Ian Hunter (ex – Mott The Hoople) Interview
Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter has a new album called “When I’m President” set for release on 4th September. By way of raising a bit of a commotion about the album Ian kindly sat down with Louder Than War’s Nick Wood for the following conversation.
16th June 2012, 17:00, note in diary, ring Ian Hunter. Yes, Ian ”Ëkin Hunter. Lead singer / songwriter with Mott the Hoople and solo since 1975, has seemingly forged a new found respect and energy since the release of Rant back in 2001. We’re now 11 years since that release and his latest album’s releasem “When I’m President”Â is imminent.
Louder Than War ”â “Hiya Ian, thanks for taking time to talk to us.”Â
Ian Hunter ”â “No problem.”Â
LTW ”â “So how does it feel to be promoting your 20th album?”Â
IH ”â “Feels great, you know. We got in the studio and got it done in four days and I think you can hear that, it’s got an edge you know.”Â
LTW ”â “Your voice seems to have slipped into a comfortable lower tone over the last few years, was that intentional or out of necessity?”Â
IH ”â “I think my voice has a natural grit in me old age and I like it better now, so now I’m sitting in the keys that are comfortable and just singing them as opposed to trying to deliver. I like it!”Â
LTW ”â “The lead track (And title track), “When I’m President”Â has a great chorus. Is it still easy to write that sort of song?”Â
IH ”â “Emm, well that one went through a couple of changes, actually. It wound up where it was at, so I wouldn’t say it was easy. I mean, sometimes, it’s easy, it all depends.”Â
LTW ”â “We haven’t been lucky to have the whole album available before the interview, but does it follow along on a similar vein to “When I’m President”Â?
IH ”â “It’s up. You know, how do I put it? It”Ës faster than usual. It’s more rockin’ than usual. It’s a bit political still”Â
LTW ”â “Bringing me on nicely to who you’re going to sing about now George W’s term came to an end? “
IH ”â “Yeah, it was most unfortunate wasn’t it. Ha ha, plenty of material there. I guess if Romney gets in I’ll be back on form. You know, I got into American history, because it’s a lot nearer. You know, when you live in Britain, history goes back so long you can”Ët figure out who did what, here it’s like I was born in 1939, which is 10 years after Wyatt Earp died before so you can reach out and touch it. So I got into a lot of civil war stuff, a lot of the 1800’s, you know 19th century American History, so I pulled a lot of inspiration from that, but the record is still a Rock n Roll record!!!!”Â
LTW ”â “I’ve heard snippets, and I hardly heard a soft one among them”Â
IH ”â “There’s a couple on there, but even those are pretty heavy duty as opposed to mild. Folk Songs they are not!”Â
LTW ”â “You’ve played with some top notch musicians, Jaco Pastovius, Aynsley Dunbar on All American Alien Boy, Mick Ronson etc. but there is something about the Rant band that just makes things sound so comfortable and easy”Â
IH ”â “Well, there’s been 9 members in the band, and it’s been going 11 years but the rhythm section now is fantastic. I mean, Andy York would always play guitar on me records but all of a sudden we did a 20 date tour of the East Coast of America and Bosch just started blowing us away and I just wanted to take Bosch and the band into the studio. I wanted it to be a band, not just me with a backing group. Let’s get in the studio and mix things up.”Â
LTW ”â “Did the band bring a lot to the song writing?”Â
IH ”â “They put a lot into the arranging, I just let them get on with it. Andy York usually had to direct things but this band had it down from the start. You don’t have to tell good people what to do, you know. It’s never a good idea to tell good musicians what to do! If you have to tell them they’re not good people, they’re average people.”
LTW ”â “That makes your job a lot easier then!”Â
IH ”â “Well it makes it a lot quicker. I find studios boring, so to go in with good musicians means I can get out quickly. We were done in four days. It was fabulous.”Â
LTW ”â “Almost Punk Rock Ian”Â
IH ”â “Well yeah, almost all the tracks were first or second takes, so you haven’t drilled the songs or people playing them into the ground. It doesn’t become an exercise in agony. “
LTW ”â “Well it gives it an edge”Â
IH ”â “Exactly. I’ve done it the other way and it’s a nightmare. Just get in, get out. Get right on it, no messing about. The studio was great too.”
