If you grew up during the UK rock scene in the ’90s, you will have crossed paths with The Wildhearts at some point. Over two decades later and with a back catalogue second to none, the band, complete with the battle scars to prove it, is still going strong. Having reformed the “classic” Wildhearts line-up in 2017 for the BritRock Must Be Destroyed tour, the band headed out on the road in 2019 for two raucous headline tours.
As the COVID-19 pandemic makes live shows a distant memory, The Wildhearts recently issued their live album, Thirty Year Itch, recorded over the course of those two headline tours. Featuring a mouthwatering setlist for any Wildhearts fan, we had a chat with frontman Ginger Wildheart about the shows, what The Wildhearts means to fans, and what makes this classic line-up of the band so special.
So, how’s life treating you at the moment?
Ginger Wildheart: “Great. We’ve got the live album out which is going down well. We’ve finished writing the new album which we’ll be starting soon. We’ve just finished an album by Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners which is coming out in March or May… something with an M in it.”
How would you sum up the last year for you?
“Well, what’s kept us alive is the record label and selling the live album. That helped a lot. It’s not been as hard for me as it has been for some people. I’m always reminded of that, we’re very fortunate.”
I suppose that, with the number of projects you have going on, you can bury yourself in writing?
“Absolutely, and there’s the record label as well that releases nothing but my stuff. I’m writing and recording stuff all the time so even if there isn’t a live circuit in 2021, we’ll still be able to keep our heads above water so we’re constantly being reminded to be grateful at all times.”
The live album was recorded on two tours in 2019. What do you remember about those tours, and were there any standout moments?
“The standout moments are the ones I don’t really want to talk about (laughs). It was great because, since we got back together, we did the BritRock tour and realized that this could work. Then we did a live album and realized it was working. I miss everything about it. I would have sworn that I didn’t actually enjoy playing live but, this live album and stuff, it has really made me miss playing live. I think it does for the listeners as well. It makes them miss the live thing but gives them a nice snapshot of it. The band was really on form. As for highlights, there were more things go wrong than there have things been incredible. It was just a solid stream of excellence which, for a band like The Wildhearts, is as much as you can hope for (laughs).”
Like you said that, while the fans can’t go to shows, the live album gives them a snapshot of that. Is a live album something you’ve had a lot of requests for from fans over the years?
“No, the same as there hasn’t been a lot of requests for a book. I love live albums and I like to read so we thought that even if people didn’t want the live album, we’d do it anyway. We put it out there to the band and the management but we weren’t sure that the timing was right but we decided to do it anyway. Of course, nobody knew that this was going to be the result of our government not being able to handle a crisis and it’s the most valuable thing of anything because it keeps our name and profile high otherwise we’d just hide in the darkness like so many other bands. It’s an example of The Wildhearts being, not only the unluckiest band but also the luckiest band at the same time.”
I guess that could sum up your career in one sentence?
“Absolutely. We were so bloody-minded back in the day, we wouldn’t meet halfway on anything. We wouldn’t compromise on what we needed and that stemmed our commercial appeal but got us a fanbase who are still there to this day. There are kids into us now, our supporters back then grew up with us. We’ve been a soundtrack for so many people, that’s how I feel as a band. It’s easy to be in a band if you’re also a fan because you know what to do and what not to do.”
You’ve already talked about the Brit Rock Tour. When the four of you started playing back together again, did it feel any different from the first time around?
“We went to rehearsal first and agreed to just play together first before we’d agree to the tour. We had a little bit of a play and it worked great. My first thought was that this was the sound we used to make before I started to throw too many other elements in and band members came and went. Three guitars working like one pneumatic drill. It was like a fuckin’ tsunami. It’s impossible to describe but it’s not like a sound that anyone else produces. Those two guitars and the bass, that guitar sound, and those riffs, it sounded so authentic. As soon as we heard that, we agreed that this was the lineup people want.”
When the four of you get together and play on stage, how would you describe the feeling?
“I think we get on stage and the lights go down and you hear the audience, that kind of transposes the setting for everyone. Before that it’s a case of getting through the day then it’s time to do what we’re there for. This is me, this is my job. We haven’t always had the feeling going on stage but we’ve always had it when we come off stage and that’s the truth.”
You’ve said you’re a big fan of live albums. Are there any live albums you use as a benchmark for how a live album should sound?
“The benchmarks for me are live albums that have completely changed a band’s fortune. Like, Cheap Trick or No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith where it is just a Best Of that band played live. You’ve not got a producer getting in the way telling you which amp to use because it’s your gear. Those albums changed the world for both Motörhead and Cheap Trick. because it was trading on the fact that they were good bands. Not just a good label or good singles, they’re great bands where they breathe best when they play live. It’s the same with The Wildhearts. We’ve done some albums that have challenged people who have seen us live. They still stay with us because they’re fans but with the live album they’re thinking, ‘thank fuck for that, I can just put it on and I don’t have to turn the stereo down like I do on Endless Nameless or turn the middle up like The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed.,’ it’s what we do, mixed really well.”
