After a brief introduction, we found somewhere quiet (to be honest, with The Wedding Present sound-checking, there aren't that many quiet places around!), pulled up a couple of stools and chatted to Miles for over half an hour about the new album, 30 years of being in a band and the most important question, has he booked a SAGA holiday yet, read on to see how it all went down
On March 19th 2016, you're set to release your new album '30 Goes Around the Sun', looking back over the 30 years since you first walked into a rehearsal studio in 1986, what period would you say you enjoyed the most and why?
It’s all really felt like exactly the same time, there’ve been times that weren’t so good where we didn’t have the right people in the band, I think when the band was commercially too big, I didn’t enjoy that in the early 90’s, I suppose I’ve enjoyed it all in my own way, I guess if I had to say the BEST time, it would be now….
Playing to a packed room, everyone singing back to you?
Yeah, absolutely! great crowd, great atmosphere....
You worked with Simon Efemey to produce the new album, was the work ethic any different now compared to what it was like back in 86’?
Exactly the same, Simon produced our second demo which would have been 86’ and then he recorded all the demos for ‘Never Loved Elvis’ at the beginning of 1990, we haven’t done any studio work with him since then but he’s been our live sound engineer from the beginning, he then went off and had his career in production, he returned to be our sound engineer in 2000 and went off again to produce some more records and then we recently got him back again!
So he’s always been on a short leash?
Yeah, we enjoyed working with him and he just fitted with what we were looking for.
Apart from the different people involved, has the dynamics of the band when it comes to writing and recording changed much from the old days with the original lineup?
Well it did for a while because we originally wrote as a four piece and then ‘Hup’ was mostly myself and Mal, ‘Never Loved Elvis’ was all me, the next album (Construction for the Modern Idiot) we all wrote together and I felt that it didn’t work that well….
When I read the diaries, I was surprised as I assumed that you all wrote together then I read that this wasn’t the case and how frustrated you were about it
People just got lazy, it was awful and then like a fool, I still split all the royalties completely evenly
I think that’s the way bands were back then, trying to keep things all ‘democratic’…
Yeah and that doesn’t work! There’s a life lesson learned well! So the new album I started to write on my own, by March 2015, I had 5 written and I thought that I’d have the album written by June and then literally, once we’d demo'd them 5 tracks, nothing else would come, I just couldn’t find anything. I said to Tony (drummer) that I’d got nothing more to offer and he asked me what we’d do in that situation in the early days and I told him that we’d all get together in a room, pick a key, the drummer would start and we’d just jam it out, we did that for 3 days and we completed the rest of the album! So half of the album was just me and half was the rest of the band, I think that it’s a very lively record and that’s a result of writing most of it together and just firing off each other, if it was just down to me, it’d sound like me sat at home on the couch with my acoustic guitar and that’s about how it would have ended up sounding! Erica, me and Mark (McCarthy - Bass player) have worked together for over 10 years now, add to this relationship the liveliness of Dan (Donnelly - Guitar) and Tony (Arthy - Drums) has really bought something to it.
You said that you recorded 5 new songs on a Gretsch guitar (White Rancher?) that you bought in December 2014, do you think that a new guitar has songs in it?
I honestly do think that! it's the same fretboard after all but yes, if I buy a new guitar, I always manage to get something out of it! When I went to buy my first mandolin, I never asked anyone to teach me, you just start finding things, chord progressions etc and at the end of it you think that you’ve written agreat song and once you transpose it all to a guitar and you realise that it’s just G, C & D again! I wrote ‘Maybe’ from the Never Loved Elvis album on mandolin and when I took that to the guitar it sounded exactly the same as ‘Don’t Let me Down’ and if I’d written it on the guitar I wouldn’t have used that set of chords again so ‘Maybe’ would never had been. I think it’s nice being ‘musically ignorant’, I’ve always found more stuff just shooting in the dark.
You personally reach a significant landmark this year have you set yourself an age where you want to hang up the guitars and start wearing beige Danimac jackets and going on SAGA holidays?
