moniker, I didn’t keep diaries during those years. I sort of stopped in the mid-90s, yeah.

LK
Well, that would be a great extra thing for people also to be able to listen to those conversations.

MH
Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea. 

LK
Audio is good, Miles. That’s why I’m doing this. [laughs] You know we’re recording this, yeah?

MH
I do. I do. 

LK
It’s been really heartening to see people being able to be creative – during the last few months, I mean. And also, I think, if we’d all stopped…I mean, what situation would we be in now? It seemed at the time, maybe there’s going to be two weeks, four weeks, or whatever. But who knows…are we in week 20-something, of this sort of situation?

MH
We’ve got to be up there somewhere. Well, the first people that told me that it was coming… I mean, I very rarely watch the news and read newspapers and all that…

LK
Yeah, same.

MH
Yeah, I just find it all slightly depressing. But my parents are both 80 next month. So they try and keep up with all this, you know, what’s going on in the media. And they said, “We’re not going to be able to go out for 12 weeks, and you’re not going to be able to come in and see us”. That was the first I heard and I’m like, “Shut up, that ain’t happening. That’s ridiculous!”. And so, once I accepted that, okay, this is real, I was in it for the 12 weeks that I would not see anybody else because my parents’ lives are very valuable to me. I’m very lucky to still have them at age 54, and I would be the person going to the grocery shop for them and helping them out in that way. So, we were pretty strict, you know. I’d go off to do their groceries and I’d put them on their front step, and we’d wave at each other, and Mom would look a bit tearful, so yeah. So, once we were in lockdown, it was never two or three weeks for me, it was like “Okay, I’ve got to do everything they’re doing because I’m not going to be the person responsible for killing them”. 

LK
Well, quite. Yeah.

MH
So yeah, but as I say, so little really changed in my life. I think all it is… Well, I’ve made a ton of money from not putting 70 quid’s worth of diesel into my van every week, which is my prior life, so I’ve saved about, you know, over a grand in that, I think. The one tank of diesel that I had at the beginning of lockdown is still in there. And the pub being shut. Yeah, that was it.

LK
The Miles Hunt saving plan, there you go. Wow.

Yeah, it’s been a weird, weird, weird, weird time. I’ve had my ups and downs as well. Doing this has been really good because I get to talk to people and…probably more than I did before, to be honest. 

MH
Yeah. 

LK
But it’s interesting to see how different people are dealing with it, I think. But the music you’ve been putting out has been brilliant. 

MH
Thank you.

LK
So, the Vent 414, the Lock Down Society…Lock Down Demo Society, sorry.

MH
What is it? “Miles Hunt’s Long Down Demo Society.” Yes, it’s long and convoluted but yes, you’re right. Yes. 

LK
Yeah, it’s great. It’s really good. And you’ve been doing some online gigs as well. 

MH
Oh, yeah. Well, I did the Facebook thing. 

LK
How have you found that? 

MH
Absolutely fine. 

LK
Oh, good.

MH
I don’t mind admitting that I have a love-hate relationship with my audience and always have. Earlier when I was a kid, you know, when I was in my early 20s, I created the argument between me and the audience for shits and giggles, for no other reasons, really. I invented this sort of unpleasant character to help protect the actual shy person that I was back then. And then, of course, it backfired in so much as the audience retaliated to the gobshite that I invented. And then sadly, by the end of my 20s, I’d actually turned into the gobshite. I believed my own bullshit. So, I needed to escape to the countryside, and then also spend quite a lot of time in America and humble myself to sort of get back to factory settings. 

LK
Are you back there yet? 

MH
Yeah. I reckon by the time I was 40, I was back to factory settings. Then, because I’ve done quite a lot of acoustic… I did the last, the last acoustic tour, which would be 2018, which was to sort of promote my “Custodian” album, which is 30 old songs, re-recorded, nice and simple, acoustically. And my best way of touring when I do acoustic shows a) for my sort of sense of mental wellbeing and b) to earn the most money out of touring, is to do it all completely on my own. So I’m the driver, the tour manager, the performer, the roadie, and the merch person. And I don’t mind doing all of those things. In fact, I enjoy doing all of those things if the audience are vaguely sober.

And my audience…or there are elements of my audience that think my name and the name, The Wonder Stuff, is just cause for an almighty piss up. And so, because I was the driver on all these gigs, and while I’m doing the merch – I do the merch after the gig – I’m completely sober, completely sober because I’ve got to drive back to the hotel, or home. And so, then I have to deal with 100 or so very drunk people that have sort of lost basic social abilities. So, you know, they get their camera phones ready, and then they just grab me and say, “Hey, you don’t mind if I have a selfie, do you?”, and it’s in my face. And when you do that for 26 nights on the run to, possibly, you know, it’s not all of the audience, but it’s at least 100 of them every fecking night…it really grinds you down. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
And I came away from that sort of going…I think that’s where the idea of getting another job, or, you know, trying out another profession came from because I just couldn’t stand the rudeness. And I know it’s because they’re drunk, and I know they mean well, and they’re excited because they’re seeing one of their childhood heroes or whatever I’m supposed to be. But nonetheless, it makes it pretty… It’s an awful experience. So yeah, I wanted out really.

LK
Yeah, I don’t blame you.

MH
So, doing the online gigs – and I’ve only done it through Facebook so far, I did six of them – to have no audience to deal with face to face was a fucking dream come true! [laughs]

LK
[laughs] Well, keeps them fucking quiet as well, doesn’t it?

MH
And they could all talk amongst themselves in that sidebar you know, on Facebook. I don’t care. I don’t care what they’re saying as long as I can’t hear them.

LK
We’ve talked before about the talking at gigs thing. 

MH
Yeah.

LK
And that’s what I do love about online gigs too. Now, the people who come to my online gigs are the people who would be quiet at my shows, I’m pretty sure of that. But the people who would come to the gigs where we’re there in person, they don’t tend to be very quiet. And especially when it’s a support gig and…holy crap, I just had enough. And I’ve always been all the things you described, for my shows, and it’s too much. It’s too much for one person. 

MH
Yeah.

LK
It doesn’t even matter if it’s going really well. Or maybe it would be better, I don’t know. So, when I’ve done support gigs for someone, and their audience just talks really loudly, like, doesn’t even give me a chance to impress them, you know, there’s just no opportunity to get through the conversation. And then I’m driving home from somewhere near Liverpool to Bristol, which was very stupid, but it’s because I had no money. I don’t know if it would have been better if there was 100 people who loved me but were also grabbing me, because I would also hate that. There should be a happy medium where people can have sort of basic levels of politeness, and we can all have a nice time. 

MH
Yeah. Well, I think perhaps it’s the pandemic. It is perhaps the pandemic. You know, I hope to be able to go back to solo touring again next year at some point and I hope that the social distancing thing at some level is still there because that would stop them grabbing me. It’s the grabbing that just becomes really tiring and sharing all this bodily…I don’t know, the steam off drunk people, the spitting. It’s just…ugh.

LK
Yeah. 

MH

I mean it’s funny you just mentioned support gigs and I haven’t done that many in recent years – support acoustic gigs – but I did a short run with Public Image Ltd. And because I was essentially terrified of these 60, 65-year-old fat, bald, old ex-punk rockers that had just come to hurl abuse at John Lydon, which he gets pretty much every night, which is just fascinating to me why he still does it…I’d go out there terrified thinking, “Oh, God, I’m going to get my head kicked in tonight. No one’s here to see me. All my best put-down audience lines are stolen from John Lydon’s library”. And so, although I had no bullets in my gun, but I just sat on my stool for about 35, 40 minutes and just thrashed through, you know, as many tracks as I could get in that time, did very little talking to the audience, and got off the stage. I loved it. It was almost like I went out there and took absolutely no notice of the fact that there was a couple of thousand people in the room. I just go out, do my job and get out of here. 

