Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners - Autumn 2022
Ginger Wildheart has a reputation for his incredible songwriting versatility. Over a career of more than 35 years his music has explored multiple genres and pushed boundaries to create the most incredible music. His unrivalled creativity is one reason why he is considered to be one of the most gifted and most important songwriters of the last generation. Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners sees Ginger partnering with Neil Ivison and Nick Lindon from the band Stone Mountain Sinners and also Shane Dixon from Tri-City Fanfare. Their self-titled debut presents a band delivering flavours of Americana, roots and country - uplifting music with the strongest of songwriting at its core. We catch up with Ginger at his family home in St Helens in the UK to get the full story. He is in fine spirits and we are made up that we are being given a 2-for-1 deal as we are joined by his partner in crime, border collie, Maggie! We make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
It’s a hugely exciting time with the release of the new self titled album Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners. I know this album was recorded around two years ago but Covid perhaps stalled its release. How does it feel to have the album finally out there?
How do you contain 2 years of thoughts in a sentence?! ‘Relief’ is what’s going through my mind, the same as everybody in the band I think. We’ve just been sitting on the songs for ages and the interesting thing is that we’ve been playing since the venues opened up again, we’ve been doing some shows and it’s the first time since The Wildhearts started in the late 80s that I’m playing songs to people who haven’t heard a single note of any of the songs. We’ve had a couple of singles out now but we’re going out and playing a set and saying well it’s either going to work or it’s not going to work based on the fact that the songs and the performances are good enough. When I was a kid, that’s how you got into bands. You’d go to see them live, and then the set would be in your head – you’d remember all the songs so that when you eventually found the album you were familiar with it already. It’s lovely to be able to go and do that again. In all honesty, when The Wildhearts did it in the late 80s there were about 7 people in the audience. There’s a few more than that these days but it’s lovely now that the album is going to be out for the tour and that people will actually know the songs. I will look forward to seeing the audiences’ response because you never know. You think they’re going to sing to that bit and dance to that bit but you never quite know. They bring their own agenda to the gigs. I just can’t wait to get there when we’re all on the same page. But just a massive relief and excitement!
Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners is you teaming up with Neil Ivison and Nick Linden from the band Stone Mountain Sinners, and of course Drummer Shane Dixon from Tri-City Fanfare. I think what’s really interesting is that the first time you met was when you were actually in the studio together preparing to record an album together. The decision to record an album had already made and that’s a big decision when you haven’t actually met! How did this collaboration come about?
I wanted to find a band, and I would compare it to like Bob Dylan ‘finding the band’, obviously on a very small scale, but I just wanted to pick up a band who are into that sort of music I wanted to play, instead of what I usually do which is pick the members separately which is obviously a lot more laborious. A friend of mine picked up the CD from Neil who was working with The Men They Couldn’t Hang I think, I put it in and it was amazing! It had exactly the same reference points as I wanted to hit on doing this. It was funny because we were supposed to meet up for a drink, we were supposed to get together to rehearse but for one reason or another I was busy on another album, they were all busy, so we didn’t get to meet each other until we were at the studio. There was no picture on the CD so I didn’t know who each one was. I was going up to one of them going “So are you Neil?”, “No no, I’m Nick”, and it was literally as alien as it could possibly be considering that we were going to go and record, and if it had turned out to be awful it would still have been a great experience. But it was unbelievably and supernaturally good! I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do that because it could’ve been a massive mistake but the vibe was that ‘if it’s going to work, it’s going to work’. Just hold your nose and jump in 2 feet at a time, and it was great. It was scary for all of us but probably more so for them because they were travelling miles. It was in the deepest darkest Wales. They didn’t know me – I could have been just the way I am and the poor bastards would’ve been stuck with me! (Laughs!) But it was just really fortuitous for everyone that it worked so well and it’s still working so well, and because we had so much time off we developed our friendship because we couldn’t develop the band live performance or anything. The friendship got stronger so by the time we did get to play we were actually really close buddies. It’s a lovely way to do it and very, very unusual.
