Auteurs' Luke Haines: "Getting popular after death is no longer cost effective"

England’s most underrated living pop star talks about rap music, death and Charles Saatchi’s combustible shed.
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England’s most underrated living pop star talks about rap music, death and Charles Saatchi’s combustible shed.

A lot of artists have lived and died under-appreciated by the epochs in which they existed. Vincent Van Gogh reacted to a distinct lack of commercial success by self harming (specifically his ear). Nick Drake, fed up with being ignored, popped one too many valium. Luke Haines, the most underrated songwriter of his generation, has chosen another form of sadomasochism – playing 50 virtually unknown songs at the Hoxton Pony to an audience of Shoreditch tossers.

On the eve of his London show where he will, for the first and only time, perform ‘Outsider Music’ – last year’s collection of 50 separate recordings all released on the same day – I decided it would be interesting to interview him in an insulting, occasionally patronising style. I thought I’d come out of it looking witty and cool. Fail (as they say in America). Haines was, as expected, on top acerbic form.

Remaining firmly outside of the mainstream since the mid-90s using deliberate constructs of self-sabotage he has written odes to Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, had a fight with Matt Johnson out of The The, sympathised with Gary Glitter’s glam rock band, and ‘deliberately’ broken both his legs on a European tour. Classic, unflinching career suicide? Not quite. In truth he’s well ahead of the game, keenly aware – as he sings on Future Generation a self-eulogising hymn from the final Auteurs album – that his music, like Franz Schubert’s before him, is destined to be appreciated in the decades and centuries to come.

If Aliens landed tomorrow and demanded a condensed yet accurate account of English guitar pop in the 1990s you could, I suppose, give them a Blur LP or perhaps an early Pulp B-side. But you’d essentially be mugging them off. You’d do better to hand them all four Auteurs records, a bottle of gin and warn them that the cynicism and bitterness in the lyrics, whilst deeply entertaining, needn’t always be taken at face value.

ST: Luke, you've always been obsessed with the 70s. Britain today is awash with beards, riots and prostitutes being murdered. Are we back in the 70s?

LH: Awash with beards, good grief, you sure? I only write about the 'seventies because it's almost impossible to process the present into a song. If I’m writing about things that happened 30 or more years ago at least I've had time to assimilate. I maintain that most decades are – apart from miner steerage – the same, although I’ll stick my neck out and say that I think Britain is on the cusp of a neo late Edwardian phase.

ST: Luke, if you died, who would you like to write your obituary?

LH: “If you died”? I think you mean when you die. As long as my obituary doesn't go online I don't care. It beggars belief that national newspapers leave comments sections after obits. When John Inman died his 'online' obituary just descended into this awful debate about whether he was the 'right sort of gay' or not. The fucker was hardly in the ground. Have a bit of respect for the dead.

ST: Luke, if you died, you'd be more popular than you currently are. Have you ever thought about that?

LH: Once again, when you die. Getting popular after death is no longer cost effective. My family wouldn't benefit from my new found beyond-the-grave fame at all. All I can say to any cult rockers who are planning on shuffling off early doors is - don't do it. Stay the fuck put. In a couple of years time back catalogues will be worth nothing as hard copy becomes digital file ephemera and record companies sell off their entire catalogue for jack shit to Spotify or whoever the latest online tuppence ha'penny merchants are. Don't die fuckers.

I spent a week in New York, avoiding hip hoppers and just getting drunk with people I knew. It was great.

ST: Pop music, is it all worth it?

LH: In my case yes. For others, no.

ST: You're playing the Hoxton Pony on the 19th January. Why?

LH: Last year I recorded 'Outsider Music Volumes 1 – 50.' 50 separate performances on 50 individual hand made CD's. At £75 per CD - it was exclusive and elitist. Now I’m bringing it to the masses. This will be Volume 51, the one live performance of 'Outsider Music.'

ST: The longer your career drags on, the weirder your lyrics get. Is this a conscious decision or are you simply at the same point in your career as Morrissey was when he wrote songs like Pregnant For The Last Time?

LH: I'm glad my career has reached the 'dragging on' point, where everybody suffers for my art. Unlike you, I'm not familiar with Morrissey's solo career.

ST: Nick Clegg, Michael Caine, Tracey Emin, Toby Young.....what the fuck is wrong with these people?

LH: The depressing thing is that, like Blair before him, people were actually fooled (albeit) for about a week by that Clegg bloke. Then surprised (like Blair before him) that he was a total cunt. Emin's all right by me, much better than the rest of that mob. I offered to buy her bed off her when it was up for the Turner prize but she wasn't selling. Big mistake on her part, it would have been a lot safer in my house than Charles Saatchi's fucking combustible shed.