LK
Did they appreciate it? Did they throw anything? 

MH
They did. They did. Actually, Bristol was the difficult one. Yeah, because some guy was just, you know, even during the track he was like, “Get off!” And then Bournemouth was a tough one. 

LK
Oh, my God.

MH
Yeah. But actually, the ones I was most frightened of like Manchester and Glasgow, they were darlings. 

LK
Oh, okay.

MH
They were really, really good. Yeah, really good. So, you know, no gig is the same is what I should perhaps have learned by now.

LK
Maybe, you’ve done a few. You do have the benefit of having about a billion absolute bangers that you can go and play every night as well. So, the person shouting, “Get off”, it’s not in relation to how good your songs are, it’s just because that’s what he likes to shout at people who aren’t the band he’s come to see.

MH
Yeah, that’s right.

LK
But I remember hearing The Wonder Stuff for the first time when I was 15 and a really shitty ex-boyfriend played them to me. So that’s okay, because it doesn’t matter – at least I got The Wonder Stuff out of that relationship!

MH
Well, you get sort of a theme tune for the relationship as well with “Unbearable”, don’t you? 

LK
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But I’ve always been really impressed – as an older woman now, looking back and having, you know, written a few of my own albums, listened to a lot more music than I had then – I’m so impressed that you seemed to come so fully formed as a songwriter because the songs that you were writing when you were really young, are fucking great. And when I listen to them now, I don’t think I’m listening to uber young Miles. I just think that you sound like you, but they’re just the first albums. How do you feel? Do you ever listen back and think, “Oh, God, I sound so young” or anything like that? 

MH
Oh, God, yes. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks because I’m doing “The Custodian 2”, so you know, recording all these old songs. And it’s brought back…

Okay, so to answer your question, yes, I sound about 12. But I think only… Hang on, I’m just quickly looking at the list. No, I think the early ones…So, I’ve done a track called “I Am A Monster”, which was the B-side of “Unbearable”, I think, and it’s in D, and I’m at the top of my range when I’m singing it and then I break into a falsetto, which…that particular falsetto note is no longer there. So, I was just laughing at the sound of my voice. Just saying, “Okay, all right”. 

And actually, it feels nice to have the opportunity to correct them. Because, you know, I couldn’t sing, I was just excitingly bawling into a microphone. And I think I’ve learned to be a better singer than I started out. And then also going back on some, I think it was when I was doing “I Am A Monster”, I felt very full of the presence of deceased members of the band, Martin Gilks, the drummer and Rob Jones, the bass player, I really felt them. And so, when I did the vocal on it -I wasn’t teary as such, I wasn’t far away, but I had to take the dog out and have a walk through the lanes and have a good think about that emotion. But yeah, that was quite extraordinary. I was not expecting that to happen.

LK
I think it’s good to go down memory lane sometimes but yeah, you don’t know where it’s going to take you, I suppose.

MH
Well, with the books, you know, sadly, when both Martin and Rob died 13 years apart, I was not in a good place with either of them. One was threatening me with lawyers and the other one did get lawyers on me. So, we weren’t speaking at the time of their deaths. And so, when I was informed, Rob is dead, Martin is dead, it wasn’t quite “so what?”. But there was a certain amount of, you know, wiping the sweat off my own brow, “Well, that’s put an end to that going to court”. So, not relief but I went, then, through the next number of years, thinking of them as our relationships were towards the end of their lives = not good. When I wrote my first book, “The Wonder Stuff Diaries”, all of that was thankfully turned on its head that I wasn’t expecting to come away from writing my first book with using the word “cathartic”, but where it took me was, I now think of them since writing the book as young men, and the little gang that we formed, and how we had each other’s backs for absolutely everything from, you know, useless relationship advice to each other, you know, getting out of the venue fast if we were going to get our heads kicked in, you know – we really looked after each other. And we created all that music that has provided a number of people with a little bit of a soundtrack to their school and college years. And so now I really enjoy thinking about Martin and Rob. So, writing the book was great for that reason.

LK
That’s lovely. Bands are like relationships. Bands are relationships. 

MH
Yeah, yeah.

LK
I’m definitely guilty of breaking up with someone and then thinking of them at their worst. So, I think of them as the worst horrible person they were when we broke up. It’s really hard to think of any of the previous years’ stuff, which is really unfair to a relationship, isn’t it? But I don’t know if that’s a getting older thing, you sort of realise that the common denominator was actually me anyway, so maybe it wasn’t their fault. And I’m still stuck with me.

MH
That’s never occurred to me, I’m happy to say! It depends, of course, how bad the end of that relationship was. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
I mean, I’ve got an appalling one, that over the 20 years since we broke up has managed to get worse, unbelievably.

LK 

Oh God.

MH
So, there will never be a turnaround on that particular one. So, it’s horses for courses.

LK
Speaking of “The Custodian”, that comes from a conversation you had with Tom Robinson, doesn’t it? 

MH
It does. 

LK
Can you explain it for listeners? Because I think it’s such a beautiful concept, this idea.

MH
Yeah, it was an absolute gift. I mean, how many gifts can one man give another? I mean, the first time I heard Tom Robinson Band, I was 11 or 12. They were the third band that I ever saw live, age 12. My Dad took me. And then, you know, past The Tom Robinson Band…well, I mean, not just the music, but the political education and the socio-political education that I got from people like Tom Robinson and Paul Weller and Joe Strummer and Lydon…so sometime around CompuServe, early days of the internet, one of the first people that I got in touch with digitally was Tom Robinson. We’d already met a number of times by then and we stayed in touch. So, it would be the early 2000s and Tom was playing a show at The Fez, a little underground club in Manhattan. I was pretty much living there at the time, so, I dropped into soundcheck in the afternoon just to say hello. And he said, “Oh, great. You’re here. Let’s do some songs together tonight”. And I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is ridiculous”. And Tom’s a very persuasive man. And so, I was already doing covers of “Not Ready”, a song from his band Sector 27. And, you know, learning a Wonder Stuff song for somebody of Tom’s talents is not difficult. So, I think we quickly, during the afternoon, knocked up a version of “Don’t Let Me Down Gently”. 

And during those sort of boring hours after the soundcheck and before the actual show, him and I were sitting in the dressing room. And we were talking… Oh, no, he just blatantly asked the question, it was, “How do you feel about the songs that you’ve written to this point in your life, your body of work, let’s call it?”, which I thought was kind of a lofty question to ask me, but the man is an intelligent man, and I’m like, “Yeah, well, I like most of them”. “No, I’m not asking you if you like them. It’s kind of like, what’s your relationship with them?” And I’m like, “Well, they still bring in a few royalties here and there,” and he’s like, “Okay, you’re not really understanding”. So, he said the way that you should perhaps look at your songs, not just as a sort of viable financial benefit of them is that you are the custodian of them. They are no longer yours. Since you’ve put them out on record and toured them and introduced those songs into peoples’ lives, those songs now belong to the listeners. You are merely the custodian. But with that position comes a great responsibility, and the responsibility that you now have is to make sure whenever those songs are performed live, they are performed with the greatest respect to the song for the benefit of the audience. And like, “I want to hang out with you every day. This is fantastic. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much”. And then that stayed with me for another 15 or 16 years. 