LTW ”â “Your reputation really did take an upturn with the press in the UK especially and the music buying public around the time of Rant. Was there a single thing you did to change or did people just start taking notice.”Â
IH ”â “Hmm, I think what happened, well mid to late 80’s and early 90’s both Mick Ronson and I were bored out of our minds as the music industry was so corporate and we had let things slide to the point of extinction. I mean I couldn’t get arrested. Mick was doing alright, he had the production side of things to think about but I just went right off the radar. I wound up in Canada and Sweden and places like that. No deals, no management, no nothing. Then Mick died and it was an emotional almighty kick up the arse. I had no respect for music for about 6 or 7 years. I then thought, “You’ve got this gift, and you’re not using it.”Â So I had to start really meaning it again. And it took a while. And I also thought I’d get back on it anytime I wanted. Not True. People forget who you are real quick. So it was slow. But that became motivation, Fuck it, I’m gonna get back on track. And slowly but surely we’ve been building it up again.
LTW ”â “Reading through your press release, and listening to you speak, neither mention the album with Mick in 1990, “Yui Orta”Â which is a superb album with some great tracks. Do you look back fondly on that album and the time it was made?”Â
IH ”â “Sometimes things happen on albums and it’s about a lot of people and activities. I mean Dick Asher got fired when that album came out. Now, Dick Asher was the head of Polygram and the whole place went into flux because when the head gets fired, everyone underneath him gets fired. The new guy comes in with his new team with him. So that left us and about 100 other acts left without promotion, nothing. The album just didn’t do anything because of the mess they were in. And that happened quite a lot in them days through the 80’s and early 90’s when there were still huge record companies and they were still making loads of money and artists just got left. We couldn’t do anything with it. We only managed a few dates to tour the album. That situation has happened to me two or three times now. I was with Dick Asher on Columbia when he got fired as well. (LTW pointed out that Ian was doing well with this). Ha yeah, what you have to remember is Dick Asher was getting fired with millions of dollars in his pocket for the pleasure of being fired. Dick’s a great guy. The shit hit the fan when he was at Polydor and things went to court as Polydor didn’t want to pay so the last thing on anyone’s mind was our record.
LTW ”â “It does bring up a good point, you’re now on a smaller record label, are you more comfortable with that now?”Â
IH ”â “Much more comfortable, I’m very, very happy. I like being on the periphery. And these people, both in the UK and US, this time round are really having a go, doing well promoting the record. They’ve even taken me over into the computer age! Yeah, it’s small but they’re working hard and that’s alright by me. I mean, what do I want at my age? I don’t want to be in the premiership, that’s too much like hard work. They’re all miserable.
LTW ”â “With your reputation being so high it seemed an odd time to agree to the MTH reunion”Â
IH ”â “I thought the reunion went great. It wasn’t me who put it together, it was Verden (Mott Keyboardist). I was doing an acoustic tour and he came down and played a couple of times and he said, “If we don’t do this now it’ll be too late!”Â and I hadn’t really thought about it because for so many years no one wanted to do it. And I said, “Well what about Pete Watts?”Â because he was always the most reluctant one but Verden said he’d already talked to him and he’d said he’d do it, will you talk to Ralphs.
LTW ”â “Will there be more?”Â
IH ”â “I don’t think so. The business end of it is a gigantic pain in the arse. Great to play with, great to rehearse with, millions of stories, Pete Watts will run you ragged with stories and they’re all interesting and they’re all funny. I miss them and there’s a strong law with that band but I wouldn’t want to do it too much because it’s an old band and we’d have to play the same songs every night!!”Â
LTW ”â “Reading the public section on your website, there’s a million song requests from “I only want early Mott”Â to “Play the Mott singles”Â to “Obscure B side from a solo single”Â. How do you decide what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do?
IH ”â “Well what I try to do is have a third previous solo, a third new and a third Mott. That seems to be the only way to keep everyone happy. I enjoy doing the new stuff, it gives you a bit of energy but the back hand is you have to keep the casual listener happy but also the fans who know everything and do want to hear an obscure song no one else has heard of. It’s difficult.
LTW ”â “I admit to drunkenly shouting for Rose. B side but could have been so much more”Â
IH ”â “I remember doing that on Broadway (Mott were the first band to play Broadway in New York, selling out 7 nights in 1974) and we had puppets as part of the show and a little bird used to fly down and sit on my monitor whilst I was doing Rose. Nice little part of the show. I’ve had a few ask for Rose but again, you also have to structure your set around fast medium and slow. And I got so many slow songs it’s difficult. Some want Irene Wilde, some want Waterlow, so you wind up doing the new ones because it’s more interesting. There’s a song on the new one called Crazy Horse which I can’t wait to do but it’s a slow one.
