The Wildhearts Book

Interview with Wildhearts Guitarist CJ

24 May 2006

I thought my easily-organised interview with Bam was a one-off, so when I got in contact with CJ through MySpace and he immediately got back with a big ‘yes’ and his mobile number, you can imagine I was more than pleasantly surprised.

I was a little nervous, but no way as much as I had been with Bam. I rang a little after our organised time of 4.00pm but got no reply, so rang back at 4.20pm.

Throughout the interview we hardly stopped laughing; I felt at ease because CJ was such a nice guy.

CJ: “Hello.”

Me: “Hello is that CJ?”

CJ: “Yeah it is, speaking, man.”

Me: “Alright, it’s Gaz, how ya doing?”

CJ: “Hello, mate. Did you just call like about five minutes ago?”

Me: “Ten minutes ago, yeah.”

CJ: “Yeah, I was out at the shops, man – I forgot.”

Me: “I would have called you dot on four, but I had to pluck up the courage and it took me ten minutes.”

With a laugh, CJ answered: Why’s that?”

Me: “I was a bit nervous, I suppose.”

CJ: “You said you spoke to Bam, didn’t ya? How was he, ’cause I haven’t spoken to him for a few years?”

Me: “Yeah, he sounded really cool, he sounded happy.”

CJ: “He’s totally straight now as well; he doesn’t drink or smoke or eat meat or anything. I sometimes message him via MySpace but ummm… about two years ago was the last time I had a chat with him. Tell us a bit about ya book man, what’s going on here then?”

I went on to explain what I was doing, and mentioned how the idea came about while I was at the Scarborough gig.

CJ: “Oh, ummm, I can’t remember. Yeah, yeah it was probably the worst gig ever. That really cold one, yeah? That was horrible. So how long have you been into the band?”

Me: “I first saw you supporting Love/Hate in ’92.”

CJ: “Fuckin’ ’ell that was a long time ago, man.”

Me: “I don’t know if you can remember, but I interviewed you at The Zodiac in Oxford one time in 2002.”

CJ: “I barely remember. What do you look like?”

Me: “Ummm, short hair… I’ve actually got a photo of you standing beside me on my TV right now.”

CJ: “Did you look like a kind of skateboard punk?”

Me: “No – I actually took my girlfriend in with me. She was French. She took the photo.”

CJ: “You haven’t got a wooden leg have ya?”

Me: “Ha, ha – no.”

CJ: “I’m mistaking ya for someone else, man. Parrot on ya shoulder?”

Me: “Not now, and I didn’t then either. Oh, anyway, I interviewed you then.”

CJ: “I’d like to say yeah; I haven’t done an interview since then so yeah I’d definitely remember ya. So, what do you wanna know from me?”

Me: “Stuff like: at what age did you start embracing music? What were your first memories?”

CJ: “I was about eleven when I became really serious about music and that was by Kiss and The Police. Kiss were the very first band I saw when I was twelve, when they used to have all their make-up on. I remember my dad taking me there, and going ‘That’s just what I wanna do; I wanna be that’. And The Police were hitting big and they kinda showed me the serious side of music as well. Yeah, I was about eleven when it started to hit me big time, and I knew from then that’s what I wanted to do, play in bands. So yeah, I thought I’d better learn an instrument.”

Me: “Yeah, it helps. ’Cause you saw Kiss obviously in the make-up and all that sort of stuff, obviously that had an impact on you?”

CJ: “A huge impact.”

Me: “But then you said about The Police, who are not into that side of things – so how important do you think it is to put on a show like that?”

CJ: “The most important thing is you’ve got to have good songs, but I like bands who – especially live – they put on a bit of a show and they actually look like they’re putting a bit of effort into what they’re doing, and they look like they’re enjoying it. I don’t think putting effort into your music has to revolve around a rock band; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing so long as you have a passion for it, and if you pull it off with a bit of flair then, ya know, I think that you’re a real bona fide entertainer. Going to see a band is kinda boring without great songs, you know, you’ve got nothing.”

Me: “Well, The Wildhearts had a shitload of them.”

CJ: “We did, yeah, a long time ago. Yeah, ha, ha, ha.”

