CJ WILDHEART – Come With Him
CJ Wildheart (born Chris Jaghdar) – guitarist of Newcastle Upon Tyne, England-based rock outfit The Wildhearts – began authoring compositions for August 2014 solo studio full-length album Mable in May-June 2013, and continued to write and demo tracks throughout the summer and winter of 2013. Under the moniker CJ & The Satellites, debut solo outing Thirteen had been issued seven years earlier in 2007.
“I work on my own and I record on my own, so I don’t have a band,” CJ notes. “Mable is the first album I’ve recorded since 2009. The Wildhearts’ last album was called ¡Chutzpah! (August 2009), and we toured it that same year. At the end of 2009, I kind of knew the band was gonna take a long break. We’d been touring for a long time, and the album hadn’t done that well. Our audiences were getting smaller. I was about to hit 40, and I really just wanted to do something different and away from music for a while. I had no idea that I was gonna spend years away from music, but what I did do is start a cleaning company, run that for three years, employed eight guys, and just did the day-job, and didn’t think about music for three years. Then a chance arose for me to leave London and move to Yorkshire, which I did.
“The Wildhearts started doing anniversary shows, and I kind of came back to music via The Wildhearts playing anniversary shows, having had a day-job for three years. I seem to have a lot of stuff to write about. It was a really grounding experience doing a nine to five job, but it was really important to me to do that, because I grew as a person.
“I actually hadn’t recorded anything in over three years, so it was quite a painful process getting back into the whole writing and recording – just that mindset. I gave myself six months to do this album, though.
“The way I work is I work on demos, and nine times out of ten my demos become the album, because I spend so much time on the actual songs. I spend a good couple of weeks recording a song, but it is one of those things where I treat it like a job. I start at nine and stop at six, so I’m not drinking through the night and recording all through the night. I treat it like a job. I’ve never recorded that way before but I thought I’d break a habit, and it kind of worked.”
During April 2013, The Wildhearts performed a handful of UK shows to mark the then impending 20th anniversary of debut studio record Earth Vs The Wildhearts (issued in August 1993). “It was completely different,” the axeman enthuses. “I don’t know why our audiences got smaller on the last tour we did in winter 2009. I have no idea what happened, but it’s a completely different turnout since we’ve reformed. The sales are much bigger, and so it’s a different band. I’ve no idea why, but it’s just, yeah. I think maybe just spending some time away gave us a bit of a hunger for this. I’ve got to say, I think the band’s stronger than it’s ever been. Me and Ginger started this band 25 years ago. We have a strut about us and a youthful sort of sound still, which is really cool.
“We’ve got another 20th anniversary coming up in 2015, so we’re talking about maybe doing some shows around that. We always talk about doing an album. The last album we did was in 2009, so if we do do an album, we’ll do one any time in the next ten years (laughs).”
An extended absence perhaps lends music audiences time to miss artists. “Yeah, it must do,” CJ agrees. “We were away for a good few years. It gave the band a breather, and our fans a breather.”
Much of Mable’s lyrical preoccupations concern the vocalist’s time spent in London during the past three years, operating a cleaning firm. “A lot of my clients were extremely rich, and a lot of them were extremely poor,” he observes. “I was experiencing things I’ve never experienced before. I’ve played in bands since I was a teenager and I’ve never had a day-job since I was 18, so it was a real shock for me – having played in bands all of my life – to be suddenly working on the streets of London, and working with people who knew nothing of my past, nothing about me, and working for a lot of very rude and obnoxious clients.
“This album kind of charts these last three years, but I couldn’t have written this album unless I’d done that job. It gave me a wealth of things to write about, and with the next album, I’ll still be writing about my experiences in London. I just met so many interesting people, and I had so many adventures running a day-job. It’s new to me. I think people can connect with my experiences of being stuck in a van all day, and having to clean up for rich snobs (laughs).”