LTW ”â “You mentioned Waterlow there, I’ve been a Dad for 6 years but when you listen to Waterlow it doesn’t matter if I’ve just dropped the kids at school, you miss them and just want to see them. I can’t imagine what you went through when you ended up writing that song.”Â
IH ”â “I remember writing it. I remember the room I was in. That one was straight from the heart.”Â
LTW ”â “Is it difficult to sing them live with memories coming flooding back. I’m thinking of Michael Picasso (Ian’s song about Mick Ronson from 1997 The Artful Dodger) as well.
IH ”â “Initially it was hard for me to play live. It was even harder to because members of his family would be at the gigs, his wife, mother etc. and the deal was if I was going to play it, I had to announce it so they would have time to leave the room while I did it.
LTW ”â “Do you still hear new music that influences you or is it still only the people around when you started out playing music who influence you?”Â
IH ”â “Nothing and no one influenced the new one. I’m old enough not to need influences. This is what it is. I’ve been reading up on stuff, it turned into lyrics, there’s the melody and it is what it is. I don’t listen to anybody anymore, I read, but I don’t listen. If I listen to anybody these days it would be Bob Dylan because he’s the yardstick. You write a song like Jokerman or Every Grain of Sand it’s hard to get anywhere near the same league. That’s the only guy I would listen to today because I think he’s amazing.
(LTW points out I’m not a fan, his bloody voice just grinds on me)
Either you get it or you don’t. I think people miss the humour with Bob. He’s a very humorous guy but everyone takes him for too seriously but I don’t think he wants to be taken that way. I think he wants people to laugh along with him.
LTW ”â Did you see him play the Hop Farm the day before you played there?
IH ”â He was there the day before so I didn’t see him. My guitar player went the night before to see Bob, and I asked him what he was like and he just shook his head. But that’s Bob, he’s just fascinating.
LTW ”â Were you a tad jealous when Mick got the job as guitarist for Bobs touring band?
IH ”â No, what happened was, it was the strangest thing. We always used to hang out at the same bar as Tony Defries was hanging out and I was so fed up with going because it was all posing and the rest of it, I said why don’t we go down this place, “The Bitter End”Â, Paul Colby’s place in the village and there was a restaurant and then you could walk down into a small club room with a stage. So me and Mick are sitting there having a drink with the girls, when in walks Bob with Bobby Neurwirth, sits down, pulls a guitar out and proceeds to play the whole of his live album to Bobby Neurwirth.. There was only the four of us in the room. We’re just sat there gaping. About four hours later the place is mobbed. I remember Mick was drunk and the owners had thrown him out three times. But the next night Bob decided to take some people on the road and anyone who was there could have joined. Bob’s very hippy how he does things. There’s no manager comes up and officially says “You’re in the band”Â or anything like that. It didn’t work like that. People just walked in and started playing and Mick got up but I never did. I wasn’t living in the City but Mick was. What happened next was Suzi Ronson started talking to Neurwirth and the next thing you know she’s ringing me up the next Wednesday saying he was in the band, why don’t you come down. I said, “I can’t come down, nobody’s asked me to”Â. Mick said, “It doesn’t work like that, just come down”Â. But I just couldn’t.
LTW ”â Do you regret that
IH ”â No. I’ll tell you why. That year, Rolling Stone said I was great on the tour. Great reporting as ever. But that’s how it happened. When Mick came back from the tour he said it wasn’t as much fun as he’d thought. There was a lot of weird stuff going down. I didn’t really miss that much. My drummer went and worked with Dylan a while back and said it was very vague, no one really knowing what was going on. Usually you get told what you’ll get paid, where you’re staying, when you’ll be needed but there was none of that with him. You turn up, hang around, hang around more then eventually things start to sort themselves out, but a lot of people don’t like that. Mick was fine with it. I’ve only heard Mick badmouth one person, Van Morrison. Miserable Git. He really didn’t like him!!!
Ian’s new album “When I’m President”Â is released on the 3rd September 2012 on Proper Records. He’s touring the UK in October. He has nowhere to buy swimming trunks since Woolworths ceased trading!!!
All words by Nick Wood. More Louder Than War articles by Nick can be found here.