Me: “Not that long ago, it was only last year at the Scarborough gig, yeah?!”

CJ: “That weren’t a gig, man, that was a very, very cold picnic.”

Me: “Well, it weren’t any warmer watching it, I can tell ya.”

CJ: “That was a band having a rehearsal session; we should have done some warm-up shows before that gig. And it’s really hard because with Jon and Stidi we did so many shows and the band were so tight, and then all of a sudden we get Richie and Danny back and we do three rehearsals then we have to do this gig, this DVD. The band just wasn’t tight. It wasn’t the band I remembered going round America with, a band who could, you know, play in time and play in tune. It was a shambles; if it was our third or fourth gig it would have been an amazing show. I don’t think that DVD’s coming out…”

Me: “Na, it was all a bit of a nightmare anyway, what with the promoters and everything?”

CJ: “The organisation, everything, I mean the weather, the location, the whole thing was just a big disaster. I think that’s why we’re not around at the moment – Ginger’s still paying off the bill.”

Me: “What are your views on band and fan interactions, like with an artist’s privacy and all that?”

CJ: “I think you’ve got to draw the line. I don’t like the way Ginger says a lot about his private life, and our lives as well, on his, is it Ginger Says? I don’t like that; personally, I wouldn’t reveal that much about myself. I find it’s always best to underplay things and kinda keep something back and keep some sort of mystery around what you are as a person. If you’re gonna write lyrics and sing a song, you’re giving away half your soul there already, aren’t you? It’s no different if you’re gonna paint a painting or make a film; it’s not just a mental process, there’s a lot of feeling and soul that’s gone into that process. A lot of musicians, they reveal too much. I’m a firm believer of give the fans enough but never give them too much, always keep ’em guessing or wondering exactly what these idiots are about.”

Me: “Have you had any bad experiences with your idols when you were younger? It must get hard to meet and meet and meet people; I mean eventually you’ve got to say no, haven’t you?”

CJ: “As in, what do you mean?”

Me: “Um, ’cause Bam, I can’t remember who Bam saw, but he said he was waiting hours to get an autograph off somebody and the guy just barged straight past him and said, “Get the fuck out of my way, kid”, that sort of thing.”

CJ: “I’ve never experienced that, and I’ve never personally done that myself. If someone asks me for an autograph, or asks me a question or whatever, I will always oblige. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in or how I’m feeling, I will always be polite and kind to fans. All the people I wanted to meet, I did meet them and they were all really cool people. He shouldn’t have been waiting outside a Kylie Minogue concert, Bam, then should he? He’s a cool guy Bam, it’s a shame, I mean if we ever got the band back together I would have loved him to play. It would be cool, really, really good if he came back… Anyway, onwards…”

Me: “What are your feelings on fans getting onstage with the band, or do you see it as for the band only, ’cause there’s a few bands around at the moment who encourage that sort of thing?”

CJ: “It depends on the band, I mean in The Wildhearts we don’t normally have people up onstage with us when we’re playing. I mean, my experience with fans when they get up onstage is they pull leads out, or someone will tread on a microphone or get the stand and stick it in your gob. It tends to lead to mayhem and trouble, but most of the bands I’ve played in aren’t those types of bands who have a stage invasion. As far as I know, The Wildhearts have never had fans like that, what do they call ’em, people who jump off the stage? Stage-divers – yeah, that’s cool, as long as they come onstage and then fuck off again. I don’t want ’em, like, looming around me dancing or something.”

Me: “I ended up onstage with Ginger when he was in Clam Abuse; it was kind of an accident.”

CJ: “They needed more people on that stage anyway.”

Me: “Exactly, there’s only two. I got up there and thought ‘Oh shit, what am I doing here?’, then got hauled off.”

CJ: “You must be a real fan if you went to see Clam Abuse?”

Me: “Well, I quite enjoyed it.”

CJ: “I think the best thing he’s ever written is in The Wildhearts, and when people buy his solo stuff it’s because it reminds them of The Wildhearts; they’re always songs that sound similar, but umm, you know he’s yet to write anything I think is as good as ‘Earth Vs’ or comes close to it, maybe a bit of ‘P.H.U.Q.’ or some of ‘Fishing For Luckies’. For me, those songs are like the best songs he’s ever written.”