And you know, each time The Wonder Stuff’s line-up has changed, which has been many in the last 20 years, I’ve always really borne that in mind that there can’t be any slacking, you know, with a new guitarist, with a new drummer, and a new bass player, this has to be played at a certain level. I’ve now learned – because the line-up we’ve got now is just unbelievable, it’s the best line-up the band’s ever had – I now know that I did slack off a little bit. But at the time, I was trying with each new member to do exactly what Tom said, to perform those songs with the utmost respect.

LK
Well, I spoke to Tom for this podcast, and I asked him if he had any questions for you. 

MH
Oh right.

LK
And he said he did. 

MH
Okay.

LK
So, I’m going to play you one and put you on the spot, and you can let me know if you’re up for answering it. I don’t know if he’s trying to mess with you because I don’t understand the question but here, I’ll play it to you. 

MH
Okay.

Tom Robinson
Hey, Milo, it’s Tom here. Tell Laura all about Hamell on Trial. 

LK
Is that something you can talk about? 

MH
Well, Hamell on Trial is an artist, a singer-songwriter, acoustic maniac from New York or New Jersey. So, my early years of touring the States as an acoustic duo with Malc Treece, then with Phil Hurley from Gigolo Aunts and then with Michael Ferrantino of “The Amazing Meat Project”…somewhere in there, I think it was called the Budapest Lounge, Christ, how have I remembered that?, which was a restaurant in New Jersey, and me and Malc were supporting Hamell on Trial. So, it’s one guy, but he calls himself Hamell on Trial. And he’s remarkable. You know, look up anything you can on YouTube. I hope he’s still performing. But it must have been ’99, 2000 when I would sort of very occasionally see Tom socially. Hamell came and played a bar in Spitalfields Market and I said to Tom, “You got to come and see this guy, you have to”, and Tom was just absolutely blown away. I’m trying to desperately think of some lyrics of Hamell because it’s the lyrics – they are fucking laugh-out-loud at points, incredibly upsetting at other points, but it’s all delivered with this lunatic power. And he made at least two or three albums under that name, but with a band. And the nearest thing that I could perhaps compare it to is Soul Coughing or Mike Doughty’s solo stuff. It’s amazing, it’s incredibly intelligent. So yeah, that’s what I’ll be walking around the lanes listening to later. Thank you, Tom Robinson, for reminding me of Hamell on Trial.

LK
Something to listen to. Going back to this “Custodian” idea because I love it so much, if the songs belong to the audience when you’ve released them, and they become theirs, when they’re yours, when you’re writing them, what are they to you then? So, what’s your relationship with them when you’re writing them?

MH
New songs? 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
Well, it’s odd really, because I never… okay, not never. I hopefully never write a song with the audience in mind. I’ve always written for me. And Malc used to agree with that. You know, when we first were the little writing team in The Wonder Stuff in the early days, we would go to basement clubs and stuff in Birmingham, which is the nearest city to where we lived up in the Black Country, and we would see things like Wire Train, The Railway Children, Wild Flowers that were local to us, Mighty Lemon Drops, four-piece electric guitar bands. And we would get the bus home which was like an hour, and we would just talk about, you know, if there was something great with any of those bands that we saw, it would be just like, “That was amazing”. But me and Malc being me and Malc would usually… “It was kind of disappointing when they did that,” or “It’s kind of disappointing that he sings in a cod American accent”. You know, “why are their songs so long? Why do they have guitar solos in every song?” And so, we would collate our ideas for our next writing session together with this list of things not to do that we’d seen other bands do. So, it was like… this is awful, but we were so arrogant in this way that we were trying to correct all the mistakes that the other bands were making, for ourselves, you know. It doesn’t matter that “Down Here”, our first ever single, it doesn’t matter that it’s just two or three seconds short of two minutes, and there’s no guitar solo in it. Does it do the job that we set out to do? Yes, it does. You know, we worked with various producers in those early days…“You might want to make this one a bit longer”. “No, we might not!”

LK
Yeah, yeah.

MH
In fact, I remember when we got our first song that was over three minutes which would be “Cartoon Boyfriend”, we chopped out a whole solo section in it. Just like, “No, God, we’re up to three minutes, we don’t want to start doing that. That’s awful. Everything’s got to be around 2:50”. And so, it was always to please ourselves. And I’ve continued with that – I’m writing to myself, and I’m writing for myself, which then I guess, begs the question, when do I accept that that song is no longer mine and it belongs to the audience? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I might sit down with a calculator and a list of songs and try and figure that out. But I’m always writing for myself.

And that’s why I said to you, I think before we got started recording, the period I’m at now in my writing is I really like being a co-writer. I like someone else to start a musical idea, which is actually where I started. Malc Treece was always the guide. I think “A Wish Away” maybe I took in as a first idea but that first album, everything comes from Malc, really. And I’m sort of back there, you know, I work with Morgan and I work with Luke. And that last Wonder Stuff album, Mark Gemini Thwaite lead most of the way in a little over half of the album. And it’s so lovely to get a music file sent to you which has got verses and choruses and a middle bit. And I just sit there and instantly I have a melody idea. And I feel instantly creative, rather than sitting with a guitar or programming drums, you know, the early stages of demoing that I just really don’t like leading anymore.

LK
Okay. 

MH
Yeah.

LK
That’s interesting. But, you know, you’ve done so many songs, though, so I think it’s completely natural that you’re going to go through different phases of your preferences to how they start. And just when you have those brilliant people as well, it’d be severely underusing people like that in your band, wouldn’t it, if you’re not going to collaborate with them?

MH 

Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And so this Vent 414 stuff that we’re doing, I’ve led most of it. Morgan Nicholls wrote a belter called “In My Sights”. No, not “In My Sights”, that was Luke’s. “A New Intent” is the one Morgan wrote. And when I say wrote, he wrote all the music, and then just… oh actually, he put some vocal ideas on that one as well. But I think Vent’s strengths… So, we’re kind of stuck at about five ideas at the minute because really, what we need to do is get in a room – me, Pete, Howard, and Morgan Nicholls – and just thrash it out. That’s the best way to do it. So, I don’t know when we’ll be able to do that really.

LK
Hmm, yeah, that’s all a bit up in the air, isn’t it? So, when you writing for different projects, are you very specific about which one you’re writing for at the time? Does that help you to get into a certain mindset?

MH
Yeah, I mean, you don’t end up writing something like “Underground Ernie”, which was a song for a childrens’ TV show, sitting on the couch looking for your next best idea. That is somebody saying, “Hey, Miles, you fancy writing a couple of songs for a children’s TV show?” “Oh, okay.” So, you go with your sweetest melodies and your hooky bits. Yeah, so when I was writing for the three albums I did with Erica, I knew I was not writing Wonder Stuff songs. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
And similarly, when we go into a Wonder Stuff album period, I know I’m writing for The Wonder Stuff, so I have to sit and tick certain boxes. The chorus needs to be strong with backing vocals, riffs at the beginning… Got to hit the chorus – if not as the first thing that happens in the song…I like, like “Caught in my Shadow”, “A Wish Away” – opening with a chorus…“Size Of A Cow” opens with an instrumental chorus. I really like that little trick. And if I don’t do that, then you’re got to hit the chorus within a minute. I’ve sort of lengthened that a little bit with two tracks on the most recent Wonder Stuff album but those are my sort of boxes to tick.