I’d like to talk about some of the tracks but before I do, it’s the style of music that I’d like to focus on first. There’s just a wonderfully upbeat rock ‘n’ roll sound with flavours of roots, country and Americana. It’s a very interesting and exciting direction to take. What drew you to this style of music?
It was having the same reference points and musical notes and we were all fans of the band Status Quo, The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Creedence, The Stones and then later on the Georgia Satellites and Lone Justice, The Jayhawks, Wilko – all these things I’ve always loved and I don’t know many people who do. I met more people in this band than I’ve ever met who like that sort of music! So when I heard the Stone Mountain Sinners I knew we were all talking from the same page of the same book, and then when we got together and played it was a fluke, basically! I know we all have the same taste but that doesn’t mean to say it’s going to work. But it’s really easy when you say ‘Oh let’s go for an Eagles chorus’ or ‘let’s go for a Status Quo middle section, let’s go for an Allman Brothers solo, let’s do some Creedence Clearwater harmonies’ and everybody knows exactly what we’re talking about. So yes, I just think everyone’s got the same musical influences, and all our influences go off in different directions. I go a bit more towards extreme music like punk and thrash and stuff, but we all meet at this lovely place that we are kind of the sound of. Good shopping lists is what I think I put it down to!
For this album you’ve partnered with Steve Van Zandt, and for me one of the wonderful things about Steve is his immense and authentic passion for music and that’s massively refreshing. But how did this partnership come about and what are the important things that you are looking for when signing with a label?
The most important thing, number 1, is that they appreciate music. Little Steven really does appreciate the art of songwriting. He still champions the art of songwriting. Long after people have said, you know, singles are dead, songs are dead and the radio is full of generic soundalike stuff, he still carries this torch for the art of songwriting and lyricism which I’ve always had. I got to know Little Steven because me and Ryan Hamilton wrote a song called Fuck You Brain, and Ryan got signed to Wicked Cool on the back of that. I’d always been a huge fan and supporter of Little Steven before I read his book. I liked his solo albums, I loved The Sopranos, obviously Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, so he’s a huge inspiration. I just hoped that he would’ve been interested in this and as soon as he heard it he was like ‘Yeah!’. And when someone like Little Steven signs you, you get the feeling that he’s listening to the music. He’s not counting the dollars in his head, which is obviously what a lot of business people do in this industry. It was a no brainer to find out that he wants to work with us. It wasn’t long before we signed that I heard his audiobook. I had his book but I just finished the John Cooper Clarke audiobook, and as you know John Cooper Clarke is such a comforting and familiar voice, and I was driving around on a road trip with Maggie in our campervan I’m thinking ‘who’s going to keep us company now that John is gone?’ So we tried Little Steven and it was just like having Silvio Dante from The Sopranos sitting next to you in the car. Amazing! I loved it and I found out so much about him that it just strengthened the respect I already had for him. I’m a huge fan of music anyway so when the worlds collide that’s exactly what I want to be doing. I’m not really interested in the lifestyle or the image or anything that people associate with this type of music or rock ‘n’ roll in general. I’m just in it for the music and I only really want to hang out with people who are in it for the music.
Well let’s talk about some of the individual songs on the album. Lately, Always is a song about hope and I think the opening lyrics ‘I’ve been drinking, I’ve been sinking ever deeper….’ will strongly connect with so many people but so will the positivity in lines such as ‘Seeing you online sure helps the time run sweeter, I could sure use a fantasy, I consider this flame alive’. It’s a hugely uplifting and empowering song. You’ve been very open about mental health struggles – and thank you so much for your voice and the influence you’ve had and getting people to open up, talk and to feel no shame – is one of the most autobiographical tracks?