I quite like the idea of SAGA cruises and Erica’s old enough to be my ‘companion’ so that’d be nice. Me and Vic Reeves were talking about maybe going on a Northern Lights cruise, we soon got very excited about tartan blankets and our deck chairs and Erica and Nancy pushing us around but they soon lost interest when we suggested that! I think it might just be me and Vic on our own! What a party that’d be! It’s amazing to think that the band have been around for 30 years, we did take 6 years off but either way, I haven’t lost interest in it for 30 years either means I’m consistent or I don’t have that much of an imagination!
You mention that The Wonder Stuff have always been a live band and the thought of sitting in a studio, noodling around with computers doesn't enthrall you, what are your views on the future of music, do you think there will be a resurgence of 4/5 piece bands that don't rely as heavily on electronically produced music?
It’ll be lots of everything, a very good friend of mine, Mike (Edwards) from Jesus Jones and Pop Will Eat Itself started to use the new technology like samplers and other bits, Mike did an interview saying that standard rock n’ roll is over now and you have to start moving in the new direction which in many ways he was right, he wasn’t right back then but the way that bands these days over use production techniques such as ‘Pro Tools’, you can’t work out if a drummer is any good these days by listening to a record, bands tend to use the same ‘plug ins’ and buttons to create a backing vocal, I’m going to say this as I think that I’ve earned the right to be able to say it, I’m 50 soon so here we go….EVERYTHING SOUNDS THE FUCKING SAME! It doesn’t to kids and the future of whatever happens to music is in the kids hands, everything will still exist, rock n’ roll didn’t destroy jazz, techno didn’t destroy rock n’ roll, it’s all gonna be there and used, there’ll be people who are very precious about rock n’ roll and those who are into techno and there will be those people who are the proper clever fuckers who’ll end up using it all to create something a bit different!
We chatted about this on the way to the show and we agreed that it’s very 'cyclical'
I couldn't agree more! Things come and go and everyone jumps on it and it's flavour of the month for a while then it goes away again. I think what’s also interesting is The Lottery Winners (opening act on the tour), they have a sound that was created by bands around 1980-1982, I love them and when I suggest bands that they MUST have heard of as they sound so similar, they say that they haven’t and I ask them how they came to create this sound and they say that it’s just what happened in rehearsals which also happens to be exactly what happened between 1980 and 1982! I honestly thought that they had based their sound on Kirsty McColls version of Billy Bragg’s ‘New England’ and decided to form a band around that sound, the shocking thing is that they’ve never heard the track before and when I played it to them, they were shocked and said that it sounds just like them!
I’ve seen a couple of recent setlists from the tour and I was surprised to see that it’s quite light on tracks from the new album, are you planning on touring the new album once it’s released?
It’s a 30th anniversary tour and that’s how they wanted to advertise it, whilst I can sit in on my couch and entertain myself with the brilliant new material from the new album I think it’s unfair to drop it all on the fans when all they want to do is have a proper knees up! I’m more than happy to be ‘the turn’, it’s a very happy event and I think to make people listen to anymore than one track from the new one is a bit much! We play one from the last album and then the set is really heavy on tracks from the first four albums. We’re already planning on going out again in December and even then, we’re only looking to include 3 tracks from the new album
Are you still going to be doing the acoustic shows with Erica?
Oh yes and we’ll be introducing more of the newer material into that
I really enjoyed reading all about the tales of a young group of musicians, finding their way up the ladder of success (Diaries 86 - 89), when can we expect the next instalment of the book?
I really enjoyed writing the book and the whole experience was strange as me and Martin Gilks (original drummer) weren’t getting on at all for the last 3 years of his life and when he died, I didn't feel maybe what I should have felt. It had been a long battle with him taking me to court for using the name of the band that I named that he willingly left, so lets just say that I didn’t really think that highly of him at the time. Throughout the writing of the book, I looked back at my journals and I could see how the young Martin and the young Miles got on and really had each others backs and nothing that’s in my life now would have been possible if we hadn’t done it together so it was really nice to lose the negative thoughts about Martin and I now think of him in a really positive way so that’s nice.
