October 5th saw the release of The Wonder Stuff’s Miles Hunt solo album ‘The Custodian’ via Good Deeds Music, a double CD of thirty acoustic songs, written over the last four decades. Mark Millar recently caught up with Miles Hunt to discuss the new solo album and what's next for The Wonder Stuff.
On October 5th you released your solo album The Custodian, a double CD of thirty acoustic songs, written over the last four decades. Why did you decide to put it out?
M. Hunt: Well, I had bought the recent three Richard Thompson Acoustic Classics albums where he has picked his songs from the last thirty or forty years and re-recorded those in a simple acoustic fashion, and I thought it was a good idea - it started to get my cogs turning a bit. And then I recalled a conversation I had some years ago with Tom Robinson and Tom had said to me "Who do you now think owns your songs?" and I said, "Well legally the publishing company's do, but I suppose I do." And he said "No I don't think you should think that anymore. At this point in time, the songs you have written have played a partial soundtrack in people's lives, so I think they are the real owners of the songs now and your position is that of the custodian. It’s your job to make sure the songs are treated with respect whenever they are played so bear in mind those songs now belong to the audience.” So that’s where the title came from.
What was your process in choosing what songs to include on the record?
M. Hunt: So I threw the idea out to social media a few months ago and said: "If I was to do an acoustic album of re-recording's of old songs and more recent stuff what songs should I include?" It was nice the reaction I got from the people I interact with on social media, and I found we were all pretty much on the same page regarding the songs to record. I think I had listed around forty tracks and I think within that forty I had got everything that people had suggested to me on social media. So that was all the thinking behind it, and I knew I was going to tour on October, November and December this year, and I thought "Okay let's get this record done and have it ready for the tour.” - And that's what I've done.
Was it an enjoyable experience recording The Custodian? I’m sure you hadn’t played some of the songs in years.
M. Hunt: Yeah, there was a few like that, and it was enjoyable. I was supposed to be writing new songs this year for the next Wonder Stuff album. I wrote one new song for The Custodian which is the closing track and will eventually be on the next Wonder Stuff album – we have done a rockier demo of it. I had written five brand new songs for the upcoming Wonder Stuff album, but things started to dry up a little bit, so I decided to concentrate on the acoustic album. And then consequently going back and looking at how we arranged all those old songs helped me approach the next bunch of songs that I’ve been writing. At this point in time I've got ten songs written and demoed for the upcoming Wonder Stuff album - So it was enjoyable and helpful as well.
How often do you write songs?
M. Hunt: I scribble down lyric ideas, and I record little bits of guitar riffs and stuff as they come along, every week I'm thinking of something. I usually only go into intensive periods of writing when I've talked to my managers and my label and say "Okay we will get an album out on this particular date." And then I will work towards a finishing date.
What is your proudest achievement after all these years?
M. Hunt: My proudest achievement is that I've been able to keep it going and I haven't had to go and get a job to pay my bills - and I enjoy it. I don't think its difficult but this week I've been starting to think that touring is quite tiring because I've just done a lot of driving around the country but I'm lucky I've found something that I'm as interested in now as I was when I was a kid. I'm curious to know where the next songs come from and I'm excited to know where my next great idea is coming from and who I can work with next and how can we expand ideas? I really like that process.
What are you most proud of regarding what you have achieved with The Wonder Stuff?
M. Hunt: I guess just being able to keep it going. Two years ago we made an album that marked our thirtieth anniversary called 30 Goes Around the Sun - it was gratifying working on it. Because there have been line up changes over the years there is a thing I am aware of where I want to keep the thread of a sound going so it sounds like it should be called The Wonder Stuff as much as Hup was by The Wonder Stuff. So I like to keep a lineage going but I'm also thinking where it can go next. I love gigging with The Wonder Stuff, it is great looking into the eyes of your audience and hearing their appreciation for these tunes that they have liked for so long and also their appetite for wanting to hear more – it is really gratifying.
How does it feel being an artist in the current music climate?
M. Hunt: I pay zero attention to the current musical climate (laughs) I’m not interested. I buy the odd record here and there, this year I’ve really enjoyed the new Turin Brakes album – it was excellent. The recent Nada Surf albums have been great, and I love the new Belly album, but these are all bands that I’ve been listening to for years. With newer artists, I really don't like the modern production they use. I don't like all the tricks that can be done with computers, so I don't know if that drum was any good or not - because the computer is doing all the work. I don't know if a singer has got any personality because they tune and quantize every last bit of humanity out of peoples performances and then when they finish ruining all of that they just compress them, there are no dynamics in modern records, so there is very little out there to entertain me.
