School teacher by day, and songwriter by night, Jack Hayter’s musical career has been rejuvenated since he started working with the Audio Antihero label. Last year’s ‘Sucky Tart’ EP – his first release in nearly a decade – was well received, enjoying positive reviews and airplay on BBC 6Music. Now he is over halfway through a twelve volume series of singles, all available to download online with the B-sides exclusive to subscribers to the complete series.

Though he often plays down his abilities with self-deprecating remarks, he is clearly proud of his music and full of plans for the future. Songwriting had become a hobby, having begun a teaching career after the end of his best-known band Hefner (though he had continued to play music, both with his old bandmate Darren Hayman and with acts like Dollboy).

I met Jack in a pub near London Bridge station, where I had previously interviewed him shortly before 'Sucky Tart' was released. Hilariously, he had spent the day pretending to be Boris Johnson, as his school rehearsed for a visit from the floppy haired Mayor of London later in the week. To be frank, it is hard to imagine anyone less like Boris Johnson than Jack Hayter, but he didn’t seem too traumatised by the experience.


PB: Since our last interview, you have begun a series of singles, each released monthly. Tell me about how that project came about.

JH: It really came about as a way of getting stuff released. There was a financial issue that you can’t get away from – digital releases don’t cost very much. Although as we have broken even on the previous releases, that is not such an issue now. Also there was a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t necessarily make a cohesive album, but that – when I looked at them together – did have enough in common that they would make a good collection of singles. There was a theme of lost things – the degradation of memory over time, things going missing and things getting lost.

It’s called ‘The Sisters of St Anthony’, because he is the patron saint of lost things. It seemed like a nice title, and I had a nice image that I wanted to use. And Jamie from the record company said, "Let’s do it as a subscription series of singles."

I’m still at the point where I’m quite grateful that anyone wants to put stuff out.

PB: So where did these songs come from? Are they all songs that you had recorded a while ago?

JH: There are one or two old songs that have been re-jigged, re-recorded, and in one case remixed. Then there are new songs as well. The last three singles have all been recorded recently, although there are other versions of those songs that I have recorded in the past. I’m a slow songwriter.

The latest single is one song and one instrumental, both about Margate, in 1963 and in 2012. There is a big amusement park there called ‘Dreamland’. It’s a wreck now, but it was massively popular – it was the Thorpe Park of its day really. Lots of people have told me that they used to be taken there. But it’s now a ruin, and I think it will be replaced by Tesco’s.

All the songs are about things like that – lost things. It’s not an original idea particularly, but it gives all the songs a common thread.

PB: You are about half way through the series as we speak – you’ve done seven singles in all.

JH: Yes, we’re on the seventh one, so over half way and I guess we are over the hump! Having said that, now I’m still aiming to write new songs for the next few singles at least, so that puts pressure on me each month. Sometimes they come together quickly, and sometimes they don’t. I worry about words more than music.

PB: Does the music come relatively quickly?

JH: I’ve always found that quite easy. But I am always really anal about words. They do have a degree of accuracy that would probably drive most people spare.

PB: Are you the kind of person that constantly re-writes lyrics?

JH: What I tend to do is to try and get it right first time, and then usually I will listen to it and perhaps revise one or two lines a couple of days later.

On the Margate song, for example –one part of the songs was going to be the thoughts of the partner of a Ukrainian immigrant, and then the song became a little more possible and about potentially moving there. I thought, if I mention T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland', it wouldn’t be very real, but if it was about someone wishing they were moving to Margate, then perhaps it could work. I worry about that kind of thing – would it be possible that the person in the song would have heard of T.S. Eliot or Turner?

So, yeah, I’m very particular about that, and perhaps less so about the music. And sometimes that shows. Sometimes the music is not very good.

PB: Oh, I wouldn’t say that!

JH: I think the release before this one, the song about Speedway, wasn’t very good. I’m the first to admit that – I think the idea was good but I didn’t do it justice.

PB: Is there a temptation to go back and record any of it?

JH: Yes, but I’m very low tech and I tend not to have the space to go back and store working files. I still use a really old PC and really old software to record it. I upgraded a bit last week, so that I can at least apply reverb and stuff like that in real time, but it has always been a case of cutting and pasting songs together in a very primitive way. Which means that I tend not to keep working files, so things get lost and I can’t go back. Much as I would like to remix things, and it would save me a lot of time, most of the time I just can’t do it.

PB: You record everything at home, am I right?

JH: Yes, and the main reason for that is just money. I have spent quite a lot of time in studios and I know that the results would be better, as the equipment is of a higher quality. But it’s all done at home at a little desk, with a small microphone and a miniature keyboard. So it’s woefully pathetics (Laughs).

