Grant Hart in conversation…
Grant Hart has a new double vinyl album based on Milton’s Paradise Lost out this year.
Grant is the former drummer and singer songwriter with Husker Du, the 80s band who started hard core punk and then went psychedelic, proving to be huge influence on the Pixies and subsequently the whole grunge generation. After the demise of Husker Du he released one solo album; then formed the ill”âfated Nova Mob, they split after a car crash in Germany. Since then he’s been solo.
2009’s ”ËHot Wax’ was a massive return to form followed by last year’s compilation ”ËOeuvrevue’.
He recently played at The Band On the Wall in Manchester. His solo gigs are now one man and a guitar with Grant cheerfully asking the audience which songs they wish to hear next.
Roland Gent from Salford City Radio met up with him…
SCR: What’s in the pipeline?
Grant Hart: ”ËWell there’s 2 different band projects that I am entertaining right now one is err”Â¦ well I don’t have the freedom to discuss it because it involves other people of equal or more esteemed status but let’s just say that Tommy from Nova Mob and I have been discussing the possibility of doing some shows, doing some festivals and maybe he will be on board when this Paradise Lost project which is not going to be called Paradise Lost but will be called ‘The Argument’.
When it comes time for that to be performed maybe Tommy will be a part of it. I’m thinking that probably a 4 or 5 piece would be proper for doing because it’s too rich for one performer and the number of characters in the thing; if I were Mike Watt I’d call it an opera. It just for one person to perform it would be confusing
SCR: So it would be a bit like the Who with Tommy?
Grant Hart: I think we got past that on ‘Zen Arcade’. There’s a couple of things that required duets we’ll see how the rehearsals go and if the people work out, there’s one guy a musician called Mike Wisti and he’s with a band back home called the Rank Strangers whose records are going to be a little bit more available they haven’t toured very much, kind of any room in the china cabinet as far as his visibility is concerned. The only thing I am concerned about is all the musicians will have to play more than one instrument the drummer will have to do some mallet work or play some keyboards, and I think 2 guitarists who can double on keyboards and a bass guitarist who can play upright bass, we’ll see how it goes.
SCR: I thought I’d ask about some of the characters and themes of your songs, who is Charles Hollis Jones?
Grant Hart: Charles Hollis Jones was an interior designer did a lot of tables and lamps and chairs for Tennessee Williams and business suites for Sylvester Stallone as the lyrics go, the song was inspired as a friend of mine did a retrospective of his work and I had some lyrics that I was working on its really a 3 chord rock thing and I added a little keyboard
SCR: Why Hot Wax?
Grant Hart: Well I borrow titles consistently, Last Days of Pompeii, Good News for Modern Man which was like the hippie bible, ”ËHot Wax’ was the record collectors’ journal but I’d already done the layout with the Lilientahll Glider flying close to the map of the sun…
I was thinking yeah Icarus, what made Icarus fall? Well it was the wax on his wings and I thought ”Ëyes that’s a nice irony’ this is the stuff that people are supposed to figure out for themselves (laughs)
SCR: Who is Barbara?
Grant Hart: Barbara”Â¦ I was asked by a magazine in the States, kind of an arts magazine, no adverts no profit possible, to select a story which had been submitted by one of their readers. It was part of a project where they distributed these stories of these people’s imaginary childhood friends. And one particular woman, her friend was Barbara. And whenever she was misbehaving Barbara was the one responsible for it, and Barbara’s never around of course because she avoids unpleasant situations
SCR: What’s the sleeve for Good News for Modern Man?
Grant Hart: There’s not much congruity between the front and the back, what I did is, I cut a Apollo capsule in its little floaty recovery raft and just superimposed it on this water ballet because I sort of liked the idea of the thing returning from space being greeted by this acquatic ballet.
SCR: You’re an artist, I don’t know about art but I know what I like”Â¦.
Grant Hart: Yes well I don’t know what I like but I know about art’ (laughs)
SCR: What’s the inner sleeve about? You’ve got Neushwanstein, and a car”Â¦
Grant Hart: That was evocative of the motor accident of that Nova Mob was involved in near Neushwanstein, pretty much composed of a random collage that I was doing at the time when I needed some visuals for the record.’
SCR: Did that accident see the end of Nova Mob?
Grant Hart: I wanted to continue the tour that was interrupted and that as soon as we were ready to hit the road that the band needed it, the bookers took advantage of the fact that the tour was insured but it didn’t ensure the mental stability of the band.
SCR: What’s Shoot Your Way to Freedom about?