LK
I’ve been aiming for 35 to 40 seconds for the chorus on my new album, which is really unnatural for me. I’ve been trying. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s what I’m always looking at now. And I used to do these demos with a load of sort of double chorus, double chorus, double chorus, then sort of cut them later, and now I find myself cutting the chaff before I’ve even recorded the chaff which is kind of nice. So, it’s interesting to hear about how you’re approaching choruses. Because I could probably be a bit easier on myself. I think a minute’s decent, isn’t it? To get to it within a minute?

MH
I think a minute’s fine. Yeah. I mean it entirely depends on the beats per minute, the tempo of the track. 

LK
Yes. 

MH
I mean, there’s a good six or seven-minute track that finishes the most recent Wonder Stuff album, where the vocals don’t come in until about three and a half minutes, and there is no chorus. The vocals just exist for a minute in the middle of this very, very long song, but I wanted to write something long, moody, almost gothy I suppose for my love of bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees from when I was a kid. So, I’m not always trying to write a three-minute song with the chorus by a minute, but if that’s the nature of the track, if it’s, you know, 150 beats per minute, then yeah, you got to hit the chorus early. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
I was just thinking of something else then. Oh, yeah, I sort of claimed then, that it was my idea to start “Size Of A Cow” with an instrumental chorus, and it wasn’t. I did write all the chord progressions and all the melodies for the song, but it was actually when we were in the studio, it was Mick Glossop, the producer of Van Morrison, The Waterboys, The Ruts, The Lurkers – he said, “Okay, my idea for the arrangement change would be to open with an instrumental chorus”. And that served me really well a couple of times since, because what it essentially does to the listener is when you get to the chorus, it already feels familiar.

LK
Yeah. I love that trick. 

MH
It’s nice, isn’t it?

LK
Yeah, it’s really nice. Introduce little things as you go along. 

MH
Yeah. 

LK
Yeah, then you’re like, “I’ve heard this before”. Yes, you have, haha.

MH
Yeah. 

LK
An instant hit. I love all that.

I love asking people about this stuff, because my aim for this podcast is that people who are listening are not necessarily musicians – if they are, that’s awesome, and I’m really pleased – but mostly, it’s hopefully people who are patrons of the arts and supporters of the arts, because I’d love them to hear more about what it is we do and how we do it. Because I think it’s really easy to just go, “Oh, yeah, this song appeared as if from nowhere – it must just come naturally to that person”. And I’d like to point out that there’s a lot of work involved.

MH
Yeah, in arrangements and you know, really refining the lyric. There’s a lot of work there. But I will support the idea that if I sit and try to write a song, I guarantee I’ll get nothing. But if I’m walking around, if I’m driving, if I’m washing up, I’ll just start singing something to myself, or, you know, beatboxing a beat or humming a bassline, and then I’ll grab a recording device and email that to myself. So, the next day that I sit in my little studio, I’ll go, “Okay, what nonsense have I sent myself recently?”

LK
Yeah. 

MH
So, I think that moment, you know, if you’re walking a dog, driving, washing up…where’s it coming from?

LK
It’s the eternal question.

MH
Yeah, I mean, Rob Jones, the original Wonder Stuff bass player was adamant that we weren’t writing any of this. So, no songwriter is actually a songwriter. They are merely beacons, they’re aerials, as it were, they’re people that have got good aerials, and songs are coming past us all, all of the time, and some people – the songwriters – are good at grabbing them. And that’s what we are. I remember him just saying to me, “How can a song exist on a Tuesday that didn’t exist on a Monday?” 

LK
I love that.

MH
Like, it was there, we just had to go and find it. Yeah.

LK
Yeah. Well, because whatever I write today, I wouldn’t write tomorrow and whatever I’m going to write tomorrow, I couldn’t have written today. 

MH
Yeah.

LK
Yeah, exactly. I first heard about that concept, I think it was in a David Bowie biography actually, this concept of… it was described as being a conduit for the song, so it’s the same sort of thing.

MH
Yes. 

LK
And that was when I was a teenager, and I was just like, “Whoa!” And then Elizabeth Gilbert has written this amazing book called “Big Magic” and she talks about ideas in exactly the same way. So not specifically songs, but ideas for anything creative. And so yeah, if you can switch off that part of your brain that’s like, “I’d like to write a song now”, and just let it come with those sorts of mundane tasks like washing up. It’s all that washing up is good for in my opinion is coming up with songs. I play along…

MH
Well, there was an incident in the early days for the Wonder Stuff where it was the track “I Am A Monster”, we saved up our dole money and we were going to go into the studio and record “I Am A Monster” and put it out as a second single. And we’d got a gig with The Go-Betweens to go and do in Leeds the week before we were going to go into the studio. And we got a phone call as we were at the little rehearsal space to grab our equipment, throw it in a van to go up to Leeds to support Go-Betweens. And the promoter phoned and said, “The gig’s off. I don’t know why, but The Go-Betweens have cancelled the gig”.

So, we’re standing in the rehearsal space and we looked to the guy that owned it, who’s still our sound engineer now, Simon Efemey – and record producer now – and just said, “Oh, well, we’re here, can we have one of the rooms and rehearse?”, and that night we wrote “Unbearable”. What if we’d have gone and done the gig with the Go-Betweens, never written “Unbearable” because it wasn’t floating through the air in Stourbridge that night…And arguably “Unbearable” is the door opening for us, you know, our first single didn’t get any Radio One, but “Unbearable” did. And now looking at “I Am A Monster”, if that had been the A side that wouldn’t have got Radio One either. 

LK
That’s cosmic. 

MH
It is, baby. 

===

Intermission

Hi, I hope you’re enjoying the episode so far. It’s time for Correspondent’s Corner now where I pass the proverbial mic off the metaphorical stage and into the audience.

I asked three questions, “What’s most important to you? What was the first album that changed your life? And what was the most recent?”

Ruby 

Hi, Laura. My name is Ruby, I’m 23, and I work for a green energy company. A little bit about me: I have half and half pink and blue hair. I think that says a lot about me. And I’d say my family are the most important part of my life.

So many albums are so important to me, and “change your life” seems like a really huge thing, but I think these are my picks. The first album that changed my life was “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” by My Chemical Romance. And I hear you gasping but hear me out. As a young teenager, I’d never heard of them. My friend went to one of their gigs and recommended them to me and they totally changed my life. I felt like I’d never heard music like it, and I loved it so much. And we – me and this one other friend – it was just two of us. No one else liked them and thought that we were really strange. And then sadly, the friend who’d introduced me, died unexpectedly when we were only 15. And so then, My Chemical Romance became something completely different to me, in that it supported me then and felt like a real retreat from the world. And now, it feels like a really nice way to remember her, and I have a lot of nostalgia surrounding it now. 

And it makes me laugh to think of little emo 15-year-old me. I didn’t even dye my hair then, so I had blonde swoopy emo bangs. And yeah, it was a time. But I do think that album, and then their subsequent albums really changed the way I saw music in a lot of ways. And because I loved them so much and I was just getting into the internet, it changed the way I interacted with other music lovers because it’s the first time I’d been interested in a band that had such a huge following, an army of people who all tweeted about it all the time and talked about it and had usernames that were lyrics and all that kind of thing. So, I think it was a musical turning point for me. 

