Upholding rock rules

Wildhearts singer-guitarist Ginger sounds exhausted as he answers the phone at his home in London. But the long-distance connection still telegraphs the enthusiasm he feels on the eve of band’s departure for its American tour supporting fellow UK rockers the Darkness. It’s the band’s first full-fledged U.S. tour in its 15-year history.

“‘Kids at Christmas’ is the only way to describe how we’re all feeling,” he says.

The band, formed amid the late ’80s London gutter-rock scene that spewed forth rockers such as the London Quireboys (with whom Ginger did time) and Dogs D’amour (whose drummer Bam was a Wildheart briefly), had previously released just one U.S. LP, the loud and fabulous Earth Vs. the Wildhearts, in 1993 and played just two U.S. shows supporting AC-DC in 1996 before prematurely going home.

“That was supposed to be an American tour but we were such wasters at the time that we ended up fighting in the band and the crew,” he says, his laugh tinged with disappointment.

While enjoying significant success in their homeland and in Europe, the Wildhearts are virtually unknown in this country save for a devoted legion that roams eBay, digging up every rare gem that can be found.

A new album, Riff by Riff (just released on California indie label Gearhead records), continues the eccentric mixture of pop hooks and meaty Metallica-like riffs that are the band’s sonic signature. A U.S. club tour with San Diego’s Dragons was booked upon the album’s release, but then the Darkness entered the picture.

The Wildhearts-Darkness connection goes back a few years, to when the Wildhearts were giving the then-struggling Darkness opening slots at their shows.

“Lots of people were saying they were a joke band; that they were being too insulting for a new band and I thought, ‘If you have that many people hating you already, you’re going to be huge,’” Ginger recalls, adding, “And now they’re shitting on everyone from a great height!”

The Darkness, currently ripping it up in the States with a massive media buildup and a gold album, showed an admirable nod to their roots by giving the Wildhearts the much-coveted slot on their sold-out U.S. tour.

Ginger sees U.S. interest in the Darkness and the Wildhearts as “the start of a British movement. I think it’s been a long time coming.”

He regrets that his group won’t do the Dragons tour, but, “When someone else offers you a chance like this — unless you’re an idiot — you say yes.”

True to the Wildhearts’ image, Ginger is not shy about voicing opinions of the current musical landscape.

Speaking of nu-garage rock, Ginger quips, “No one who likes rock ’n’ roll likes that stuff — the guitars don’t even sound like they’re plugged into the amps. It’s not classic. There are certain rules to rock ’n’ roll, a certain tradition to be upheld, like the music I was brought up on, the New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick — you had to have loud guitars.”

He laughs about bands whose members sport “all the same fuckin’ haircuts — how much individuality are you going to get from these people?”

He has similar contempt for rap-metal groups.

“America has never needed bands like us more than they do now,” he says. “I feel sorry for you having to listen to the likes of Disturbed and Staind or whatever those fucking groups are. Don’t listen to bands with bald singers. That should be the law, right?”

Of self-important “artists” he states, “Even if they’re talking about themselves they’re ignoring the fact that there’s an audience out there. They want to subject everyone to their fuckin’ emotional turmoil. I don’t get this ‘Aw, I’m an artist.’ Yeah, but most of your audience aren’t; give ’em a good time. It shouldn’t be an endurance test! There’s no angst in our show — we’re getting it out.”

Ginger believes everyone is catching up with “real rock ’n’ roll … which has always been around but just wasn’t in the papers ’cause they were too busy covering miserable bastards complaining about their fuckin’ parents. You won’t hear any of that shit from the Darkness or the Wildhearts. There may be less of the bands, but there isn’t less of a need. Showmanship always has a place in rock ’n’ roll and if people think that that’s not trendy, then fuck ’em.”

The sound created by the Wildhearts — Ginger, guitarist C.J., bassist Jon Poole and drummer Stidi — has always been a challenge to pigeonhole. Ginger believes that pop rock should have “big, loud, fuck-off guitars.” But he also adores bands such as UFO, which “give the audience more than one emotion, like pulling out a ballad that makes you cry — besides the killer riff.”

Perhaps no instance in the band’s history has affected them more than their work with an idol — the late, great guitarist Mick Ronson, the man credited with creating much of David Bowie’s early sound.

Ginger fondly recalls Ronson, who died of cancer in 1993, coming into the studio with his tatty blue Telecaster to lay down the ideal solo for the song, “My Baby Is A Headfuck.”

Lamenting the loss of Ronson, he says, “Spiritually and creatively, the guy is an angel. It’s so sad that he’s gone from us, yet all these miserable bastards singing this nu-metal shit are still breathing. But there’s got to be a good reason for Mick to go, ’cause God is a Mick Ronson fan, there is no doubt about it.”

He says the Wildhearts are primed for the U.S. tour.

“We’re tighter, with a good-looking outfit who aren’t bloated and drunk no more whereas before we used to look, feel and often play like shit,” he says.

The Wildhearts’ U.S. fans are “so loyal,” he says, even though so few have seen the band live.

“Our pop influence is directly from America,” he says. “I couldn’t wish for anything more than what’s going to happen in the next 12 months of my life.”

He’s approaching the task with wide-eyed wonder.

“Fuck, New Orleans? It doesn’t exist — it’s a made-up place where the blues players come from,” he says. “Colorado? Places like that sound good in songs. I’m going to find out they are real places. We got the next album written already, but fuck knows what’s going to happen now with all the inspiration we’re going to get in the upcoming months. If that don’t bring out the best songs we ever wrote then, quite frankly, we’re a bunch of cunts!”


The Wildhearts appear with the Darkness at Clutch Cargos (65 East Huron, Pontiac) Sunday, March 28. Call 248-645-6666. The show is sold out.

Ricky Phillips is a Detroit musician and writer. Send comments to
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