Louder Than War Interview: CJ Wildheart (from The Wildhearts)
If you’re a regular visitor to these pages you’ll know that Louder Than War is home to quite a few battle hardened fans of The Wildhearts, a band who, despite top 10s and a worldwide fanbase have still to achieve the widespread commercial success they deserve. Fronted by the omnipresent Ginger they also feature a host of other talented band members, one of whom, CJ Wildheart, lives just up the road from one of the those aforementioned fans. Ergo, with a tour in the offing for The Widhearts, it seemed foolish not to arrange a meeting between CJ and Louder Than War’s Andy Santiago – the results of which can be enjoyed below.
There are few things in this world that can be taken as an absolute and impossible to argue with fact. One of these facts is that The Wildhearts are one of THE greatest rock bands the UK has ever produced. In a career that has spanned 3 decades, the band are still going strong and will be heading out on a full headline tour of the UK in April.
Ginger Wildheart, the mercurial frontman has been a prolific writer of extra-curricular solo material over the years but what of the other members of The Wildhearts? Well, it turns out that CJ (guitars and vocals) is about to release his first solo material in 7 years through the same Pledge Music platform that has served Ginger so well recently and this time, it’s poultry-related!
I met up with CJ at his North Yorkshire home last week to get the lowdown on the imminent solo album ‘Mabel’, food, the present and future of The Wildhearts, more food, and his signature ranges of hot chilli sauce. We also talked at length about food!
Being a longtime fan of everything Wildhearts, it was a somewhat surreal experience to be turning up at the home of a member of a band that has pretty much been the soundtrack to my life so I pushed the doorbell and waited.
The door was answered by the familiar sight of CJ. A warm smile, a handshake and not only that, he even remembered me from a chance meeting 8 years ago in London. This is going rather well!
I then find myself sitting in the shadow of his iconic Les Paul guitar Lucille, introduce myself and we start to talk in all seriousness. Well, we do after I’m introduced to his chickens (one of which he has named his solo album after) and Angus the gecko!
Louder Than War: So, CJ, the Pledge? How long had you been working on these songs before you decided to go down the Pledge Route?
CJ Wildheart: I’ve been demoing since June last year so it was a good six months of writing and demoing before I felt comfortable with the songs. Because I hadn’t done an album in six, seven years and I hadn’t written or played a guitar for almost 3 years, I kinda needed to get back up so for about six months all I did was write and record and it was really frustrating! I almost gave up about half a dozen times but my wife kept telling me it would take some time to get back there. Something inside me shut down when I stopped playing in bands and making music. It opened again probably last December, I felt like a musician again! Even doing those ‘Earth vs’ reunion shows I partly felt like an imposter. We stopped in 2009 and I didn’t play a gig apart from guest, I did two songs at Gingers birthday show and that was all until we did the gig at the end of 2012 at The Forum (The Wildhearts re-united for a one-off gig at one of Gingers legendary birthday bashes). Foolishly I thought I’d get back into it straight away but it’s taken a good year to get into my stride.
Who was it that gave you the idea of doing a solo album through Pledge?
I went out for a beer with Ginger and he was saying “Why don’t you do a Pledge album to come back with?, just do something to get back in music”. I said I’d think about it, I thought about it and now I’m doing an album for Pledge!
I thought it would take three to four weeks to hit the 100% target and the fact that we did it in three to four hours, I was so blown away! I’d like to try and get it to 3-400% but I’m over the moon that we got it to 100%! There was a time when music was dragging me down, I felt like it was holding me back and to feel rejuvenated and picked up again by music, I was like, fuck, there is a God!
How’s the recording process for this album then?
I work completely on my own so the way I record demos is like I’m recording an album. Some people record demos like a quick and easy way to show people what their songs sound like, I do it like I’m recording an album.
I don’t know if that’s the professional in me or the obsessive compulsive, who knows? I put down the best possible guitars, vocal sounds, everything. It takes me about 2 weeks to work on a song.
I’ve got an engineer with me and we’re going through everything recorded and we’re refining it all. I’ve programmed all the drums and played all the other instruments because I wanted this album to be me, on my own. The only thing I’ve pulled in is extra voices because on a couple of songs, I’ve got some ‘Gang Vocals’. I got Chris Catalyst (Eureka Machines, Sisters of Mercy AND Ginger Wildheart Band!) and Lee Ray who’s my engineer and producer to do those vocals. I just though, if I can’t play it, it’s not going on.
What are your plans for after the release of the album? Do you intend to play it live?
At the moment I can put a band together to play this, I’ve got people lined up but the problem with doing something on this scale is that it would probably end up costing me money to do that and as much as I like playing live, I don’t want to pay to play live. I’m not saying “No, I won’t tour this”, it all depends on what happens after the Pledge campaign is over.
Ideally I’d love to do that but I’ve got play it by ear at the moment, it’s something I can’t commit to right now. Maybe a support thing, if I can break even on a support tour. You get to play in front of more people and it makes more sense to do that, rather than making a small profit on a small headlining tour. Whenever I think about going out on tour, twenty years ago I would have gone out for 40 dates but the grown-up, responsible part of me now says “You can’t afford to do that right now.
I then suggest to CJ he might just want to put together a band of local musicians and just play every six weeks, down the road in my home town of York.
Oh no, I don’t want to do that!! I’d play Tokyo every six weeks!
What’s Tokyo got that York hasn’t apart from bad air and loads of neon! York’s got city walls and everything!
I’ve heard of this new place, it’s called ‘New’ York?
