CJ Wildheart from The Wildhearts talks to us about the new album ‘Renaissance Men’, their UK tour and more!
Graeme had a chat with CJ while he rehearses for the upcoming tour. If you follow Blank Slate you’ll know that a good proportion of the staff are Wildhearts fanatics, so it’s always fantastic to have a band you look up to taking time to speak to us. And, as is becoming a tradition with The Wildhearts we’ve asked the fans to help out with some questions too! Huge thank you to everyone that sent questions in. We didn’t have time to ask them all as the standard was really high! Hope you enjoy…
Hi CJ what are you up to today and how are things going?
Just running through stuff for the tour because I hardly ever play the guitar if I’m not working so I do a bit of prep, it’s kinda like getting back on a bicycle I suppose, I’m not one of those annoying guitar players that just play all the time, I have other things to do. Well, any musician that does it professionally you get into it because of the lifestyle and I’d be lying if I said I became a musician just because I wanted to play the guitar, there are other things as well that enticed me into the profession. As I’ve got older there’s other things, I need to look after my parents as they’re elderly and I’ve got a 4-year-old son and there’s other things I like doing, I don’t wake up every morning and wanna rock, I save that for when I’m on tour.
Playing live shows is what it’s all about ultimately, any musician that makes music wants to be able to replicate the recorded sound on stage. So yeah playing live is the goal. But I don’t drink to excess anymore, I don’t do drugs anymore or party like a headless chicken but you know I enjoyed my times as a complete and utter fool (laughs).
The reaction to the new material is rather positive thus far. How are you finding the reaction?
How could anyone not like that sort of reaction and I haven’t read a bad review yet and there is a bunch of other reviews that haven’t come out yet and I’ve been privileged to see already and they’re stacking up, we haven’t had a bad review and you can’t complain. It’s been a while since our last album Chutzpah came out in 2009 and the fact that it’s been that long you do get nervous, you don’t know how people are gonna receive a new album after a decade.
To be honest, as we’ve haven’t actually made an album in ten years when we approached this album we spent a bit of time in the rehearsal studio and we did demos too and we deliberately stripped down the sound as well and kind of approached it like a band doing their first album again. We didn’t double track any of the vocals or rhythm guitars, it’s got a bit of a stripped down punk rock ethic about it and a band that has been around for as long as us, we could have spent months layering up stuff and big harmonies but we wanted people to hear the band as we are live and that’s two guitars, bass, drums and some nice harmonies and some screamy shouty bits!
Where was the album recorded?
It was recorded in a place called The Treehouse in Chesterfield out in the countryside. What happened is we were approached by one of the engineers there to do some demos and we loved the sound we got, so we just carried on and did the album there.
Where are you based at the moment?
Well our management are based in Saltaire just outside Bradford and I live in Harrogate, Ginger and Ritchie live in York, so kind of Yorkshire but Danny still lives up in Newcastle.
Does that make practising releasing difficult?
Well, I live 18 miles away from Ginger and Ritchie then Danny is like an hour away by train, so we’re all kind of in the Northeast again. I’ve been here for about 6 years now and Ritchie’s been here for about 15. I dunno how we all ended up so close together. Flat caps and pork pies all round!
Was it a full band effort for songwriting?
Well, I’ve got a song on the album, which I wrote at home. What we do is; Ginger comes up with acoustic ideas, brings them on his dictaphone sends them over to me and Ritch, we have a listen, go to the rehearsal studio and build up from those parts where it’s just him and an acoustic and his voice and we build up a song and dissect it. Then we record the rehearsal and then we go home, learn the rehearsal and we end up demoing the song and from the demo, we have an idea of how an album is going to turn out. But we don’t all sit in a room and write songs together, we bring a strong idea to the table and we all work on it as a band.
Dislocated is easily the heaviest thing you’ve released in a long time. Is that a deliberate statement of intent for the record?
