Although ordinarily no slouch, it’s been a particularly busy time for Ginger of late. Readying the recording and release of not one, but two new solo albums, he’s also been compiling material for the just-released second instalment of his G-A-S-S project and preparing for a bout of activity with his re-activated Round Records imprint. There’s also been the small matter of life in his day job, as band leader of The Wildhearts. We sat down with Ginger to chat all of the above, plans for a new Wildhearts album, and the turmoil that spilt the band in the late 1990s. Going where the people go; EamonO’Neill
Hi Ginger, you’re in the process of relaunching Round Records; tell us about the history of the label.
Well, Round Records’ first release was 1996, and I think it was, ‘Sick of Drugs’ by the Wildhearts. When East West Records asked me what they could possibly do to stop me complaining, I said I wanted my own record label on the next single, and they did it. It got Warner Bros., East West distribution, so our first single went in the charts, and was a bit of a hit. And then we kind of kept it on the back burner. I was releasing my solo records, but they weren’t setting the world on fire or anything, but it was still going.
What happened to revive the imprint?
We released ‘The While Album’ [self-titled 2007 release] by The Wildhearts, and I think that was the thing that launched Round Records in people’s eyes. Again, this time, I tried working with other people, business experts and stuff, and they all want to do things so different from me, and I’m so dyed in the wool because I’ve been doing this so long, that I figured the only way that I could do things for myself, especially for the solo stuff, is with Round Records.
Is it because you can be fully hands on with it?
I can control quality. There’s a lot of Wildhearts releases on the market at the moment with people like Demon Records and Gut Records, and they’re poor quality; the packaging’s shit, and the fans are getting nothing for their money, and as a fan of music myself, I wanted to make things available that fans would cream their fuckin’ jeans over; unearthed songs, liner notes by the band themselves, stuff that fans then know, it’s official.
When you named the label Round Records initially, you said it was so-called; “Because they are”!
I’ve had so many people wanting to buy the name off me since then, because people are desperate to find a cool name for a record company. It’s like; “Round Records is the best name in the world”, and I’m like; “Yeah. You’re not having it, because I’ll never think of another good one”. There was a shop in Scotland called Round Records, and they were the first people to press charges on us and tell us to cease and desist, and we were like; “Off and get fucked”, and we stood our ground and they backed down, and the shop eventually closed down. And then, this was hilarious; there’s a Rounder Records, that deal with Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead’s label; they got into a ruck with us, with a very officious letter from an American lawyer saying; “You must stop everything you’re doing now, we are The Grateful Dead”, blah blah blah, and I’m like; “I’m English, mate, I don’t know who The Grateful Dead are, they mean nothing to me”!
When you launched the label back in 1996, you initially sought out demos from new bands; why didn’t anything materialise from that?
It was fucking heart breaking, mate. We must have got I don’t know how many hundreds of demos, but we got sacks, and sacks and sacks, and most of them sounded exactly like The Wildhearts, which is the last thing I’m looking for, or they sounded exactly like whatever current bands were going at the time. I’ve never been a fan of music that follows trends or genres, or tries to copy any other band; mix and match, great, but if anyone wants to sound like The Wildhearts, and then wants me to sign them, and release them on The Wildhearts’ label? It’s never going to work. I’ve got to endorse this music, and I couldn’t find enough bands that I genuinely loved, so I thought, I’m just going to keep this just to release my own stuff.
In a way you were ahead of your time, because in 2018, everyone seems to be self-releasing.
Well, we were one of the first people to try the Pledge route, and go for the fan-funding thing, and it was good, when they were dealing with independent bands, and bands were making a real effort. And then it turned into another corporate commodity, when bands and managers were running the campaigns, and there was no personal touch whatsoever. So, we decided with the G-A-S-S thing [in 2014], we’ll try and go out there and do a fan-funding enterprise, but more like an original business model, and we had a year’s subscription to a fan club where people got new music every month and artwork and notes and stuff, and it was really good. It made me realise; “Oh, we’ve got a community there”, and I really want to keep something alive.
So that’s the ethos that carried into the relaunch of Round Records?
Yes, and the Round Records community is a team base of people that I’ve known for a very long time, and they also know the community really well. We’ve got a market there that really wants us to succeed, so what we’re going to do is keep the standards up.
Speaking of packaging, ‘Sick of Drugs’ came in a fantastic pack where you could literally grow your own grass.
Yeah, it was ‘Sick of Drugs’; the abbreviation of which is S.O.D, so we thought we’d have a sod of grass, and you can grow your own grass out of this thing. It was a stupid idea that, if no one says no, it just gets bigger and dafter. And when you’re working for yourself, no one says no So we did that, and it was supposed to be released on April Fool’s day, but April Fool’s Day fell on a Friday or something, so the record company said; “No, we’re going to release it on a Monday”, and the joke there kind of fell flat. But yeah, we tried to keep things interesting. I’m a bit Monty Python fan, and I’m a big fan of details.
Going back to that period, and The Wildhearts opened for AC/DC, which most have been a dream tour to get on?
