Hot on the heels of the release of new album The Custodian, Paul Grace catches up with Miles Hunt to chat about the new record, tour plans and what it felt like to be trapped in the bathroom for 30 years…
Hi Miles, how did you arrive at the concept of an acoustic retrospective for your new album, The Custodian?
The idea came from Tom Robinson years ago. I’d been a fan of his since I was a kid and got to know him in the 90’s. I was in America, more or less living there at the time, and he was playing a club in Manhattan. He knew I was there and asked if I wanted to come and open for him at a gig. I was like, “Man I’d kill to do that!”. We were chatting in the afternoon before the doors opened, and he said “Who do you consider owns your songs now?”. I said, “The publishing companies do, but emotionally I do”, and he replied “No that’s incorrect on both fronts”. He said, “No..it’s .your audience, the people who have been listening to these songs for the best part of 15 years”, he said “they own them now. These songs have been a partial sound track to their lives and your job now is that of the custodian – to make sure those songs are treated with the respect the audience would hope they are played in”…and it’s just stayed with me.
When was that?
Around 1999 / 2000
So the idea has stayed with you since then?
Yes. I was sitting in the back garden of a pub on my own this spring and I thought, “OK I want to go out and do a tour, but do I do a whole new album? Do I do an acoustic album as Miles Hunt and then next year put the same set of songs out as The Wonder Stuff?”. Then I remembered Tom saying that thing…so I had a light bulb moment and thought about a chronological ordered set. So both the album and set start with the first song I ever wrote when I was 13 which was 39 years ago.
Who is going to be listening to The Custodian? Will it appeal to new fans?
Well I’d imagine it will be the people who have stayed with me all these years who have also played my music to their kids who are now 20 odd. It’s quite a long album so I don’t think anyone is going to listen to this in one go. If you’re with some people into The Wonder Stuff you’ll stick it on in the background and have a bit of a party.
How has it been to revisit your back catalogue for The Custodian?
I’m happy to play and hear every track that I’ve included on the record. There are tracks I wouldn’t go near again of course, and there are tracks that have been done acoustically that have appeared elsewhere as B sides or extra tracks, so they didn’t need to be included. So I threw it out to social media and what was nice was all the lists that people came up with saying, “You’ve got to do this and that!”. It meant that the audience and I were very much on the same page.
Are there any new songs on the album?
Yes one brand new one. It starts with the first song I ever wrote and finishes with the last song I wrote called The Custodian which is kind of trying to sum up the meaning of the project.
Retrospectively what has been your favourite period or album to date that you have worked on?
The last one, Thirty Goes Around The Sun, and then Erika and I did an album after that which I also think is wonderful (We Came Here To Work). Out of the original four Hup! was always my favourite just because it’s all over the place and I think we were quite daring back then. At no point did it seem like we were repeating ourselves from the The Eight Legged Groove Machine. I really admire the balls on those young people who made those records!
Any songs or periods you’d rather forget?
Yes but I don’t want to tell you what it is! In the late 80’s, if you did an interview with the music press and said something contentious about another band, which might well have just been off the cuff, they’d publish that and it would seem like that is what the interview was all about. So if I tell you the songs I don’t want to do it’s like, “He won’t do this and won’t do that…”, and Miles Hunt is still a miserable bastard! (laughs)
If you could climb into a Mr. Benn style changing room and go back in time, which period of your career would you revisit?
Please don’t let the smiley shirt be in that changing room! (laughs)
God I remember that, I think you wore it at Reading?
Yes our first Reading appearance.
It overlapped with the acid house smileys. It was the same sort of time.
I got it in Kensington market…it was like, “You’re going to notice me in this!”. But everyone just thought Milo was banging acid and blowing whistles. Ha! But the time I loved most was Vent 414 which was the band I had from 1996-1997 with Pete Howard and Morgan Nichols. We did one album with Steve Albeni at Abbey Road and a tour of Europe, a few gigs in the States, two tours in the UK, and Reading twice. We played Vent 414 songs and nothing else. Morgan was in The Senseless things and Pete was in Eat and The Clash and it just felt like a period of rebirth. I do one Vent 414 song in The Custodian set acoustically and I’m going to work with the drummer again next year. So yeah that is a period I would like to revisit. I was also really skinny and had a skin head.
If you could go back in time what would you say to your younger self?
Stop whining you little bitch! Try and enjoy the ride a little more because there is no destination.
Your tunes are satirical life observations steeped in self-deprecating humour and featuring genius moments of poetic poison, with lyrics like “Guess who just threw up when we learned that he grew up?” and “Now the time has come to share the joke, that the latch on the bathroom door is broke”. You take the banal and make it fascinating and romantic. What inspires your song writing?