Me: “Haven’t you heard the new album? [I was referring to ‘Valor Del Corazón’.]”

CJ: “Yeah, I saw him play live. There’s about nineteen people in the band. You know he’s doing a new album now as well; his country and western album? It’s a bit like a comedy country and western album with this altar ego he’s got. I can’t keep up with Ginger because he never sticks to one thing – probably tomorrow he’ll be doing like a Jive Bunny-esque type album. We talk, he’s the only member of the band I actually still have a relationship with. The rest of the guys I never see, but we do still talk, me and Ginger, which is surprising because we’ve worked together for so long, but I never know what he’s doing because in the last two years he’s changed his mind so many times, he keeps telling me about another idea and I’m like ‘Yeah fine’. Because in the last two years he’s supposed to have moved to, like, half a dozen countries and The Wildhearts are supposed to have made half a dozen albums.”

Me: “I’ll say. There was supposed to be an album in the bag wasn’t there, and it didn’t happen, I don’t know.”

CJ: “I actually came back from Japan to make a Wildhearts album. Actually I’m doing my own album at the moment.”

Me: “I was gonna say; I’ve heard a few songs on MySpace.”

CJ: “Oh, my demos on MySpace. I did some CDs as well. I’ve recorded nineteen songs, but I’m waiting for my manager to find the rest of the money ’cause only fifty percent of the album’s done and I’ve run out of money. So he’s busy trying to do that. I’m gonna start playing in September as well so I need this album for the summer else I’m in deep shit.”

Me: “Where are you recording?”

CJ: “A lot of it I do here in my flat, if you wanna listen. [CJ then played me a segment of a song.] I’m recording on computers, then I take the files to a bigger studio and we’ll put the live drums onto what I’ve done here. I do all the bass and guitars on my own, and all keyboards and most of the percussion and then drums in a studio and then I do all the vocals with Jase Edwards and he mixes it all for me. Because I work on my own and don’t have a band around me, the people I employ for the band are more employed like session musicians, and this is just me working on my own and doing my own thing. I just really enjoy working on my own. There’s a lot of problems with bands. There’s a lot of ego problems; you spend a lot of time in confined spaces together, and that’s when a lot of trouble always starts. I’ve kinda had enough of that for the last eighteen years, so being on my own is a good thing at the moment.”

Me: “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done or seen at a gig?”

CJ: “There is so much I’ve seen at gigs. I remember being at a gig and seeing a guy trying to kill himself in the bathroom because he thought he was possessed by Satan. That was quite strange, and he was cutting his chest open with a broken mirror, which was quite weird.”

Me: “Can you remember what gig it was?”

CJ: “I think it was Nuclear Assault. Remember them?”

Me: “Yeah, that would turn anyone to killing themselves – not my bag.”

CJ: “I’ve seen so much. I’ve seen people fucking at gigs, I’ve seen people give birth, I’ve seen people die at gigs – you name it I’ve seen it at a gig.”

Me: “I don’t go to the right gigs obviously.”

CJ: “I’ve done a lot of gigs as well. There’s so much, there’s x-rated stuff, stuff for the family – most of it ain’t for the family – but you name it and I’ve seen it. I don’t consider it that weird, ya know, someone giving birth or dying at a gig ’cause there’s lots of people there and there’s a chance of those things happening. I saw someone eat some cat food at a gig once off a singer’s stomach. And I saw a band called the Impotent Sea Snakes or Sea Serpents, and they’re like a bunch of strippers, and they got a guy onstage and fucked him – in the middle of a gig, in a pub in Chelmsford. Pulled a punter in and just fucked him on the stage; that was quiet weird.”

Me: What are your other loves apart from music, and do you think there’s a better art form for self-expression?”

