Friday, March 1, 2013

Now Hear This: The Wildhearts

Ritch, Ginger, CJ, Danny

     It was March 19, 2004 and I was living in Austin, Texas. The South by Southwest music conference was in full swing and that meant I was in the right place at the right time because that day I was going to get to see one of my favorite bands, a band that I honestly never thought I'd get to see live, and I was going to get to see them not once, but twice in the same day. That band was The Wildhearts. They had been on an extended hiatus but had made an astonishing comeback, releasing a slew of singles and an album, and it was the best work they'd ever done, in my opinion. That afternoon they would be performing at Tower Records on the drag but I had to work so here's what I did, I took my one hour lunch break and I went to see The Wildhearts (the above photo is from that actual in-store appearance). How awesome is that? I stood there with about ten other geeks and had one of the best live music experiences of my life (thanks Duck), then went back to work, where I listened to the tape I'd just recorded of the performance. I was in awe that day, just seeing them there, live and in person. They looked so freakin' cool, Ginger and C.J. with their sticker encrusted guitars, and the band should have looked even cooler but bassist Danny's demons had gotten the best of him (again) and he had been replaced by the less photogenic Jon Poole, a member of one of singer Ginger's favorite bands, the Cardiacs. Danny was truly missed, but the band still looked and sounded awesome. But it's all about perspective, innit? In his tour blog at Ginger described the performance I just described so effusively in this way:

 "The Tower records thing is awful. It feels like we are 
auditioning for something. Very awkward."

     That night the wife and I drove to San Antonio to see The Wildhearts again. The sound at the venue wasn't great but the performance was. I loved it. And what did Ginger have to say about it?     
 "Little over 20 zealous fans have travelled hundreds of miles
to see us play for 45 minutes, in a place that has a sound system 
like a large stereo, and monitors that don't work."

     Trust me, I was pressed up against the stage, and it was awesome. The next night, March 20th, I had an opportunity to see the band a third time. It was insane, but too good to be true. As often happens during South by Southwest two bands I desperately wanted to see were playing at the exact same time at different venues and I had to make a decision, go and see The Wildhearts for the third time in two days or go and see All Systems Go, featuring John Kastner, formerly of the Doughboys, another of my favorite bands. It was torturous but I made the difficult decision to go see All Systems Go and I do not regret it, they were amazing, but I also do regret it, because I missed the Wildhearts at Emo's. And how, might you ask, did Ginger describe the show that I missed?

"Technical difficulties aside, the show is a stormer."

     If you're not familiar with The Wildhearts then we need to get you up to speed, pronto. The band formed in 1989 when guitarist Ginger (real name David Walls) was unceremoniously "sacked" by future plastic surgery disaster Sharon Osbourne, who was then managing his band the Quireboys (originally Pretty Girls, then Queerboys, London Quireboys in the US). Ginger claimed in a press release (really?) that the other members no longer wanted him in the band because he "drank too much and his guitar style was too heavy." He quickly formed his own band, which he christened The Wild Hearts. Between 1989 and 1990 The Wildhearts (now one word) recorded several demos with Snake, formerly of Tobruk, on vocals. These early demos are very simplistic, stylistically, compared with the unique sound the Wildhearts would eventually develop. At some point in 1991 Snake was out and Ginger, who wrote all of the songs anyway, assumed vocal duties by default. That day was a good day. By 1992 the original core group was in place: Ginger on vocals and guitar, C.J. (Chris Jaghdar, formerly of Tattooed Love Boys, who often shared the stage with the Quireboys) on lead guitar, Danny McCormack (formerly of Energetic Krusher) on bass, and Bam (from Dogs D'Amour) on drums. The band released two four song EP's that year, Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go and Don't Be Happy...Just Worry, which were eventually made available together as a single CD simply called Don't Be Happy...Just Worry. My favorite song from these EP's is "Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes," a foot-stomping blast of melodic metal.

     Was anyone else reminded of Iron Maiden's "The Clairvoyant" for some reason?