“Mable is actually the name of my favourite hen (laughs). I keep chickens, and Mable’s my favourite one. She’s really noisy; she always complains, and she’s always begging for food. I started to record this album, and I was sat in the garden one day looking at my hens running around. She came up to me, and I just went ‘Mable sounds like a cool name.’ It’s like a title that Weezer would probably have for one of their albums, so the name just stuck. My favourite hen, of all things (laughs).”
CJ personally enjoys the somewhat quirky side of American melodic rock. “I like Pixies, Weezer, Fountains Of Wayne, and I also like a lot of New Wave as well,” he cites. “My album incorporates a Weezer, Pixies kind of sound. There are a lot of keyboards – New Wave, sort of Elvis Costello-type keyboards on there. There are also elements of dance music on some tracks, but it’s all held together with rock guitars. That’s where I come from, but yeah, I like mixing it up. I work on my own, so I can get to experiment. The fact that I don’t use a band and I have my own studio, I have time to experiment, so I can play around with different beats and sounds – it doesn’t cost me anything. My album is quirky, but it’s fundamentally held together with rock guitars.”
All of the guitarist’s studio equipment is computer-based. “I have a spare bedroom I’ve converted into my work space, so it’s a room I can make as much noise as I want to in 24/7, which is really important if you’re making music – to be able to make noise,” he informs. “ I’m just lucky that I can do that at home, becauseit doesn’t cost me anything to record albums. It’s just time, and at the moment I seem to have quite a bit of time, so there’s nothing stopping me. To be honest with you, it isn’t the 70s or 80s anymore. I know people who record albums on their laptop. It’s not so much the equipment, because everyone can have the equipment on their computers now – it’s at everybody’s fingertips. It’s just having the knowledge to know how to record music.
“I’ve been making music since I was 18. I’m 46 now, so if I didn’t know how to record music on my own now then I would be a bit of an idiot, I think. I’ve spent many, many months in studios, and watched lots of people make albums for me and for other bands. It’s something I’m fascinated by, but I do struggle with mixing, so on this album I called in a guy called Lee Wray to mix with me, who just has amazing ears. I wouldn’t have been able to make the album without him.”
Mable’s drum parts were programmed. “If I could play the drums, I’d play them,” CJ stresses. “I enjoy working in a band, but I just needed to do this album on my own. I wanted to just kind of lock myself in my home studio, and just get on with it. The whole band thing is great, but you’ve got four to five people trying to make decisions. Bands are just kind of dramatic – that’s what bands are like. I prefer the peace of working on my own. It’s almost a zen-like experience recording on your own, and you work at your own steam. The fact that I can record at home means that I can record whenever I want, and so if I don’t fancy recording tomorrow then I can just do it in a few days time. It doesn’t cost me any money, and I am my own boss. I kind of like it that way.”
The majority of solo artists employ session members. “I suppose,” the singer muses. “I took the word literally (laughs). It’s like it’s a real solo effort; 99% of the album is me on my own. I called in a couple of voices for gang vocals; I called in a guy called Chris Catalyst, and my mixer and producer Lee Wray helped on some gang vocals, and then Lee Wray also did some keyboards for me. But yeah, 99% of it is just me on my own. Some people say they like the sound of a band, but at the end of the day it’s 2014. Things have changed. If you want to record somewhere on your own, you’ve got the ability. It’s very easy to do that now, because the technology’s there. I loved the 70s, loved the 80s, but it’s 2014 and I’m living in the present and not the past.”
Had Mable been cut during the 80s, record company capital would’ve been needed to fund album sessions. “To be honest, I would never have been able to make this album on my own back then,” CJ admits. “It would’ve cost a fortune. The reason I can do this album is because it came out as a pre-order via the PledgeMusic.com site, and it was fan-funded – funded by my fans. The fact that I can record on my own means I can make albums very cheaply. If it wasn’t for those two points – the fans and the fact that I can make albums very cheaply – I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, because I don’t have a massive fanbase. There’s a lot of stuff that I have to do on my own, just to bring costs down. It’s great. I treat this like a job, and it is my job. I just happen to make music, and it is a job at the end of the day.”
