While the music press continues to go ga ga over the style-mag punk of the Strokes, or the faux-blues howl of the White Stripes, our homegrown resident indie sensations Hefner have only gone and quietly snuck out the album of the year. Following on from their well received 'The Fidelity Wars' and 'We Love The City' LPs they’re now showcasing an updated electronic sound. So what’s all this about then…

“Telegrams, pigeon post, eight-track cartridges…”

“Betamax video cassettes, Philips laser discs…”

“Any means of storing data or information that is no longer in use. It’s not dead media as in dead mediums like Doris Stokes… it’s Dead Media.”

'Dead Media' is, in fact, the new album by Hefner, the London-based indie soul quartet’s fifth (if you count their excellent odds and sods compilation 'Boxing Hefner') long player in three years. The two voices at the beginning of this article belong to Jack Hayter, Hefner’s multi-instrumentalist who sings with a voice like old man Steptoe and talks like a children’s TV narrator, and Darren Hayman, Hefner’s heart and soul songwriter who, in fact, isn’t talking at all because he’s lost his voice, and therefore conducts his part of the interview via email. For the purposes of this article we will imagine him talking like Stephen Hawking. Jack and Darren are describing what dead media is. It really has little to do with the actual album, which, like all Hefner albums, is about girls. It’s relevance, presumably, is derived in part from the decaying, antiquated analogue synths which wheeze and splutter all over Darren’s cute, screwed up anti-love stories.

“This album has a much looser theme than that of 'The Fidelity Wars 'or 'We Love The City',” Darren admits. “It’s about changing your life and growing up, making decisions at those big crossroads in life. The album is much less about a relationship then you might think. It’s about getting old.”

Nevertheless, Hefner are a band characterised by their hapazard paeans to the opposite sex. To beautiful but untouchable librarians, to girls that smoke in your bed, to girls that leave you when she finds out about the debutante and what she did with her lips. They are, for the most part, pathetic with wretchedness and being-in-loveness and not-being-in-loveness. And they are, without exception, beautiful.

Is this all because you you like to have a sense of tragedy and romance in your work or do you just have a problem with relationships?

“Tragedy and romance aren’t as important to me as a narrative,” Darren bleeps down a LAN connection. “I don’t want the songs to be melodramatic. Tragedy and romance implies a Scott Walker album, which isn’t my cup of tea really. I like what I do to be thought as a little more detailed and possibly real life. Don’t know if I answered you…”

But are the stories real? Has anyone ever recognised themselves in your songs?

“These are questions I regularly avoid and would do so if we were face to face. Would the answers make the songs better or worse for you? I haven’t written about anything I haven’t felt in someway myself, if that answers it. My friends are largely indifferent to what I do for a living, some of them don’t even like Hefner.”

Do you think that you need a muse for your songwriting or are you just by nature very analytical about relationships?

“I don’t need a muse. I consider writing to be my job at which I like to work hard. A good song, for me, usualy comes out of hard work, rarely a flash of inspiration. I don’t think I’m analytical about relationships, maybe sometimes in the songs but then not really. I think the proagonist in my songs are usually in a position of ignorance and not analytical enough. Hmmm, sorry to keep disagreeing.”

Do you find it easy to fall in love? A lot of your songs seem to romanticise being unromantic in a way.

“Romance for me has a lot less to do with that I’m thinking it might mean for you,” Darren huffs in a monotone chirp. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to any romantic cliches, or at least I try not too. What I’m trying to do in the songs is deal with the specifics, the details of what it’s like to feel certain things. I try and use the language so that it resonates with people in a very real way. The songs themselves deal with relationships, but not the generally accepted notion of romance. The truth is far more interesting. I’ve been with my present girlfriend for some time now so I guess I don’t fall in love that often. I’ve fallen in love with my new dog though.”

Hrm, okay. So why do you write songs? You’re a schooled artist. What attracted you to songwriting over other art forms ?

“It’s very instant I guess. It’s hard for people not to give some reaction when presented with a song, you can pretend to like a picture for instance.”

Back in Dudley I sit hunched over a small table in the freezing backroom of JB’s. Jack is telling me with a degree of wistfulness that Hefner are a lot older than a lot of bands, that they release a lot more records in a much shorter space of time than a lot of bands. Maybe that’s why they haven’t as been as successful of some of their, well, less talented, peers.

I’m thinking about how the power relations work in the band. All of the members including John (ex-Brummie, bass) and Ant (drums) do their own solo stuff and they all work with other bands. What makes Hefner Hefner? Is Darren Hefner? If so, why are they four of them?

“Hefner’s a funny band,” says Jack, hitting the nail quite deftly on the head. “In that it’s a band of four songwriters that just happen to be doing Darren’s songs. That’s the way it is. But it’s a lot more democratic then you might think, Hefner.”

John thinks so too.

Bleep bleep. Bleep bleep.

That’ll be Darren, emailing in an agreement.

“They are right mainly due to the fact that when I’ve written a song it doesn’t really sound like a Hefner song until the guys have taken it apart and rearranged it. So in that way they are a big part. In many other respects, song selection, tour dates etc. the band is an active democracy of which I’m just 25%.”

‘Don’t stop me on the rum, just because it makes me numb/Stop me on the whiskey, I know whiskey is his drink…’ the introduction to 'The Hymn For The Alcohol', Hefner’s best song and tonight’s curtain raiser has never seemed quite so pertinent. We’re back in Dudley again and Darren’s here, in real life. Attempting to ward off a rapidly degenerating voice, Darren is downing silly quantities of whiskey and cough mixture. I’m thinking he should have considered the Stephen Hawking voice as a substitute.

He’s fucked up, cute and singing his bleeding phlegm-caked lungs out. Rather than destroying an otherwise competent set though, this is the kind of occasion that galvanises the innate ineptness in Hefner’s soul into a manful battle for hearts and minds. It makes for that most rare of things: magic.Eschewing nearly all of their latest ‘Gary Numan album’, the band lay into what, in sickly-child indie boy terms, could only be described as a greatest hits set. Early classics like 'The Sad Witch' are dusted off, and 'The Hymn For The Cigarettes' kick starts the closest thing to a moshpit Hefner fans have seen since Hello Kitty pencil cases went out of fashion. It seems bizarre that for a hitless band barely three years into an inauspicious career, Hefner should inspire such rampant devotion in an unswervingly loyal fanbase, but Hayman’s half-yelped lyrical prose is a thing of beauty. They’ve outgrown ‘the camp Pavement’ tagging of their early releases and in a music scene where their only competitors are either too old (Pulp) or too crap (Belle & Sebastian), Darren’s gawky troupe are nothing less than solid gold heroes; soul saviours. Come get saved.













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