I haven’t got a lot of time to spend doing it, so I tend to stick with what I know. The algorhythms – the way that we actually process digital sound, they haven’t actually changed since about 1989. So you look at modern software, and, yes, you’ve got all these beautiful screens and real virtual knobs that you can turn, but underneath all that the maths is the same, so it shouldn’t really matter. I’m getting quite technical here. It could be a 'Sound On Sound' interview, couldn’t it?

PB: Have you always been interested in digital sound and recording with synthesisers?

JH: It’s always been there, because my work was with IT and computers. I was around small computers from the moment they appeared. I go back to the dawn of the IBM PC. I started out as a programmer. So, yeah, there’s always been that element to my music.

It was always there on the Hefner albums. Perhaps there isn’t much on the first album, ‘Breaking God’s Heart’, but on ‘The Fidelity Wars’ there is a loads. We had a theremin effect – an oscillator that links to a shortwave radio. ‘May God Protect Your Home’ has some electronic effects. That was a little device I made myself. So, yes, it was always there.

PB: So, going back to your new recordings – you’re planning to record the next single shortly?

JH: In the next few days – and d’you know what? Jamie at Audio Antihero will hate me for saying it, but I haven’t a clue what it will be. Every month he says to me, "Well, we have a few that we can choose from. There’s still a few left," and I reply, "Yeah, but I want to do a new one." It’s nice to have a backstop to fall back on. But I think I’ll have something – it will probably about Boris Johnson, given the last few days at work.

PB: Would you say that this singles project is a way of releasing quite a few songs, but without as much risk as if you released an album?

JH: I like it, and I like the way that it’s turning out. Each month I get quite excited about the artwork. The plan was to have other people do the artwork, and we have done that on a couple of the singles. But I have ended up doing quite a bit of it myself. We may end up putting it out as an album anyway.

There is a writing that goes with the project, which we haven’t found an outlet for yet. There are some short stories I wrote a long time ago, and when I was looking back at them the other day I realised that - stories that I wrote in 2004 and 2005 – they foreshadowed quite a few things in these songs. I got quite a shock – because I had forgotten about these.

PB: Have you had much reaction to the singles?

JH: Yes, I’ve had some nice reviews, particularly for the early ones, and then it went a little bit quiet. I think this one is picking up a bit more interest. The subscription is going pretty well. There are enough people subscribing to it to make a profit, not that money is that important. But I am more interested in the reactions of those people than in what is written about it in the press. It seems like a lot of people that I don’t know like it as well, which is particularly satisfying. I don’t have a lot of time to think about that side of things. I have a day job as well. I haven’t had the time to look in detail about what people think of it.

PB: How much of the technical and promotional side of releasing the records is done by Audio Antihero.

JH: Jamie has that experience in terms of digital publishing and distribution of music. That is his background. I have done DIY albums before, and I know how hard that is. But there is still an art to getting music onto Spotify right first time, for example. I know plenty of people who have got absolutely stuffed by Spotify, because they haven’t set the right levels or something. And then, if you get that wrong, you can’t upload anything else for ages. Some quite big names have got that wrong.

PB: I never think of people actually having to upload things to Spotify themselves…

JH: A record company’s job now is to get stuff onto Spotify, iTunes and the online HMV store. That is one of the things Jamie is good at. I couldn’t do that myself – I’d spend all my time doing it and wouldn’t have time to do any recordings.

PB: What do you think about Spotify? I know that amongst some artists it is very controversial?

JH: I get statements every month, and I know that I don’t get very much money at all from it. I know from watching the kids that I work with is that everyone can download and they can rip music from Spotify at fairly high quality. I think most people are acquiring music from Spotify through piracy basically.

At the level I’m working at, that’s not a problem. We’re making some money from the digital releases anyway, and also I think that the more people who hear it the better. But for someone who’s not got a day job, for someone who is a ‘real musician’, it must be quite galling to see their work disappear for nothing.

I actually teach kids how to do this! I have to teach them how to edit sound, and the quickest way to sell that to eleven-year old kids is to show them how to take songs from YouTube onto their iPods. So everybody is doing it. I don’t have a real problem with it – you know, I remember seeing a statistic that said that for every copy of 'Private Eye' that is sold, ten people read it. Is that a problem with music? Not necessarily.

PB: Going back, you said that you had a limited amount of time to record music. Do you have certain routines that you work around to get the music recorded?