As well as writing songs you have written three acclaimed books called The Wonder Stuff Diaries. Did you get the same enjoyment from doing that as you would from writing music?
M. Hunt: I did yeah, I intended to write a book and see if I had got the discipline to sit down every day over an intense period of time and actually finish a project that wasn't musical. I was kicked out of school when I was fifteen, so I've got no qualifications academically, and I don't live to routines, so I did appreciate that to sit down and write a book is going to take effort and experience that I have no knowledge of. What I want to do is get into writing fiction, so I thought "Let's see if I have got the discipline and write about something that I know about." So I started transcribing my diaries and then just looking back over the history of the band, and I really enjoyed it and was pleased to discover that I am capable of making a cup of tea at half eight in the morning and start writing at 9 AM and make myself finish at six and take the weekends off. I did that for three months with the first book and similarly for the next two - I was quite pleased with myself. I have started my first novel but the routine that I learned from doing The Wonder Stuff Diaries I haven't employed to the novel because I've got sidetracked by making more music. I'm proud of the books I've written and incredibly pleased with the reaction that people have been given it. Nobody told me they were rubbish, people have said lovely things about them – I'm delighted I did them.
What are your non-musical influences?
M. Hunt: I was only thinking this the other day actually. I seem to have lost my interest in movies I used to love movies, and I used to watch the same films over and over again. I would watch pretty much everything by Woody Allen, and after Goodfellas, I liked anything with Gangsters. I love the old black and white British 1960's stuff. But I recently realised that I don’t watch as many movies as I used to and I certainly don't ‘repeat watch' movies. I think its something to do with the fact that I don't let movies entertain me anymore, I sit there and criticize them all the way through (laughs) It annoys me if the music is too loud and I'm constantly reaching for the remote when there's a section of dialogue if the music is too loud. Again I suppose its just modern production techniques – I don't like them.
I haven't been reading much this year because I've been trying to stay away from being influenced by anybody else's writing style while I've been working on my novel - I've just been working on a lot of music. There were thirty tracks for The Custodian, and I've made ten tracks for the next Wonder Stuff album, and now there are two months of touring, and then I'll get home, and I'll write another ten songs for The Wonder Stuff and beyond that I'm either walking on the hill or out in the lanes with my dog.
When can we expect to hear the new Wonder Stuff album?
M. Hunt: I would say it will be ready for October 2019. We start gigging in May next year, we have got a couple of festivals lined up, and hopefully, we will have the album half recorded by then too.
Do you have a favourite record that you always return to?
M. Hunt: My brother recently opened a second-hand record shop, and I bought myself a nice new record deck. So I bought the Bob Marley and the Wailers albums Exodus and Kaya, I also purchased the two Jellyfish albums from the late eighties, early nineties. This is the Sea by The Waterboys is a perennial favourite, and pretty much everything by Bob Dylan up to Infidels and Live at the Budokan which I think was my first Bob Dylan album I bought when I was thirteen. They are arguably not the best versions of the songs but they are the versions of the songs that I heard first, and for years I've been playing a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and 1950’s be-bop jazz.
‘The Custodian’ tracklist:
01. Speakeasy 02. It’s Not True… 03. Unbearable 04. Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More 05. Can’t Shape Up 06. Them, Big Oak Trees 07. The Size Of A Cow 08. Caught In My Shadow 09. Maybe 10. On The Ropes 11. Sing The Absurd 12. I Think I Must’ve Had Something Really Useful To Say 13. Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print 14. Fixer 15. Fits & Starts
01. Everything Is Not Okay 02. Flapping On The Pier 03. Escape From Rubbish Island 04. Was I Meant To Be Sorry? 05. Tricks Of The Trade 06. We Hold Each Other Up 07. Falsified 08. Were You There? 09. Steady As You Go 10. Right Side Of The Turf 11. You Can’t Go Back (To Once Upon A Time) 12. Don’t You Ever 13. Good Deeds & Highs 14. The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends 15. Custodian
9th – Stowmarket, John Peel Centre
10th Harpenden, Public Halls
17th – Barnstaple, Pilton Village Hall
18th – Shiiine On Weekender, Minehead
21st – Leeds Brundenell
22nd – Bury, The Met
23rd – Biddulph, Town Hall
24th – Bristol, Thunderbolt
27th – Carlisle, Old Fire Station
29th – Dumfries, CatStrand
30th – Irvine, Harbour Art Centre
1st – Newcastle, Cluny 2