The Wildhearts

Published: 01 July, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 162, July, 2008

The Wildhearts have had what can be best described as a tumultuous past, with highs and lows of every kind coming at a furious pace – breakups and frequent changes to their line-up went hand-in-hand with top 40 singles and critical acclaim. In one of their most frank and open interviews to date, Ginger and Scott reveal that a clean approach to making music has benefitted them no end, and with their latest album drawing plaudits from all corners, things are looking rosy for the group. Skin Deep caught up with the guys to talk tunes and tattoos.

So Ginger, where did things start for you in terms of your tattoos?
Ginger: I first got a tattoo because Paul Stanley from Kiss had one and I thought that if he had one, it couldn’t hurt that much! (Laughs). That was in the early 80s when I was a kid. It’s funny but the first tattoo I got and the last one I have had were the most painful ones. I suppose it’s all down to the technique of the tattooist, but I guess that for some people the pain is very much part of the process. I started off with a small thing on my arm and things have gone on from there.

Is there a particular theme to the work?
Ginger: The theme is that there is no theme, is all absolute chaos. All of the work spans different stages in my evolution as a human being, so its no surprise that the tattoos are a mix of styles.

Do you like the fact that your tattoos are a pictorial collective of the various stages of your life?
Ginger: Yes. I was getting a Ramones tattoo recently on my chest and the tattooist was looking at the first piece I had done, a dragon on my arm, and he was talking about how the piece was a classic. Looking at the design and the way the colours had faded over time, he could tell the year in which the tattoo had been done. I has never realised that tattooists are historians in many ways, at least the good tattooists anyway.

Do you intend to go on collecting tattoos?
Ginger: Yes, but I don’t ever want to be full. I never even wanted my arms to be completely covered, but it’s now getting hard to find space there, so I’m starting on my legs now. I suppose when I’m totally covered, I’ll start getting them all removed! (Laughs). Seriously though, I doubt that I’ll ever be full. I’ve still got my back, though I’m not too keen on backpieces, as you can’t see whether the tattooist is doing it well. I’ve just got a piece done on my arm and due to the way I was positioned when the work was in progress, I couldn’t see what was going on and the guy has done the colours wrong.

When you go into a tattooist, do you generally have a good idea as to what you want?
Ginger: Yes, I think it’s really important that you get what you want, not what the tattooist thinks you should have. I’m a big Dolly Parton fan and when I went to Dollywood with some friends, a couple of us decided to get Dollywood tattoos done to commemorate that. The first tattooist that myself and my friend approached almost totally redesigned the tattoo - he had the butterfly looking different, the letters were different. I told him that it wasn’t what I wanted, but he told me that in his opinion, his design looked more like a tattoo. So we left his shop and went somewhere else where it was done exactly as I had wanted it. Some tattooists think that they can always improve on what you want, but tattoos are so personal to the wearer, it’s important to end up with a design that you can enjoy and live with; it’s not about boosting the ego of the tattooist.
My favourite tattoo is a design that was copied from a drawing my son did when he was about four, and if the tattooist had wanted to change that for something that looked better, the whole thing would have been pointless.

Have your ideas as to what makes a good tattoo changed over the years, as there are now so many more options available?
Ginger: That’s what I like about tattoos; cool just doesn’t exist, because what everyone is getting one year looks really naff the next year. I wish that I had started off big, with really simple designs, lots of colour looks great. When I think about the work I’ve got planned for my leg, colourful cartoon stuff, I wish I could start again and have more of that style of work. It’s like looking at old photographs that you had taken in the 80s - in retrospect you realise that you didn’t look quite so good as you thought at the time.
In some ways, though, I like the fact that the work I have is almost like passport stamps in that it documents stages I have been through in my life.

Do you favour any artists in particular or do you collect work from various tattooists you come across on your travels?
Ginger: Myself and Scott get them done all over, I have work from Japan, all over the place really, wherever I encounter a good tattooist and have some spare time.

You live in America nowadays.
Ginger: I’ve lived in London for most of my life but now live in East Village, New York. Living in New York is very different to living in London. If you are a person who likes to be perpetually on the go, do things, see things, experience things, then New York is the place to be. There is just so much going on, you can fill every day doing so many things without actually managing to do what you intended to do. In England the day tends to revolve around what you plan to do and just that; in New York you could be on your way to a museum and you might not ever get there because there are so many other good things that distract you. The days there are full and long, so you have to have a lot of energy to make the place work for you.