      The band's sound was definitely starting to come together. Drummer Bam left at this point to rejoin his former group, Dogs D'Amour (watch for a future article) and was replaced by Stidi (Andrew Stidolph). The classic line-up (Ginger, CJ, Danny, Stidi) was now in place. In August of 1993 East/West Records released the band's full length debut, Earth vs. The Wildhearts. The album, which was recorded in less than a week and, according to Ginger, on used tapes, is a rock and roll revelation, a heavy metal hit parade, a smorgasbord of brutal riffs and contagious hooks. How might one describe The Wildhearts? In a multitude of ways. Heavy metal with a pop sensibility. A thrash metal band playing hard rock. Power pop in denim and leather. Headbanger punk. Whatever it is they are doing it is somehow both clever and obvious. What do I mean by that? Not sure, but the first time I heard The Wildhearts I probably just started nodding my head and muttering "of course." It was definitely a "Where have you been all my life?" moment. Nothing about the Wildhearts' music feels calculated and it will never seem dated. There's nothing else like it, yet it's like everything. Huh? The Wildhearts were fad-proof. Glam metal yielded its reign to grunge--didn't matter. They were still just The WIldhearts. Heavy rock music from the heart played by rock fans for rock fans. Whether your favorite band is The Beatles or Van Halen, Def Leppard or Slayer, you'll like The Wildhearts, or at least you should. It will become quite apparent as our story unfolds that Ginger was born with a sizable innate talent, he just has it, whatever it is. It's as if he writes songs the way most people breathe--automatically and out of necessity. Whether it's a rock nugget like "T.V. Tan" (number 53 in the UK charts)...

...or a heavy metal epic like "Everlone."

...or melodic thrash like "Suckerpunch" (38 in the charts).

     Earth vs. the Wildhearts was voted the #1 metal album of 1993 by Kerrang's readers and for good reason, this was truly inspired work by a one of a kind band with a certifiable genius at the helm. Kapeesh? As if the songs on the album weren't great enough, some of the bonus b-sides on the singles were even better. The "Suckerpunch" single alone yielded three songs not included on the album, "Beautiful Thing You," "Two Way Idiot Mirror," and "29 X The Pain," and all three are absolute classics. How many bands release three b-sides better than their goddamn album-of-the-year?

     Think about it, allow me to reiterate, those are the b-sides. The leftovers. Those three songs didn't make it on the album! The band followed up Earth vs. the Wildhearts in 1994 with a four song EP called Caffeine Bomb. The title track (which was added to later pressings of Earth vs.) is a thrash metal take on "It's the Subterranean End of the Fire We Didn't Start Homesick World Blues." The song hit number 31 on the charts in the UK and the band performed it on Top of the Pops, but "Girlfriend Clothes" is the stand-out track on the EP.

     With Stidi gone and Ritch Battersby behind the kit for the long haul the band released a six song EP called Fishing For Luckies at the end of 1994 and in May 1995 released their second full length album, cheekily entitled p.h.u.q. A debate ensued as to whether the album title was pronounced "fuck" or "fuck you." As the story goes p.h.u.q. was supposed to have been a double album but the record company chickened out. I mean, why indulge a visionary? Apparently the more difficult material was relegated to the Luckies EP and the more accessible stuff made it onto the album, the title and cover of which I had always assumed were parodies of Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (get it? F.U.C.K.). Was I wrong?


     p.h.u.q. is more cleanly produced than Earth vs. the Wildhearts (took more than a week? new tapes?) and perhaps more ambitious (especially considering the Fishing For Luckies material) but Earth vs. is a stronger record overall. p.h.u.q. flounders a bit side two-ish but starts off strong with an instant classic, "I Wanna Go Where The People Go," the band's first top 20 hit in the UK.

Then gets heavy with V-Day...

...and takes a sharp pop turn with Just In Lust.

     C.J. was fired by Ginger during the recording of p.h.u.q. They've never really explained why, but without him the band released a couple of amazing singles in 1996, including the absolutely stunning "Sick of Drugs."     

Waking up with an 8.2
And it seemed like the easiest thing to do
When someone said, "Here's one for you!"
Mouth's so dry that I just spit ash
And a hole in my pocket full of wasted cash
But it's all right, it was just back stash. --Ginger

     "Sick of Drugs" is quintessential Wildhearts. Killer riff, catchy verse, bouncy bridge, soaring chorus, great lyrics, lots of personality=goosebumps. Is it metal? Hard rock? Pop punk? Plain old rock and roll? All of the above? The song made it to number 14 on the UK charts. But what about in the US of A, where rock and roll was invented? How did such a stellar single fare on this side of the pond? Hmm, what were the top ten songs in America in 1996?