And then the most recent? I feel like, for a few years now, I’ve been sort of chugging along, not really knowing what I’m doing in my life and not really knowing what I’m doing musically. I don’t listen to a lot of single albums any more – I’ve changed the way I listen to music in a lot of ways, because when I find a new artist I put every album and single of theirs into one playlist and then I listen to the entire thing rather than listening to albums. I’m sure that’s blasphemous to some people, but that’s how I listen to most music. But so, I’ve decided my most recent album that’s changed my life is “Touch Up” by Mother Mother. My college friend introduced me to Mother Mother when I was about 17 and it’s one of those bands where I’ve loved every album that they’ve put out. A lot of their songs, including their other albums, they just describe a lot of aspects of mental health and understanding your inner self that I really, really appreciate. And I feel like I can listen to them whatever mood I’m in, but I still feel understood by their music. In fact, I quite like a lot of songs where I feel like I can use the lyrics to explain to other people how I’m feeling about things. Yeah, and I think they just do that so well.

LK
I don’t know about you, but when I first listened to that clip I think I got a little something in my eye. Thank you ever so much Ruby for sharing your memories with me.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Correspondent’s Club, go to penfriend.rocks and pick up two free songs while you’re there. Right, back to my conversation with Miles.

===

LK
I had a really nerdy question that I decided not to ask you, but since you’ve just talked about snippets of ideas, I’m going to ask you because I’m a nerd. And it literally says, “Does he have a massive library of ideas? Does he hold on to stuff forever like I do?”

MH
Um, no.

LK
Aww, good. 

MH 

No, I don’t.

LK
Because I don’t think my way is a healthy way, to be honest.

MH
Okay. Actually, I’m looking at my desktop here. So, if I’ve got a guitar idea with a vocal, I will film myself so I don’t have to say, “Okay, Milo, it’s in so and so tuning”, so I can just see. And I’m looking at the desktop here and there’s a little movie still on here called “Build a Bigger Table”, which became a song from the last Wonder Stuff album. And I’m not sure why I’ve kept that. Maybe I think it’s cute because it’s in a dressing room on “The Custodian” tour. And the whole song came to me, all the lyrics, in pretty much as long as it took to play it. It was amazing. 

LK
Yeah.

MH
That’s only ever happened to me, like, once before. I think “Sing the Absurd” came to me like that. Just picked up a guitar, those chords, and all the lyrics, I’m like, “Oh, shit, write that down quick,” you know? So, I have got that there. And if I haven’t used one of the kitchen sink ideas within two months, I’ll just delete it off the phone, delete it out the emails. I’m like, “If I’m not going to do anything with it now, I’m never going back to it”.

LK
That sounds so healthy. I’ve been going through my awfully overstuffed ideas library lately because I’ve been putting together the demos for “Disarm” because “Disarm” is 10, which is horrifying. It’s 10 next week.

MH
Oh, God, is that 10 years old?

LK
Ten years old.

MH
Jesus.

LK
And I’ve never got around to putting demos and rarities together, so that’s what I’ve been doing is listening through and finding all this old stuff from 2005, 2006, 2009. Stuff I never made into songs, and some of them are really good. But I wonder if the energy for that idea has now sort of left the building. If it was going to be a song it would have been a song. I don’t know at this point.

MH
That’s kind of how I approach things, but you won’t know until you try it. Give it a try.

LK
Well, and the but is that I found a minidisc, an actual minidisc with some ideas on from 2005. And I worked up one of the song ideas, which is now the song that’s the theme for this podcast and also is one of the songs on the new record, which is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. So, I’m glad I kept that. But that was a really long time in getting finished that one, that’s a record for me – 15 years to complete a song.

MH
Yeah, I’m trying to think of an example of mine of something I left for years. Nothing’s coming to me. But here’s a question for you then, what about…so you have sort of vocal melody idea, pick up a guitar, or sit at a computer and a keyboard, build the track up, and then you put the vocal on and then you finish it and then you sit back and you go, “All right, the music’s pretty good and I’m glad I’ve seen it through, but that vocal is rubbish, the melody is rubbish, the lyrics are rubbish”, delete them all, walk away from the track, say to yourself, “I’ll leave this for a month and then go back”. Have you ever had that experience?

LK
I have done it with choruses where the chorus just wasn’t working in a song. 

MH
Right.

LK
And what I’ve done is normally, yeah, just deleted off the thing, the vocal melody, left whatever the chord progression was if I was happy with it, and tried another one. What I tend to do when I’m writing, if I’m not happy with the first one, if the first one isn’t clicking in a way that feels like I’ve pulled a song out of the air, and that’s the song, then I will just try and do a completely opposite kind of melody to try and get one that’s…something that doesn’t…

MH
Right. And you can do that? You can do that? You can get rid of the old one out of your mind?

LK
I can give it a go.

MH
Okay.

LK
Yeah, yeah.

MH
See, I can’t do that.

LK
There are some songs as well, where the chorus just wasn’t working and so I just took the whole chorus out, music and vocals, and then just tried different ones. And there was a song off the new record, actually, that I had to try three or four different choruses. And I’ve never done that before. 

MH
Right? Wow.

LK
That felt like actually going to work in a constructive way. I don’t mean in a boring way, but it felt like, “Oh, yeah, I’m being a songwriter now, not just pulling stuff out the sky and putting it down”.

MH
Right. Okay.

LK
That was nice. But I don’t even remember which song it was now. So, I don’t even know which one because it now feels like that must have always been the chorus.

MH
Yeah, well, I’ve got this great piece of music and I’ve come at it two or three times. And I can say it’s great now because Morgan’s totally changed it, Luke’s programmed some amazing drums to it which made me sort of reimagine the guitars, did all that, but I am stuck with this God-awful lyric and melody. And just, you know, I’ll set up another arrange page so I’m not even tempted to check in on the last one, but it’s all I can hear.

LK
Is it definitely awful?

MH
Yeah.

LK
Or is it just that you think it is at the moment, but it’s really fine?

MH
I’ve played it to a friend after the pub the other night, and he said, “It’s not your best”, he said, “and that particular bit there”…I thought he was going to say, “That’s a keeper”, but he said “That is awful”. He says, “I hate hearing you do that”, and I’m like, “Okay”. 

LK
That’s a good friend though, isn’t it? 

MH
Yeah.

LK
That’s a really good friend who will say that. 

MH
Yeah. So, I’m going to scrap the whole thing. Oh, well.

LK
Maybe it’s just not going to come together, some things don’t. Some things lead you to the next thing, don’t they? Some songs lead you to the next song. 

MH
Yeah.

LK
Not every song has to be released.

MH
I think what it will do is…don’t write songs in that BPM and key. Yeah, I know the sort of BPM and keys that I want to write in now. This would be for the Vent stuff, and it was a track for Vent. And when I gave it to Morgan and Luke I said, “It sounds really twee. It sounds more like an old Wonder Stuff song so do whatever you like to change it, it needs to change. But I think there’s a good idea in the guitar part”. So, they did what they could but I still remained in the track and what I had done was awful.

LK
Oh no! But without your awful bit, the track wouldn’t exist at all, so maybe just take your bit out.

MH
Yeah, I guess somebody could do something with it. Or maybe it’s one that I just need to leave on a desktop, delete all my bits, guitars as well. Who knows?

LK
Yeah, maybe.

MH

Have you ever released a track on a record that you knew was awful even when you released the record, but you’d done your sequencing and you’re in the mastering session?

LK
I’ll answer that with a question first of all, which is which song of mine are you talking about, Miles? Because you’ve heard all of them. Because if I said one and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s the one I thought” that would be awful.

MH
No, no, no, no, no. And you don’t have to name it in case you’ve got an audience member out there that’s like, “Oh, no, I’m really sad Laura said that because I love that”.

