We can share the secrets of our success and help people. How fucking cool is that?
Ginger Wildheart has had a turbulent couple of years since he last spoke to Midlands Rocks. After a twelve-month, 36-track fan club campaign (the self-selected cream of which is about to achieve general release as Year Of The Fan Club and tours as Courtney Love’s guitarist and with his own Hey! Hello! outfit, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and admitted to hospital at the end of 2015.
Ian Savage caught up before the new record’s release to talk about it, the ‘frantic’ last year and the future of rock ‘n’ roll…
Ian: How’re you feeling?
Ginger: Feeling amazing. I’m on a miracle medication called Venlaflexin that I’m going to start telling the world about. I was able to find out about it by spending time in a private hospital, but NHS patients aren’t being told about this drug as a cure for depression; it’s criminal that a cure for depression is available only for those who can afford to buy it. Fucking criminal. Lack of education on mental health in this country is one of our most shameful crimes.
I intend to make as many people aware of it as I can, and I also intend to try and de-stigmatise the illness.
You’ve been busy as ever with Hey! Hello! and the Year Of The Fan Club release – where do you find time?
Well, Year Of The Fan Club was just a compilation of songs from the year of G*A*S*S (the fan club I set up), and Hey! Hello! was typically frantic but very controlled and fun.
But I have to say that I worked too hard last year, and wore myself into the ground. It’s a common mistake in men to over work and over worry, causing stress which can causes a breakdown in synapses of the limbic system of the brain. I’ve seen it happen, identically, in enough people to consider it a major cause of acute depression.
This year I intend to organise everything in my schedule with a little more thought to my mental well being, give myself time to relax. And, of course, continue to offer support for sufferers of stress related depression.
Do you have to consciously ‘switch off’ sometimes and if so how?
No, I’m shit at shutting off. My head can keep going all night when I’m trying to get to sleep. It’s a habit that I intend to break and learn to chill out more. I’ve beaten a lot of bad habits, this one can’t that tough to combat, surely.
It must have been pretty hard to cut the 36 G*A*S*S [Ginger Associated Secret Society] songs down to YOTFC, were you set on putting out just twelve songs on the LP or did more tunes threaten to elbow their way in?
It just ended up being twelve really, there was no deliberate intention to end up with that amount of songs for the album. Some of the songs were voted in by their obvious popularity, and I’m still learning that I don’t always know which songs are going to appeal and which ones aren’t. I think we got a good balance here.
Year Of The Fan Club runs an emotional gamut, but to my ears there’s an overall feel of optimism to it; was there a ‘master plan’ with the track list and running order?
I think that if you have battled with depression for 50 years then you are generally an optimistic person. Some people fail in maintaining a positive opinion of the situation, some die, some last longer than others and some make it to the finish line. It’s kind of in my nature not to let things beat me.
This is just another foe, but one I intend to find out as much about as I possibly can.
‘The Pendine Incident’ is a genuinely touching bit of lyricism, how long have you been holding onto that one?
It was written on the drive around the British coast when I was writing Albion, so it’s that old.
I didn’t want it put on the Albion album, for reasons lost to me now, and ended up with it lying around in my head. I guess I didn’t know if it was a good song or just something cute. In fact, I still wasn’t sure about it until Kelly Compulsive put her vocals down on it and the song came to life.
Some songs go that way, and they’re my favourites. The ones that surprise you.
What experience did you bring from the 2001 Singles Club project to the GASS one, and does the pervasion of the internet make such an undertaking easier?
[a similar idea to GASS was trialled with posting out a three-track CD single a month to club members but aborted after five and released collectively as ‘A Break In The Weather’]
I can’t lie, the Singles Club was a massive disappointment. I hated not being able to finish it, and I guess the idea just hung around the darker recesses of my subconscious until I got around to doing something about it.
The internet makes a lot of things better, of course, but it certainly doesn’t make song writing easier. It’s an ancient art form that comes from a desire to express oneself and the romantic notion that your story could have some resonance with another person.
Songwriters were the original newspapers, going from town to town, singing about places they’d been and people they’d heard of or even seen for their own eyes. They were rewarded with a roof, food and drink, and perhaps someone warm to share the night with. Not that much has changed. We’re all just trying to connect.
To your knowledge have Henry Rollins or Russell Brand heard the tunes they’re name-checked in?
I have no idea if they’ve heard them, and I really don’t care.