Grant Hart: It’s from Burroughs, it’s kind of a triple entendre, you got the prevalence of hard drugs in prisons because people are escaping that way, you have the idea of the western shootout and then there’s the orgasm metaphor of course”Â¦’
SCR: There’s me thinking it was about terrorism”Â¦
Grant Hart: (laughs) Well one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist
SCR: Are you scared of flying?
Grant Hart: No! I prefer ground travel, whenever I tour Europe or tour England there’s no need to fly. Airports are kind of like chain hotels, a cross between chain hotels and a prison. I do not like to be under the scrutiny of idiots, you know someone popping through my stuff who is on minimum wage, people looking through notebooks I mean what does that have to do with national security? It’s just as safe to travel by rail, you end up in the city centre, you don’t end up 15 miles from the centre.
The tours been going pretty good, I may grumble about details about being booked into a Travelodge. Some of these chain hotels are in the business of lying to the customers, hotels; they got your credit card number and can put charges onto you like a fifty pound charge for cleaning. I don’t like this whole thing of a non-smoking hotel room. I’d rather book myself into a mom and pop hotel.
SCR: How are the gigs then?
Grant Hart: Oh splendid, the gigs are fine! You spend a third of your time at the hotel a third of your time at the gig and a third of your time travelling.
SCR: What’s the sleeve of Oeuvrevue?
Grant Hart: If you look at it through a stereo Opticon, a primitive form of 3 dimensional viewer a bit like crossing your eyes, the 2 images form together and make a 3 dimensional image. I was going to leave that a secret for people to work out for themselves, but that’s given it away. You’re solving a lot of mysteries.
SCR: Who is Cesar the Monkey? (As named on the sleeve of Oeuvrevue)
Grant Hart: Well Cesar the monkey is actually Amadeus the monkey who saved the Fuerstenhof hotel in Vienna – he was in showbiz, in the 1920s I think, and his human companion went down to breakfast and left his cigar lit and it fell on the floor and started the rug on fire. Amadeus turned the taps on in the sink, he apparently blotted the drain with a pair of socks that his human companion had left lying around and it put the fire out. I like going back to the same places, to have a bit of familiarity and when I go back to Vienna which is my continental headquarters I like to stay at the Feurstenhof, I think that the heroism of Amadeus is pretty well unsung.
SCR: You do tend to have a lot of characters and stories in your songs…
Grant Hart: I think that’s to do with having done it as long as I have, trying to keep it interesting or doing it in a way that continues to interest me, there’s a lot of boring things that you could be writing a lot of songs about. I don’t lever as much peer pressure as some of these bands do, people subtly discover my music and discover the different twists and turns and I want it to be artful and I want to be able at the end of the night say I have done something that’s captivating to both the audience and to myself
SCR: Do you ever get cheesed off by the amount of success achieved by the Pixies who were huge and Dinosaur Jnr were on TV”Â¦
Grant Hart: Well I got on TV too! There’s one thing to be said for not having to hire private security, and being able to walk into a museum and see the treasures of the world maybe one day a week and see the different treasures of the world. As long as you don’t have the compulsion to own them, you’re just as rich as anybody out there; and when you have the selection of the Feurstenhof or the Mitre house in London or any of the other fine friends I have in the lodging business, instead of finding treasure, treasuring the things you find”Â¦
SCR: What’s your favourite city?
Grant Hart: London’s pretty good there’s so many cities and Manchester’s one of them, and the time you spend there is measured in hours instead of days. London’s got a fabulous history but it can only offer you London things. I like the old history of places like Hollywood the last time I was staying in Hollywood with a friend of mine I read a biography of actor Sal Mineo. I saved the last bit of the book for the day that I was leaving and I went up to the Griffith Park observatory to see the Perseid Meteor shower it was real enjoyable – The Griffiths Observatory is of course the scene of the last part of the climactic Rebel Without a Cause where James Dean comes out going “I’ve got the bullets”Â
Sometimes it can be an art form the way you stack up your experiences like the different foods on the plate. We motored around and went to see the Watts Towers, its this folk art like fantasia that this immigrant fellow built in the 20s and 30s it almost looks like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with these tapering spires, then we went to Mount Wilson observatory where they have the same shaped spires except they are 100 metres tall and they are radio telescopes so you have a small and huge version of the same thing to a huge version of the same thing. There’s an art form to experience.
SCR: If you could put together an ideal pop group who would be in your band?
Grant Hart: Let’s see Ringo Starr on drums”Â¦ no I can’t get past Ringo (laughs) no it would be a duet Ringo on drums and me on everything else”Â¦.(laughs)