LK
Exactly. No, no, no. There’s one song off the first record that the demo is brilliant. And I know, because I’ve just listened to it again for the first time in 10 years, but it was sped up during the recording and it didn’t work at that BPM. And I don’t know why I said, “Yeah, okay”. I think I was just trying to be amenable and be a bit more collaborative than I wanted to be. Because I felt at the time, “This doesn’t feel as good as it did before”. In fact, two of the songs off that album didn’t feel as good as they did before. 

MH
Okay.

LK
But…whatever. I didn’t release it thinking, “This is shit” or anything, because I wouldn’t have done that.

MH
Okay, so I have. I’ve released awful tracks. And there’s a great story when we were doing “Construction for the ModernIdiot”. So, you know, when we were with a major label, they booked the mastering session, they do… what did they call it? You know, once they’ve got the tracklisting and you’ve sent that, you can’t change it. It’s done weeks in advance. Then you go to the mastering session, and we’re sitting there, and it’s the whole band. I mean, a nightmare. You shouldn’t even have the whole band in the mix, let alone at the mastering session. And great, great mastering engineer that goes back to… like he mastered “Exodus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, Kevin… Oh God, Kevin’s surname has escaped me. Anyway, he’s a little bit older than me and he’s a great Northern guy.

And we’re all sitting there in the mastering session at The Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush for “Construction For The Modern Idiot” and he gets to this song “Swell”. And I just sat there…I’d moaned about the second track, “I Wish Them All Dead”. I’m like, “Oh, God, I hate this track. We can’t have that on there.” And Kevin just carried on. And then when we get to “Swell”, I’m like, “No, I’m going to make my voice heard this time”. I’m like, “This can’t be on the album. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard by anybody”. And Gilks is sitting there, “No, no, no, I really like this bit about it”. And I’m like, “Kevin, we can’t put it on”. And he’s just like “Right, all of you” – Kevin Metcalfe…now I’ve heard his voice in my head! – he’s like, “Right, all of you – out! All these decisions have to be made before you come into a mastering session. I’m mastering it as the label told me”. And we were thrown out of our own mastering session, and so the track’s on there, and I still think it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever heard by anybody…yeah.

LK
Mmm. Well, that’s an accolade of sorts, isn’t it? 

MH
What, being thrown out of the studio by Kevin Metcalfe?

LK
No, being the best worst song ever… 

MH
Oh, okay. Yeah, okay.

LK 

…by anyone. That’s impressive. There’s a lot of shit music, and yours is the worst. I think that’s good. 

MH
Okay, cool.

LK
I think you should have an actual trophy for that one. I’ll get one made and send it to you. 

MH
Oh, thank you.

LK
I recorded an album at The Townhouse a long, long time ago with a previous band, and it never got released because of various annoying record label things. And we mastered something, so I might have sat on the same sofa you sat on, that’s all I’m saying…

MH
Oh wow.

LK
 …in The Townhouse, a different year, a different time, doesn’t matter. And Suede were recording in the same studio as we were, after we were, and I was just like, “Yeah, that’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me is that Suede are in a room I was in”.

MH
Great!

LK
Thankfully, life has improved since then, since I’ve done a few more things. But it was nice.

MH
Well, during the “Never Loved Elvis” sessions, it was, I think going on for five months at The Townhouse, for four or five nights we were told that our sessions had to finish by about 9 pm, I think. So, you’ve got to be out of the building at 9pm for these particular nights, and we weren’t told why. And we later found out it’s because Prince was going into Studio Two after his Wembley shows. 

LK
Wow.

MH
I think he was doing Wembley then going to Camden Palace and doing another show. And then by about two in the morning was turning up at The Townhouse to record, obviously not in the same studio as us, one of the other studios because our gear was set up. But we had been thrown out of the studio for Prince, so that was nice. Yeah.

LK
My other Townhouse story is that Beth Orton passed me the salt at dinner. I was like, “What a nice woman. She passed me that salt”.

MH
That’s really nice.

LK
Yeah. Thanks, Beth. 

MH
Well, of course I won’t tell the story, but it was a drunken night in the studio where I first met Kirsty MacColl. And I’ve told this story a billion times and it’s been on various podcasts and it’s on a live album as well, so I won’t tell it, but one of my favourites as well was meeting Holly Johnson and playing with his little dog. 

LK
Awhhh.

MH
That was in the “Never Loved Elvis” sessions as well.

LK
I like those little things…

MH
Yeah.

LK
…those little moments with people. I’d love to know, Miles, how the internet has impacted your career, and what is your current relationship with social media and smartphones?

MH
Okay, the internet has decimated the music business. It’s such a shame. It was great, Laura, you know, the whole model just worked. There was money for people to exercise their creative muscles that isn’t there anymore in terms of the labels dishing it out, like spending five months in a studio trying to put your third album together, that would never happen for an equivalent band now. Yeah, it’s decimated it, it’s just ripped the guts out of it.

It’s also now we’re probably into a second generation of younger people who have grown up with the idea that music has no value, it’s worthless, which is depressing. So, it’s really tough. I mean, you know, I think the most I ever earned out of the music business would have been around that “Never Loved Elvis” period, and I think I was on £350 a week. That’s the most money I’ve ever earned out of being a recording artiste signed to a label. And I’m on less than that now. And since the internet, I’ve been on less than that. 

You know, because I’m raised a socialist, I don’t mind going out and doing shows to pay my bills because there’s a certain dignity in labour, so I’ve convinced myself of that, but it didn’t need changing. You know, it didn’t need Spoti-theft, you know. I’m angry at the Musicians’ Union who have done nothing. I’m angry at all of the MDs and lawyers that were at the major record companies in the late ‘90s that allowed this to happen, that then allowed Spotify to happen because they were just playing whack-a-mole with all these different things coming up online, whether you were streaming or…it was mostly downloading, wasn’t it, stolen music. And the labels got tired of court case after court case after court case of shutting people down. And so, Spotify built their whole model, and then rather than just launching it, went to the major labels and said “Here’s the deal we are going to offer you”, and the labels took it. And they betrayed every single musician and writer – publishing companies are the same – that they had ever signed, an absolute betrayal. And what they learned is in this new model, it’s all about quantity. Everything’s about quantity. So, it’s not about quality. It’s not about developing an artist. It’s just about having a shitload of stuff on your label, on your roster – and that’s it. And so, they’ve kept their income, but they’ve betrayed us all. And the Musicians’ Union didn’t stand up for us. The labels didn’t stand up for us. So, we’ve been screwed. 

And as I say, I’ve never been a wealthy individual out of this, so I was more than happy with my £350 a week. It was probably more than I could spend. And I thought it was a decent exchange for the effort that I put into my job. So, a number of years ago, I was furious about it, but other things have come up, of course, that are positive, so now I don’t have to spend a fortune on pluggers and PR because I can use social media and do that myself. I don’t mind doing it, I enjoy interacting with most of my audience. I, perhaps, up until three or four years ago, was perhaps sharing too much of my life outside of my music. So, you know, here’s a picture of me at the pub with my girlfriend, or here’s my dinner, or here’s my thoughts on this bullshit political thing. And I’ve just stopped doing all of that now because, you know, I had various instances of meeting people who thought I was their best mate, and they were rude to me. And I’m like, “Okay, I don’t need that. I don’t need this bullshit in my life”. So, I use it pretty much exclusively now just to promote either record releases or things that I’ve done. I’ve guested on the new Mission record, or I’m appearing on the John Peel Centre event this weekend. So just to promote music, whether it’s my shows, or releases, or things I’m involved with. And that’s pretty much exclusively all I use it for. 