A pre-order campaign for Mable was organised through PledgeMusic.com. “Ginger has done really well via PledgeMusic.com,” the axe-slinger reckons. “He actually mentioned it to me a few years ago when I was out of music, when I was doing my business down in London. I had a drink with Ginge. He was just about to start his 555% album (March 2012), and he asked me if I would come down and play on a couple of songs. I said ‘Yeah, I’ll come out of retirement and help,’ but then he was saying ‘Why don’t you think about doing something yourself?’ I kind of went ‘Yeah,’ but I left it a few years. I’ve seen how well he’s done and I’ve seen how well other friends of mine have done, and so it was the obvious thing.
“I’m 46; I’m not gonna get a record deal. I’m definitely not gonna get a record deal where I’m gonna get enough money to live off of, so the PledgeMusic.com thing is the obvious route for musicians who do have a fanbase out there, and who also want to sell direct to their fans and make a bit of money, because it’s really important. If you’re gonna work really hard at something, you should get some return from it. We’re not kids; none of us are kids. We have families to feed, mortgages to pay – we have to bring home the bacon. It’s a really proud feeling when you do something that you love, and you can provide for your loved ones as well. PledgeMusic.com enabled me to do that, and it’s enabled a lot of musicians my age and in my position to carry on making music and involve their fans. It’s a really, really good platform.”
Generally speaking, crowd-funding initiatives such as PledgeMusic and Kickstarter offer a greater variety of incentives the more fans to pledge to donate. “To be honest with you, I didn’t really pay much attention to PledgeMusic.com until I had to put an album of my own out there,” CJ confesses. “I looked at some of the artists, and I don’t know how some of them can sleep at night. Some of the stuff they are offering, it’s ridiculous how much money they want to have a night out with them, or a day with them. It’s crazy. I would never whore myself; I would never expect my fans to pay to have dinner with me, or for me to take them around my neighbourhood. That’s like prostitution.
“If someone’s gonna give me money, then they’ll get a product at the end of it. If you give me your money, then you can get an album, you can get a T-shirt, you can come to a special show. I also released a chilli sauce to coincide with this album, as well. There has to be something at the end, which is an album, or a T-shirt – something that they can physically hold onto. Some musicians do take the piss. I don’t know how they can sleep at night. It’s an odd one, but I’m doing another album now that will be coming out through PledgeMusic.com. Again though, I’m not gonna rip off my fans. They’ll get value for money; they’ll get something at the end of it which they can put on a shelf, put in their CD player.”
Some fans pledge arguably excessive sums to receive a phone call from their favourite artist, to highlight one unscrupulous incentive. “If somebody does that, I don’t care who the fuck they are – they could be friends of mine,” the frontman begins. “I don’t think any of my friends are putting that up on their pledges, but that’s just being an arsehole. If you honestly think you’re that special that you can… At the end of the day, we are just musicians, and we just make music. We’re not changing the fucking world; we’re not saving lives.
“Some musicians are so fucking up their own arses, and they think they’re so precious it’s like ‘Fuck me. Get over yourself, man.’ We make music, we write tunes, we go out, and we do a show. We entertain people. If we wore big red noses and big shoes, we’d be clowns. Some people really, really need to wake up and sniff the air, man. We’re no different to anyone else out there. That infuriates me, that someone wants to charge that sort of money just to talk to them on Skype. It’s bizarre. I’m on my soapbox now (laughs).”
The greatest tragedy is the fact that the most fervent fans purchase such packages; essentially, said artists are exploiting their most ardent listeners. “I’m aware that I have a small and very loyal fanbase,” CJ recognises. “I’m aware that there’s a very small percentage of my fans who will buy anything and everything that I put out there, so I have to make sure that everything I put out there is value for money. I would never, ever fall into that trap of thinking that this is really easy money, and I’m getting a high return for practically fuck all for doing fuck all.