JH: Well, I might get up very early and do some mixing, then go to work. Then maybe come home and have dinner, and then go upstairs for a few hours and record. I do try and make time. Maybe not every day, but a few days a week. I only really pick up a guitar now if I’m recording or perhaps at the very last stage of songwriting. Terrible. But, the house is always full of guitars, because my kids play guitar. I actually have to record quite carefully, because they’ll be cranking their guitars up elsewhere in the house, and that has ended up on my tapes sometimes. They are still at the stage where they are trying to learn other people’s songs, very loudly. I don’t blame them. I was the same.

PB: How old are your children?

JH: I have two of my own, and then two are my partner’s. They range between 16 and 23, although the two oldest are at university now.

PB: So is your garden shed set up for recording, or is it just a normal garden shed where you sometimes record?

JH: Well, at the moment it is full of what was in the garage, you can’t even get in there! We did record one of Darren Hayman’s 'January Songs' in the garden shed. There was a lot of space in it then, but now there’s not. It doesn’t really matter where you record. Nowadays, all you need is a microphone and a laptop, and you can record anywhere.

PB: You recorded one of these songs with Ant and Darren from Hefner…

JH: Yes, that was just done over email. I recorded my parts and then sent them the files and they added stuff. I do quite a lot of work for other people… I played banjo on one track on the new Dollboy album, for example. That is all done the same way. I also played pedal steel on an EP by Ralegh Long. I think he’s excellent, very much a classic English songwriter, with a hint of the Beach Boys that I can hear as well. I’m very proud to have done that. I think he’s really good.

PB: What are your plans for after this singles project is done?

JH: This may sound very pompous, but I think after this is over, I would like to do some instrumental music that can tie in to some of the stories and other writing that I have done. I think the B-side to the last single was the first instrumental I have done, but I enjoyed it. I’ve played on and been around instrumental music, but not done it under my own name. I would like to do some that is tied in to those stories, and has some kind of literary backdrop. That sounds very arty-farty and conceptual, the very opposite of what I hope I am, but I think I could make it work. I think I would record it as an EP, and then depending on how it goes, I might extend it to longer. On those instrumentals, I won’t be constrained to the four-minute song format.

When I was first recording ‘Practical Wireless’ all those years ago, I had several songs that were up to seven minutes long. Darren said that unless I thought I’d written something that was really going to change the world, it shouldn’t really be more than four minutes long. I think that might be the most sensible thing he’s ever said to me, and he’s absolutely right. But I don’t think instrumental music is constrained in that way. Also, I know lots of good people who I think would be up for working with me on that. So I could see that being a lot of fun, and a lot more collaborative.

PB: Tell me about the short stories in a bit more detail…

JH: I’ve always done it. Most of them end up being turned into songs. I never did arts at school, or English A-Level. I was always also science, science, science, IT, science. So I never thought I could do creative writing. But when I go back and read things, if I haven’t chucked them away or deleted them, I often think they are not bad. I’ve also had some bits of poetry published in the past. I’ve done a couple of poetry readings as well. The songs and the poems often have their roots in short stories. And when I say short, I really mean short. Some are only about 1000 words long.

PB: I remember some of those stories being on the Hefner website when 'We Love the City' came out.

JH: Oh, there were some, weren’t there? They were funny little things. There was one about shelf stacking in B&Q, and one about finding McDonald’s packets next to fossils. My writing style is unusual – I use lots of short sentences, maybe not grammatically correct. One of the advantages of working in a school is that I can take these to the English teachers and ask them to correct them for me. They do a good job.

PB: What about releasing a full album. Is that likely in the future?

JH: I think if I did it, it would have to be around a theme. Darren Hayman is a past master of that, and I think his approach would be how I do it – and I think for me it would be songs about schools, because that is what I know and what I am doing now. You talk to everyone – sooner or later, conversation always come down to what you did at school, no matter how old you are.

The school I went to was on the edge of Dartmoor, and was near the Army training base. We used to go out and collect the ammunition, line it up on a rock and then drop another rock on top of it. It’s a wonder no-one was killed. Stuff like that is what we remember about school, or people jumping out of windows. So I’m sure that you could do a good set of songs about schools. And it could be quite moving as well, because it would really be about memory and the passing of time.

PB: Do you have an idea of the kind of person who would be listening? Do you think about it when you are writing?

JH: I thought I did, but that has really been confounded by social media. There seems to be a much broader cross-section of people than I ever imagined. Everyone from folkies to people who liked Hefner, and then others who are a lot younger. I don’t know anymore what that genre is. Perhaps it is my own fault because I just do what I want, and there is not much consistency of sound. That’s good in a way – but then part of being a success is having a cohesive audience. I don’t know how I would build one.

PB: Thank you.









Related Links:



Commenting On: Interview - Jack Hayter








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last