It started off as a dream tour, but we were young and stupid, really, and we were just taking every drug and drinking everything that we could. A few confessions came out during the tour that people had a serious drug habit, so that was a concern. So we swapped all the drugs for tequila, and that made everything much worse because then we started in-fighting with ourselves. And within a week and a half of being on the American tour which AC/DC asked us to do – it’s very rare for AC/DC to ask a band to do Europe and America with them – they loved us, and we were fighting with each other, and the next thing we knew, we were landing in Heathrow, going; “What the fuck are we doing here? We’ve got a gig to play tomorrow”, and the tour manager just said; “You’re off the tour. We’re sending you home. You’re all fucking crazy”.
That must have been a real comedown.
Well, we ran out of money as well, and Brian Johnson had said; “If they’d just stayed on the tour, I would paid for them to stay and do the gigs”. So the whole thing was just a classic example of when you give too much to people who are too fucked up to deal with it. When you see people like Frank Turner and Ed Sheeran handling their careers the way they have, you realise that some people are just too stupid to be famous, and I think that’s where The Wildhearts have always been most comfortable residing.
That was a time of great turmoil for the Wildhearts; you’d been through three guitar players in a very short space of time.
Well, I wouldn’t really call Mark Keds a guitar player, but he looked good. It was a time of absolute turmoil; everyone was just doing too much of everything, apart from sleeping. The one thing we never did was sleep much, or drink water.
That period culminated in the album ‘Endless Nameless’ , which really, is the perfect soundtrack to it.
Well, it culminated in ‘Endless Nameless’. I had a crack habit, Danny had a smack habit, I think Jeff was a stoner, and Rich was into ecstasy culture; four different drug addicts that weren’t even on the same drug. If we were all on the same drug we might have stood a chance.
Underneath the noise and static, there are still some gems on that album; ‘Urge’, for example.
Yeah, and all those sounds that we were making, they all came back with dubstep, and everybody loved the fact that music was like, pulling your feet from under you. We were just doing it really early, when people were still wanting bands to sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers or Foo Fighters. I wasn’t even listening to rock music at the time; I was only listening to industrial and fucked up indie. I just wanted to make something that sounded like the inside of my head, and I wanted to make a statement that hopefully people would talk about long after. People still talk about ‘Endless Nameless’, whether they love it, whether they hate it, whether they finally get around to understanding it; it’s still a talking point amongst The Wildhearts’ community, and I fucking love that.
Is it your ‘St. Anger’?
No, I was thinking more ‘Smile’ by The Beach Boys.
The group splintered soon after; did you need to get away from it all and do other things?
Yeah, I was at a bad point. I was such a fuck up. I just liked to travel, I liked to get fucked up, and I liked to make music. I didn’t care where I went to make it; I didn’t really have a fixed abode.
The Wildhearts eventually regrouped for ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed’ in 2003, and the band’s classic sound was reinstated.
Yeah, it was good, and then we got involved with a manager who didn’t really have a long term plan. It’s great to convince the band that you’ve got their best interests at heart when you’re working a lot, but you’ve got to have a long term plan so all the pinballs actually hit the target. Eventually it ground down; we ran out of money, ran out of things too, and everyone ended up back on drugs. It’s always a good managerial plan, to keep the band off drugs.
It did reunite CJ with the Wildhearts however; do you think that was needed?
He’s such a crucial part of the band, and the fact that we got rid of CJ in the first place, just shows how much turmoil there was within, and around the band. The management, the record company; they should have said; “No, what you’re going to do, is you’re all going to take a holiday, and then you’re going to come back, and you’re going to shake hands”, but everyone decided that it would best to fire CJ and go look for a replacement. Well there ain’t no replacement for CJ, you know? There’s not many people that can play the guitar as well as he can, let alone sing at the same time. So that’s an illustration of how things were within the band; the whole structure of the thing that allowed me to sack CJ and think that that was a good idea.
Bringing things right up to date, and you’re preparing to release solo album ‘Elemental Bleeding’ shortly.
Actually, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Elemental Bleeding’ is an album that I’ve got written, and I’m just looking the right producer. The album that’s coming out is called ‘The Pessimist’s Companion’, which is a follow-up to ‘Ghost In The Tanglewood’ , my last solo album. It’s in the same vein, it’s got a lot of the same musicians as ‘Ghost In The Tanglewood’, and anyone who liked that album will love this one. That’s going to be available to the fans in about November, and then on general release in about February to coincide with the tour that we’re going to be doing.
Will you be working with long-time collaborator Jase Edwards on that one?
No, we’re going to clear the decks. I love all the people that I work with, but sometimes it’s nice to have a complete fresh start. I think Jase would agree with that, so he’s going to concentrate on Wolfsbane, and I’m going to put together, probably an all-female band to go out with. We’re playing really old theatres, kind of like I did on the ‘Songs And Words’ tour, and these old theatres, they pre-date rock and roll by a century at least.
Are there any Wildhearts shows coming up?
Oh god yeah. Well, the album’s going to be coming out whenever we can finish it and my voice comes back, and then we’ll be playing everywhere. We’ll be pretty ubiquitous.
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Ginger's G*A*S*S Mark II is out now, via Round Records. The Wildhearts play their classic 'Earth vs The Wildhearts' album in full at a trio of shows in December. Dates below.
The Wildhearts 'Earth vs The Wildhearts' 25th Anniversary 2018 Dates:
Sun 2 Dec - Koko, London
Mon 3 Dec - The Mill, Birmingham
Tues 4 Dec - SWG3, Glasgow