I think with The Wildhearts we can go either way, we can go really poppy or go really heavy and on this album, we found a middle ground. I’ve heard people compare elements of the album to Endless Nameless but I think the band has always had that kind of sound in them, a really dirty sound. Endless Nameless kind of pushed it too far because for me that album has some beautiful songs on it but they’re buried a bit too much under noise. We had elements of that noise on this album but we’ve always had a bit of punk, a bit of rock ’n’ roll, a bit of metal, I think we all make a noisier sounding album but it’s really important that those melodies shine through and they do! You know they’re not buried under dirt or layers and layers of distortion. When we need to be melodic we’re ridiculously melodic and when we need to be heavy we’ll take your face off! We’re doing what we do best and that is confuse people.
The UK tour is imminent. What can we expect on the setlist for the tour?
Well, that’s what I’m rehearsing at the moment. We’re not gonna go out and do all brand new songs and stuff. Fans might wanna hear the whole new album back to back but you’ve gotta create a vibe, you’ve got to balance a set-out. Obviously, we’re moving away from the set we did last year which was heavy on the Earth Vs stuff. We’ve been around a long time so we’ve got a lot of songs but you know we’re still gonna do Everlone and Suckerpunch we’d be crazy not to do those songs but we’re gonna pad it out with old stuff and some brand new stuff too but we’re not gonna kill the vibe. I’ve seen a lot of bands fall on their swords by going out there and just playing terrible new stuff and fans although they look and listen you want them to go crazy as well as sing along so you know we’ve put together a really good well-paced set. If you don’t like it fuck ya! (laughs).
Recorded with the original Earth Vs lineup. How did the lineup reunion come about?
With Danny back in the band he has such a distinctive bass sound, it’s almost like having two bass players in the band. For what he lacks in legs he makes up in sound. Well, Danny was kind of out in the wilderness for some time, he’s healthy now, well everyone knows the reason why Danny wasn’t in the band, if old habits hadn’t died then he wouldn’t be back in the band. So the timing was right and we’ve been threatening to make an album for a long time but it just didn’t happen. It just felt right, after we did that Brit Rock tour last year and we didn’t know how it was gonna go down and we didn’t know how we were gonna get on but it just seemed to click, we just kind of fallen on our feet again and the result is this new album. It’s great hearing me Danny, Ginger and Ritch together we seem to have a chemistry, the minute we fire up we make that really good tuneful racket.
If you had one word to describe how you feel about your musical career what would it be?
Urm! Disappointed? No… Chaotic! Yeah, there’s been far too much chaos really. If I could change things I would but I’m thankful I can still bring home a little bit of bacon from making music.
On that note what would you see yourself doing if you hadn’t chosen a life in music?
When I hit 40 I gave up music for three years, it was the end of the Chutzpah tour and we had really shit management at the time and at the end of the tour I got paid and was like “is this it?!” And I went “fuck this!”. So when I hit 40 I stopped smoking, stopped drinking, stopped doing drugs and I ran a little cleaning crew in London for a couple of years, we ended up cleaning like really big mansions and cleaning after suicides and stuff like that. So for a couple of years I completely forgot about music and did this really strange other job and it really helped me appreciate how lucky I was to be able to make money from playing and then what brought me back was Mable. When I recorded Mable that was me, I moved up to Yorkshire and I thought right I either start another business or I go back into music. So Mable was the outcome of me going back into music which led to me becoming a professional musician again and just thanking my lucky stars that I can still do this. I’ve been a musician all my life, I had a job when I was about 18 but I signed my first record deal when I was 18, so I always consider myself a musician. My Dad, he has dementia and Parkinsons now but he always used to say to me “you’ve chosen this path and you really need to stick to it” and “I know you’ve had ups and downs with your health and money”. Being a musician isn’t plain sailing, I think you’ve got have something seriously wrong with you to want to live that sort of lifestyle but I’ve stuck to my guns and I’m still doing it so I feel lucky.
I’ve asked some Wildhearts fans to contribute some questions. I’ve never known a band have such a dedicated fanbase. How do you find the fans and their devotion to the music?
A lot of people say that yeah, I mean they are kind of like family as much as some of them scare us (laughs) we appreciate having such a loyal fanbase!
