Miles Hunt, guitarist and vocalist with The Wonder Stuff chats with Kevin Cooper about his fondness for Rock City, the demise of the music industry, their latest album 30 Goes Around The Sun and their current tour of the UK.

Miles Hunt, from Stourbridge, is the singer, guitarist and songwriter for The Wonder Stuff. His first band (in which he played drums) was called From Eden, and featured future members of another successful Stourbridge group, Pop Will Eat Itself. After leaving this band he formed The Wonder Stuff and was their lead singer and principal songwriter until their split in 1994.

He briefly presented 120 Minutes on MTV Europe until mid-1995, when he formed a new band Vent 414 who failed to match the success of his former band. He toured as a solo performer for a time until he reformed The Wonder Stuff in 2000. Having continually toured and released a number of studio albums, The Wonder Stuff have become very popular on the Festival circuit. He has also written a book, The Wonder Stuff Diaries and has plans to write a sequel.

Whilst busy touring the UK, Miles Hunt took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Miles how are you?

I’m very good thanks Kevin how are you?

I am very well and thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. How’s life treating you at this moment in time?

All is good thanks. The latest album is now finished complete with the artwork, and I am currently debating with the rest of the band just what the set-list is going to be for the forthcoming tour. We are also discussing the tour t-shirts and what other merch we should be doing (laughter). Later I will be popping into the studio to record the intro tape and adding any other show biz kind of stuff to the set-list that we feel may be needed (laughter). So whilst we feel that we are all ready, there are still a few things that need ironing out.

So I take it that you are looking forward to the tour?

Very much so; it is essentially what we do. I like the writing and the recording but I really do enjoy touring. That makes it all worthwhile for me. Now that the album is finished, for me, now comes the really good bit and I can go out and tour (laughter).

How did the writing process for the new album go?

Well to be honest with you I started writing the songs for the new album just over a year ago now. Then the whole band has been working on at least half of the songs in order for them to be put onto the new album. The album took about three weeks to record but spread out over a period of three months simply because we were gigging, plus our producer had a tour to go off and do. So it feels like it is a job of work which has needed my attention for well over a year now (laughter).

You will be bringing your 30th Anniversary Tour to Rock City here in Nottingham on the 2nd April. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes we are Kevin and I have to say that Rock City is great; it is one of the country’s finest venues. Years ago when we first toured supporting the likes of Big Country, there were a lot of old Mecca Ballrooms where we would play. But I think that it is great that Rock City has managed to remain independent. The last time that we played there it was a double-header with The Levellers. I can remember leaving the venue and getting on the tour bus deliriously happy because I was the last person out of the dressing room and, I have never done this before, but I found a piece of A4 paper and just left a note for the owners of Rock City (laughter).

I scribbled them a note saying that you are the best venue in the country and a week later they posted it on Twitter (laughter). I have to be honest and say that I was a little inebriated (laughter) but I did truly mean it because it is a great place to play. Because Rock City is independent you feel that the people who are working there are actually quite proud to be working there. It is a really good place to play Kevin.

And you have got Dodgy opening for you here in Nottingham.

That’s right I have just heard that and it will be really lovely. It’s funny really because I am great friends with all of the guys in Dodgy especially Mathew (Priest) the drummer. We are often in conversation with one another. However seemingly we have discussed this matter not one jot (laughter). I can remember our manager asking me if I had any preference as to who should opened for us because The Wedding Present couldn’t so I just put a bunch of names forward and left it to the venue. They are likely to know their audience better than me and when Dodgy came up I simply thought wow how come Mathew and me haven’t spoken about this (laughter). It will be great, a really good night out.

I have been playing the new album, 30 Goes Around The Sun for a few days now and I have to say that I love it. Are you happy with it?

That’s so cool Kevin, thanks. Yes I am very much so, I really did enjoy recording it. I enjoy recording every record but I remember feeling really exhausted after the last one, Oh No It’s The Wonder Stuff because I had also taken on the role of producer. That turned into a double album because as well as the original eleven tracks that we had written for it, we were at that time involved with a project called From The Midlands With Love, which was in celebration of the songwriters and musicians of the Midlands. We were covering people such as The Move, Duran Duran, UB40, Pop Will Eat Itself and Dodgy and so the whole project was in the end around twenty-four songs (laughter). When I got to the end of it I remember thinking to myself never again (laughter).

I had gone into it thinking that it was about time that I produced a Wonder Stuff record because if anyone should know what The Wonder Stuff are supposed to sound like then that really should be me (laughter). But then when I got to the end of the whole process I thought that I had done as good a job as I could do but I would never want to be the producer again. So after that experience we have re-acquainted ourselves with the guy who was the first guy to ever produce The Wonder Stuff, my old friend Simon Efemey. Simon was the first guy to record us way back in 1986 and he subsequently became our live sound engineer.

