Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


It's probably not possible to be any more indie than Hefner. They're the epitome of awkwardness, blessed and cursed in equal measure with their fresh-faced look of innocence and naivety. Darren Hayman (pictured) has the best voice that you’ll ever hear coming from someone who supposedly can’t sing, and they often invoke memories of the Wedding Present, the Go-Betweens and the Violent Femmes. As if that wasn’t enough, John Peel loves them so much that not only did they get five songs in last year’s Festive 50, with 'The Hymn For The Cigarettes' effortlessly claiming the number two spot, but he's also willing to stake his very reputation on them, as bassist John Morrison explains, "all the main national radio stations in Europe get asked to have a representative DJ that they take to Groningen, it’s like a radio festival thing, and whoever it is get asked to bring an act with them. They asked John Peel to do it this time, so he asked us to go with him. He seemed more excited than we did. After the show he was really pleased that it went really well, he said he thought we had a four-nil away win". "Every country you go to there is someone who purports to be the equivalent of John Peel", adds guitarist Jack Hayter, "you kind of got the impression that all the European sub-John Peels were there with their idea of alternative bands".

Their recent EP of gospel covers also came about via John Peel and his radio show. "When we’re touring we all bring CDs, and we had a phase where first of all it was a lot of soul music, and it just seemed to creep into people bringing gospel CDs", says Jack. "We had this little idea of just doing a couple of cover versions live, I can’t really remember how it happened but we did various Peel sessions and I think it was mentioned to a producer. They said that would be a really great idea for a session, in the old way that when ever John Peel had sessions, people would go in and do something completely different, they wouldn't just go play their fucking singles or two tracks off the album and try and record them in exactly the same way. It seemed to get a really strong response on the Peel show, so it made sense to release it".

You’ve gone on the record recently pledging your support for Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral election; do you think it's important for a band to be political in their outlook? "Darren's songs aren’t generally overtly political", explains John, "but for anybody who lived in London, or was involved in any of the campaigns and disputes in the 1980s, the whole business of the GLC was quite a formative thing. Also there was the opportunity to say to Tony Blair 'you’ve sold us down the river', I think that makes it important that we support Ken Livingstone". Is it possible for a band to have any tangible effect on the outcome of the elections? "It depends on the general level of consciousness", asserts Jack, "and we're not so presumptuous to say that Hefner can have that effect".

You're often represented as being defiantly lo-fi in your attitude towards music, particularly on 'Breaking God's Heart', which lead Too Pure to describe the album as sounding like demos. Jack is quick to defend his band mates, "I wasn’t around for the recording of ‘Breaking God’s Heart’, but I certainly get the impression that there wasn't an intention to do a lo-fi recording anyway, it was just a necessity, I'm sure if we had better technology at home then we could sound like Yes or AC/DC". Why did you re-record the songs from 'the Hefner Soul' EP for the compilation album? "We just thought the original versions sounded shit", states John matter-of-factly. What about the comparisons that you generally incite, how do you feel about the continual references to the same few bands? "The first time we got compared to the Violent Femmes, it wasn't something we could claim never to have heard, but it wasn’t like we said 'let's sound like the Violent Femmes'. I think a lot of that came from the first album, the way that it was really stripped down". Jack is more amused by the whole situation, "I had friends who are really into the Violent Femmes who were outraged by the comparisons".

Do you feel held back by the image that's portrayed by the press, do you think that it's time you were allowed to move on, and gain recognition for who you are, rather than have people turning up with a preconceived opinion of the band? "I think sometimes people are a little disappointed with the way that we are, and the way that we are live. It's such a laugh, we have such fun with it", says John, "I think from the lyrical side of things they expect us to be moody and tense, they don't expect us to be smiling". "It’s very easy if you've got a singer with glasses and songs about relationships for a journalist to go geeky bloke, lives in a bed-sit; so you do your best to shatter those myths", Jack grins and continues, "about half an hour ago, Darren got asked if he still lives with his parents, and he nearly twatted the guy".

How about the themes of the songs, the majority tend to concentrate on almost adolescent subjects, girls and alcohol for the most part? John swiftly fends off the criticism, "but most pop music is about fancying girls or fancying boys". What about the themes of the records, 'The Fidelity Wars' was concerned with relationships and infidelity, while you’ve said that the next album is about London. Do you feel trapped by the subject? that it's important to follow through an idea for the entire record? "I think always there's a kind of a theme to a record or Darren's lyrics, but he goes much wider and he uses something in particular, he’ll be singing about the hymn for the cigarettes or the hymn for the alcohol, but he tells another story within that". Are you worried that you're going to end up making a concept album? "I think that by definition you’re not going to end up with a prog-rock album", laughs Jack, "I think you'd be hard pushed to turn any of Darren's songs into a prog-rock concept". John, however, is more willing to concede a point, "I guess in a way there is a kind of concept to Hefner, with the covers and the themes to the albums. When Darren does interviews he'll often say he really liked the way that with Smiths or Joy Division records, even if it didn’t have the name on it, you could see that here's another Smiths record". Do you wish that you were able to have a greater input into the image, or are you happy with the set-up as it is at present? "Darren does all the covers and it's totally up to him what he does. He always shows everyone the artwork, but I'm sure if one of us said 'that's absolute bollocks', then he might take notice".