CJ: “My wife is a big love of mine, else I wouldn’t be married to her. I love animals; I actually love any forms of animal welfare. Anyone who looks after animals, works for charities, they get my vote. I’ve always had a passion for wildlife. And I love cookery, and I love fishing. An ideal lifestyle for me would be a fisherman who comes home and then cooks. I just like it ’cause it chills me out and I can relax. And I don’t eat meat, I eat fish. I’d rather go out and catch my food than go to a fishmongers and pick it out gutted and already sliced up, you know what I mean?”

Me: “What do you think music brings to your life?”

CJ: “It used to bring in cash, and that was helpful as it used to pay the bills and pay the rent. Umm, I had a day job when I was about nineteen, and all I ever wanted to do was play in bands. I’ve always looked at playing in bands as not a job; it’s just like a way of living for me, and it’s something I really love, and I’m still not sick of it. I still love making music and playing music, but I don’t want to be around rock ’n’ roll people any more, who just drink too much or get fucked up on drugs. That’s the bad part about what music’s brought into my life; it’s brought a lot of abuse, as in substance, alcohol, drug abuse. It’s brought a little bit of violence as well and, as much as it’s good memories, there’s a whole heap of bad memories and it’s because of the isolation of bands spending a lot of time together in tour buses and studios. That’s the negative side, but on the whole music has just been really, really good for me. Saying that, I’d love to do something completely different to music, and if someone made me the right offer, I would not say no. I’d probably jump at the chance of doing something I’ve never done before and learn a different trade and a different way of living.”

Me: “You could totally stop the music, you think?”

CJ: “You can always play the guitar and stuff. I mean, I’ve made enough albums, I’ve done enough touring, and I’m at a certain age in my life where I would love to do something completely different because you’re only here once and you might as well do as many things as you can possibly do. But the thought of going back on tour with a rock ’n’ roll band at my age now is just… umm, it fills me with dread, absolute dread ’cause I don’t have those bad habits any more.”

Me: “So you wouldn’t do it if Ginger phoned you?”

CJ: “Umm, me and Ginger are the only two contracted in the band; we’re the only two that have got a record deal in the band, and we are contracted to do one more Wildhearts album; so yes, I would work with Ginger again in the form of doing a Wildhearts album, but I think it would be hard pushed to convince Richie to do it, and I don’t know if Danny’s healthy enough, ya know. So it might be a bit of an odd line-up, a different drummer, hence getting Bam back in the band.”

Me: “What did it mean to you to be in The Wildhearts; I mean, when you first joined, was it a big step up?”

CJ: “I didn’t really join a band; what it was, was Ginger approached me saying he wanted to start a band with me, and he said he knew a really good drummer in Newcastle called Stidi. So Stidi came down to London, and it was just the three of us jamming and, ya know, fucking around. It took us ages to find a bass player. I mean, I was gigging with a band that had a few albums out, and Ginger did like a three-track demo and I really liked the songs, and we got on really, really well and we both liked the same sort of bands. It was Ray Zell who introduced us both, and we knew we were going to be in a band together. It’s just one of those things, but it took a long time for The Wildhearts to kinda find its sound and, ya know, that thing with me and Ginger singing, ’cause we never used to sing. We had singers in the band. It was only by default that we both started singing ’cause we couldn’t find the right singer and we could both sing, so everyone just said, ‘Fuck it, why don’t you two do it?’ Danny was like, I think, about our fourth bass player, and we had a different drummer as well. Stidi was in the band, he left, we got a drummer in, he came back then left, we had another drummer in, and then he came back again; he’s been in and out of the band a lot, but, once we got the line-up together, we kinda knew just by the reaction from people around us that the band was, ya know… it had a good sound; we made a good noise back then.”

Me: “Indeed you did. I can’t deny that. Are there any little stories you can tell me from the early days?”

CJ: “We had a singer called Snake, and he was so small that he had to stand on a cardboard box; that was quite funny. So we decided we couldn’t have anyone that small in the band. We had a lot of fun; a lot of it revolved around drugs, unfortunately, and that was just the type of band we were. I know The Wildhearts do have a bad reputation for the whole drug abuse thing, but it’s there for a reason because that’s what happened. We used to have periods where one month we would just do speed, the next month we would do acid, and then we’d go onto grass. But we just fucked ourselves up, and the minute we started getting money from record companies that was it, it was just insane. We used to have great parties, with all our friends around. We’d just cook curry and get blasted and drunk and listen to Bad Brains and Fishbone and Soul Asylum, and they were like really, really good days. This was in kinda like ’89 sort of period, ’89 late ’88, and that’s when the band had a real family thing going on, but it was only a brief moment until there were problems within the band. I look back to then and it does put a smile on my face.”

