"It’s like coming up with the bends..."

Where have all the outsiders gone?

The savants, the nut jobs, the angel-headed hipsters fit to burn the heavenly cosmos of night? All are sadly lacking in the UK right now, with chequebook indie and dollar sign Grime bulldozing the fragile archicture of our pop heritage.

Sometimes it feels like only a few genuine, bona fide outsiders are left. Luke Haines, therefore, is an endangered species.

Creative lynchpin for The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, his new book 'Post Everything: Outsider Rock & Roll' seems to profile the music industry just as the post-Millennial malaise set in. ClashMusic caught up with Luke Haines to define the fall of the outsider...

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You’re obviously looking back on your own work now, do you see yourself sitting in a tradion of outsiders running through British pop music?
Yes, absolutely. I’m not comparing myself, but people like John Cale, Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, especially those kind of people on Harvest Records maybe in the early ‘70s - which was a bizarre kind of setup where by people were seemingly allowed to do whatever the hell they like and there didn’t seem to be that much interest into taking off into the mainstream. In a way Hut Records was a bit like that with me, because I was very much shielded from the accountants. I think I’m one of the few people in rock ‘n’ roll to have an A&R man who actually let me do what I wanted to. Remember, I was on Hut for 10 years and that’s 10 albums, only a couple which even cracked the Top 40 and that was a major label. So I like to think I’ve done my bit in wrecking the music industry.

There was this symbiotic relationship between the underground and the major label system back then, do you think that’s what allowed outsiders to bubble up towards the mainstream?
That certainly helped in the ‘90s. There was enough money floating around to do that, to have this subculture. But what also happened in the ‘90s was the dreaded Britpop thing. Fundamentally what happened was that a band like Oasis came along and they didn’t really stand for anything other than being as big as you can be. A lot of bands got signed on that kind of premise. I even read an interview with a girl out of Sleeper saying “we just wanted to be as big as we could be, what’s wrong with that?” Actually, everything’s wrong with that, because it’s entirely shallow! It comes from no place other than capitalism and if you do that you’re just a capitalist cunt, frankly. There is much more to life than that and if you don’t know that you’re a damn fool.

That was almost a lifetime ago, surely an 18 year old kid in a band probably can’t even remember that process?
No, but it’s had a knock on effect. Basically so much was spent then and the parameters changed - the whole point was just to own a football pitch in your back garden, there was nothing more to it. It kind of went back to the mid-‘70s Rod Stewart solo albums kind of period; the pre-punk period that punks supposedly gave a kicking for a short time - it brought it back to that. Obviously by the ‘90s we were right into the age of irony so you could never have something like punk again. There was never really a way of changing the situation and so that’s what happens. Ten years ago there was a band like The Strokes who are essentially the same thing, they didn’t really stand for anything, they had no kind of art idea, it was just about “we’re going to be the biggest band in the world” - that’s kind of it. That’s what you have most of the time. The last band that seemed to maybe do something slightly different from that was The Libertines, very briefly, where it wasn’t necessarily about that. But then it became, once again, Keith Richards clichés.

How do you think irony has affected the production and consumption of music?
It doesn’t matter that much, but it has changed everything. It would be hard for a rock band like Black Sabbath to come along now, because if they did it, they would have to do it laughing up their sleeves. There’s no way they could do it straight-faced like Sabbath originally were. Which is why America can do rock because they don’t do quite as much irony and post-irony, and English bands - because of irony and post-irony - we’re in the last chance saloon a little bit. You’ve got to remember also that rock ‘n’ roll is sixty years old now and it was actually fully formed anyway. There’s not a whole difference between a good Chuck Berry song and Odd Future - if you get it down to find differences there’s not that much. So you’re kind of swimming slightly in a shallow pool now.

Britain has always boasted a great art school tradition which is responsible for people like Jarvis Cocker and so forth, and again that’s disappeared over the last ten years. Do you think that’s fed into the lack of these outsider figures?
That’s a good point. I think I was one of the last years of free art school, because I went to art school in 1983/1984, where you could still go there and get a bit of a grant. You basically went to art school to fuck about, that was it. I just wanted to kind of make terrible underground movies without actually knowing what I was doing. I was just a pretentious 16/17 year old. That was one of the great things about Britain at the time, and Jarvis comes from that kind of background too. There are just so many cultural references now that are easy to find, maybe things just get lost. There was less around when I was first in a band and in a weird way the references were quite easy to go to. But maybe because there’s so much you could just get lost on the internet for years and come up with nothing. It’s like coming up with the bends or something.

Do you see the fact that the music industry has less money now as a major contribution to major labels not being able to take the chances they could?
Well it works both ways: this has also been chanced upon by independent labels to kind of claim there’s less money - which makes it a lot easier for them to not pay anybody and to get everyone to work for free. So there’s this whole kind of bullshit that independent labels kind of are now coming up with about: “well this is a great time to be independent, this can be the rise of the independent labels,” and you’re like “ohh, that’s good”. Of course, no one’s going to get fucking paid, but the independent labels are still taking the same amount of money whilst claiming the great mythology of independent labels. That’s why you get the likes of people like Alan McGee and all these kind of people saying “oh, the internet’s a great thing”. Of course it’s a great thing, because it means you really don’t have to pay anyone now. So, that’s a fucking no-brainer. I think all the internet has done is given us a gateway for people to actually say there’s no money when there’s pockets of money, you can do stuff. I have to do ten different things now, but that’s alright because I’m happy to do ten different things, so I don’t want a major label paying me to make an album every two years and go promoting it. So, it does work out well in some ways.

Do you see seeds of recovery, do you spot things in modern culture which give you hope?
No, I just work on my own. That’s a part of doing your own art thing anyway, I just make stuff at home now and if I like it I put it out there. If I make an album I’ll give it to the record label, if they want to put it out they put it out and we go “alright, ok, that’s good.” The last album I did was a concept album about wrestling. I came to the record label and we sort of sat there and then they said: “is any fucker going to buy this? Is anyone going to give a shit?” People kind of liked it and it went down quite well which is kind of surprising. So when you stick to your own ideas and have nothing to do with anyone else’s kind of world, that’s the point. I’m in my forties now so it would be really mad if I cared what people thought. I really don’t and for being an artist that’s a good way to be.

Are you continually recording and producing new material, then?
Most of the stuff I do does get released, but my attitude is I wouldn’t put it out myself, because I have no interest in becoming the record label. But now I work with some pretty good people who I’ve had a relationship with for the last few records, so I can put it out, they actually pay me and they promote it well, so I do that. If I was going to write a book I wouldn’t want to self publish a book. That’s another weird thing about the internet: you have to have that barrier between you and the people who are actually buying your stuff, the audience, because it’s almost like there needs to be that judging panel to get through.

Although there are many bad things about major record labels, one of the good things is that you have to get yourself signed by one in the first place. It wasn’t like the internet where you can just put some stuff out that has no filter, it’s just between your bedroom and the internet. Here you go, here’s some fucking crap, but no one’s ever actually...no one’s ever sort of sat down and had a word and said “maybe this is crap, you don’t want to put this out.” In some ways major record labels are bad, but the filter was kind of a good thing, even though you had arsehole A&R men sort of saying “this would be good if it had more hi-hats” or some crap like that. In a way, when you had to fight against that filter to get stuff through it was a good thing. We had to find the right person who would actually like your stuff, and if there was one person in a major label or any label that could get it through, then you’ve kind of defeated the filter, which is a good thing. But if the filter’s not there, then it’s just a free for all of rubbish.

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'Post Everything: Outsider Rock & Roll' is out now.

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