“I have to really make sure that whatever I do I put a 110% into, and I’ve worked really hard to make sure that everything is the best that it could possibly be. I think it’s one of the ethics that The Wildhearts have – Ginger never rips off his fans. It’s something which is really close to myself and Ginger, and everyone who’s been in The Wildhearts. We give value for money, and I think that’s why – although we’ve never had the biggest fanbase in the world – we have one of the most loyal fanbases out there.”
The multi-instrumentalist’s chilli sauce issued to coincide with Mable’s release is dubbed Devilspit. “My father is Indian while my mum is from the Seychelles, so I grew up with spicy food,” he shares. “My mum has always made her own chilli sauce, so I love food – I’m really into cooking. Lots of people have always said ‘Why don’t you make your own chilli sauce?,’ and I had an opportunity. A local company called Chilli Devil Sauces in Yorkshire, I hooked up with them and basically put a few of my favourite things in a bottle.
“The sauce is called Devilspit, and it’s a combination of beer, barbecue and chilli all in a bottle, and it’s also quite close to my mum’s own recipe as well. I’ve got another two chilli sauces coming out in 2014 as well. Again, if I hadn’t had done PledgeMusic.com, I wouldn’t have been able to do the chilli sauce – PledgeMusic.com enabled me to do that. It’s great that being a musician, I can do something completely different with my album. So yeah, I feel quite privileged.”
As referenced, CJ comes from an immigrant background. “My parents both joined the British Army and moved to Britain in the 60s, but most of my family live in the Seychelles and New York,” he divulges. “We have very few family in the UK.”
Immigrant workers tend to harbour a strong work ethic, something reflective of the axeman’s parents – not to mention the axeman himself. “My dad worked in the British Army for 25 years, so he has a very strict work ethic,” he compliments. “I employed eight Sri Lankan guys to work with me when I was running my company, and the reason why I employed the Sri Lankan guys was because they’d keep up with me. Sometimes I don’t wanna have a break, and they’re the same. They just work, and work, and work, because my attitude is the quicker you get the job done, the quicker you can get home and get on with the rest of your life.
“A lot of people were surprised seeing an English guy turn up to clean. I had it all the time, that you don’t see English people cleaning. They were like ‘Wow. Why are you here?,’ but my attitude was if I worked on the job with my boys, it’s one less person that I have to pay a wage for, and that wage stays in my pocket. Plus, I enjoy working, and my Sri Lankan guys were really nice guys to hang out with. But no, there’s nothing worse than lazy people out there blaming the world for their misfortune. If you want something, get out there and work for it, and try your hardest.”
For the foreseeable future, CJ will be an extremely busy gentleman. “Mable has come out as a commercial release, and I’m about to become a father for the first time,” he ponders. “This is what I do for a living; I make music, and I also make chilli sauce. I work from home, and I’m about to become a dad. My wife’s gonna be on maternity leave for six months, so I’m basically gonna be recording and changing nappies and feeding over the next six months. I’m not touring until 2015 – I’m basically off the road now. I’m at home, and I have to work. I’m about to start another album, and hopefully I won’t be writing all of the songs about my new baby (laughs).”
Home for the vocalist happens to be a small town named Knaresborough in North Yorkshire. “It’s very rural, very peaceful, very quiet,” he describes. “I like it, though. I’ve lived in cities for most of my life, and so I moved from London to be here. At first it was a bit of a shock, how quiet it was, but I’ve found that I just work more here. There’s a quality of life here which you never get in a city like London. A place like London, it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor. You’re just living in a big pot of shit, and that’s what London’s like. Everyone, the rich and poor, they all walk down those streets and they all breath in that crappy air. When I was a kid I could never live in the countryside, but I’m not a kid anymore, and the peace and quiet definitely has an effect on my life and my music.”
Mable was released independently on August 4th, 2014.
Interview published in August 2014.
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