Me: “What would you say your proudest moments are from being in The Wildhearts?”

CJ: “The first time we went on Top Of The Pops, when we did ‘Caffeine Bomb’, yeah. Just getting that far, and the reaction from my family and everyone else’s family as well, it was just like one of those moments. It’s like, ‘Shit, we’ve done this!’. It was strange, really strange, because we never thought we’d get that far. All of a sudden, it’s like ‘This is serious.’. That was a great moment.”

Me: “You did Top Of The Pops a few times, didn’t you?”

CJ: “Yeah, but when you do it your first time it’s always the best. I mean, there were times when I remember me and Ginger would be so frustrated with the band because it wasn’t going anywhere, and to suddenly be in the charts and all your gigs are selling out, it was just like, ‘Fuck,’’, ya know, ‘it’s finally working.’. But it didn’t work for very long, did it?”

Me: “Is there anything you did or didn’t do that you regret?”

CJ: “Umm… I’ll be really honest with you; I wish The Wildhearts didn’t get back together when we did in 2001. It was a disaster; we did that reunion tour, Danny was kicked off it within three shows, and it was just a complete disaster and everything’s kinda up in the air now. No one knows what’s going on, and last time I spoke to Ginger he said he didn’t think he could ever face playing Wildhearts songs again because they bring back too many bad memories. It’s kinda sad when you’ve been in a band that long and you say to one of your colleagues you don’t think you can face playing those songs again. With hindsight, I kinda would have like, stopped that from happening, the band getting back together, because I think Stidi and Ginger would still be talking now, Ginger would be able to face playing Wildhearts songs, and maybe doing another album. The only good thing I got from The Wildhearts getting back together is I met my wife, and that’s it. The rest of it, I don’t think it should have happened. Once we saw how ill Danny was, we should have knocked it on the head. And I know we’ve made a few more good albums and we did a shitload more gigs, but I saw Jon Poole get really down over the band, Stidi get down, Ginger get down, and me get down. We had a bunch of like Mickey Mouse managers who just couldn’t do anything right, and a whole bunch of people around us who were just making mistakes, and none of us could be arsed to stop it. There you go.”

Me: “I would have hoped you would have enjoyed some of it.”

CJ: “I enjoyed a lot of it. I loved touring America, I loved going back and doing quite a few tours of Japan; it’s just where that’s all led to now is a band who barely talk to each other. And you know it would be really nice if Stidi and Ginger could talk. It would be really nice if I could talk to Jon Poole, ya know, ’cause he just got so weirded out by the whole Wildhearts thing, it kinda freaked him out a bit, and no band should do that to people. It would be nice if we could just all meet up for a drink every now and again or something, ya know what I mean? It just isn’t worth it, but you know I had some great times. I can safely say I had a better time than Ginger did.”

Me: “It’s hard to think when you say about not having a good time. Does that all go away while you’re onstage?”

CJ: “For me personally, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life, the minute I get onstage my life is forgotten about and I’m enjoying the moment of being onstage. The real reason I play music is to play live ’cause I think that’s the real carrot, just to get up onstage and have people come and see you. And having a good show is just like the ultimate high – it’s up there with great sex and great food.”

Me: “It’s the same watching. I mean, ya know when your favourite song comes on, and fucking ’ell…”

CJ: “I know what you mean, yeah. To be honest with you, I haven’t been a punter at a gig for many a moon. I’m actually going to a festival this year, and I don’t go to festivals unless I’m playing at ’em ’cause I don’t like ’em, but I’m going to The Isle Of Wight festival to see The Foo Fighters because I really wanna see The Foo Fighters play. Taylor Hawkins is my favourite kinda rock drummer; he plays a lot like Stuart Copeland from The Police, and I like Dave Grohl’s songwriting. I’ve never been a Nirvana fan; I’ve always preferred The Foo Fighters. All my flatmates are going down there and a friend of mine’s got a house down there. He said I could come and stay at his house and I don’t need to camp, so that’s it. I’m going to a festival and regressing for four days.”