Having been the constant in the band from day one, did you have your own vision for what a Wildhearts live album had to sound like?
“Definitely. What we did with Renaissance Man was not to overdo the guitars, we had two guitar tracks and a bass track. It was full but there was room to breathe. That was the set-up we play live with. You’re more in the zone doing a live album even though if you decide you’re going to do it in say London, everything that could go wrong that show would go wrong. We just recorded each date and picked the best songs out of the recordings. To me, I didn’t want too much patter because I do talk too much on stage but I didn’t want that to be on the album as it would date it and people would get sick of my voice.”
We’re now here talking about the band 30 years later. How does it feel still talking about the band after so long having not only survived that long but are still selling out venues all over the world?
“It felt weird initially because we didn’t actually think we’d live this long let alone want to be in a band. It’s great. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that people want you to continue because you make them happy. There’s no better feeling for a band than that and when we go on stage, we’re reminded that we need to do the right thing by the crowd as they’re the boss and fuck the rest of it. It’s easy for us as we can just up there and enjoy the songs. We’re as big a fans of the noise they make as they are of the noise we make.”
It must be a great feeling knowing that you’re going to get on stage and those fans are going to be there?
“Absolutely. I was brought up on bands like Motörhead and The Ramones. It didn’t matter who was supported because when they went on those fans were there. It was all the weirdos in whichever town they were playing that would normally lock themselves away. All the nutcases would turn up for The Ramones or Motörhead and that’s the slice of society that would come to our gigs. There’s a mohawk there, dreadlocks there, a guy who has just come from work, there is a little kid not old enough to be there. You’re looking out at this sea of people and realizing that’s what it was like at a Ramones gig. You’re the same as them and that’s the message, we’re just on this side of the photo pit but we’re all the same and we’re all in this together. I think that’s the thing that has stuck with us and why we’ve still got a job.”
Thirty years of great memories, bad blood, crazy stories but you still realize how special the four of you are. Do you have any regrets?
“Not regrets. You can’t have regrets. We’re still alive and we’re still doing it so there are no regrets because, arguably, we’re hard to kill no matter how we’ve tried to fuck things up. I have regretted when CJ fell out with me and was fired because we just spent so much time looking for another CJ and we just needed CJ. We’re both alive, we’re both there, loving things and as strong as shire horses. I don’t like to think how we were before but it certainly hasn’t hurt us. Being our age and having kids and responsibilities, we’re still doing this now and there is no room for regrets. Although I will say that Danny is still a mystery to me. I’m sure he’s in the Foreign Legion because we don’t hear from him for months?”
When you saw the reaction to the Brit Rock tour and then the album, how reassuring was that?
“On the tour, we were just thankful that, even though the fans were split between the bands, we would get a cheer by the end of the set. It was like that starting out thing where we supported everyone from Wolfsbane to AC/DC and they weren’t our audience. There might have been some of our audience there but we learned how to turn an audience around. Like the Peaches tour, we learned how to turn an audience around and lose an audience at the same time by being too aggressive. We learned a lot and the Brit Rock Tour was the perfect way for us to be kids again. It was like playing the Bull & Gate in London again. We didn’t expect anything, we were just happy to be doing it again.
By the end of it I said that before anyone dies, I was going to do a live album and recorded this lineup. We’ll fill the set with songs from throughout our career, not just songs from the current album. The tour was where we knew we had it. The reviews and the feedback were fantastic and where we realized that this is a lot of people’s Motörhead and a lot of people’s Ramones. These people are tattooed with our name so we agreed not to mention splitting up again.”
Being a huge Motörhead fan yourself but realizing that you’re your generation’s Motörhead, how does that make you feel?
“It’s everything in the world. It’s everything I could have possibly wanted. I was never a fan of big bands. That’s not because of the bands. I always liked music that spoke directly to me but not to that many people. There is the rent-a-crowd audience that jumps from band to band and I always thought they didn’t hear what I heard. They didn’t hear what I heard when I was listening to Jason & The Scorchers. Everyone who is still alive from those days of Jason & The Scorchers is still a fan. They’re one of those bands that you never fall out of everything. We got everything. We won the lottery! I’m very fortunate that I ended up in one of those bands that I would have loved as a kid!”
The Wildhearts will release 21st Century Love Songs, their brand new full-length studio album on September 3rd through Graphite Records.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
09/03 – Tramshed – Cardiff
09/04 – SWX – Bristol
09/05 – Phoenix – Exeter
09/06 – Cheese & Grain – Frome
09/08 – Academy 2 – Manchester
09/09 – Electric Ballroom – London
09/10 – Waterfront – Norwich
09/11 – Chalk – Brighton
09/12 – Madding Crowd – Bournemouth
09/15 – KKs Steel Mill – Wolverhampton
09/16 – Guildhall – Gloucester
09/17 – Boiler Shop – Newcastle
09/18 – Sylus – Leeds
09/20 – Mac Arts – Galashiels
09/21 – Tolbooth – Stirling
09/22 – The Lemon Tree – Aberdeen
09/24 – Foundry – Sheffield
09/25 – Engine Rooms – Southampton