Andrew Holmes asks… Is there a long term plan for The Wildhearts (more albums after Renaissance Men maybe?) Or is it a case of one small step at a time and see how things go?
Well we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary so I mean you don’t get much more long term than that and the fact that we can still talk and get on stage together and you know as much as people I the band and the people around us “well you’re never gonna have another album again” but we’ve managed to make another album. Me and Ginger formed the band in 1989 so if that isn’t an indication of how long term this band is then nothing is. You never know with this band people come and go but I’d like to see this as the lineup that carries us on to our late 50s and early 60s, who knows!
Gary Davidson asks… have you read Gary Davidson’s Wildhearts book Zealot in Wonderland yet? If so what did you think of it?
I skirted through it, yes. I read it although I’m not a book reader anymore. When he gave it to me I did have a leaf through it. Personally, I never read books about other musicians or bands and stuff, all bands kind of have the same story… started out young, got a record deal, got into the charts, toured a lot, took too many drugs, fucked too many women, hated each other and then reluctantly reformed the band again and they only do it for the money, that’s what all bands are like, us included (laughs).
Adam Hayes asks… When are we going to get a Jellys tour?
I almost reformed the band but really honestly I don’t have the time to do the Jellys. If I had the time to do something else I’d have to do another solo album, it’s really important to me because I have another solo album in me that I just haven’t recorded yet. With my Wildheart commitments and the fact that I have to frail parents and a four-year-old, it’s like I just don’t have that much free time to do the Jellys stuff but if I had the time to do something else it’d defiantly be a solo album.
Tim Croydon asks… Any chance of a solo tour soon?
Definitely. I wanted to put out a solo album this year but it’s not gonna happen it’ll probably be next year and then I will put a band together and tour again.
Neil Vary asks… Any plans to relaunch Devil Spit hot sauce? My food just ain’t the same without it.
Yes! The other thing I had to stop because of the time thing, I just couldn’t commit to it, so I wound down everything on the solo side. But the minute the next solo album is out I’m relaunching the sauce. It all goes in cahoots it all goes as a package so as soon as I get that solo album record then the hot sauce is coming back! I love it, I actually love the sauce and I haven’t got any of the bottles anymore, I do miss it. There is a demand out there but I’ll have to wait a bit longer.
Which leads nicely into Maree Thompson’s question… Madame Jeannette, Wiri Wiri or Carolina Reaper?
Oh Carolina Reaper all the way! It’s my favourite chilli the Carolina Reaper. I’m a sadist when it comes to chilli, I like to be hurt!
Austin William Hale asks… what is your favourite cheese?
Cheese?! Good question I like that! God, there’s so many cheeses. Erm. I am gonna have to go for a cave-aged cheddar. There’s a really really good one that has truffles running through it. The only place I used to get it in is Selfridges when I was in London. I do like a really good vintage cheddar cheese, I really do! Not Dairylea!
Paul Radford asks… what is your favourite Red Dwarf episode?
Oh brilliant. I think it is either Polymorph II or Quarantine with Mr Flibble! And I like Dwayne Dibbly the Duke of Dork!
Peter Harding asks what do you think of the current state of the UK rock scene and are there any bands who he would recommend listening to?
To be honest I don’t really follow the UK rock scene. I have tinnitus so I try not to listen to loud music when I don’t have to, so I don’t go to gigs. When I’m I the car I listen to a lot of classical music as it kind of calms me, if I listen to rock I have road rage. So I don’t really follow the UK rock scene. But the two bands that are out touring with us. The Towers of London are good, it’s great that they’re back together and Massive Wagons are really good and I love the singer Baz, he’s such a great frontman. That’s when I normally get to see bands when they’re opening up for us but I don’t really follow the rock press. I tend to hear bands from Ginger’s recommendations as he really has his finger on the pulse of all new music, so does Ritch as well but he’s like me, he likes a lot more dancier stuff and dub and I like melodic hip-hop, I mean the whole band we have quite eclectic tastes when it comes to music.
Catch The Wildhearts in May around the country, including a stop at Newcastle Riverside on the 12th May 2019!