It’ll never catch on!
Maybe, but I’ve thought about dipping my toes in that pond!
What’s further down the line after the album?
I’m doing two videos, one with AshTV (responsible for the Hey! Hello! ‘How I survived the Punk Rock Wars’ video) and I’m in talks with Harrogate college art department about doing a video with their students as part of their course work. I’m actually going in there next week to do a talk on the music business.
There’s my chilli sauce thing too, I’m working a lot on that.
How many varieties of chilli sauce are you looking at then?
I’m addicted to anything spicy and have chilli sauce on everything. A friend of mine, Russ Russell the producer, makes his own so I got to thinking, I could do that. He put me on to this company called ‘Chilli Devil’ and we got talking and came up with this recipe for the ‘Devilspit’ chilli sauce. I’ve got this one coming out with the album and an extreme sauce coming out in the summer. I’ve started demoing for the second solo album and there’ll be a new sauce with that AND I’m in the process of writing a cookbook.
A cookbook? When’s that likely to see the light of day?
I wanted to do it with this album and then I sat down and thought fuck, this is a lot harder than I expected!
It’s going to be almost like a scrapbook but done in a really cool way. I’m kind of looking at making it like a ‘world tour’, pulling recipes from where I’ve been in the world. Because I’ve lived in Japan, I know about Japanese food, I’m half Indian so I know about Indian food and all of my family live in the states so I’m all about the gourmet junk food!
I even want to build a pizza oven in the garden, that’s my project for the summer!
So, The Wildhearts then. A tour? I didn’t see that one coming!
“When it comes to The Wildhearts, I never ever know what’s going to happen. You could ask me if we’re going to do an album and I’d say “We will, but who knows when?”. At some point in the next 10 years the band will make another album, I don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen. We’re touring in April and we’re gonna tour again. We’ll tour next year probably. It’s kinda cool that The Wildhearts can be away for a couple of years and then just re-group and carry on where we left off.
That’s one thing about the fans, no matter how long The Wildhearts are away, they’re always welcomed back.
That sort of support makes us feel special in our own little pond and we can go out there and still play to packed audiences, put on a really good show and everyone walks away feeling like champions of the world!
How often are you in contact with Ginger then?
“We talk quite a lot on email, he’s come over to here and stayed a few times. Last time I spoke to him I sent him a bottle of my chilli sauce. We’ve been talking recently about set lists for the April tour.
What can we expect in the set?
“Well, with Scott being back in the band, obviously elements of ‘Chutzpah!’. When Jon’s in the band, we don’t do that much from ‘Chutzpah!’ I think we’ll try and mix it up and have a few songs in there that we haven’t played in a while. Obviously, we have to stick some of the old classics in there. The biggest mistake a band can ever make is start hating to play the songs people really want to hear, what you really should do is give people the best of both worlds, you need to keep them entertained, ie, play the ones they really want to hear but keep them on their toes with ones they wouldn’t expect. It’s gonna be a mix and match set!
The ‘Fan Boy’ within kicks in at this moment and I hopefully enquire if ‘The Sweetest Song’ from the self-titled album may be in the set, a song that as far as I know, has never been played live.
“No, that’s not in there!”
Oh well! How much rehearsal time does it take for The Wildhearts to be ready to tour?
“For me, tons! I have to rehearse so much at home. The older I get, the more I have to rehearse. Ginger’s quite good at just picking things up so for two weeks before touring, I’m rehearsing at home every day. The band will then rehearse together for maybe two or three days. Any band, it doesn’t matter how well rehearsed they are, if they go out on tour, they hit their stride by the third or fourth gig. You got to build up to it and by then, you’re like a well-oiled machine, the band is playing on auto-pilot and you’re as slick as anything
The conversation then veers off onto yet more food-related nonsense including the joys of the barbeque, our favourite cuts of meat such as shin beef and the merits of a rib eye steak. CJ, ever the professional then drops the bomb.
“So, do you want to hear a couple of the demos for the Pledge album?”
I’m then escorted upstairs to CJ’s home studio, told to take a seat on the leather throne in front of his computer. A ‘double click’ later and I’m one of the only people outside of his close inner circle to hear these recordings.
I don’t want to give too much away as to what I heard but he played me a song called ‘Devil’ and another one called ‘Down the Drain’. If, like me, you were expecting some sugary pop-rock, you’re in for a massive surprise. It’s much darker and heavier than I anticipated and one song features a rap instead of where a guitar solo would traditionally be found! I suggested to CJ that ‘Devil’ has a White Zombie kind of vibe and he nodded and said “Yeah, I guess that could be said”. I really am looking forward to the finished article and not that I had any doubt what so ever before pledging on his album, I now know first hand that it’s going to be an absolute belter.
Time was now marching on and it was time to leave for the short journey home having spent a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating couple of hours with CJ. As I was leaving his wife, Sasha was just getting in from work so I was introduced and had a quick chat with her too!
Many thanks to CJ, a first class honorary Yorkshireman for his time, friendliness and hospitality, Sasha for not screaming when she saw me leaving her home and Valeria at Duffpress for hooking me up.
Now CJ, about that curry….!
08 April Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall UK
09 April Bristol Academy 1 UK
10 April Manchester Academy 1 UK
12 April Nottingham Rock City UK
13 April Newcastle Academy 1 UK
14 April Glasgow ABC UK
16 April Cambridge Junction UK
17 April London Electric Ballroom UK
CJ’s pledge page is here. Get involved!
All words by Andy Santiago. More writing by Andy on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.