ST: Luke, I've been a huge fan ever since hearing Government Bookstore on the radio when I was about 14. What's it about?

LH: It's about a wake. It's not really one of my best, it was from a time early on when I should have had my 'sailing a bit too close to the good ship Robert Forster filter' switched on.

Luke on How I Learned To Love The Bootboys (the Auteurs’ final record and semi-autobiographical homage to the 1970s)…

ST: How I Learned To Love The Bootboys, while not technically the best Auteurs album, is definitely the most enduringly intriguing. Why do I find it so fascinating? Is it just that it had the best cover sleeve?

LH: Well, it probably is 'technically the best Auteurs album' given that it was hugely expensive to record in London's top of the range studios. I don't know why you find it so fascinating. Maybe it's the sleeve. Gordon Bennett.

ST: The Rubettes is the worst track on How I Learned To Love The Bootboys. Why is it the opener?

LH: It's an orthodox glam stomper. That's where you're going wrong – you have to adopt an orthodox glam mindset - which you clearly have failed to do -to understand that track. Free your mind and you'll be alright.

ST: 1967 is almost the perfect pop record and its lyrics are a work of raw genius. Yet, if you ask 99.9% of people on the street if they were aware of its existence they'd have no idea what you were talking about. Does that piss you off?

LH: 99.9% of people on the street are unaware of 'Jane From Occupied Europe' by Swell Maps. 99.9% of people on the street are unaware of 'Oar' by Skip Spence. 10% of people on the street have heard of Mark E. Smith. 99.9% of people remain unaware of The Fall's latest album. 100% of people on the street are unaware of 'Pop Lib' by The Puddle... make that 150%. Speaking of Simon Cowell, a friend of mine got talking to him a few years ago. My friend mentioned Scott Walker. Cowell hadn't heard of Scott Walker.

The problem is all journalists are self hating masochists so the more you throw at them the more they’re like a pig in shit.

ST: Hare Krishnas....easy target?

LH: Nick Clegg, Toby Young, easy targets?

Luke on his 1996 terrorist pop side project Baader Meinhof…

ST: You repeated the opening track at the end of the album. Fine. But, a bit lazy?

LH: I had extra lyrics that I couldn't work into the first version, plus for the second slightly faster version I had this great 'America Eats Its Young' Funkadelic Clavinet part. It didn't sound like that by the time the track was finished, but if you sped that whole album up, and gave it a new set of lyrics you'd have a pretty good orthodox funk record.

ST: When I was travelling in Syria a couple of years ago I met a Franco-Algerian girl from Paris and her Hungarian lover who wore a Hezbollah t-shirt everywhere he went. He wouldn't have done that in a European city. I still can't work out whether it was hilarious or a bit cuntish. What are your thoughts?

LH: You've sort of cunt-outed yourself there in that first sentence. 'When I was travelling in Syria a couple of years ago...' Were you on a fucking gap year then? Oh no, I see you write for the Guardian's travel section. You must be the life and soul of any social situation with your endless anecdotes that begin with 'when I was travelling through...' Sorry sunshine but being a Guardian writer doesn't put you in a strong position to be the Cuntfinder General.

ST: I've been meaning to ask you this for ages...who the fuck is Keith?

LH: I was far too brazen about naming and shaming journalists in the past. The problem is all journalists are self hating masochists so the more you throw at them the more they're like a pig in shit. You probably enjoyed the answer to the previous question.

Luke on his scathing, subversive and brilliant 2001 rap-synth-pop solo album The Oliver Twist Manifesto…

ST: Never Work is almost the perfect pop record and its lyrics are a work of raw genius. Yet, if you ask 99.9% of people on the street if they were aware of its existence they'd have no idea what you were talking about. Does that piss you off?

LH: It's one of those things that is just not cost effective. A bit like discussing whether Peter Gabriel was better when he was in Genesis or when he was solo, and whether Genesis were better or worse without him. Not cost effective.

ST: Do you ever listen to rap music?

LH: About 10 ten years ago I got really into Rawkus records. Pharoahe Monch, The High and Mighty. Just before I recorded The Oliver Twist Manifesto I flew to New York to have discussions with Mos Def and a few others about producing that album. By the time the plane landed I’d had an epiphany, and decided I would just produce the record myself. I spent a week in New York, avoiding hip hoppers and just getting drunk with people I knew. It was great.

ST: "Lying in a hospice bed, surrounded by loved ones, learning how to die. Talking to a stone, wailing at a grave, maybe when a year's passed go and see a medium" these are poignant lyrics tinged with humour. Is laughing at death the only way to accept its reality?

LH: I wrote that song as an apology to a friend. I missed a funeral. I'd promised the friend I wouldn't write any more songs about death, but I broke the promise and wrote this for her. It's everything I thought/think about death.

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