INTERVIEW

PSYCHEDLIC COOKBOOK: Currently in the process of crowd-funding a rock’n’roll recipe book, we asked Luke Haines to have Daniel Dylan Wray over for dinner. He actually said yes

luke-haines

Luke Haines has always been an artist that has steered clear of convention and expectation. During the height of Britpop, Haines was more interested in writing songs like ‘Unsolved Child Murder’ with his group the Auteurs and creating side-projects based on the terrorist organisation Baader Meinhof. As the title of his first band suggests, he is an out-and-out, complete artist; his work flow is consistent and he has written many, many albums (24 in total), as well as being an avid painter, writing and releasing two very successful (and excellent) books. He’s even managed to squeeze in a role as the unreliable narrator in a documentary about himself, Art Will Save the World.

Whilst Haines has undertaken many unique and strange projects – a concept album about 1970s British wrestling being just one of them – his latest is perhaps his most unexpected: Outsider Food and Righteous Rock and Roll: A Psychedelic Cookbook.

Several years ago Haines had been putting up the odd recipe on his Outsider Music blog but, as he says, they began to take a slight turn in narrative. “After three Martinis of a Friday night the recipes took on an hallucinogenic turn,” he says. “Meditations on ‘classic’ and obscure rock’n’roll crept in whilst waiting for a 20-minute sauce reduction. I dislike dinner parties, so for each recipe I conjured up a ‘guest.’ Paul Weller; Marc Bolan; 1970s British Judo champion Brian Jacks, among many others.”

luke-haines-2

An example recipe title is ‘Drug Onion Soup’, which has a narrative based in 1970s New York and features Johnny Thunders. The book will also be coming with a foreword from Steve Albini, a pal of Haines’ since Albini produced the Auteurs’ third album, ‘After Murder Park’ in 1996, and a keen cook himself, whose barbecue’s are legendary in the world of underground alternative rock.

Haines kindly invited us to his North London flat to cook us a meal and have a chat about his new book. True to the manner in which the book was created, he greets me at the door with a martini firmly in one hand before swiftly making one for myself complete with “a dirty olive”. We have a chat in his kitchen as he prepares the food, a vegetarian take on a spicy ackee dish, replacing what would be salt fish with halloumi. As he allows the onion to brown with the peppers, he tells a tale of having to skin a rabbit for one of his recipes, something that was both very difficult and bloody, leaving him “looking like Peter Sutcliffe”. Haines has a propensity towards spicy food because he’s “ruined his taste buds from fags and booze” over the years and healthy glugs of West Indian hot sauce and spices are thrown into the pan as is, bizarrely, a healthy squirt of budget tomato ketchup, which he seems immensely proud of acquiring for the low, low price of 69p. It is served with rice on homely cracked and chipped plates and it is sincerely delicious.

We get stuck into the red wine and retire to the dinner table (which also doubles up as a painting work surface) to continue chatting. “I hate dinner parties” he says, “so the recipes are sort of more if you want to impress a lady rather than a dinner party. This is more a one-to-one thing and at the end of each recipe there is a rating of how likely the dish would be to impress a lady – or a dude, whatever takes your fancy. So, it’s that sort of thing, although not necessarily seduction, that would be going too far.”

I ask what it is that he doesn’t like about dinner parties.

“I mean I don’t go to them anymore – my friends know that I don’t like them so they don’t ask me anymore. You have to sit there with people that you’ve known for 20 years and you’ve seen them in the Travelodge with a load of Domestos hanging out their nose at four in the morning and then all of a sudden they turn into Nancy Mitford and it’s kind of like we’re talking about cheese and sitting there really tense and I just think fuck this, I’d rather go to the pub than the formality of food. You’ll notice that there is very little formality tonight – you get your food and that’s it. That’s what I like about Albini – it’s like, ‘here’s food, fuck off’. You don’t need to over analyse it, you don’t need to turn it into a black art… it’s the same with wine – after two glasses who gives a fuck?” Indecently, the wine keeps flowing on our table, and speaking of booze, many of Haines’ recipes involve cooking with it, something he is rather fond of. “We’re a nation of functioning alcoholics,” he says, “so it’s alright. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t drink too much, apart from the people who can’t drink anymore.”

We start to talk about Lars Von Trier, the Danish film director who has long battled with alcohol and has recently decided to actively start drinking again after a spell of sobriety, because it dried him up so much creatively. “I can see that,” says Haines. “I write better – well, I do better stuff – when I’m less sober. Sadly it does open up a window of fuzziness, which is actually better because it’s very difficult to do creative stuff and be based in reality. You want things quite skewed.”

Moving back to cooking, with booze there’s only one type of alcohol you can’t cook with, reckons Haines. “The only alcoholic drink I would not recommend cooking with is Campari,” he says. “I was convinced you could cook anything with an alcoholic drink but Campari does not work – it has a very nasty taste, sort of burnt. I was experimenting with Campari as a sort of late afternoon drink and seeing where that would take me but I had a fair bit left because I wasn’t that into it and I thought it would be fine once you burnt the alcohol off it, but no. Campari is a big no, no.”

And the best booze for cooking?

“You can make a fantastic stew with Guinness, and vodka is good for spaghetti, that’s really good.”