How do you cope with that pace of life?
Ginger: I hit the ground running. I want to be busy, I want to be distracted, I’m sober now and I want a lot of distractions to keep me that way. New York is a great place to be sober and a great place to party. There is a tremendous sense of community spirit there, almost everyone is an immigrant and you get the feeling that you are sharing the Island together. There is an incredible amount of tolerance, that’s why the gay community is so huge there, no one is really judgmental. I guess people who go there and are judgmental just get spat out.
Scott: In New York, everyone is like a foreigner; no one is really from New York - even if they are from there, they are still not really from New York City. Ginger: I don’t even class New York as America, I see it as a separate entity and people from New York tend to agree with that philosophy. When you get outside of New York, then you see America, the strip malls and the big roads, it’s very different.
Scott: Frank Sinatra once said, at least I think it was Sinatra, “there’s San Francisco, Chicago and New York…everything else is Des Moines”.

So you prefer living in the States?
Ginger: I’ve lived all over the world, Japan, Philippines, Spain, Texas and other parts of the States, but New York is the first place that has really felt like home. I’m in the right place at the right time in my life. In New York you get the feeling that you are not missing anything, whatever else is going on in the world. There is just so much happening around you in New York. I like crazy people, and you just don’t get crazy people like the ones in New York anywhere else. They are just awesomely crazy, you get people walking invisible dogs, people singing or shouting at the top of their voices in the middle of the street and nobody takes any notice at all.

Does all of that craziness and mayhem inspire you?
Ginger: Definitely. As a writer, I just go out and walk the streets and songs just get piped into my head. After all, life is all about people, and it’s the people who make New York what it is, the best place in the world. Everyone has that spirit, even the old people there aren’t like ‘old’, they are still plugged in, they are still active, still doing things - the hair might get greyer, but New York stays the way it is. It’s like an energy source, which you get plugged into, and it enables you to just keep going. People who are old in New York just have better stories, they have been around, seen so much happening each day for so many years, I love talking to them. What I also love is the fact that everyone there wants to talk, you can’t order a sandwich without getting to know where the guy comes from, which university he studied at, where he met his wife, so for someone like myself, who enjoys experiencing people, there’s no better place.

What made you decide to get rid of your dreads after so many years?
Ginger: I’d had them for so long, they represented a lot of stuff connected to parts of my life, which weren’t the best. Cutting them off was like a massive release, I’d been told by others who had done the same, that it was a cathartic experience. It allowed me to let go of so much stuff, which was tied in with the dreadlocks, it generated an incredible sense of freedom. I’ve changed my life and my perspective since I got rid of them, I’m not sure what came first, the will to get rid of them or getting rid of them and moving on. There is a reason why people cut off their dreads and don’t grow them back, they do look nice but they can be a pain in the arse. Try walking around with those ugly things on your head for fifteen years and you would want to cut them off too.

Talking of image, do you consider your image as a band collectively or as individuals?
Scott: We don’t always see each other that often as we all live so far apart, so image is not something that we actively construct, it’s just about how we are as individuals.

Does the fact that you are not always easily accessible to each other cause any problems?
Ginger: Myself and Scott have lived together in the past, in the dark years. We shared a ranch in Malibu, where we just got royally fucked the whole time, so we saw each other, but not a lot happened. Scott: Actually, a lot happened, but it was just about us getting fucked up. I remember one day Ginger was talking about how he hated spiders, and as he was talking a spider just jumped off the ceiling and ran across his face. He just went, “the fucking balls on that spider!” That was actually before I was in the band.

You are headlining the Tattoo Jam. How did that come about?
Ginger: We were asked, and we’re looking forward to it. We have never actually played a convention but I remember the first time we played at the Bulldog Bash, the Hell’s Angels event, we were all thinking that it was going to be so different from anything we had done, but when we went on stage, our fans started cheering. Wherever you take us there seem to be Wildhearts fans! Our fans are loud and there is a definite vibe, and it doesn’t seem to be that different whether we play in Japan or in Sheffield. Except, that is, in terms of personal hygiene, (laughs), but we won’t get into that one.

