Jack Hayter: ‘I’m Just A Middle Aged Guitarist Who Was Once In A Band’
We chinwag our way through his new EP, 'Sucky Tart'.
It's been nine years since Jack Hayter last released a record, 2002's 'Practical Wireless'. But finally, he's back with a new EP, 'Sucky Tart', so we couldn't resist the opportunity to chinwag our way through the record, find out what he's been up to during the last decade, and to not talk about Hefner. We might have failed one of these tasks, but we failed it especially for you. Don't say we never do anything for you.
You finally have a new EP out, how did that come about?
Yeah, it's on a little label called Audio Antihero, it's a guy down the road from me, he contacted me and asked if I wanted to put something out. I thought about it for quite a while, but at the end of the day he was keen. It's been about eight, nine years since Practical Wireless... It's not like I've been sitting around living off the proceeds of that record, because I don't believe I sold that many. It sold steadily, it's still available. I've done a lot of things in the meantime, I was a gardener for a while, but mostly I was a motorcycle dispatch rider... and then quite frankly, I knew I was going to have a nasty accident, it's cold in the winter, and I thought, I've got to get indoors. I have a degree so I thought, I'll do teacher training. I've got a family, I had to put them first as well. I carried on recording stuff, but I didn't really have the wherewithal to say, right, I'll just concentrate on music instead.
Before I did music, I was an IT Engineer in the city, and...
And then you went for dinner with John Peel!
Yeah, and then I went for dinner with John Peel! That's the weirdest thing, I'd grown up with his voice, just like everyone had, when I was really young with the radio under my pillow. And then you have dinner with John Peel and he's actually cooked you the food!
Didn't he threaten to kick out Ant (Harding, Hefner's erstwhile tubthumper) for being an Arsenal fan?
That's probably one of his quips, that got amplified. I don't remember him threatening to chuck Ant out, but I do remember that everyone was a bit in awe of John Peel, we all wanted to talk to him about music. And when he was at home that was the last thing he wanted to do. He wanted to show me his cars - these cars were all in out-buildings, and the walls of the out-buildings were just lined with vinyl. And he just wanted to talk to me about his cars and his chickens...
The weirdest thing was, you'd be eating your dinner, he'd say something and your mind would do this double take, my god, that sounds like John Peel, my god, it is John Peel. He was such a nice man, it's such a shame he's gone. The funny thing was, he once he dropped something, and said “Pick that up Jack, I never bend over”, because he said that was how he'd go, he'd give a little cough, and that would be it. And that's pretty much how he died.
The great thing was he was completely unflappable, I'd sent him records before I was in Hefner, and when I met him I told him, and he said, "oh that was you? I didn't like that." If he liked it, he liked it, and if he didn't he didn't, and that was that. We were very lucky and very honoured. I never quite saw what he liked about Hefner. Not because we weren't good, I just never understood why he liked it so much.
You didn't play on Hefner's debut album, 'Breaking God's Heart', right?
I played a gig with Hefner on the day that Breaking God's Heart was released, and I played on pretty much everything, bar one Peel Session, from then onward. Although I wasn't on Breaking God's Heart, I was around for Hymn For The Things We Didn't Do, and I'd played gigs with them before that, I'd played the Belle and Sebastian show with them in Paris, so I was involved from earlier than people probably realised.
Was it a bit galling to always be considered the new boy?
No, not at all. I've never made any claims to being a founder member of Hefner, but it's like Ronnie Wood in the Stones, isn't it. He's the new one but he's been around for 400 years. Sometimes I really like listening to Breaking God's Heart, because I can enjoy it. It's full of flaws, but there's some glorious moments in it. One of the things that Darren does rather brilliantly is just sit down with his rather gawky and awkward piano playing and sing a song, and he does it really well on 'Tactile'. I remember that nearly moved me to tears when I first heard it, not the content, but the delivery. I remember thinking, wow, this guy's good. There are lots of flaws on all the albums, probably my least favourite song is 'May God Protect Your Home', but I think I'm credited as playing a Theremin on that. Actually it was an old transistor radio that had a screwdriver taken to it, with a circuit board that I'd found that morning, and it worked and it sounded quite good! I was always the one with the soldering iron on tour.
But I often think that I ruined that band. There's that thing about a three piece band, there's a sort of symmetry, that sort of works, and it looks good in photographs. And I don't photograph well, and anyway, I just thought that I ruined the look of it. I'm a different kind of musician anyway, Hefner were a very clean cut band, in a way. We were very disciplined, Darren (Hayman) more so now, but in the Hefner days, it was John (Morrison) that did the arranging, it was John that took that role. John had been in a few bands before Hefner, he was the musician of the band, I suppose. Bass players are often good arrangers, because it's all about harmony and precision, and a large part of what Hefner sounded like was John. When Darren and I did those 'Darren and Jack Play Hefner' shows [in 2008, Darren and Jack reunited for a series of gigs to celebrate the re-release of 'The Fidelity Wars'], it wasn't Hefner, because John wasn't there, and Ant wasn't there.
