Luke Haines Interview: Middle Age Is No Time To Sing About Maddy

In a wide-ranging chat, Luke Haines spills the beans on The Libertines, staying smart, why being a middle aged parent means songs about disappearing children are out of the window, and the follow-up to _Bad Vibes_

In his hat, drooping moustache and white suit, one could easily place Luke Haines as a hash dealer you would perhaps encounter in a Benidorm fun-pub touting for business amongst British package holiday debutantes from the north, rather than the Englishman exiled to Buenos Aires he would prefer to have you believe. Maybe it’s the strawberry blonde hair, pallid complexion and slight paunch. It doesn’t matter, it’s a good look.

The Quietus spoke to the 21st Century man before a gig at the Luminaire in Kilburn, and found him relaxed, thoughtful and, despite still possessing a healthy disregard for most music journalists, very amiable.

So 21st Century Man. You said a few years back that your music was a rollercoaster ride of good quality slapstick entertainment. Where is the new album on that roller coaster ride now?

Luke Haines: Hmmm I sort of regret using something as clichéd as a rollercoaster. I think when I wrote the book I used that terrible rollercoaster thing a few times. And I pretty much edited all of that out. You know, it’s such a fucking awful turn of phrase. But if you want to go down that route I think we’re either to ascend to a giddy height..or on a giddy height about to descend into a terrible low.

Is the album a footnote to the book then?

I wrote the album pretty much after I had finished doing the first draft of the book so it’s obviously informed by it. I’m not kind of always quite as conscious about everything I do as some people would probably think. I’m not always as studied. You kind of get whatever I’m doing at the moment. That’s the way artists work. They just put out their stuff… and you know… it’s not really for us to judge.

I like what you said about Britpop, well more importantly its legacy in that, with the exception of maybe Pulp, it flattened any kind of eccentricity in British Music. You say that nowadays it would be a lot harder for a Viv Stanshall or Ian Dury to get anywhere. Is it this thought that keeps you going and keeps Luke Haines making records?

I’m not comparing myself to them but I do think of myself perhaps a bit more in the realm of those late 60s and 70s songwriters who were maybe on Harvest records or something like that. They’d just put their albums out and then go and sit in Portugal and wouldn’t really know what was going on. I’m almost supernaturally compelled to do stuff, whether it’s writing songs, making records and now writing books. It’s not something I have a lot of choice over. You know, if you’re a real artist you just get on with it. You don’t necessarily think about things being not so good at the moment because I’m not selling any records, or I haven’t got a record deal so I won’t write any songs. It doesn’t really work like that you know. You just do it anyway.

Not sure if I’m the only one that sees this, I haven’t seen it written anywhere, but when I hear one of the better, more together Libertines records I sometimes think of the Auteurs. Or vice verse. Do you think Peter Doherty and co were steered somewhat by the Auteurs’ influence?

Yeah well I kind of know what you mean. The Auteurs first album kind of deliberately existed in its own world or sort of created its own world. And I certainly think The Libertines’ first album did that as well. I think it’s a bit of a shame what’s happened to him. You know he’s quite good, Doherty. One of the better people to come out of the last five, six or seven years or whatever. But he’s gone from being this kid with poetic aspirations to being basically a low-level pest which is not a great thing. Now with him it all seems to be about knocking hats off policemen and stuff like that. Which is not that bright.

You both certainly possess a definite Britishness. A Ray Davies is another British artist that fits with this. You’re like a dark Ray Davies for me. You chronicle British things like motorway drudgery or nasty child disappearances. But I detect a more upbeat Luke in the new album. Is there more outward light in 21st century man?

I’ve just done few shows up and down the country and a few people have said to me after the show, I really love After Murder Park and all of that kind of thing which is kind of quite interesting. I’m glad a few people like After Murder Park now because no one liked it at the time. It’s news to me. But not only do I not want to, but I can’t make another record like After Murder Park again. Because I think there are certain things on that record, like ‘New Brat in Town’ that would be impossible for me to sing about now. I probably can’t even listen to things like that anymore. I think that was a record by someone very much in their mid-20s. It’s very angsty record obviously. I’m now in my 40s and I’m through that kind of thing. I’m not having any kind of mid-life crisis that I know about. I probably had that when I was 26 or something. I mean this will sound very unappealing but I don’t really care, but 21st Century Man is definitely an album that a middle-aged man should make and I’m quite interested in those kind of things. I like the way Nick Cave has developed as a middle-aged artist as opposed to Morrissey who hasn’t.

So we can rule out Luke Haines making an interesting concept record about Madeleine McCann, which is something I can easily imagine the Luke Haines of yesteryear doing?

