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TLOBF Interview // Darren Hayman

TLOBF Interview // Darren Hayman

28 September 2010, 11:15
Words by Adrian Mules

As a big fan of Hefner and his solo work it’s always a pleasure to catch up with Darren Hayman. Last year we spoke about his 2009 album Pram Town being part of a trilogy centred around Essex, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but lo and behold part two Essex Arms is due for release in October.

Darren also received a fractured skull after a mugging following a gig in Nottingham last November. So I was keen to check things were all okay with him several months down the line.

Hi Darren, we spoke briefly last year about favourite dinosaurs (among other things). How’s life been treating you since then?

Up and down, a little more down than up maybe.

Sure, we spoke at the end of last year after your attack in Nottingham, are you fully recovered now?

Physically yes. My head is in order and everything is fine. Mentally I think I’m probably ok. I am becoming increasingly agoraphobic as I get older and that incident can’t have helped. At the same time it’s easy to attribute things to an event like that, that aren’t truly connected.

I’m fine, really.

Good. Let’s not dwell on that then and talk about your new record. Last year’s Pram Town was about life in Harlow; Essex Arms takes things out of the town and into the country. What inspired this change in focus and content in the songs?

Me and my wife have been doing the pathfinder Essex book of Walks.

Yes, I’ve been following your progress through the book on twitter.

I became interested in the broken, forlorn side to the country. Although initially about memory I soon abandoned that idea and it became a song-cycle about loss.

It is very much about people and places that I know.

There seems to be a strong motoring theme with songs about Ford, Joy-Riding, sex in car parks and crashes. Having grown up myself in a rural community a car was crucial to be able to do anything. Is the pivotal role a car plays when living in the country why it has such a focus in the songs?

To not have a car or not be dating someone who had a car at 17 was social suicide in my hometown. Your whole freedom and identity rested on it. That coupled with a large part of the south of Essex being reliant on the car industry in the shape of Fords, Dagenham I thought it would all work well as a framing device for the album.

It does hang it all together nicely. Hang on! Are you really ‘The Stig’?


Oh, okay. You are often mentioned alongside Ray Davies, do you think that people make this connection because you are songwriter with geographic inklings?

It doesn’t get mentioned often, we just keep using the same Guardian quote because it was the best thing anyone said about me, but yes, geography, place names and narrative concept albums would be the things that connect us.

Alongside the geography the songs all feature what feel like genuine relationships that actual people have, rather than what is usually portrayed in songs. Are you surprised to be one of the select group of writers that tells it like it is?

Well, thank you.

It’s true.

I don’t know. I listen to other people that I think are also good. I don’t assume I am the best or the only one doing this stuff. I suppose I am surprised more people don’t sing about the stuff that surrounds them, if that’s what you mean.

There is a language that only exists in rock songs. No-one talks like Brandon Flowers sings. I try and use a vernacular that is at least similar to how I speak. That helps.

How does the rest of the composition process work for you?

Write a shit song, record it, reject it, write another five, reject them. Have half an idea for an ok title. Write a song for it. Reject it. Pick up one of my discarded ideas, try and edit it so it fits the ok title. Reject all of it. Write an average song. Edit that down for a week or two. Then completely reject it.

And so on and so on.

With Essex Arms you made a decision to not use electrically amplified instruments, what was the rationale behind that choice?

Any rule you impose on the recording process helps to create a mood, an identity. I hate rock music but am also aware that I make a rock music of sorts. To omit amplification was a way to reduce rock-ness but not necessarily energy or spirit.

I have been trying similar things with the live show especially when solo when I have been trying to not use the PA or the microphones.

I’ve seen footage of that; the connection between the audience without that layer of abstraction is a powerful one. Thinking about your backing band, how do you go about selecting members of The Secondary Modern? Are there Krypton Factor style tests?

Facial hair is a must. An interest in tea and the guardian quick crossword helps.

Have you got your eye on anyone you’d like to add to the group? Maybe a few members of The Saturdays?

We are old men. They are young girls. What are you implying?

You aren’t that old Darren! What current bands are you partial to?

None really. I buy music all the time but rarely a modern band, maybe the last thing I bought like that was Hot Chip? Oh I love the last Kanye West album! There was band I saw playing at the Lexington that I liked called the Middle Ones. I liked them.

I have mostly been listening to Dub Reggae and Free Jazz for the past year or so. I know that makes me sound like a wanker, but it’s true. I like the fact that I don’t understand either music but they make me feel calm.

I’d say you were vastly underrated, had you been making music like this in the sixties we’d be doing this interview on your private jet. Do you ever feel your talents aren’t appreciated by a wide enough audience?

If I ever do start to feel that I have to try and stop myself. That way madness lies. When I write a song I imagine that I am writing it for the largest audience possible but it’s ultimately limiting and frustrating to believe that I deserve more.

It would just bring me down.

At the same time I can’t pretend that I’m content with my career.

But you have a fan base that really love what you do. Are you aware of that?

There are moments when I realise I have made a connection, people sometimes want to make it clear what the songs mean to them and it would be rude for me not to notice or acknowledge. It does make me feel good. However I don’t know that the same doesn’t happen to the bloke from Shed Seven or the bass player in the Joboxers or whatever.

I don’t think it does.

Let’s say I’m aware but as is with the previous question I can’t linger on the notion for too long.

You seem to exist with a healthy dose of normality (without wanting to make you sound boring), what keeps you so grounded?

Lack of success? It would take a certain amount of money or fame or critical praise to make me feel extra-ordinary and there isn’t much of any of that.

I live in a terraced house with a large mortgage, my wife is a teacher, I don’t tour much, I watch shit TV. The fact that I like writing songs is the only reason for not being grounded.

Okay, let’s put forward this dilemma. You get the call that Axl Rose has pulled out of headlining a major UK festival and the promoter would like you to step into his place at the last minute. But, a never before seen episode of Inspector Morse that will never be shown again is also on at that time and you have run out video tapes. What do you do?

I’d stay away from a major music festival to watch the fucking Flumps let alone the majestic Morse.

Fair play. You are a keen twitter user, what do you like most about the service?

When used correctly it’s a really good filter. Follow people you like and they show you things you’d probably like. I use it for news amongst many other things. It’s the best of the web in a list. I never understood Facebook but Twitter seems to be simple and uncomplicated.

I think most people’s problem with it stems from the word ‘follow’.

So you’ve moved from town to country, where does the final part of the Essex trilogy take us? Do Amy & Rachel discover that their arch enemy is actually their father?

The idea for the third part of the Trilogy is that it might be an album about the Essex Witch Trials of 1645. I’ve been writing it for about 18 months now but the songs aren’t really coming. Maybe it will be a 2 part trilogy. Like the Tripods on the BBC.

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