Haines’ last album was a Mark E. Smith-inspired micro-opera and it’s not long before we’re exchanging anecdotes and favourite MES stories. Haines has a cracking culinary related one as told in Steve Hanley’s (bass player in the Fall) book. “There’s a great bit in the book and it’s towards the end of the ’90s when they are in real trouble and MES calls a meeting with Steve Hanley and one of the drummers, Simon Walstencroft I think, and he brings along this bloke that he’s met in the pub called Spanish Tony and the idea is that Smith has brought him along saying, ‘Spanish Tony has got a proposition… tapas bar. We’ll have a tapas bar!’ Steve Hanley is just going ‘what?!’ and MES is going, ‘well, you were in the catering business!’ I think [Steve] had gone to college to train as a chef or something and the drummer worked in a chippy, so Smith thinks it can work. ‘You two in the kitchen and I’ll be at the bar greeting people,’ and he’s dead serious about it and then two weeks later Smith says something and Steve says something like, ‘is this to do with the tapas bar?’ and Smith just says, ‘what?’. And Steve says, ‘the tapas bar, we had a meeting about it,’ and MES is just like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. Just the idea of Mark E. Smith ‘greeting’ people in a Fall-run tapas bar…” We both reduce into fits of laughter.

In his own debut book, Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in its Downfall, Haines doesn’t hold back on calling bullshit where he saw it going on during that era and the Gallagher’s were frequently included in that. More recently, for the online publication Talkhouse, he wrote a scathing review, nay indictment, of Noel’s latest album (and lyrics) as the High Flying Birds.

“It wasn’t really meant to be a review as such, it was more about – and everyone knows what I think about Noel Gallagher anyway so it’s really not that interesting – his conservative attitude and the rounds of interviews. He’s almost seen as a more relevant interviewee than he is a recording artist but the interviews are actually quite appalling. I think they’re genuinely quite frightening and harmful considering he’s got such a big audience – I mean he sounds like your granddad now. It’s terrible.”

Haines is a big fan of the Gallagher-lambasting Sleaford Mods. “He [Noel] just doesn’t understand it,” says Haines. “It goes completely over his head, which is bizarre. It’s like your granddad saying, ‘well, they haven’t really got any tunes,’ which is to miss the point. In a way, Jason’s [Williamson, Sleaford Mods’ vocalist] lyrics are a better version of what Liam was doing early on in Oasis. I like Sleaford Mods more for the sort of surreal element rather than it being anything to do with class. We used to go and see them and there would be seven people in the audience and it was brilliant because it was just like this mad man – it was even better in a way when they were playing to an empty room. I love them. I love them more than I’ve loved a group for many years.”

luke-haines

Haines is a busy man, usually working on multiple projects at the same time. “I’m working on a song-based thing,” he tells me. “It’s very short ideas for songs rather than struggling and writing a full song. It’s like having the main bits of a song. It’s going to be about 25 tracks long and last about thirty minutes. The other thing I’m doing is an entirely analogue electronic thing with no vocals, which is a concept album called ‘British Nuclear Bunkers’. It’s an instrumental history of nuclear bunkers.”

They are very singular and esoteric projects, both traits that have come to represent Haines, although not define him, as he can still bash out a pop beauty when he wants to. He explains the idea a little further. “I’m an idiot savant,” he first says, half-joking. “The nuclear bunker idea just came to me about a month ago. I’d been amassing all these cheap synthesisers – and I use them all the time in these subtle ways – and I thought maybe just do an album just with these, entirely electronic and quite rickety, no vocals. There’s the Camden Borough Control Bunker nearby – it looks like a disused public toilet but it’s actually the entrance to an underground nuclear bunker. It would be the control centre for North London should the time arise. They are huge; they are like huge aerodrome places underground. They were all secret at the time. I don’t want to get too into it, I think it’s the territory of trainspotters in a way, who have little logbooks, but there is certainly something quite attractive about it for an idea for an album.”

Haines’ cookbook is his first experience of crowd funding (at the time of writing his campaign was £4,300 towards a £5000 target), and it’s something that sits well with him. “These are interesting times,” he says. “I mean, it works for an artist like me, but I’m not sure how it does for newer artists who haven’t got the audience. In the old days I laughed at all new bands but now that I’m 20 years older than them I just think it’s a shame they can’t have a go. I’m all for the 20-year-old chancers with stupid haircuts making music I don’t like; I think good on them. They can’t have that luck that I had, of getting to go on tour and be stupid and be an obnoxious pop-star type person.”

As the wine dries up Haines says: “I think we should retire to the pub.” On our way there he picks up a packet of fags but not before we stop by the aforementioned nuclear bunker which really is only yards from Haines’ home and something you would walk past without blinking an eye normally. Haines likes his local as it serves “psychedelic cider”, the head-spinning, cloudy, strong stuff that has the power to send you over the edge. We settle down outside and talk of music and anecdotes, of Morrissey’s biography (which he reviewed for The Quietus) and his sycophantic praise of Chrissie Hynde in it. Then something twigs and I remember a food-related story from Haines’ second book Post Everything. Wasn’t there an incident with you and her over a sausage or something?

“Yes,” he replies. “She called us Nazi’s for eating them.”

For more bonkers food tales you can pick up Luke’s latest book, which not only will provide a delightfully wonky narrative but also, based on tonight’s grub, a genuinely functional and tasty cookbook, too.

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »