Luke Haines talks new solo LP, Auteurs reissues, the rock mythology of NYC and more in BV interview
by Bill Pearis
Luke Haines has a long and impressive musical resume, having been in a number of notable bands over the last 30 years (C86 indiepop band The Servants in the ’80s, the Kinks-y group The Auteurs in the ’90s, and frostbit synthpop trio Black Box Recorder), and a few high concept one-offs (Baader Meinhof, The North Sea Scrolls). Over the last decade, Haines has been especially prolific, with a string of solo albums, including his “Psychedelic Trilogy” that began with 2011’s 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, continued with last year’s Rock and Roll Animals and will conclude with new album New York in the ’70s that will be released May 19 via Cherry Red. (Stream a couple tracks below.) He’s also released two highly entertaining memoirs, the first of which, Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall, is especially recommended. If there’s a thread running through his many projects, it’s Haines’ understated acerbic (often pitch black) wit — that, and they’re all pretty much worth checking out.
Haines is best known in America for his work with The Auteurs, whose albums spawned a few college radio / 120 Minutes hits (including “Show Girl,” and “Lenny Valentino”) which the band toured here for a few times. Along with his new album, The Auteurs’ underrated catalog is getting the expanded reissue treatment. 1993’s terrific debut, New Wave was released earlier this year, and the three remaining albums — 1994’s overdriven Now I’m a Cowboy, 1996’s Steve Albini-produced After Murder Park, and 1999’s glammy How I Learned to Love The Bootboys — will be out in June. A reissue of 1996’s Baader Meinhof, essentially a solo concept album about the German terrorist organization The Red Army Faction, is out now too. And Captured Tracks reissued The Servants albums last year.
Haines, who’s also working on a few art projects (one being an opera about Mark E. Smith of The Fall!), took time out of his very busy schedule to talk about the new solo album, the Auteurs reissues, Britpop, the mythology of NYC and more. Read it, and check out a few tracks from New York in the ’70s, as well as some Auteurs material, below…
BrooklynVegan: So the BBC is currently making a big deal about 20 Years of Britpop.
Luke Haines: (Chuckles) Yeah.
BV: The Auteurs were on the periphery of all that, but you don’t seem like the kind of person who indulges in nostalgia.
LH: Not at all. We were never really apart of that. The first Auteurs album [New Wave] came out in 1993, which was the same time as the Suede album. We toured with them and the UK music press, as they were in the ’90s, decided they were going to create a scene, and went on about “Englishness” blah blah blah. Neither I or Suede were into this at all. In a way, we kind of luckily escaped the Britpop thing. I was asked to be on several of those Britpop documentaries when they were celebrating it the other week. I only did one, and that was to put my point across as being someone who is not interested in it, and turned down the other ones because I thought it was a bit off a poor show, frankly. The weird thing about getting lumped in with all that Britpop thing, is that the first Auteurs album uses a lot of traditional rock n’ roll language. Some of it’s even quite American in its references. The song “Valet Parking,” that’s a very American thing. We hardly have valet parking in this country. It was kind of taking classic references than trying to be overtly English. But there was a Kinks-y sound to it, so the press ran with it.
LH: I remember when the record came out, some of the reviews from people who knew the Go-Betweens noted that as well but, hand on heart, it wasn’t intended. But yeah, when it was pointed out, I did realize it was a similar theme but the music was sufficiently different. In my younger days I was quite a Go-Betweens fan, so in the early days some of the Auteurs’ songs did come dangerously close to the good shit by Robert Forster. (Laughs.) You gotta be careful of that.
BV: There are certainly worse bands to steal from. They were certainly one of the few bands who had a great second act. I thought their 00’s records were as good, maybe better, as their ’80s ones.
LH: Well…I quite liked The Friends of Rachel Worth, especially Forster’s songs, and live they still had the thing. But I always associated (drummer) Lindy Morrison with being in the Go-Betweens as well. I’m not really a fan of bands reforming. Because when you get in that business, is there really anything artistic to say? You cited The Go-Betweens and their newer albums were good but I’m not sure they were better than they were in the ’80s. They were certainly bigger than they were in the ’80s. What was good about it was they finally got noticed by a slightly wider audience. They deserved that, and both Robert and Grant (McClennan who died in 2006) both made a little money towards the end.
BV: I say that only in that I think you are still making cool records 25 years into your career. What’s the secret to aging interestingly?
LH: I have a lot less inhibitions than I used to. The Auteurs were a terribly serious, earnest band. When “Lenny Valentino” came out, I refused to do Top of the Pops because I thought it was beneath me. Once you get into your 40s, in rock n’ roll, you’re either a victim and washed up, or you’ve relaxed a bit and learned something. I’m really taking advantage of my current situation. I’ve got a good independent label [Cherry Red] who support me, and I’ve got a small but loyal audience who are still interested in my new stuff. My thinking is, “God, I’m 46 years old now.” I’ve kinda got the bug of songwriting again. I think I’ve got another 10, 15 albums I could do before I’m 51 or 52. When you do too much touring, and get uptight and too involved in the music biz. These days I’m not that involved in that stuff. I make all my records from home and songs kind of pour out of me and have done for the last three or four years. I’m taking advantage of it, really.
BV: You’ve been extremely prolific — two memoirs, the North Sea Scrolls project. What exactly is your relationship with Cherry Red? You say “here’s another record” and they put it out?
LH: Pretty much, yeah. It’s as simple as that. After the wrestling album I did, they wanted to get involved and just came to me and said “let us put out your records. We’ve got better distribution” and it’s worked out really well. There’s no interference from them at all. “This is great, and come to us next time.” It’s a cottage industry but it feels like a good thing at the moment.
Luke Haines – Lou Reed Lou Reed (from ‘New York in the ’70s’)
BV: Speaking of, the new album is New York in the ’70s which is the final installment in your Psychedelic Trilogy. Did you really plan it that way, as three albums?
LH: I did, and I knew I wanted the final one to be more electronic. The first one was an homage to British wrestlers, and the second one [Rock n’ Roll Animals] was “the battle of righteousness.” Then with this one, I had to establish that the righteousness had been restored — and what’s more righteous than rock n’ roll? Nothing more. It’s kind of a eulogy, a church service for the New York scene that I love. I could have made this album when I was 18. It would’ve been bad, but it’s almost like my 18-year-old self talking. I’m not joking on any of this, I’m playing it straight. I see it as a love letter to all those bands and an imagined New York that, at the time, I’d never been to. When I was a teenager in Portsmith — when Morrissey describes a “humdrum town” or a “seaside town” that was one of those places, really depressing — I used to walk around at night, I kept hoping I’d find somewhere like Max’s Kansas City. But of course they don’t have that in Portsmith. It’s just sailors fighting. So the record was always going to be righteousness.
BV: So when you finally made it to New York with The Auteurs, where did you first play?
LH: We played CBGBs.
BV: So walking into this mythic rock n’ roll place, what did you think?
LH: “This is a fucking dump!” (Laughs) ‘Cause it was. My first memory of New York was, you’re driving in from the airport and you see signs for the Rockaways. Even as a huge Ramones fan, when I first came to the city at age 25, I never realized that Rockaway Beach was a real place. And you see signs for Queens, it’s all the stuff that only previously existed to me in these amazing records. New York is a great place for mythologizing, maybe the ultimate city for mythology, even more than London. When you come here you’re immediately in a movie. This was the early ’90s before things got cleaned up. There were still loads of crazy people. It was exactly like I wanted it to be.
BV: So there are storytelling elements to all three of these albums. Has the idea of a musical ever entered your mind, or been proposed to you?
LH: Weirdly, a few years ago there was a German theatre company who wanted to do Baader Meinhof as some sort of art piece theatre. I was like “yeah, whatever, maybe” but then never heard back. I’m not sure Germany would be the best place to do Baader Meinhof: The Musical. (Laughs.) They’re still a little sensitive. It would be like doing something about the IRA here. But, yeah, it’s come up but they’re all kind of from the subconscious, really, and that’s why I refer to them as being psychedelic. None of it’s that literal, it’s just me going off on things. There’s a song about Burroughs on the new album, “Bill’s Bunker,” and he said that amazing thing, “One day words will be replaced by the subconscious” and that’s what I’m trying to get at with these. It’s not quite “automatic writing” but it’s getting near that. I find I can write a song very quickly now. Some of the songs were written in like 20 minutes. That’s not a boast, it’s just the way I’m writing now and then just tidy them up a bit later on.
BV: You’ve written two memoirs. Is there a novel in your future?
LH: Yeah, probably. It’s just finding the time. I figure I have my 50s for that. Hopefully then I’ll have enough money to sit around for a few months and write one. But I’m not there yet. The publishing industry is kind of strange at the moment. I’ve certainly had ideas for novels. I’ve also had some art ideas and have been working with artists on those as well. I’m busy.
BV: What do you do when you’re not making music?
LH: I’ve actually got a thing in the Berlin Festival in July with a guy called Scott King. It’s a “micro-opera” thing with visuals. It’s about Mark E. Smith of The Fall going on a caravan holiday. Do you have caravans in the States, what old people go off in when they retire?
BV: We call them RVs here. Winnebagos.
LH: Right. RVs. So anyway the opera is about that. It’s a short thing, with actors and everything. It’s very “art.” The opera’s called Adventures in Dementia.
BV: That sounds amazing. You mentioned the Baader Meinhof record, you’re performing that and the new album in full in London soon.
LH: I’d only ever performed Baader Meinhof twice — once in London and once at a John Cale gig in Paris — and it’s being reissued so it seemed like a good chance to play it one more time with a band, if just one more time. It also fits in, sonically, with New York in the ’70s. They’re both very electronic. Usually what I do is just play a mixture of old and new songs. So here there’s a bit more order to things.
BV: With the Auteurs reissues coming out, no interest in the “I’m touring an old album” thing that’s popular these days?
LH: Not really, no. Those albums, those albums were made with a band and by the time we’d gotten to After Murder Park were were quite good and I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice. We’d been touring for so long, like two years, you can’t really beat that. And you can’t replicate it by going in and having rehearsals with a bunch of new people. Baader Meinhof was really a studio thing anyway. There was never a live thing to live up to, where The Auteurs were a pretty good live band. Baader Meinhof deserves a bit more recognition.
BV: How did the reissues come about?
LH: Just this guy had set up this label, 3 Loop Music, where they’re putting out stuff that the major labels have could put out but won’t bother, so they let them put it out. Otherwise this stuff would’ve just languished in the EMI vaults, they’re not interested in something that will sell a few thousand copies. It’s just a way of rescuing it from the dumper. There’s bonus discs that include quite a lot of live stuff and demos that have never been issued before.
BV: Do you have a favorite Auteurs album? They’re all pretty different.
LH: Well I listened to them all again when we were working on the reissues. In all honesty, I think they all stand up pretty well. While not a “favorite” I was really surprised how much I like the final one, How I Learned to Love the Bootboys. It was made under strange circumstances — stop and start, and by that point I was heavily into Black Box Recorder — so in some ways it didn’t receive my full attention. But then listening now I really thought “that’s a good album!” Over the years, Now I’m a Cowboy was my least favorite but now I think it really works as a rock record. It’s the most straight-ahead The Auteurs got, so I like it for that.
BV: You said you had another six records in you. What’s next?
LH: As I said, I’ve got a few art projects so the music from those might end up being a compilation of those. From then on, I’ve been stockpiling songs but it’s too early to say what direction that will take. I’ve got the “psychedelic” cycle out, so maybe a straight-ahead Luke Haines record. Maybe I’ll do my Acoustic Singer-Songwriter album.
BV: Or your album of covering standards.
LH: That will not happen.
BV: Any chance to see you play America again?
LH: Well there’s talk of American labels putting the new one out, and if that happens it could happen. I’d like it to.
The Auteurs – Show Girl
The Auteurs – Lenny Valentino
The Auteurs – Chinese Bakery
The Auteurs – Light Aircraft On Fire
The Auteurs – Rubettes