But on a personal level, I also like keeping in touch with…you know, I know lots of my old schoolmates from nearly forty years ago because of social media, and I enjoy that side of it. I’m not one of these people that if I’m waiting for someone, immediately gets their phone out. It doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket, I’m quite happy for it to stay in my bag or in my pocket. But I’m 54, you know, I think it’d be odd if I was one of those kinds of people. So, on a personal level, it has its advantages, on a musical level, it has some advantages. But I would happily turn the fucking internet off. I remember it, it was better before. Life was better.

LK
I’m feeling more and more that way myself. So, I spent the first probably five or six, seven years of having a solo career thinking, “The internet’s brilliant. Look at all the stuff I’ve been able to do because of it. I built an audience because of it”. Then I was thinking, “Hang on a second, if it hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t have had to do all this myself” – because I make good quality music and I probably would have had someone helping me out. Whereas in this environment, it’s impossible to even get a manager to respond to an email from me, despite the things I’ve managed to do myself.

Yeah, and I’ve had a conversation with Emma Pollock, it was for the podcast but we also talked before and after and the night before and stuff about all this. And she’s very much on the same page as you are on all of that stuff. Because she was explaining to me, obviously, Chemikal Underground has been running for a really long time and the label used to be able to get licensing deals for different territories for bands, 60 grand, 100 grand, and that keeps you going – that’s what pays you, and that’s what pays for the records to be made. 

So yeah, I go through phases of feeling absolutely furious that it’s so impossible to make a living and be a working artist, and feeling like, “Well, there’s no point being furious. I can’t change anything by being furious. I just have to work with the tools I have”. And there are people out there who want to pay for music and support artists, but they shouldn’t have to choose to do that. That’s so much responsibility on them, it’s unfair. I think that they’re being offered this quite incredible product of listening to whatever music they want for a really cheap monthly amount of money, that they think is getting distributed fairly – because it’s not their job to distribute it fairly, it’s someone else’s job to distribute fairly.

So, I never want to shame someone for using those platforms, because it’s not their fault, but equally, I want them not to use them because I need to be able to put another record out and that’s, unfortunately, the way to do it. So, I’m so grateful for audiences who get that we need them to buy things. But I also feel bad that they have to…not have to buy them, but I feel bad that they have to be the only ones who are doing the right thing. That seems fucked up to me.

MH
Yeah. And on a very personal level with other peoples’ music. I was the person that stopped buying CDs and bought everything through the iTunes Music Store. And I think the last one that I bought, like a new release, was Faith No More’s last album, “Sol Invictus”. I remember buying it, playing it on the day that I bought it, two or three times, loving it. Then the next day I didn’t play it, and the next day I didn’t play it, and then about two months later I’m like, “Didn’t I buy Faith…Have I heard Faith No More’s new…?”.

But if it was physically in my house, like you know, I bought The Psychedelic Furs’ new album on double vinyl. I played it every day since I received it a month ago, I know it inside out, I love it, I’m moved by I, I’m thrilled that they’ve done it. It has enriched my life. But if I’d have just bought that, I’d have forgotten I own it because I can’t see it. Now maybe that’s because I’m a dimwit, maybe it’s because I’m not always fucking about with my phone and seeing what’s in there. But, again, it was better before. It was even better when there were lots of record shops, and I could go up to Birmingham and I could go and buy the stuff because then there’s actually my time and effort has gone into this and I’m sitting on the train going back home like, “Come on train. Come on, I got to get home and hear this”. You know, I’ve developed a relationship with the thing before I’ve even listened to it, and that made my life better than just bullshit living in a computer that I’ve forgotten I even bought. 

And I can only imagine that’s the way the young minds have been formed. You know, they maybe have a couple of days to listen, “Oh, did you hear?…” You know, I remember hating “Closer” by Joy Division when I first bought it. I hated the first Echo & the Bunnymen album. But because it was my pocket money, and because I’d made that emotional investment of going up to town and buying it with my pocket money…and neither of them are instantaneous, you know, they’re not pop records, they need your time put into it to understand it. Now, of course, I know – well, it took me about a month maybe – but they’re two of the most important records ever made, not just to my life, to the history of rock and roll. 

LK
Yeah. 

MH
And so, if you don’t like something on first listen, well, you know, it’s a fucking tragedy. And then there’s another point just going through my head then, you know, you said “managers won’t get back to me”. So, if you write to someone in the business, you know, we used to send out our 7” single that we had pressed up ourselves, it’s something physical, and they didn’t like it. I mean, I’ve got rejection letters, I’ve still got a couple of rejection letters because they amused me so much at the time, and still do if ever I bring him out. But now people have got to go, “Well, we’ve put our video up on YouTube, or we’ve got this up on Soundcloud” or something like that, and of course, you know, they’ve got all their mates and their Moms and Dads to watch this stuff, you know, when they’re at the starting gates of their music career, that’s all you can do. And I know people in the music business that won’t even press go, they’ll just look at the numbers. 

LK
Hmm, yeah.

MH
And then also huge bands, so, looking at the numbers on Spotify, on YouTube, you can buy the fucking numbers. Record labels buy the numbers. You know, if it’s been out two hours and it’s got 14 million listeners – no it fucking hasn’t! The labels paid for that, the managers paid for that, the promo department have paid for that. And then some bozo booking festivals or whatever, or putting festival bills together, “Oh, look, they 14 million listens on their first single”. Jesus Christ, the people believing this horseshit! 

It’s the same as, you know, I used to know guys that would travel around the country buying five copies of The Fall’s new single on Beggars Banquet because Beggars Banquet had given this guy a load of money to travel around the country buying the record from chart shops. It’s the equivalent, but it just seems more evil now. At least if that guy got caught, he’d be in a lot of trouble. Or if the record shop… You know, I knew a guy in Walsall, so, when “Disco King” came out, he’d got the cover and he said, “Sign this for me. If you sign these, I’ll press a few chart positions on the little computer”. And I just stood there watching it going ding, ding, ding, ding.

LK
Oh, my word.

MH
I’m like, “Stop – because you’ll get in trouble because if you’ve never sold a Wonder Stuff single here before, but you’ve just sold 20 in five seconds”… 

LK
Yeah.

MH
you know, but now it’s just heinous, the bullshit that goes on. And it doesn’t affect me in any way whatsoever, I’m over it all. But I’ve got young friends in bands like The Lottery Winners and Deja Vega that are up against this bullshit. So yeah, just turn the damn thing off. I’ve had enough of it.

LK
We could talk all day. But, given that you’ve just said that you’re over all that stuff and that we should turn the internet off and I’m actually, yeah, I’m into that – what these days do you define as success, and have you ever achieved it?

MH
Jesus. Yeah, I have succeeded. You know, if I copped for some final disease…I’ve done it. I’ve done exactly what I set out to do. And even though I’ve been grumpy a lot throughout the last 30 years of being a musician lucky enough to pay his bills via making music, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m proud of the vast majority of it. So that’s my success.

I mean, I used to say I’m succeeding because I haven’t had to go and get a day job. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it – all of my friends have got day jobs. I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t capable of doing a day job. I would have ended my time on this earth if this hadn’t have worked out for me. And it’s just sheer arrogance that I’ve just kept pushing and kept writing and kept playing. So yes, success is the whole thing that I’ve managed to do, and if I got the diagnosis, I’d just go “You know what? I can still say I won”.

LK 

So, what was the mission then? What were the things you set out to do?