It takes a long time to get used to the idea that everything you read about yourself says 'previously of Hefner', but eventually you come to terms with it. We used to crack up when we saw 'Miles Hunt, ex Wonderstuff' on some blackboard outside a pub. It's worse for me in a way, because I'm just a middle aged pedal steel guitarist who was once in a band. I did see some interview where it said 'Darren, who I'm legally contracted to mention, was in Hefner'... so maybe we should make it mandatory to use it, then maybe it'll stop.
So are you planning on taking this record out on the road, and getting those blackboards chalked up with 'ex Hefner'?
There will be shows. Although I don't go out and play a lot, I do really enjoy it, I had plans to do a lot more last year, but then I had a heart attack. It was a bit of a surprise. It was March the 6th. The date is engraved...
It's almost a shame it wasn't March the 23rd, so it could've had a 'Painting and Kissing' reference ("On March the 23rd, she said something so absurd")!
I would have quite liked that! Do you know, I think it was March 23rd! Put that!
Heart attacks, you know, they're not all they're cracked up to be. I was very sick, but I didn't realise it. I was walking the dog, and he's a big dog, and I thought he'd wrenched my arm. And I went to bed in some pain, but the next day it was a bit better, and the next day it was a bit better still, but it didn't really go away. I'd had a warning the year before, I'd had a fight with the dog, over the barbecue, and he went for me. The trouble is, if you get into a fight with a dog, you have to win, you mustn't lose that fight. I had terrible chest pains then, but nothing else, I was still running and cycling. So I went to the doctor, and he said go to the cardiac unit, just in case. So I rode down there on my motorbike, and they put me on the treadmill, and I ran for quarter of an hour and felt fine. And I sat down, and had the electrodes still on me, and it happened there and then. A couple of minutes later and I'd have been on my motorbike and probably ploughed into someone, so I was quite lucky.
You have this image in your mind of the comedy theatrical heart attack, and it wasn't like that, I've had much worse pain for much more trivial things. It was about two weeks between the pain in my arm and my heart attack, and it became apparently I'd been walking around with two out of three coronary arteries blocked and could've gone at any moment. So pork scratchings - don't eat them! And lard.
So after all that, does it feel good to see a physical release again?
It does, the songs have been around for a little while. Cutty Sark is about a friend of mine, he smoked an awful lot of dope, and he was obsessed with this girl but never did anything about it, for years and years. Then she moved away. So I wrote the song, thinking well, he hadn't done anything, so it's a song about unrequited love, but the main character thinks it could be requited, by taking the Cutty Sark for a joyride. And who wouldn't be impressed!
The last song, 'Jacquie I Won't Mind', is a construct of people I haven't met, I never knew their names, I only knew the name of the person who told me the story, and his brother was in love with his wife's sister, which can never end well really. The guy, he died of a stroke before anyone found out about it. Basically the song is a telephone conversation between this guy and his wife's sister.
But it feels good to be doing it, it puts a line under those songs, I've got some more so maybe I'll do another release later in the year.
Should we be expecting an album?
I love EPs. Not because I think they're value for money, because I don't, it's because I have a short attention span. I find it very hard to listen to more than four tracks of anything, unless something is really very very good. The other thing is, I don't own many records, because I tend to give them away, you lend it to someone and say, 'hey, you got to listen to that!' and they never give them back. But I never sold or junked EPs. I don't know why, I guess because years ago they tended to be 10" vinyl, and I love that format, because it's not one thing or the other.
Maybe the next one should be one of those mini CDs! I just lose them, though. You get given them free, and the other thing is you go to put another cd in and you just don't see it there. It's all transitional technology though, there won't be any CDs in the future. Vinyl's good though, it'd be nice to do some vinyl. Or flexi disc! You used to get flexi disc machines, like the photo booth equivalent, people should buy those and start using them. I think my parents have still got one of me and my sister singing 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' at the age of five.
You should put that in your discography as your first release!
Yeah, limited edition! Limited edition of one!
I still have the tape of the first Hefner release, The Devotion Chamber…
I had two of those! I remember when I had a bad week dispatch riding, I put it on eBay, and I thought, let's just see, and it went for about £50! It's a nice thing to have though. I remember laughing before I joined the band, because they were meant to be numbered copies, and they were all just the same number. But again, that was just a little release that didn't cost anything to put out.
Hefner were always renowned for their album artwork, and you're sticking with the tradition of interesting artwork on the EP?
The artwork was done by a guy called Ben Shaw. I was a bit stuck, Darren did the last album, and I was going to ask him to do it again, but I emailed Ben as well, I've never met him, but about half an hour later he sent back a remarkably accurate caricature of me putting on lipstick and wearing a nightie. And I thought, yeah, that'll be so...
Aww, you've ruined it for me now! At least I'm not showing my pants.
Jack Hayter's new EP 'Sucky Tart' is out now via Audio Antihero.