Will you take the opportunity to get any new tatts?
Ginger: We hope so. We have been offered free tattoos and it would be nice if we all got something done. We did that once before, we all got an emblem and that was a great little bonding exercise, which is nice, especially now that we all live so far apart. Nowadays we all seem to be in the process of putting so many little human beings on the planet, we are all so busy having babies, we get to see each other less and less. I wish we could have all been here for this photoshoot, but it just wasn’t possible.

Okay Scott, let’s talk about your tatts.
Scott: The first one happened when I was fifteen, that’s the PUNK tattoo and I didn’t actually know I was getting it until I woke up. I was passed out at a party and woke up to find my best friend tattooing my shoulder. I’m really glad it’s PUNK and it’s not a picture of a dick or something like that. Maybe then I would have had it covered but I’ll never get this covered as it represents the biggest changing point in my life…it was done on the last day I lived at home.

How did your life change from that point onwards?
Scott: I was living right outside of Philadelphia, in a place called Allentown. That night I got tattooed, partied, went to rehab the very next day, where I stayed for about a month, then got straight on a plane and flew to California and met my father.

How was that for you?
Scott: It was great. It was funny. I had met him a couple of times before, but only when I was really little. When I got off the plane I was wearing a really ripped up Ramones tee shirt, cut off jeans and combat boots and I had a mohawk at the time. I remember walking through the airport trying to figure out which one was my dad and I saw this guy standing there in a suit. We stood there looking at each other and as the crowd dispersed it was almost like, “Dad? Let’s go”. For the first couple of years things were a bit trying, but we are the best of friends now, so it’s all good. My dad actually went from being the guy who was real hard, an ultra conservative republican, and he was not supportive at all, now he’s the one that’s like really proud and pushes me when I get sidetracked and distraught.

Your tattoos have progressed considerably since then.
Scott: I didn’t get anything else until I was eighteen as it’s difficult below that age to get anything done legally. A really good friend of mine Martin, who played with me in a band, had started apprenticing and needed someone to practice on. Since then he’s done most of my work but I have also collected tattoos as I’ve travelled. I want to be covered from head to toe.

Do you have a theme?
Scott: Not really. One arm will be mostly old movie monsters but the rest of me will not have any particular theme.
Ginger: When you say old movie monsters, how far back will you go?
Scott I’m talking about real classic stuff, old black and white stuff…(says in Southern drawl) “I’ll have monsters swimming into the swamp of my armpit”, (laughs). I’ve got a biomechanical scorpion on my leg. I saw that on Martin’s wall, I’m a Scorpio, so it seemed to fit.

Tell us about the ‘Sorry’ on your throat. Is it really some kind of atonement for your sins?
Scott: I’ve always said that it’s just because I always do lots of dumb shit. Being totally honest, and I’ve never divulged this in any interview before, so it’s probably time, I’m tired of the ‘he’s so cool, he’s so bad’ kind of thing. Basically the truth is that the day I ran away from home, I told my brother that I was leaving, he was about six at the time, I told him he had to be the man of the house now as I wasn’t coming back. He said okay and then I left. I got in my car and drove away and when I looked back, he had run out of the house crying. I have never felt worse about anything in my life and the only way I could let him know how sorry I was, was to get it tattooed on my throat. That’s the true story, its’ nothing to do with partying and being a jackass, if it was I would have just got ‘jackass’ tattooed instead.

How do you get on with your brother now?
Scott: When we are together, we are inseparable. I don’t think he ever blamed me for what I did, it was just that I felt incredibly guilty for what I had done. We’re as close as close can be.

You were telling me about your finger being ripped off.
Scott: That’s a funny story. I happened about the same time that Ginger and I were living in Malibu, Ginger had just left….
Ginger: Just to illustrate a point, there was a time when things that would happen to one of us would happen to the other. I had just fucked up my finger, I had gone back to England to get it fixed, it was the same finger too and when I was away a similar thing happened to Scott.
Scott Ginger left, I had been up on meth for a week and was riding a bike over to visit a girlfriend when I hit a bump in the road and the bike flipped over me and cut my finger off. I got back on my bike and rode all the way down to her house, cruising all along Hollywood Boulevard with my hand up in the air, blood going everywhere, people screaming and shit. It was awesome. I went to the hospital and spent a week there. That was the best time because your hands are pretty stable, so if you rip a finger off, things don’t get much worse, it didn’t hurt any more, but the doctors didn’t seem to know that, so it was a great excuse to take morphine and watch the Simpsons for a week. It was a great vacation, though I wasn’t allowed to eat, as they didn’t know exactly when I would have to go into surgery. It was the 4th of July weekend, a time when just about every jackass blows some part of their body off, so lots of people kept coming in and being seen ahead of me, so I could literally sit there, do morphine, watch the Simpsons and not get into trouble for it! (Laughs).