MH
Not get a day job was the most important thing.

LK
That was it?

MH
Yeah, and have my time…I wanted my life to myself, on my terms. I wanted to make a lot of music. I guess I wanted an audience because, you know, last year when we toured The Wonder Stuff in the UK, I walked out on stage most nights with a lump in my throat. And I had to take a deep breath because I felt so fortunate, and sort of an overwhelming gratitude towards the audience for the fact that they still turn up to see my sorry ass do this. But thankfully, at the start of the set, we did a gag where I introduced each member of the band coming on the stage one at a time, in a sort of Vegas lounge act kind of style. So, I didn’t realise how much that helped because coming down the stairs at, say, Shepherds Bush Empire, “All right, all right”. Then my brother, our guitar tech, he’s come out, he goes, “All right, shall I flash Simon, tell him to turn the music up and put the house lights down?” Yeah, at that point, I got a massive lump in my throat, and usually my eyes have teared up when I’ve heard that [crowd noise]. It’s fucking amazing. And then I’d go, “I got to get rid of this, I’ve got to get rid of this”. I used to do stretches and breathing exercises to try and avoid that big emotional moment, but then I’m like, “Okay, now I’ve got to turn this character on to be funny”. So that helped, yeah.

LK
That’s lovely. I just think so many people probably go through life not getting what they deserve after creating a lot of good stuff. I’m just so pleased that you are getting that because that’s what you deserve! You create this incredible music, and you’ve been with people for such a long time. There’s that too – growing up with someone. I’ve grown up with The Wonder Stuff, you know – it means so much to me that I got to see you on tour all those nights when I was playing in Erica’s band…

MH
Yeah, yeah.

LK
…to get to watch it every night, and seeing all these people who…they were so delighted to be there. So, I would just obviously be watching the band, and then turn around and look at the people in the audience. And there were people just sort of pogoing and they’ve obviously come from their day job, whatever it is, and they’re reliving their teen years, some people still in their suit from work or whatever, and just bouncing around and so, so happy. 

MH
Yeah, I’m very lucky.

LK
And that’s what bands can give to people. So, you give so much to them, you know, so that’s why they love you.

MH
It’s funny. Okay, I mean, I accept that, but the motivation is completely selfish. 

LK
[laughs] Well, we are human. 

MH
Yeah, in recent years they’ve won me over. They have.

LK
Oh good. Well, you put them through it, didn’t you?

Well, look, if anyone’s listening who is yet to discover the back catalogue of Miles Hunt or if they need a refresher, which three of your own songs would you recommend? 

MH
Ooo, all right, go with an early one. Ooo, I should know the answer to this. I always want to play… like, I never want to do a gig acoustically or with The Wonder Stuff without playing “Here Comes Everyone”. I never want to play an acoustic gig without doing “Fixer”, which is a Vent 414 song, and I look forward to the day hopefully next year when three original members of Vent 414 can actually do that as a band…

LK
Yay.

MH
and the last single we put out, I really feel is an example that I’ve grown as a songwriter and really pulled a great track off. It’s called “Don’t Anyone Dare Give a Damn”. I love it, I love it, I’ll never tire of hearing that song.

So, what did I say? “Here Comes Everyone”, “Fixer” and Don’t Anyone…”. And all of them in DADGAD, the tuning.

LK
Ah, interesting. 

MH
And then that’s the funny thing. Well, not a funny thing…but “Don’t Anyone Dare Give a Damn” is just because on the computer it was called DADGAD. Yeah.

LK
I never picked up on that. That’s brilliant. Brilliant. New tunings are fun. I need to play with those a bit more, I get a bit stuck in my own world.

MH
I haven’t written a new song in regular tuning in 10 years. 

LK
Really? 

MH
Yeah. And it’s so weird for me doing these “Custodian” tracks, playing in regular tuning. And first of all, I will try and find out can this be played in DADGAD or Open D or G? I would do that first, and it doesn’t always work. So, yeah…oh shit I’ve got…the D chord. I despise the D chord. Such a twee, nasty little sound. Yeah, so I never play the D chord. Even if I’ve got to play something, I play a full four-fingered C and move it up two frets.

LK
You heard it here first, folks. What other artists are you enjoying at the moment? They don’t have to be new ones. What are you into right now?

MH
Well, I’m listening to a lot of jazz. My Dad, he’sa lifelong fan of Miles Davis, who I’m named after, and Coltrane, Jimmy Smith. So, I’m listening to quite a lot of that moment. I missed Perry Farrell’s album coming out. I’m trying to think of the title because he sings it. The last Perry Farrell album from maybe 18 months ago is wonderful. Deja Vega who are a contemporary band, three-piece, kick ass, from up North. Amazing. The new Psychedelic Furs album is incredible. I’ve rediscovered my love of The Comsat Angels. I don’t know why, but at the time that they were current I only bought one album by them, “Fiction”, and recently I’ve found the other three or four. I play those quite a lot. Bob Dylan’s latest album I’m getting used to. Yeah, that’s the current plate. Oh, and a lot of reggae. There was an album that my Dad gave me years ago called “The Front Line” – it was on a Virgin Records subsidiary, that’s maybe ‘78, ‘79. And then in the last couple of years, I’ve found the subsequent releases. There were three Front Line albums, and I’ve got them all now thanks to Discogs.

LK
Yay.

MH
So they’re are various reggae artists like Delroy Washington, the Mighty Diamonds and people like that, and they’re just amazing. I love it. Putting jazz on in the house when I’m not sitting in front of the speakers just turns the house into such a wonderful atmosphere, as does sort of late ‘70s Jamaican reggae – before they start using electronic drums and electronic keyboards for basslines, when it’s a proper drummer, a proper bass player and stuff. It just turns the house into just the happiest place.

LK
That’s lovely. Well, finally then, what is it about music that makes you keep doing it?

MH
It provides me with sanity, happiness, it gets rid of my…I live with anxiety all the time. I’m a hair’s breadth away from getting angry at an inanimate object. I’m a hair’s breadth away from slumping into a week or two of just walking around with my ass in my hands. To manage those things without music, it would be alcohol or pot. I haven’t touched pot in 15 years. I still drink booze. But just simply working on music, or being moved by somebody else’s music saves me from all the worst traits that are my personality. 

LK
Wow. Well, thank you for being so honest and so supportive of me over the last few years and supportive of this by coming on it. 

MH
Lovely to be asked, Laura.

MH
You’ve given me so much through your music through the years. I’m getting a bit teary now. And yeah, it’s a big deal for me to have you on here. So, thank you so much.

MH
It’s been lovely. Thanks for asking some great questions. Questions I’ve never been asked before as well, that’s lovely.

LK
I was so nervous before this, because I know we’ve obviously hung out a fair amount…

MH
Yeah.

LK
…but I know you’ve done a bajillion interviews, so thank you.

MH
This has been lovely, and thank you for inviting me, Laura.


LK
And breathe. I was serious when I said I was nervous about talking to Miles. Can you imagine how many interviews that man must have done in his career? I really hope you enjoyed our conversation.

Next, I highly recommend you head to penfriend.rocks/miles for the posh show notes for this episode, including links to the songs Miles highlighted plus your chance to grab some free music from yours truly.

This podcast is completely powered by The Correspondent’s Club, so tremendous thanks to them. And I love all of you for listening.

If you’re enjoying Attention Engineer, please share it with your friends. You can also leave a star rating or a review. It really means a lot and it really helps.

Join me again next week for another deep dive into creativity, grit, and determination with another inspiring guest. Catch you then.

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