Richard Hawley – Coles Corner – Interview

richardhawley200Richard Hawley

Coles Corner (Mute)
An interview with Richard Hawley
By Tim Den

Let’s talk about your hometown, Sheffield, England. It plays a big role not only in Coles Corner, but your creative personality as well.
It’s located kind of in the north Midlands, the furthest away you can get from the sea, which is only 46 miles away actually, so it’s nothing compared to America. If I lived in any other town, it would still inform my writing. It’s just home, isn’t it? I spent most of my early life trying to get away, like everyone else. Everyone goes through that process of trying to reinvent themselves – be “successful” and all that bullshit – when deep down who you are is where you’re from. You can’t ever change that. And I tried. But I realized where I was headed was not something I wanted. Kind of like a free toy from McDonald’s, you’ll do anything to get it, but once you get it, you realize it’s just a shitty piece of plastic. So I spent the second half of my life trying to get back.

I miss home a lot when I’m away. A lot. My family has lived there for 250 years. I know who I am, I know where I’m from. And those two things can help guide you and inform you of where you’re going. It’s really important to me to have that sense of knowing who I am.

richardhawley2photoThe bio included an anecdote of you coming home from tour and crying at the sight of a Sheffield special sauce…
The relish, yeah. My wife made me sausage with mashed potatoes and greens, just a simple meal with love. If I hadn’t been away for nine and a half months, I wouldn’t be in tears over some fucking sauce! It’s just that that sauce is only made in Sheffield, and I hadn’t seen my family in nearly a year. Having been on the road for that long, I would’ve probably cried at the sight of a washing line. It was just “I’M HOME!!!” And I was younger and a lot more fragile.

Before you “went solo,” you performed with a lot of people as a hired gun, no?
Yeah, I’ve played with a lot of artists. A lot of session guitar, and I worked with Pulp for seven years. A long time. It was a blast. I’ve known them since we were kids. I met Steve Mackey, the bass player, when we were five years-old. It was like family cuz they’re all from Sheffield. We share the same sense of humor, and we’d take the piss out of each other on stage. We used to play huge stages, and by our pedal boards, we’d tape our set lists with two arrows: One pointing this way to London, the other pointing the other way toward Sheffield.

When did you decide “okay, no more session work, it’s time to do my own thing”?
When the phone stopped ringing! I didn’t want to make music on my own, I just wanted to work with other musicians until I got to the point of singing. It’s a big step, you know.

You’d never sung before?
No, never.

Well, only at home. I’ve been singing now for five, six years? I hadn’t really done much singing on the microphone, and I had to get drunk to do it the first time.

I ended up with some recording time at a studio that nobody wanted, so I said “fuck it, I’ll use it to mess around,” and that became my first mini-album. I wrote and recorded it in six days. I kept it on the shelf for, like, 18 months, but eventually had the courage to show it to Jarvis (Cocker, Pulp frontman) and Steve. They said “that’s great, man, you should put it out!” But I was nervous about letting people hear my songs and singing, cuz they’re really different from what’s around. No one wants to get laughed at, you know? (chuckles) I just thought everyone would piss themselves laughing, cuz I have a really deep voice!

But you’ve been compared to everyone from Johnny Cash to Frank Sinatra…
Yeah, heavyweights! I mean I’d been writing and singing since I was a kid, but always kept it quiet. (pauses, smiles) It’s been a weird ride.

richardhawley1photoHow have the responses been at home, abroad, overall?
Great. Everywhere has been fantastic. At this point in my life – I’m 39 – it’s like starting a whole new chapter, which is great! There’s no risk of it getting stale: I’m learning new stuff all the time. I’m the first person to say that I’m still learning about music and singing.

Why did you choose to sign with Mute? It’s kind of a strange combination, since they’re mostly known for electro and experimental artists.
But they also had The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Depeche Mode, and all that. They were the only ones that we met who weren’t full of shit. I’d vowed that I would never sign a major label deal again, after the whole thing with Pulp. This is my ninth record deal or something. I’ve seen the whole spectrum of bullshit in the music industry, and I vowed that I would never work with another big corporate company and get swallowed up again.

It seems as though most of your influences are very “Americana.” Kinda ironic, isn’t it? That a guy who’s so about Sheffield, England makes music that’s so American?
Nothing wrong with that! I’m known in England as The Sheffield Hillbilly. My grandfather, father, uncle, and my mother were all big fans of American music. My father is a guitar player, and he played with Joe Cocker. They used to work together for the gas company. He’s my godfather.

Yeah. My uncle Frank used to play with a guy named Dave Barry of The Cruisers, and they had a song called “Crying Game” which you should check out. He plays guitar on it. I just grew up listening to American music. Country, blues: Without a doubt the best music in the world.

Tell that to the American bands who keep ripping off British music but can’t even do that right!
They don’t have the sense of melody. A lot of the posturing and things like that that I see would be laughed off the stage in Britain. Not all of it, of course: There’s a big rock audience in England. But some of it’s like “what the fuck!? Get that spandex off now!” Awful.

You have to have a self-deprecating sense of humor, and Jarvis Cocker is a good example of that. He has the ability to strike these amazing poses on stage – I’ve watched him do it: He looks like a god – and the next minute backstage he looks like a guy from the country. That’s the thing about my hometown: If my head ever gets too big, they’ll let me know. “You’re turning into a dickhead!” And I like that.