They all are really but, yeah, you’ve hit it on the head right there that it is important to talk. Thank you by the way! Everybody who talks about this helps everybody who suffers from this. And the real experts are not the doctors and the shrinks and the specialists. The real experts are the people who suffer from it. And so talking is absolutely essential. There is nothing more important. It’s talking and making sure people feel less like a freak. There is no need to feel like that today and you shouldn’t feel like that today. They still do and the taboo still exists but ignorance is ignorance. I’ve always been told not to talk about it. I come from the north-east where we don’t talk about our feelings, but it’s really helped me to open up to get people to open up back to me. It really helps and it really is a two way street! I’m always encouraging people to open up because it helps me get by. There’s a lot of autobiographical stuff on this album but this song is about hope and it’s about finding a way to fake it till you make it. If you can’t be positive, pretend you’re positive! Then what you are putting out there is positivity. I always think that getting something back from the universe is a bit like the computer: you put something into it and it gives you a computed version of what you want. If you say ‘porn’ and it sends you a bunch of different types of porn, you go ‘Oh, I didn’t want that!’, well you need to be a bit more specific. But I think if you put anything out into the universe, good or bad, it comes back. So if you’re putting negativity out there then it’s no surprise that things suck. Just try and put out positivity because it does have a positive effect on people and the structure of the universe. So I always tell people get to bedtime. Just do anything you can think of - if it’s eating all the food you shouldn’t eat, drinking alcohol on a Tuesday - just get to bed time and we will start again the next day. The song is about that and it is about being in the wars so to speak, and finding a little light of positivity. Try not to think like a victim because you’re not alone.
I think the other wonderful thing about the whole album but beautifully performed in Lately, Always are the absolutely gorgeous harmonies. It seems like this was something you were especially trying to achieve with the music. To what extent is that a fair thing to say?
Well I was brought up on country and everything I know about harmonies I learnt from country music when I was a kid. So by the time The Sweet turned up which I still kind of use as a bit of blueprint to this day, I was already familiar with harmonies but I’d never heard it put to rock ‘n’ roll like that. I’ve always been in love with harmonies, in love with the instrumentation of harmonies and the arrangement of harmonies. There are textbook ways of doing harmonies and then there are ways of creating atmospheres using this discord. I think it’s a lost art these days. I was a big fan of Lindisfarne growing up and their second album was called Nicely Out Of Tune , and if you listen to a song called Lady Eleanor the harmonies are technically out of tune but it creates such a tension and a magical world that when people are tuning up their harmonies on autotune they’re all coming out as slices of sound, glass slices – which is not what voices are supposed to do. They’re supposed to make a fan shape and oscillate. So being a little bit out of tune with each other makes a big wide open effect, and that’s why old albums sounds so good. So I’ve always been in love with harmonies and I used to force them on The Wildhearts, unfairly really, and then I sort of thought if I just do a project in that style, Mutation or Ghost In The Tanglewood or Hey! Hello! or Silver Ginger 5, that I don’t need to force it all on The Wildhearts. Not enough people do harmonies, even in Americana, which is why I still adore bands like The Jayhawks. They’ve got all the beautiful harmonies and again, oscillating like anything because it’s not put through a tuner.
Well moving onto the latest release Footprints In The Sand, I absolutely love this song and I love the fact that we see Neil Ivison take lead vocals. He has a great voice and it shows that this is really a band affair. I always find it very exciting when there are bands with more than one lead vocalist, whether it’s the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac or even ABBA. Were you specifically looking for this kind of band dynamic and how comfortable are you in stepping away from the mic?