You’ve had some fantastic writing collaborations over the years [including Courtney Love on the latest record] – if you could be shut in a room with acoustics and notepads with any artist past or present who would it be?
I dunno, there are many people I’d like to write with. The answer to this question changes all the time. I guess writing with Frank Turner would be a very pleasant experience. Writing with a new artist like The Struts would be fun. And I’ve an album I’d like to make one day where I’d write with a lot of American writers, starting with Dan Baird.
We’ve lost a number of musical heavyweights over the last couple of months, most notably Lemmy and David Bowie – what’re your feelings on the legends our children will or won’t be mourning the passing of in a few decades’ time?
Their heroes died, our heroes die, it’s kind of what we do.
The main thing is not to forget that we got to live in an age of Lemmy and David Bowie. They lived to inspire and I have no doubt that there will be new rock stars carrying the torch in time to come. They’re out there, it’s just harder for them to gain a profile as music marketing these days doesn’t believe in promoting people like Bowie was promoted, i.e. allowing them a life of music with various stylistic changes. Stars are very disposable these days, so it’s up to the people themselves to change this, stay underground and develop their characters with a view to inspiring people just as Lemmy and Bowie did.
You can’t go on blaming Simon Cowell for musicians having no imagination.
Does the quick-fix nature of internet culture by necessity limit the longevity of new artists?
Not if they do something inspirational with the internet. In the sixties the electric guitar was given a complete overhaul, in the 70’s huge rock shows were invented by huge rock bands then stripped away to basics when punk arrived. Dance music was created by a few people before it hit the zeitgeist. All revolutionary ideas came from a few invariably unknown characters with something to say and then ‘boom’, it caught on.
To say that the internet has destroyed that gene in musicians and artists is a statement that only lazy people can endorse. People who can’t be bothered to educate themselves to the options available. And people like that don’t tend to do much with themselves. They invariably quit or sign dodgy deals and then go on to blame the label for their failures.
Inspiration still exists, how could it not? People need to remember this in order to carry on the legacy.
“There’s a guy from Kiss saying rock ‘n’ roll is over” [line from ‘No One Smiled At Me Today’] – it clearly isn’t, but has it fundamentally changed as an ideology from the stereotypical ‘drugs, women and fireworks’ of Kiss’ heyday?
Absolutely, just the same as Kiss were a lot different than The Beatles, both culturally and image wise. And the Pistols were different than Kiss.
Now, instead of greedy people getting so rich and fat that their interests outweigh their desire to create music, we have smart people showing how to make a living out of music. Make a life of music.
It’s a very exciting concept, and far more socialist than the capitalist stance that rock stars maintained in the ’70’s. Today we can share the secrets of our success and help people along. How fucking cool is that?
A muso geek question more for me than anything – since the famed stickered Les Paul went you’ve used quite an assortment of guitars live, what draws you to an instrument?
I like cool shapes, or at least in my mind they’re cool. I like classic designs, like the Ibanez Iceman or the BC Rich Bitch. I also like to spend a bit of money on a guitar so I know it’s going to compete onstage, although if an absolute bargain comes along I’ve got no problem buying that and tarting it up with new pick ups and machine heads.
I just love guitars, but I’m not a purist. I’ll use names that other players consider beneath Gibson etc. And I can tell you this as the truth, I’ve played more great Hagstrom guitars than Gibson guitars. I go for things that look great, sound great, stay in tune and can take a beating.
Last couple – what’re you reading at the moment?
I just finished ‘Depressive Illness: The Curse Of The Strong’ by Dr Tim Cantopher. This is a book I would suggest everyone read if they suffer from depression, or are close to a sufferer, be it a friend, partner or family member. It really breaks down what the illness is, how it is caused and who is affected by it.
I just started The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which shows how trends and epidemics start. It’s fascinating stuff, and worth reading if you want to understand the mysteries of success.
And is there one book that you’d recommend everyone read?
I would tell everyone to go and buy Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I was bought it by my lovely friend Crazy Jake Szufnarowski, and I kind of kept it on the side table intending to read it one day…eventually.
Once I picked it up it got me and really changed my views of mankind and our relationship with each other, the earth and all living things. It’s a fascinating book that I urge people to read. The teachings will change you as a person for the better, guaranteed.
Ginger’s ‘Year Of The Fan Club’ LP is released on February 12th and available for pre-order via Cargo Records