It’s really whatever’s in my head. It’s funny, that Sing The Absurd line. I was 25/26 years old and I was writing lines like, “I’m old enough to know…”, coming across all life experienced but only half the age I am now! I think I’ve always had a sense of nostalgia though since I was very young and I’m constantly reviewing my actions. I’m quite happy to say to everyone, “Look I fuck up, I am foolish”, and you know when you’re younger your relationships are so fucking important but now I just don’t give a fuck. I guess I always write with a sense of nostalgia and take the piss out of myself.
Has your song writing style changed?
Not at all. I was talking to an American journalist who was bizarrely calling me Mr. Hunt, and he asked me exactly the same. I said that if I’m honest it hasn’t really because I like a beginning bit, a first verse a chorus a second verse a chorus some kind of middle bit and a double chorus to finish. So he said, “ Mr Hunt, no no no if anyone ever asks you that again you just got to say you are consistent”. (laughs)
30 Years In The Bathroom is one of my favourite Wonder Stuff songs; a tale of an unfortunate man who was trapped inside a toilet for three decades, but the joke was on him when he realises that the lock was broken and he could always get out. Was this a metaphor?
Yes it was about being on tour. We were doing ever so well here; two nights at the Astoria and also on the front cover of all the music papers. Then the label sent us out to Holland, Germany, France, Spain and Italy and then suddenly we’re back in tiny little clubs and my ego didn’t enjoy the comedown. We were all smoking a lot of dope and it was winter and we got to Cologne and I just said “I’m going home”. I do this because I am supposed to enjoy it and I hate every minute.
So that must have been the Eight Legged Groove Machine tour?
Yeah, so I’m sitting in the bus smoking dope and writing lyrics and it was that release “so the latch on the bathroom door was broken” – I could always get out and I just had to say it. I sat for two weeks thinking I hate this and internalising it. I called a meeting with the band in a hotel in Cologne and asked, “Is anyone else enjoying this? Shall we just fuck off?”. Everyone was like, “Yeah let’s go!”.
Tracks like Radio Ass Kiss and Astley in the Noose were scathing digs at commercial pop music back in the 80’s and 90’s. What do you think of the state of contemporary popular music?
It’s nothing to do with me, I’m 52. If I cast an opinion on it I’d just sound like an old bloke so I just stay out of it.
What do you think of the likes of Spotify and the way music is distributed these days?
I think it’s a shame. People my age can hold a 7 inch piece of vinyl in our hands – things that we bought 30/40 years ago – and it feels like treasure to us. It’s not just the music or the aesthetics you’re holding in your hand, it’s the memories and no one is ever going to be able to do that with something they’ve streamed.
It’s true, it was like a ritual, you went to the shop like Woolworths and buy a record, come home, and you would appreciate the whole thing.
Yes when you’re young you’re trying to find an identity and usually you look into yourself. Some kids are into sport and some into music, fashion or theatre. You’re trying to find out who you are by picking “something”. The whole idea of streaming to me is cheapened and not exciting. The kids have got a billion other things to do these days that we didn’t have to do so I think it’s a shame.
In the 80’s the music scene seemed to appear out of geographical locations, yourselves, Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin with Stourbrige. There was Manchester with the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays too but this no longer seems to happen. Do you think the internet is responsible for this?
Well all of that really was done by the journalists at NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.
So they created geographical music brands?
Exactly. It gave them something to sell. You had Terry Staunton who wrote for Sounds who was from the Midlands. The Poppies came up, we were right behind them and Ned’s were right behind us. We kind of helped each other to gets gigs around the country and Terry said to his editors, “Look there’s something exciting happening here”, so they let him write about it. Then James Brown from NME copped onto it and it just exploded. We didn’t think we were from an area, in fact we all joined bands to get out of the fucking area!
What can we expect from the tour?
Well doing The Custodian every night and I try to tell as many stories as I can and also include readings from The Wonder Stuff Diaries.
How did you come to write The Wonder Stuff Diaries?
Well my manager Dave and I, we’re yarners and like to tell each other stories. Dave was in bands before he became a manager and has some great road stories. One day we were outside a pub and Dave told a story and I said, “last time you told me that story this section wasn’t in it”, and he said as he was getting older he’s embellishing and bringing in elements from other stories. I told him that I do exactly the same! Then as a joke he said, “One of us has got to start writing these down before they become completely fictional”. So I just started doing that and thought here is a good story about this time or that time in the band. I had about 10-15 stories and thought there might be a book in this. I ‘d kept all the diaries too that I had on the road and just kind of tied the stories around the diaries which also reflects the set and The Custodian album. I have got a fair bit of OCD so doing things in chronological order and alphabetising things is very much me.
So how was it going through all that paraphernalia that you had? You kept note books didn’t you?
Yeah all the diaries, notebooks, journals and scrapbooks of all the press
Wow you kept all the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds articles?