Well, I was looking for that. I’m a huge fan of that sort of stuff and a big fan of a band called The Long Ryders. Sid Griffin is the main singer but they all sing and it just makes it sound much more interesting. They’ve all got nice sounding voices and you know when each of them are singing. I look at the credits and it’s not necessarily the writer that sings, which is a thing that The Beatles used to do. So if you’ve got more than one skilled person, I like the idea of getting them to do something as well. The more hands the better, especially for music like this. I think it’s because when it’s a lot more simple the emotional side of it plays a much bigger part. I knew Neil sang because I’d heard the CD and he was the main singer, and once we get over that potential hurdle of egos and to find out that there are none, the sharing of the thing is part of the joy. We’re all huge fans of The Band and if you’ve seen The Last Waltz, you’ll know that Levon Helm is the main singer but they’re all singing – Robbie Robertson (guitars, piano, vocals) is a very famous solo artist now. And I did know that Shane and Nick both have gorgeous voices as well so on the second album they’ll be doing a lot more lead vocals. When we play live, Neil handles about 50% of the lead vocals. If anyone knows anything about me it’s that I hate being the lead singer. I don’t mind the job because I’ve been doing it for a while now and I ended up by default getting quite good at it but I still love backing off the mic and getting to be a bit of a fan. I like other people taking lead solos so I can check it out and maybe steal a few bits here and there. I like being a fan of the band I’m in.
Well let’s I talk a little bit more about Neil. What I would like our readers to know is that he is a fine luthier and makes wonderful guitars. He plays with The Sex Pistols Paul Cook in The Professionals and it’s interesting what you said earlier about liking the louder music. I’m guessing you both must have bonded over your shared love of punk?
No, we’ve never talked about punk! (Laughs!) I’m sure people of a certain age appreciate that movement. If you were a kid when punk happened it was impossible not to feel like you’ve just been born at exactly the right time. That for me is the resounding effect – being there when it happened, not just the clothes and the hair. Me and Neil like a lot of the same stuff: a lot of roots, a lot of country, a lot of rock and roll, and that’s all we talk about. To be honest, when you’ve got Neil Ivison around you laugh more than you talk! If he hadn’t have been in music he would definitely have been a stand-up comedian because he’s fucking hilarious! He’s such a funny bloke and he keeps everything light all the time. He’s from an ex kind of ‘crew’ world so he knows it’s about sticking your ego in your gig bag until it’s time to get on stage. Don’t drag it around in front everyone. He keeps everyone levelled out. Sometimes you wake up and it hurts because you were laughing so much last night. And that’s a lovely thing! I’m not used to having fun. It might sound like I’m complaining but The Wildhearts wasn’t ever tons of fun. It was too much chaos and too much of a lot of things, but not tons of fun…. apart from when we were young and the chaos was fun! (Laughs!) The whole band is such a lovely vibe and we are good friends. If somebody didn’t tell us it was time to go on stage we would just be nattering in the dressing room or at the bar and we’d miss the gig completely. It’s nice to be with a bunch of friends. Neil is an amazing luthier and I’m amazed we’ve still got him because his Ivison guitars are really taking off. We did record with his Ivison guitars a lot on the second album.
As well as there being eight original tracks you’ve chosen to do a couple of covers: Dirty Water by Status Quo and Six Years Gone by Georgia Satellites. Referring to Six Years Gone, I know that you connected with this song when you were in LA for Lemmy‘s funeral. It’s such a wonderful song. Tell me about what this song means to you and why it was important to include it on the album?
It’s one of those things when you fall in love with a song and in love with an album, it really is real love. It has all of the feelings of serotonin and dopamine and it fills up your senses like a night in the forest, and it really got me through. It’s on the first Georgia Satellites album that I had but I hadn’t even picked up on it. In The Land Of Salvation and Sin really captured a great bar band writing a kind of Beatles song. It was the same feeling with the song Dirty Water. We were backstage at a gig waiting to go on, messing about and talking about Status Quo and we said “my favourite song is Dirty Water”. We got the guitar out and busked through it, the harmonies worked and we just decided to do it that night without any rehearsal. So Six Years Gone was my inspiration for what I wanted the band sound like and Dirty Water was kind of like the first audition really.
