Interview: Darren Hayman
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In the late 90s Hefner became cult indie heroes with their album The Fidelity Wars, nine years after its
original release, magazine speaks to ex-lead singer and solo artist in his own right Darren Hayman, about the decision to re-release their classic album and about how it felt to be one John Peel's favourite bands.
Hefner first emerged on the scene in 1996, and during this period, despite never achieving huge chart success, the band made four brilliant albums, were regulars on John Peel’s show and also become one of his favourite bands.
The most prolific of all their albums was The Fidelity Wars, featuring underground indie-classic ‘Hymn for the Cigarettes’, which was originally released in 1999. After a period of unavailability, the album is now getting the deluxe re-release treatment and it turns out it was Darren himself to be the one responsible.
“A couple of years ago, the rights to all the Hefner recordings reverted from my old record company to me, so for about three or four years you haven’t been able to buy the Hefner records, so yeah I had to make it available again, people just needed to hear all that good music.”
When asked whether he thinks the re-release will gain the band a legion of new fans, Darren remains modest, “Yeah hopefully, I mean people come to my solo shows and seem to be upset that they missed out on Hefner, so I guess somehow word spreads with no promotion, so presumably with some promotion we’ll pick up some new people and that’s great.”
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It seems that the re-release of The Fidelity Wars isn’t just going to be a one off, despite trying to concentrate on his solo career, Darren is eventually planning to get the rest of the Hefner records back out in stores, “It’s a little tricky because I never really expected to be the record company for these records, so I have to juggle doing the re-issues and the back catalogue with the new records I want to make, sometimes it takes some time to get around to them, but I may even try to do the next one later this year. To get We Love The City re-released this year would be a great achievement.”
To coincide with the re-release, Darren is teaming up with ex-Hefner band member Jack Hayter to play a few small gigs, but insists that no reunion is planned, “I thought quite carefully about what I could do that would be Hefner flavoured to promote the record and what I could do that fans of the band might enjoy, but I thought to do a couple of shows where I could play those songs and have one of those guys in the band with me would be great, but I was quite reluctant to do anything which would look like a reformation.”
Hefner unfortunately split up in 2002, Darren explains the reasons why, “I guess there’s quite a few reasons, and some of the reasons why bands split up are incredibly boring, I think sometimes people aren’t very honest about the reasons why bands split up, sometimes it’s just economics and partly that was with us, it was just hard to keep the business running at the time and it just made more sense to stop it.”
Despite fans wanting more, Darren didn’t want to ruin the magic that the band had created, “I just wanted to keep those records special to people, I wanted that period of my career and those songs to the people who like them to remain protected and special. I feel that some bands that continue to release records for ten or twenty years and also bands that reform do a disservice to the special qualities that made us like them in the first place.”
Darren now performs as a solo musician and has fairly recently released his latest album Darren Hayman and The Secondary Modern, which is a collection of what could be described as unique, funny and lovely folk-pop songs.
Although he enjoys being a solo artist, it’s clear that Darren was fond of the time he spent in Hefner, “There’s something about being in a band that four of you have something invested in it, but now I do have a band as well but it’s much more like they enjoy playing with me and they are great guys but they are kind of my band, whereas they don’t have a real stake in it, than say John, Jack and Anthony has a stake in Hefner. You feel as less of part of a gang, you feel like the stress and responsibility is on your shoulders alone. I guess the rewards are a little bit greater when things go right and you feel that you were entirely responsible for it. I miss the guys in that band; I think they were the best musicians I’ve played with.”
One of Hefner’s biggest fans was legendary radio-DJ John Peel. Their music was a regular appearance on his show and the band themselves played numerous live Peel sessions. Darren explains how it felt to be so admired by John, “It’s the best thing really; it’s almost like the standout moment of my career so far. It was great to even just be played on his show once, it was a real thrill to get that kind of seal of approval and then to be asked to do a session was fantastic. I remember how excited we were when we went to Maida Vale for the first time to record a John Peel session and then to go from that to have him ask us many times back. I think we’re in the top five or six bands to have done the most Peel sessions."
So how did he and his bandmates feel about the number of appearances they made in Peel’s festive fifty, “One year in particular was almost unbelievable because we got the number two and three positions and it the fact it was songs from The Fidelity Wars, it’s really strange. It’s also really strange because even though I always liked the John Peel show and I grew up listening to him when I was doing my O-Levels and stuff like that, I didn’t ever really think of Hefner as a John Peel band, I didn’t necessarily think it was that sort of music, there’s nothing particularly immediately extreme about the sound of our records, the records have guitar, drum and bass, but essentially the appeal of the songs are about the lyrics and the way it’s put together, it must have been, I guess, the songs or the words that he liked.”
Darren clearly has an admiration for their old fan, and thinks that despite his absense, there are still people out there trying to do their best for new bands, like what Peel did with Hefner, “I think that there are people within the radio and press that are trying really hard. I think that John Kennedy on XFM is aware of the gap left by John Peel and tries very hard to support new bands. I think also Huw Stephens and Rob da Bank and Louise Kattenhorn, John Peel’s old producer work very hard to do the best they can in the environment of the BBC. Also his son Tom, is doing stuff on an internet radio station I believe. It’s hard because there was an undefinable quality about John Peel and his radio show and it wasn’t just about new bands and loud bands, there was something very unpredictable about his taste and the way that he would genuinely love these obscure things and bring them into his show, and it’s not something you can replicate really, because it was just the way he was… I guess he’s remembered in lots of ways, there might be a shortage of radio shows that are like his, but there’s not a shortage of music that John Peel liked, and in that way his legacy is very much alive.”
There’s no doubt that Hefner were a cult success, one of those reasons being John Peel’s influence, however Darren thinks that the fans were just as important, “I guess having that cult appeal and having that John Peel thing and also just the way people like the band, not necessarily the amount of people who do makes you feel like it was a cult success and that the band was successful even without being famous or lucrative.”
Darren is releasing a compilation of his EP’s this summer, “I have an album coming out in August which is a compilation of The Holiday EP’s, I’ve been doing EP’s recorded at different British holiday locations, camps, bed and breakfasts, caravan parks.” It seems that along with the live dates with Jack Hayter, his solo work and the re-release of The Fidelity Wars and the possibility of the rest of the back catalogue to receive the same treatment, then Hefner fans will still have plenty to look forward to.
The re-release of The Fidelity Wars is due on June 2 on Cargo records. His latest solo album Darren Hayman and The Secondary Modern is available now