The Wildhearts - May 2019
Formed in Newcastle, England, The Wildhearts are one of the very best British best rock bands of the last generation, demonstrated by their army of ever-growing and fiercely loyal fans. Over the first 20 years of their career, the band released 9 studio records, beginning with 1993’s instant classic Earth vs The Wildhearts and concluding with 2009’s Chutzpah! The were some line up changes along the way but the passion and heart within their music has remained a strong constant throughout. Now The Wildhearts are back with new album Renaissance Men. Brought to us by what’s widely regarded as the classic Wildhearts line up (Ginger – guitars and lead vocals, CJ – guitars and vocals, Ritch Battersby – drums and Danny McCormack – bass), Renaissance Men is potentially the best album the band have ever made. From its opening track Dislocated right through to track 10 and album closer Pilo Erection this is a wholly exceptional record. Every track has that familiar Wildheart’s DNA running through it, with its ballsy, take no prisoners, ‘we are going to say it like it is’ attitude, all delivered with honesty and in the most infectious way. Renaissance Men is perhaps the perfect title, suggesting that after 10 years of waiting, rock fans in general should now refresh and recalibrate the music we’ve been listening to. Yes, this is a very, very strong album indeed. And it’s with the excitement of the imminent album release that we join CJ at his home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where the guitarist is catching his breath after spending a very busy 11 hours with his 4 year old son. The spirit of rock manifests itself in many ways but in our view there is nothing more exhilarating, fulfilling and rock ‘n’ roll than being a great dad and that’s exactly what we have here. The love and devotion CJ exudes as he describes his day is simply heart-warming. And speaking of being warm, the hot weather that spilled over from the Easter bank holiday weekend is now subsiding and hints of rain are beginning to emerge in Harrogate though it’s a far more pleasant situation than the thunder and lightning we have left behind in Manchester only a relatively short drive away. With our feet up our conversation begins…
I’d like to jump straight to the new album, Renaissance Men, which is released on 3rd May. It’s been 10 years since the last Wildhearts album Chutzpah! Whilst individually you have all had your own projects, The Wildhearts have still been active throughout this time. How did the decision come about to create a new album?
To be honest with you we’ve been talking about doing a new album for a while now. It’s been going on for a few years but I think what kind of fermented it was doing the Brit Rock tour last year (Britrock Must Be Destroyed Tour -Ed), having Danny back in the band and realising it was going to work because we didn’t know how it was going to work with Danny. His problems have been well documented. We were testing the waters and it was just great! I mean the chemistry between myself, Ginger, Ritch and Danny is brilliant and the sound we make is kind of like the sound of The Wildhearts basically. It kind of worked and we just kind of bit the bullet and said "It’s been 10 years, we’d better make an album!" (Laughs!) So we have and the result is Renaissance Men.
The new album, as you say, is called Renaissance Men which is a really interesting title. It’s named after track 3 which includes lyrics such as ‘back in your face again’, ‘we’re gonna make you sing if anyone can’, we’re gonna rock you like a boomerang’ and ‘you can’t keep a good band down’. This is a massive statement of intent and your fans – who I would argue are perhaps amongst the most loyal of any UK band – will be 100% behind you on this. Why did you choose this title?
It was Ginger’s song and his title but I can say on behalf of the band that the Renaissance was a new period in everything: literature, art and you name it. It’s a rebirth, a new beginning and for us that’s what it feels like. It’s been 10 years since we made an album and if we were going to make an album after that length of time it has to be something which kind of shows that we are not resting on our laurels or taking the piss out of people. We mean business and with the title and the sound of the album you know we’re not messing around – we’re not being lazy.
I’ve mentioned that the track Renaissance Men is quite a statement of intent and it’s therefore something of a surprise that it doesn’t actually open the album. Is there any specific reason for this?
Yeah, probably because it’s the most pop-iest track on the album as well, and we wanted to go in hard and heavy. I think it’s always good to open an album that with something that’s going to take your face off! Dislocated is a brutal song. Some people have said that Renaissance Men reminds them of The Lion King which I kind of get and understand! (Laughs!) It’s got that rhythm and the beat to it! Maybe that’s the reason – we shouldn’t open an album with a song that reminds people of The Lion King! It’s not really The Wildhearts.
The track Let ‘Em Go See the band collaborating with the incredible Frank Turner (Million Dead). With its simple message about cutting negative people out of your life and it’s wonderfully anthemic arrangement which really takes the listener on a journey, it’s a real highlight on the album. How did this partnership come together?
Frank’s a big fan of the band and he’s come up on stage and played with us at quite a few gigs that we’ve done and he’s done a couple of Ginger’s Birthday Bashes. If he’s free and he’s in town he’ll get up and do a song with us. Ginger got in contact with him and asked him if he wanted to sing on a track the album. He was well up for it but he was on tour . Basically we sent him the demo over – I think he was in Germany at the time and he always travels with his little portable studio – and we let him know what parts (to sing on). He sings on the middle of the song and we basically just told him what he needed to do and he recorded it in his hotel room. He then sent the file over to our producer and that’s how he ended up on the album! The way modern world works, that you don’t all need to be in the same country, the same studio, the same room at the same time to make an album any more… times have moved on since renting a mansion and having huge, big mixing desks and spending a fortune on albums. There are ways and through aid of technology to make things happen in an instant.
The new album features what is widely regarded as the classic line up of The Wildhearts: yourself, Ginger, Ritchie and Danny. As a fan I completely understand why this is but what is it about this line up for you that makes it so special?