I think what I would like to pick up on is how various things that we’ve talked about today really show the band camaraderie, the chemistry and I think even within the videos that we have seen for the opening track Wasted Times, Lately Always and the new single footprints in the sand, what really comes through in the band performances is just how much fun you are all having. And this is massively infectious. In getting together with these fine musicians, was the fun element and the overall laid-back vibe something you are particularly needing in terms of a band dynamic?
There are two major things that I wanted to get from playing the sort of music. If you get it right, this is the kind of music you can grow old gracefully playing. You can be Willie Nelson with a nice long big grey beard and be playing this music in your 80s, you really can. I wanted a vibe where it feels like we’re having as good a time as we are wanting the audience to have, that it’s real and that it’s absolutely authentic. But I also wanted a band who can drop a song into a set without rehearsing it. I want a song that I’m going to set up live in the studio and to record the album that way so what you hear live is exactly the sound of the group because we haven’t smoothed anything over. I’ve got both of them with this group. Doing anything new, I wanted it to be fun and to have a quality that means it is fun that will last.
As I said earlier, you have created a wholly exceptional album here with an overall uplifting Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners experience. It’s therefore wonderful to hear about you talking about a second album. What can you tell me about this album?
I think it’s one of the things that people are going to have to get used to because we like playing and we like writing and we like recording so there’s probably going to be tons of it! But lockdown affected everyone and for me I needed to remain creative. Having a label made that possible, so we released a couple of albums that got us through lockdown, I wrote The Wildhearts album but then I had a chunk of time where I thought that I might as well write the second Sinners album, then we went away to record that, and it’s kind of in the bag. Obviously we don’t want to release things and hobble the release before it. They’ve got to have a chance to live and breathe, but back in the day – and we’re all big AC/DC fans – AC/DC used to release two albums a year, and they often recorded two albums at the same time so that they could just stay on the road and that was the way that people did it. Before people started releasing an album every 10 years, they used to release an album every year, sometimes more. Sabbath used to release 2 albums a year. So it’s always been in my DNA to work like that, to work quick. If you’re good you should be able to do it fairly quick. So I’m really delighted that we’ve got this second album in the bag, but it does confuse people when you talk about a second album. But when people come to see it live it makes it a lot less confusing because we play a lot of songs from the second album and people can see how it’s just the next obvious step. There are no curveballs – it’s the same stuff. I like a band that releases a lot of stuff. During lockdown I got obsessed with Steely Dan and Little Feat, two bands that I knew of but hadn’t really done any research, and I found out that they’ve got tons and tons and tons of albums! Being a vinyl junkie and being addicted to disco like most of us are, I just went and looked for all of these albums and it was like finding a new friend, which used to happen before the internet when I got into bands like Good Rats. There was no Wikipedia to find out how many albums they had so you just had to go to the secondhand stores, look through the imports and go “Oh my God! There’s another one!”. It was a bit like that – a lovely, lovely feeling to find, hunt and gather!
The wonderful thing is that the band is going to be touring throughout October, 10 dates beginning on the 18th in Edinburgh and concluding in Birmingham on the 30th. How much are you looking forward to this tour and what can fans expect from a Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners Show?
I’m looking forward to it as much as the next lung full of oxygen I’m going to have! I need it! It’s going to be medicinal! Fans can expect a really good time and they will go away with smiles on their faces, their voices lost and a few new friends in the bargain! It really is a good time, guaranteed! That’s all we are there for and I think we all deserve it after all the shit that’s going on right now. We deserve a good time!
As our conversation comes to a close, we reflect on what a wholly exceptional album this debut from Ginger Wildhears & The Sinners really is. Ginger has demonstrated versatility throughout his entire career and this album shows how he and his new bandmates continue to innovate and, most importantly, bring a huge sense of joy to the music. Ginger said himself that we deserve to have a good time and that’s exactly what this album brings. To find out more, head over to https://www.facebook.com/gingersinners and in the meantime enjoy the video to Footprints In The Sand below.