Yeah did all that until I stopped in ’94 which is where I’ve written up to. The first book was cathartic which I didn’t think was going to be part of the process. Martin and Rob are dead and at the time they died we were not in a good place with one another with courts and lawyers. It was really horrible actually so at the time they died I was like, “Fuck them ‘cos it makes that argument easier for me”, which is pretty cold, and when I’d think of them I would think of them in their latter days when we were not friends. But when I went through all the diaries and paraphernalia I was like, “Fuck we were really good friends once, we really had each others’ backs”. Then came the realisation that there would be no way I would be in the position I am now without all the help and camaraderie of those guys. So now when I think of Martin and Rob I think of that period which is really nice not to carry negativity in my heart about them.
And then the next 2 books were not so much fun because I had written so much more in the diaries and I was really quite hateful, I hate reading it. I think with reason though, by the time you tour America and you pull into a venue, do a sound check and the owner of the venue and says, “Hey if you’re looking for any women tonight, we have got some really fucking dirty whores working behind the bar just give me a nod”. I was like, “This is not why I picked up a guitar, I don’t want to interact with people like you!”. We spent an awful lot of time in America from ’90 to ’94 and there was a lot of stuff like that. I didn’t pick up a guitar to be around people like that but it’s people like that who gravitate towards music.
What was your relationship like with the music press back in the day?
Really good. We owe a massive debt of gratitude to them. Polydor did great work for us, and I always enjoyed people I worked with at the label. I mean there were ups and down but they were on our side, they wanted the best for us and gave us the keys to the world which I have enjoyed but the press drove it really. I think because I like to talk and don’t really edit myself with whatever I have on my mind it made good copy for them. I’m still good friends with so many of the journalists that we used to knock around with. A huge debt of gratitude to them.
How was the recent “Love from Stourbridge” tour with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin?
Great. I hadn’t seen the Ned’s play in years and it was really interesting watching them the first night on tour and I knew every word. We used to tour so much together years ago and were always sort of interconnected. I was so pleased to hear all of those songs again and really pleased to see they were executing it perfectly and obviously really enjoying it. I said this thing to Jon halfway through the tour, “I have no right to say this to you but I am really proud of you, just look how much those people are enjoying it every night when you play and you are putting everything into it”. It’s not as easy as it used to be because at our age it takes a little bit more than it used to.
Who would you like to work with historically and present day?
I’m lucky enough to work with great people so nobody. I think if I picked a favourite song writer, guitarist or drummer I don’t think there is anything I could bring to them. I love Steve Perkins from Jane’s Addiction but he doesn’t need me as a vehicle to play the drums, and I wouldn’t bring him anything better than Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro.
That is the first time I saw you guys, Jane’s Addiction were supporting you in Brixton and you were doing a run of 3-4 nights
Yes, we’d opened for them in California a couple of times and got on really well with them and they were coming to the UK
Do you ever see Malcolm Treece?
Yes, well I haven’t physically seen him for a number of years but we’ve been talking on the phone a number of times this year and he texted me this afternoon and we are going to be working together next year
What does the future hold for Miles Hunt and The Wonder Stuff?
I’ve written 10 tracks for a new Wonder Stuff album, they’re all down and I want to write another 10 between now and March. I’ll then pick the best 10 or 12 and put out a new album this time next year. Malcolm’s going to be part of it and I am working with a dear old friend from Birmingham called Mark Gemini Thwaite who has recently worked with Big Paul and Raven from Killing Joke before Raven passed away, and also Chuck Mosely from Faith No more before he also past away, and also The Mission. So Mark and I have written a load of stuff, and Pete Howard, who was in Vent 414, Eat and The Clash, is going to be the drummer, we’ll get a new bass player and Ericka is still about too.
Who do you listen to these days?
Nada Surf, they’re brilliant. Indie guitar but beautiful melodies, really gorgeous voice not as theatrical as Perry Farrell but still in the higher range. It is hard to be surprised by things when you have heard as much as I have at my age. I really love Turin Breaks’ latest album – it’s wonderful. I listen to mostly instrumental jazz at home and old reggae records that we’ve been collecting.
Who was the last live band you saw?
I just toured with Public Image Limited. That was terrifying to begin with and then it was wonderful.
Why was it terrifying?
You know who the fuck goes to see PIL and want to see Miles Hunt play acoustic guitar for 45 minutes first, they are there for one reason – PIL!
How did it go down?
Great, but they’re a bit stupid these punk rockers! They even shout abuse at John! You have to just let it wash off you, single them out, take the piss, make fools of them and get the rest of the audience ganging up on them! I learned it from John years ago anyway. So that was wonderful and actually the other two gigs I made an effort to see was The Stranglers who were astonishing, and then two weeks before that The Damned who again were amazing with a lovely new album produced by Tony Visconti. So The Damned, The Stranglers and PIL have been my gigs this year. I’m not really up with the kids. I’m very proud though to be into those bands still and to see they are still touring and still being amazing.
Miles Hunt is on tour until December 2018. You can buy The Custodian here
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