By BRUCE DENNILL
Changing your personal brand from the relative edginess of being in an alternative rock or punk band to joining the ranks of the (again – relatively speaking) “elder statesmen” of rock – Madam G even sounds a little like Leonard Cohen: is this a conscious decision or something that’s happened on its own and which you’re making a decision to buy into?
Wayne Hussey: I think you’re crediting me with a lot more forethought and self-awareness than I really do employ. Yes, I am now elder – but never a statesman. Being a statesman, to me at least, implies that I am accepted by the establishment. I am on the outside looking in on the music business and have been for a fair few years now and that is how I prefer it these days. I had my run at subverting from within and failed colourfully and gallantly. No conscious decision was made to sound particularly like anything except myself on the new album. But aren’t we really just the sum of our imfluences anyway? Thank you for the comment about Leonard Cohen, I take that as a compliment even if it’s not intended as such. I listen to Cohen among many others and I am sure all the music I listen to has a bearing on the music I make. I try to be honest with myself in my work, don’t always succeed but again I am gallant in the trying.
How does this new mindset impact on the way you play live now? You have more stories to tell, more experiences to draw from, and are more aware of the power of new arrangements and using different instruments. Do you adapt sets or the format of your solo shows to suit what audiences have shown to be most popular in different markets around the world?
I have a song book. Actually it’s an iPad these days, with well over 100 songs that I can choose from and at least muster a version of on any given evening. I’m not really a storyteller in the sense that I don’t have a script that I work from. My solo shows are all about, excuse the cliché, being in the moment. They are impromptu and spontaneous and improvisational. If someone from the audience shouts out for a song then depending on my mood I will more than likely have a crack at it. I employ various guitars – both acoustic and electric – piano, backing tracks, a loop station, and even a ukelele in the present show.
I don’t have a set list as such, just a start point and then the show wends it’s own way. Maybe it’s experience that has given me the confidence to play shows in this way. Some people like new arrangements of old songs and others prefer the comfort of hearing something they know in a way that is recognisable. I believe you have to give an audience a little of what they want, a little of what you want, and a little of what you think they need. No two shows are ever the same. I don’t usually tailor a set for a certain country but in this instance I do think that for South Africa I may well have a look at Lose Myself In You which is something, to my recollection, I have never played solo before.
There’s a large dynamic range across Songs of Candlelight and Razorblades as a whole – quiet acoustic stuff up to full-blown band arrangements. Is this a reflection of your tastes as a writer and listener now? Was there perhaps an effort to try and do a whole mellow, folk-ish collection that fell away as tracks closer in style to The Mission and other earlier work came up?
With any album a big part of the process for me is taking time to let ideas germinate and to think about what I want to achieve with the album, and all before any music is written and recorded. Sometimes this can take months, other times merely days. But once I find my way into the work then it’s usually a fairly fast gallop to the finish line. I’m not one to deliberate excessively about what I do. I’m a firm believer that a song is at it’s most potent when it is first written and the first performances of the song have a power that is lost when you start to work an idea too much. Of course other attributes come into play in those circumstances such as technique, precision, and control. The trick is to find the balance.
With SOCAR I’d already had some songs, four or five, written that had been left over from the previous Mission album. That implies that they weren’t worthy to appear on a Mission album but that really isn’t the case. The Mission album – The Brightest Light – had a certain vibe and these particular songs just didn’t fit the criteria. I didn’t really know what to do with them and couldn’t see my way into them as being the basis for a new solo album until I played them all together in the car driving into Sao Paulo one day. Lyrically and musically there was a tenuous mood appearing and realising this gave me my way into working on the songs as an album.
A few of the other songs were instrumental pieces I’d had lying around on a hard drive that seemed to suit the direction that I had discovered. And four or five of the songs were newly written once I got into the swing of it. I never saw the album as an acoustic album or otherwise, just as a collection of songs that hang together well. The songs themselves largely dictated how they should be recorded. Of course that is subjective and influenced by what I wanted to achieve with the album and, as evidenced by the version of Swan Song that ended up on SOCAR, a song can always be performed in a myriad of different ways. Swan Song appeared on The Brightest Light as a full-on band version which, incidentally, has become a firm favourite with the followers. Anything I do has to be influenced by what I was listening to at the time and I was listening a lot to Dylan, Cohen, Cash, Hank Williams, old Delta blues, classic rock like the Stones, Zeppelin, & The Beatles etc. along with new bands like XX, The Smoke Fairies, and a lot of film soundtracks, and more. It’s all in there somewhere.
Releasing a full second disc of instrumental versions of all the songs: it’s a very Seventies conceit, an idea that goes back to creating a full album as a way of working out a creative vision, rather than considering the commercial outcome of a project. What are your hopes for that instrumental music specifically? Do you think it might be playlisted on different platforms?
Some of these songs have existed as instrumentals for some time. I’d gotten used to hearing them that way and, for me, they worked very well that way too. I like instrumental albums, they are sometimes easier to have on in the background while you are doing something else. There is no voice and no lyric to demand attention. Sometimes details in the music are lost or at least obscured by the voice.
I’ve always wanted to score a film – one ambition still to realise – and maybe this is a way of advertising the fact that I am capable of doing it. Dunno. If people take the time to listen to the instrumentals and get something different from it then great. It serves it’s purpose. I am delighted to report that there have been several instances of people telling me how much they love to hear the songs instrumentally, even sometimes more than the vocal versions. Not quite sure how to take that…
All these new ideas, big tours, etc: is this a revival of something that was flagging or just a noticeably different chapter in an ongoing career? Regardless of which answer is more correct, what comes next? Further development of this “new” Wayne Hussey, or the completion of this cycle and then either something new and defined or something vague and undecided?
I don’t see all this activity as a revival, I see it as public manifestation of ongoing work. It’s not like I haven’t been active. It’s just that some projects enjoy a higher profile than others. I have continued to play shows, both solo and with the band, through the recent years and have released four albums in the last four years. SOCAR in 2014, The Brightest Light in 2013, The Ungodly Hour with Swedish poet Marcus Birro in 2012, and Curios with ex-All About Eve singer, Julianne Regan, in 2011. I’d say that that was a pretty good output. As to what comes next I’m not rightly sure.
There are plans afoot for a new Mission album for 2016 to celebrate our 30th anniversary. And of course now I have established the fact that I can make records under my own name that does afford me license to pretty much do as I please. One idea I have is, in the absence of being asked to score a “proper” film, an instrumental album for a fictional film. Of course I’d like to record more solo albums – maybe one with a double bass and a string quartet, taking the musical direction of Madam G for a run in the meadow. Maybe an electronic album. Maybe an acoustic album. Who knows? I don’t at this point. And that’s what keeps things exciting and challenging. I’d sooner be making music than writing my autobiography!
Wayne Hussey will be touring South Africa in May: 8 & 9 May: Barnyard Theatre, Rivonia. 11 May: Barnyard Theatre, Willowbridge, Cape Town. Tickets:www,barnyardtheatre.co.za.