MacarenaLos Del Rio
One Sweet DayMariah Carey & Boyz II Men
Because You Loved MeCeline Dion
Nobody KnowsTony Rich Project
Always Be My BabyMariah Carey
Give Me One ReasonTracy Chapman
Tha CrossroadsBone Thugs-N-Harmony
I Love You Always ForeverDonna Lewis
You're Makin' Me High /Let It FlowToni Braxton
TwistedKeith Sweat

     Greetings from Shitsville indeed*.

      Fishing For Luckies was re-released with the 1996 single tracks included. Next up was a Greatest Hits collection and a lot of drama: drugs, missed and cancelled gigs, a riot, Ginger threw a TV out a hotel window, Ritch set a hotel room on fire (candle mishap), the band trashed the Kerrang offices, Ginger was mired in a bitter dispute with the record label and encouraging crowds at gigs to chant "fuck East West," rumors circulated that Ginger was suicidal, cigarette burns appeared on Ginger's arm in the shape of a smiley-face, Ginger's pet rat Felix died, the band moved to NYC then moved back to London, Liam Gallagher personally escorted Ginger from Oasis' dressing room at Top of the Pops, an industry showcase was performed in drag. At one gig in July 1997 Danny dislocated his shoulder and Ginger broke a rib. Various guitarists came and went (Devin Townshend, Mark Keds, Jef Streatfield). Recording sessions for the next album were abandoned (only to be released in 1998 on Landmines & Pantomimes). As a capper to the clusterfuck Ginger decided to take the band in a decidedly different direction, a very unfortunate direction in my opinion. The album The Wildhearts released at the end of 1997, Endless Nameless, is an odd, noisy mess. Whatever positive attributes the songs might possess are buried deep in experimental nonsense. Whether it was an exercise in self-indulgence or self-sabotage the album was shockingly inaccessible. I can find very little, if anything, to like about it. Exhibit one:

     Here's what Ginger had to say about Endless Nameless in an interview with Mondo Irlando.

"I always wanted people to look back on Endless Nameless 
as a courageous state of intent and a 'fuck you' to an industry 
that we despised. We didn't fear making decisions that appeared 
to be career suicide. I personally wouldn't want to be involved 
whatsoever in an industry that took no chances. I agree that 
it is an album to be admired as opposed to enjoyed."

     The subsequent tour was cancelled and that was that, an epic flameout and the band was kaput. Endless Nameless was the kiss off, or so it seemed. The Wildhearts' apparent split was voted "Shittiest Thing of 1997" by Kerrang readers, even though Ginger insisted the band was simply "on hold." Ginger found time to spend seven days in a Thai jail and participate in some random side projects (Clam Abuse with Alex Kane from Life Sex & Death/Anti-Product, Supershit 666 with Dregen from Backyard Babies). A reconstituted Wildhearts mounted a short tour of Japan in 1998 but come the turn of the century Ginger was solo again, recording under the moniker Silver Ginger 5 (with Conny Bloom from Electric Boys). The subsequent album, Black Leather Mojo, was really good but not as good the Wildhearts of old. Then in 2001 suddenly the Earth vs. The Wildhearts line-up (Ginger, CJ, Danny, Stidi) resurfaced. It soon turned into a full-fledged reunion and in 2002 they put out a wonderful new song called "Vanilla Radio." It went top thirty in the UK. They were back, baby, and better than ever. There were three different versions of the "Vanilla Radio" single with five different b-sides, six new songs, all great. "Putting It On" is my absolute favorite, a tour de freakin' force, but "Vanilla Radio" is a rifftastic romp.

"Stormy In The North, Karma In The South" was the next single. It went top twenty.