Is it okay now?
Scott: (Laughs and holds up damaged finger). Okay is a relative term. The finger could have been not there, but it is and it’s fixed on (laughs).
Ginger: Didn’t a similar thing happen with your tooth?
Scott: Oh yeah, my tooth. I got my tooth knocked out at a show, someone threw an elbow which popped me right there in the mouth. I spat my tooth out into my hand, went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. You can never look worse than when you are missing a front tooth, it looks really horrible, so I took it and stuck it back in, pushing it up as far as it could go until it was even. I left it and it stayed. A week or so later, I went to the dentist who couldn’t believe what I had done. He said, “that can’t work”, so I said, “well it’s there, and it’s in”. I did have to get a root canal and some other work done on it so that it didn’t hurt so bad, but it stayed in. It always seems like I can fall apart and be put back together, so if I really took care of myself, I’d be like Superman. I’m kind of unlucky, but lucky at the same time.
Ginger: No, it would be different if you took care of yourself. It’s getting out of the fuckups. If you took care of yourself you’d probably end up dying of the flu.
Scott: I’d overdose on Ginseng (laughs).
Ginger: Seriously though. We were at the ranch and out of all the drugs we were doing, and it was a lot of drugs, he overdosed on Ginseng.
Scott: We had basically run out of drugs, which was why I was doing Ginseng, I was taking it so that I could feel a little something and I basically took too much. I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t sit up, things were weird.

Ginger, how did you fuck up your finger?
Ginger: My finger got fucked up when I was trying to stop myself from hitting the singer of the group we were in at the time. I ended grabbing his bag and throwing it out of the door, hoping he would get off the ranch, but the bag hit the doorframe, came back and fucked my finger up. My finger was really bent up, so myself and Scott decided that we’d do a bit of home doctor work and try to straighten it up and keep it in position with gaffer tape and some twigs and it just kind of went back to the way it was. Anyway I went to the doctor and he asked me what I did for a job. I told him that I played guitar, to which he replied, “not any more”. He told me that I hadn’t broken my finger but had damaged the tendons that hold the finger, via the elbow along the forearm, basically they had snapped on impact and they had balled up somewhere along the middle of the forearm, so all of the other fingers and thumb were working from this system of pulleys, but the damaged one wasn’t attached to anything. When the doctor told me that I wouldn’t play guitar, I thought, ‘no fuckin’ way am I not playing guitar’. It took a while and I had to relearn a lot of stuff but I got there in the end. It’s no good to just listen to doctors; you’ve got to really believe in yourself.

How do you feel about the future of the band?
Ginger: What is nice about the band now is that we have a future. I’m not overly worried about it, I don’t get the feeling that one of us is going to die, OD in a hotel room or something like that. I was talking to our drummer, Rich, the other day and we were saying that we’d like to think that in twenty years time we would still be making Wildhearts records. It would be great to just keep going like Motorhead or the Ramones - there is nothing that would please me more. I’d love for us to be working on our 20th album in twenty years time. It was never about what was happening then or what’s happening now, we are in this group together and are experiencing all of this with each other, so the story is ongoing, it’s only this far in. As far as success goes, I have never given a shit about all of that and the less I seem to care about it, the longer we seem to last. Success, in the mainstream sense, will probably come when Kentucky Fried Chicken uses one of our songs in an advert. Seriously though, this is success, the fact that we are here now talking about the group and all of the stupid things that have happened to us along the way. It’ll be a good book, we have so many crazy stories and the fact that nobody has wanted to write the book yet makes me believe that the band is going to last longer, and when the book finally does come out, it’s going to be filed under fiction, because no-one is going to believe that all of this happened. It’s gonna make the Motley Crue look like the fuckin’ Bible!


Interview & Photography: Ashley


Skin Deep 162 1 July 2008 162