For me it’s a line up where people really took notice of the band. When Ritch joined the band something kind of clicked and everyone kind of came on board: all the radio, press and although the line up was quite short-lived because I was kicked out after PHUQ was recorded, they got rid of me so I was out of the band for a couple of years and I didn’t do Endless, Nameless, but it was just that short period of time where the band I think were on fire, and just the chemistry when the 4 of us played, it just seemed to work. The other thing is Danny’s bass sound as well. The bass sound is just like all encompassing and it kind of like cements what me and Ginger do with our guitars. There’s just something nice about this line up, I don’t know what it is. Drugs probably and lots of alcohol back in the day! (Laughs!) We properly messed with our chemical imbalances in the body and it just gelled together to make one big haze of smoke and we made this sound!
The term Renaissance is also associated with 14th – 16th century European art, and the artwork for the album is absolutely something I need to pick up on. It’s is so good to see a band investing in the way the record is visually represented. And when we say ‘artwork’ this is art in its truest sense in that the band have been hand-painted by Eliran Kantor. It’s simply stunning! How did this collaboration come about and what were the band specifically looking for when commissioning this piece?
Ben from our management company sent us a link to his webpage. All of us were kind of coming up with different ideas and taking about the cover and it kind of got round to us being painted in this Renaissance sort of style, but obviously with our leather jackets on and dressed in modern clothing. Ben put us on to Eliran and it was really quick. This guy is really busy but he’s a fan of the band and he said he would drop everything to turn this around within a month for us. So he instructed our photographer to take a picture but none of us were allowed to smile. Everyone says we look kind of pissed off and ready to do battle but if you look at a lot of Renaissance art, everyone looks like that. They are very stern looking. If your sitting for an artist for hours and hours you can’t be smiling! The easiest facial expression is to kind of look stern and forlorn looking. The artist instructed us how to look in the photograph, so we weren’t pissed off and it was how we were told to look. It’s an odd cover and it actually works better the bigger it gets because when we saw it it was like ‘Jesus Christ, he’s aged us all to about 60, Danny looks like he’s had a stroke and Ritch looks like Dickinson’s Real Deal’. But it really works and it’s a brilliant piece of art!
I’ve seen other examples of Eliran’s work (Testament, Iced Earth, Sodom) and he is incredibly gifted. How does it make you feel when an artist as accomplished as Eliran is dropping everything for The Wildhearts?
We always respect anyone who does that. He had a 6 month waiting list and we contacted him in January and there’s no way we could have waited 6 months. We needed it within a month and for him to do that was amazing. It’s brilliant that he knew who we were, that he was a fan of the band and that he was up for doing this. We’re like one of these bands that aren’t a household name. There’s more people who haven’t heard of us but there are a lot of people in the right places who do know who we are and, our reputation aside, will do things to try and help us and push the band. We are quite fortunate.
Let’s talk about your tour plans. You recently played 3 shows in March (Exeter, Winters End and the Great Brit Alternative Festival on 8, 9 & 10 respectively). Did you play any of the new material and if so what was the audience’s reaction?
We played Dislocated and me and Ginger I tried out some of the new songs acoustically when we have been doing acoustic gigs, just me and him, just to see how they went down and they went down surprisingly well considering that they are brand new songs and no one had heard them. It’s always nervous when you’re playing new material because you never know how it’s going to go down plus we’ve got so many songs and people know our songs well. They are kind of coming out to have a singalong and have a few jars…
In May you will be playing 12 dates across the UK, 8 of which are part of the official Renaissance Men tour. How much are you looking forward to getting out there and playing more new material, and more generally what can fans expect from a Wildhearts show?
I’d be lying if I said we’re not hyper excited! It’s what every musician wants: to play live. It should be why got you into music in the first place. So we’re really excited about that. We’ve put together a new set because last year we toured quite heavily on the Earth Vs The Wildhearts and the older stuff so we sat down and put a set together that kind of covers a few more of the newer albums. There will be bits of Renaissance Men on there but we’re not going to play the whole album from start to finish. It’s a really good set, it’s really paced and we’re kind of covering a lot more albums on this one. We have a lot of songs out there and it will be impossible to make everyone happy but hopefully the majority of fans will be coming out of the halls and skipping like baby lambs! (Laughs!).
You mentioned the acoustic shows that you and Ginger embarked upon. How did it feel to go out and perform acoustically and did you have to change the arrangements much to make them fit?
We didn’t have to change the arrangements that much. You’ve got to play a bit more open on the guitar but vocally it’s exactly the same. We shout and we sing out of tune so it’s business as normal! (Laughs!) Me and Ginger have always had a good chemistry vocally. Our vocals blend well together so when we perform acoustically it’s stripped down and you can really hear that. I’ll be really honest with you, both Ginger and myself are not into the acoustic thing. It’s not something we love doing and if we can choose between acoustic and having the full band, it will be the full band every time, but I can understand why the fans appreciate seeing just the 2 of us and hearing those songs stripped back.
Following the May tour The Wildhearts will be playing Ramblin’ Man Fair on 19th July and more shows are being starting to be announced. What’s the Wildhearts’ calendar looking like for the rest of 2019?
Anyone who has been following us on social media has seen that we’re announcing shows constantly in other countries and there’s stuff coming up in the UK later on in the year. All of the people who are complaining that we’re not playing their town or city or village or squat (Laughs!) we will get to your town. We can’t go out on the first tour and do like 40 shows. It doesn’t work like that. We are connecting the dots and we will eventually make it to wherever you dwell. We will be turning up with our rig and making a massive noisy racket! No need to worry!
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on CJ’s comment that the band aren’t resting on their laurels and that they mean business. Well, this passion and commitment to give their very best is encapsulated perfectly in Renaissance Men. And it’s with this thought that we leave CJ to catch his breath, but it’s with a big smile that we fully expect he will be straight back making the most of the precious time with his son!
Renaissance Men is available now. Find out more at www.thewildhearts.com and check out their latest video for Let ‘Em Go below.