Oh God no! I have a son now you know and you don’t go near that darkness when you have children. You just don’t do it. It’s of no interest to me. I block out all of those thoughts. But yeah it’s probably somewhere I would have kind of gone when I was in my 20s. I certainly didn’t shy away from it. As you shouldn’t when you’re in your 20s. But then you grow up.

The Quietus enjoyed Bad Vibes! We hear there is a follow up in the offing, will it be much of the same?

Well it covers the next five, six years or so which is slightly different. You know, my life was a bit more hermetic after that and there is not as much touring around the world. It mainly takes place in London. But you know the thing with Bad Vibes is it wasn’t so much about Britpop, but the same old rock ‘n’ roll story. And you know I think the rock ‘n’ roll story doesn’t change. It’s the same as Stardust, the David Essex film, you know boy forms band with friends, gets a record deal, sacks friends, gets in some people that can play a bit better but who he doesn’t like very much, gets a bit of success, goes mad, writes Baader Meinhof, or an opera to his mother, and the either lives or dies. And I lived.

How will musicians, and artists who occupy the medium of music, earn a living in the current musical climate? Jarvis Cocker has said it will be all about performances

Well you have to make a record in a studio it shouldn’t be about just performance, touring or doing everything on a computer. Everything will sound the same, you’ll just homogenise everything, that’s the problem. I mean there are exceptions and always will be but I don’t really know..i think we may have had the last days of the music industry for sure, and I think I was quite lucky to be involved in that. There was still a lot of money around in the late 90s and early 2000’s when I had major deals and there was good times to be had and all of that. It wasn’t exactly Sodom and Gomorrah… it was more sod ’em! It was in my case anyway.

Your national pop strike still tickled me. All these years later do you feel a kinship with Bill Drummond with what he’s doing with No Music Days?

I think it’s good that he had my idea. The only thing I’d disagree on is that his idea his too philosophical where my idea was more autodidactic. You know if you want a No Music Day it’s not a kind of discussion, you have to call people out on strike that was the difference, whereby if there not on strike they’re actually a scab. Maybe next year I will call the pop strike on the same week he has his No Music Day and then I can call him a scab, you see because he will be participating on a musical activity by calling a No Music Day and he wouldn’t be participating in Pop Strike.

I can see the bloodshed already.

No I think he’s ok. Apparently he wrote something about my pop strike in his book, which I haven’t read, someone told me about it. I’d quite like to meet him. He sounds alright. I’m sure we’d find something to talk about.

It has been widely reported that you’re a fan of X factor. There have always been talent shows and always will be. What do you think drives the current obsession?

I’ve always sort of insisted it’s the legacy of punk rock really. The kind of idea that anyone can do it. And obviously X Factor and stuff like that are an end result of all that. There’s no difference between audience and performer which is kind of like essentially what punk rock was saying only with a three chord backing. And now it’s just the hits of the day. But I think it’s pretty good. You know, there’s no real music industry left anymore, so the old kind of escape of rock ‘n’ roll and football, well football’s still there, but rock n roll isn’t really there, so it’s like reality shows are a means of escape instead. It’s better than working in Dixons.

Jedward were good.

L.H: I kind of saw then as two Billy Fury types. Only Jedward’s hair got more ridiculous each week and Billy Fury had a heart attack and died.

Are the 70’s still your favourite decade?

Probably. Most of the invention, or the benefits of invention in music were in that period and it’s a period when those kind of records started making an impression on me. I think you’re kind of stuck with the period when you grow up, it just informs you. So I’m largely informed by glam rock.

P.i.L this month. Interested?

No. Not interested in reformed bands.

Luke, you’re a sartorial man. Who or what do you think is fundamentally responsible for introducing trainers into rock ‘n’ roll?

If you’re wearing trainers you’re not in rock ‘n’ roll. You have immediately excluded yourself.

Who makes your suits?

A man in Kentish Town or alternatively on Jermyn Street.

Those in the Quietus bunker would like to know if you subscribe to Brother John Robb’s maxim that a scruffy attire means an untidy mind?

Oh John Robb! I mean I like John Robb but don’t listen to anything he says.

And do you still believe that music journalists were bullied at school?

Oh undoubtedly yes! It’s an admission of failure from the moment you put pen to paper or type your first word and you’re on the payroll under the auspices of journalism it’s a total admission of life’s failure.

Is there still a place for an artist like Luke Haines in contemporary culture?

Perhaps I’ll maybe omit the two words ‘contemporary’ and ‘culture’, but is there still a place for an artist like Luke Haines? Yes!

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