Did you feel a weight lifting from your shoulders when you were writing the book?
Yes, I was really surprised that it actually felt good after getting it down on paper (so to speak). So for the next chapter, I’ve transcribed all the diaries for the next book, the thing with the 86’-89’ Diaries, there was probably about 4 inches of writing per day at the most, for the next one, from 90’ onwards, I started keeping journals so instead of 4 inches, there was like 4 sides of A4 EVERY DAY and after spending MONTHS transcribing the journals to the word I’ve realised that A) it’s far too long and B) it’s a fuckin’ load of moaning! it’s just moaning, moaning and more moaning and partially it’s because everything we did from 86’-89’ (except the latter stages of 89’), was new, travelling to America was new, working in Rockfied was new, playing at The Astoria was new, once we reached 1990 it was like “oh, we’re doing this again, oh we’re here again”. It was easy to stay ‘up’ when you had all these new experiences but when you have no new experiences it all becomes a little stale. The promoter would be onto us to play bigger venues, he suggested playing the NEC (Birmingham) and there was no way that I wanted to play that place, I used to pick litter up around the NEC, there was no fucking way that I ever wanted to go anywhere near that place again in my life! So instead of this, we were asked to play 3-4 nights at each venue as this was the number of people that we were playing to, we ended up trying one big gig and it was at the G-MEX in Manchester and we fuckin’ hated every second of it! You can’t tell that there’s an audience there, I don’t know what ‘stadium’ bands like Coldplay get out of big gigs like that because there is no way that you can tell there is an audience behind the lights and the security pit, you know there’s something there…..When the audience is 5000+ it starts to cause issues for us, it;s almost like being in a play! We prefer 2000 as you can really engage with the fans, you can actually hear the hecklers, you actually feel a different mood and vibe. So, instead of playing the 10000 capacity venues, we agreed to find a 2000 capacity venue and play it for 4-5 nights which was lovely as it meant that as you were on the road for weeks, you had a nice spell in the same city for 4-5 nights at a time. By this time, we hated each other by then so that was the only downside….SO, what I have started to do is argue with myself, I read comments and think “how dare you moan about your limo being a little bit late - You never knew how good you had it at the time”. So there are two very different voices in the next book, the moaning voice of a young Miles and my thoughts as a 'grown up' version of myself....
Any release dates pencilled in so far?
Not sure, when we get back from the last dates in Tokyo, I’m going to have a week off and then I’m gonna seriously sit down and get it together!
Lyrically, the new album comes across as a very nostalgic album yet retains the unmistakeable 'Wonder Stuff' style, are there any tracks that have particularly interesting back stories? e.g. 'The Kids from the Green'.
That track is just about me and my mates at the end of our school years, into our early dole years, the learning to smoke dope years. A really disproportionate amount of them are now dead, really odd. I guess the track reflects on that and then there’s a track called ‘Misunderstanding Burton Heel’, Burton Heel is a character I’m in the process of creating for a book of fiction that I’m looking to release after this album
I did wonder where the name came from as there’s not a lot of information on him on Google at the moment!
There’s nothing out there yet!
Lastly, I just wanted to say a big thank you for forming the band in the first place, you burst onto the scene around a time when we were unsure on which musical path to follow, if it hadn't been for you, we'd have ventured down the dark path of ‘Whitesnake' or some other tragic rock/metal band so thanks very much for saving us!
More than happy to have been of service to you!
Miles was more than happy to sign us a couple of autographs and as it's his 50th coming up very soon, we supplied him with a couple of bottles of ale to keep him going and a nice card, hand selected from Sainsbury's earlier on in the day! (#itsthethoughtthatcounts)
The Wonder Stuff's new album '30 Goes Around the Sun' is available NOW....
Interview by Steve Muscutt & Roger Wells
Photo by Julian Baird