     The band finally had their shit together (well, except for Danny I guess). August of 2003 saw the much anticipated release of a brand new album, The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed, and it is a masterpiece from start to finish, a cohesive collection of songs, the band opting for concise and catchy material this time around. Even though the heavy metal riffage is kept to a minimum I think the album is exactly what most of the fans would have wanted. In the wake of Endless Nameless that was quite a gift and if one wanted riffage so badly one could simply peruse the plethora of b-sides (see below). My personal favorites on the album are "Only Love," "Someone That Won't Let Me Go" and "There's Only One Hell," but every song is great. It is Ginger at his best, a master at work, a true craftsman. The Darkness, at the peak of their MTV popularity, took The Wildhearts out on tour with them and I got to see that tour when it swung through Austin. The crowd of MTV-drone college douchebags paid little attention to The Wildhearts' opening set and Ginger cussed them out but I enjoyed it.

    Once again there were a myriad of amazing b-sides to accompany the album's singles, enough to release a 20 track compilation called Coupled With (originally Riff After Riff After Motherfucking Riff in Japan, simply Riff After Riff in the US). It's an amazing collection of songs, my favorites are the aforementioned "Putting It On," "O.C.D." and "Bang!"

     An amazing comeback and then? Ginger went solo again, first with an aborted plan to release a single a month for a year, the results of which are compiled on a CD called A Break In The Weather. 

     He took a short detour in early 2005, moving to Los Angeles and joining a post-Nikki Sixx Brides of Destruction for about a month. It seems like, maybe, Ginger didn't cozy up to L.A. or Tracii Guns, but he definitely hit it off with Brides bassist Scott Sorry, who would eventually turn up in The Wildhearts. But back to 2005, later that year, solo again, Ginger unveiled a great and varied two disc set of new music called Valor del Corazon. Songs like "Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Only Lonely" do not disappointTwo more solo albums followed, Yoni in 2007 and Market Harbour in 2008. In the midst of all this Ginger also reactivated The Wildhearts.

     The Wildhearts released a self-titled album in 2007, a collection of covers in 2008, and an album called Chutzpah in 2009. The quality of the material remained strong.

     In 2010 Ginger joined Michael Monroe's band for the Sensory Overdrive album, playing guitar and writing a lot of the material, like "Superpowered Superfly."

     Ginger left that band mid-tour and claims to have considered quitting the music business altogether, but in August 2011 he launched a Pledge Music campaign designed to fund the recording of 30 new songs. The project would become a labor of love by the fans for the fans. Essentially Ginger was asking his fans to buy his next album in advance, on faith. Not just any album, but a triple album. Fan response was extraordinary. The Pledge Music campaign was an overwhelming success. Money contributed by the fans to fund the album reached 555% of Ginger's goal, so he called the resulting album 555%. And the songs? Astounding, possibly Ginger's best work yet. 

     Ginger did not let his fans down, in fact he somehow exceeded expectations. A Ginger fan could not have asked for more than what they got for having faith in the man and pitching in to make the album happen. The music industry was stunned when the fan-funded album went top ten in the UK. It was unprecedented to say the least. You can get all 30 songs here for 10 pounds, not a bad deal, not bad at all. Just do it.

     Ginger has since launched a new Pledge Music campaign culminating in three more albums: a fantastic collaboration with Victoria Liedtke called Hey! Hello! and two freak out metal albums called Mutation: The Frankenstein Effect and Mutation: Error 500. The Mutation albums seem to harken back to Endless Nameless of all things, which one might find worrisome if Ginger hadn't just pumped out four albums (including Hey! Hello!) worth of killer material in a year's time. I think the guy is due a bit of self-indulgence. 

     As for the other Wildhearts, Stidi joined a cool band called Whatever, C.J. was in a great band with Willie Dowling (a brief Wildhearts member) called Honeycrack, whose album Prozaic is awesome, then formed a pop punk band with Stidi called the Jellys, and Danny put out a really good record on Sub Pop in 2000 with his band the Yo-Yo's.

     I saw the Yo-Yo's twice on that tour, months apart, and both times Danny was vomiting profusely into a bucket at his feet during the set. You can see him vomit five minutes into the video below. You know you want to. As for why he seems to have vomited for the duration of the tour, your guess is as good as mine.

*before my sister calls me out I'll admit it, I kinda like 5 and 8.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Whoa, that`s one hell of an arcticle. Great work!

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