Me: “Well, he didn’t do too badly from being a drummer, did he? So I’m waiting for Stidi’s album.”

CJ: “I haven’t seen Stidi for over a year now. I’ve spoken to him a couple of times on the phone, but I haven’t seen him. This is what I mean about bands, ya know. It’s really odd when bands split and go their separate ways; you kinda don’t see anyone for years and years, and it’s strange. If The Wildhearts hadn’t got back together, I would probably be hanging around with Stidi, if you know what I mean?”

Me: “How do the other bands you’ve been in compare to The Wildhearts?”

CJ: “Well, The Jellys, which I had with Stidi, we were like a gang. And Honeycrack as well. You’ve gotta remember, The Wildhearts are like a high-maintenance child and most people are kind of cool with them, they’re ok. With The Wildhearts, we’ve made some good albums and done some great shows, and there’s some really, really good songs out there. There’s always been a negative side to the band, and you, being a fan, you know about that negative side. There’s always been some sort of friction, some sort of trouble, and I’ve never ever had it with any other band or group of musicians I’ve ever worked with before; it’s always with The Wildhearts, and I just don’t know what it is. Yeah, they’re a unique band, and they’re the sort of band that just causes trouble. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Me: “Do you think that adds to their appeal, or would you rather they didn’t have that and were still successful?”

CJ: “It’s just a rock ’n’ roll band. I mean, it’s just what the band is. We just evolved into this band where you never know what the fuck they’re gonna do, you don’t know if someone’s on heroin or someone’s doing too much cocaine, or you don’t know if Ginger’s gonna try and kill himself, or you’re gonna go and find Danny dead in his bunk. It’s that type of band and it’s no different to any other rock ’n’ roll band, it’s just that no one’s died in The Wildhearts, thank god.”

Me: “It’s been a close one at times, hasn’t it?”

CJ: “Yes, it has been very close, yeah.”

Me: “Thank god they’re all still around. Well, I’m at the end of my questions now, mate.”

CJ: “Have you got enough there?”

Me: “Yeah, I think just about. We’ve been on the phone for thirty-five, forty minutes.”

CJ: “If you haven’t got enough, just make it up, man. I’m gonna deny what I said to you anyway, ha, ha.”

Me: “It’ll be hard ’cause I’ve got it on Dictaphone. You can try, but there’s a good impersonator out there.”

CJ: “Ok, I have Danny’s mobile number here for ya”

Me: “Where’s he living now, you got any idea?”

CJ: “He’s up in Newcastle.”

Me: “I dunno if you know much of what Ginger’s doing now, but he’s doing loads of acoustic stuff again and my mate said in Newcastle Danny’s gonna be playing with him.”

CJ: “He probably will be, yeah. I mean, I’ll play with Ginger doing an acoustic thing, it’s just that I don’t do acoustic shows. You’ll be hard pushed to get me to play an acoustic show; I’m not a folk musician.”

Me: “Yeah, I didn’t mind when he first started doing them, but then, as a fan, ya go, ‘I know what this song’s like,’ and you just wanna actually hear it and jump around to it.”

CJ: “If you’re gonna make electric music, you’re gonna have to go out and play it with the amplifiers. Nah, I find it painfully boring, acoustic gigs. I did do one acoustic gig with Ginger but halfway through we turned it into an electric gig.”

Me: “Yeah, that was amazing. You had the drums covered up at the back. That was something else, that gig.”

CJ: “So right, then, this is Danny’s number, its: 0*********1. Keep us posted and let us know what’s going on”

Me: “Yeah, cheers mate.”

CJ: “Alright, take it easy, mate.”

Me: “You look after yourself.”

CJ: “I will man, bye, bye.”

Me: “Bye, bye.”

Fantastic! That interview felt like we were mates just having a chat; it was such a buzz!

Read The Wildhearts: Zealot in Wonderland excerpts

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