In 1991 Simon had started producing records and he had worked with a lot of big rock acts such as Paradise Lost, Napalm Death and The Wildhearts. At that point he had given up on the live thing and was solely into studio production. Around two years ago we needed a sound engineer as our regular engineer had stopped doing it so I gave Simon a call and to my surprise he agreed to come along and do it for us. So Simon came out on the road and did a few dates for us and then he asked me whether or not we were thinking of recording a new album for the 30th Anniversary. He said that if we wanted to make a new record then he would love to produce it. That was great because if it is not me who knows how The Wonder Stuff should sound then it must be Simon (laughter).

So Simon came over to produce the new album which was great for me as it took away a hell of a lot of pressure from me. It meant that I could go back to being the singer and guitarist and I could relax and not have to have any contact with a computer because I would be extremely happy if I never saw another computer in my lifetime (laughter). The whole process was brilliant and we recorded the whole album in a studio over in Stourbridge, which was amazing because Simon was originally from Stourbridge, and it was as if after thirty years all roads were now leading us all back to Stourbridge which I think really did help (laughter).

I had left writing the lyrics until the last minute and I was actually staying in Stourbridge for four weeks where, as I wasn’t the producer, I could nip out to the pub at around 9pm and leave Simon to it all in the studio until gone midnight (laughter). I found myself bumping into old mates who I hadn’t seen since I left Stourbridge over thirty years ago, and it was really cool going to the pub with an old mate and our conversations would be picked up like the same conversations that we had thirty odd years ago; which really was about The Smiths greatest B-side (laughter) together with all of the other nonsense which we used to debate. Then going back to my mate’s house where I was staying in Stourbridge and finally putting pen to paper and finishing off the lyrics. I have to say that I really do think that staying in Stourbridge had a massive influence on the final thing.

Once an album is finished can you leave it alone or do you have to go back and tinker with it?

Once I have been to the mastering session which usually takes one whole day, and I take home a listening copy after that, then there is nothing more that you can do. To be honest with you Kevin I actually look forward to that day because it means that the whole process is then finished (laughter).

Will you be releasing the album on vinyl?

Yes we will. In fact we are actually doing a gatefold sleeve with a pop-up centre in it.

We have mentioned the fact that 2016 will be the 30th Anniversary of The Wonder Stuff, will the record companies be doing anything special to commemorate that fact?

No nothing (laughter) I think that they have completely forgotten about us. There is certainly nobody still at Polydor Records who was there from when we signed back in 1987. The only person who is still involved is Lucian Charles Grainge CBE who was involved with the publishing company when we originally signed. Lucian is now the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group and I know for a fact that he doesn’t give a flying fuck about music (hysterical laughter) which is quite curious as he is the head of the music division of Universal Records (laughter). Then again Kevin that is typical in the world of record companies. So no they won’t be doing anything to commemorate the occasion. They simply don’t care anymore.

Didn’t you encounter a few problems back in 2000 when the record company were wanting to remaster your back catalogue?

Yes Kevin as you so politely put it, we did indeed encounter a few fucking problems (laughter). Back in 2000 they did a horrendous job of remastering and reissuing some of our back catalogue and it was left to us to go and collect the master tapes from their library over in Fulham. When we got there we found that they were damp and had mildew all over them. We were standing there in this huge library surrounded by Jam records and Slade records which were all being kept in this horrible damp building. We had to bake our tapes which you can only do once and then you have to make new masters from that because once they are baked and then played they are fucked.

It was simply disgraceful; they had even lost all of the original artwork. We had to do scans from my personal collection of the records. So the world of major labels is as you might expect Kevin, they simply do not give a fuck about anything that they have got unless it is stone cold, no brainer stuff which will make them money all of the time, such as The Beatles or Michael Jackson and all of the other dead people (laughter). They quite simply do not give a fuck. The problem is that the people who usually find themselves working within the structure of a record company are basically just into business and are feathering their own nests.

You have your own views on the beast that is the music business don’t you?

I have always thought it to be a very weird industry to want to get into because nobody needs it. Whenever I meet a Head of Department I always think to myself, why didn’t you just buy towels, get yourself a market stall and build up your very own towel empire (laughter). People need towels and the way that they view music is exactly the way that people would view towels. They don’t care about the fucking quality of anything, and they don’t care about looking after the history of the music which is another reason why I am very glad not to be involved in that world anymore. The business has always attracted a hell of a lot of people who have no fucking idea as to what the business is all about.

Funnily enough, I am just finishing off the novel Sick On You which was written by Andrew Matheson. It’s the tragic tale of a British Glam-Punk band back in 1973 and 1974 who careers never took off. They find themselves being managed by an off-shoot of the Kray’s empire despite them both being in prison but the band don’t know that (laughter). They only find that out after every single record company realise just who their managers are and turn them down. Why would whatever is left of the Kray gang want to go into the music industry once the Krays had been put away, other than just trying to legitimise money (laughter). I’m not saying that everyone who was involved in the music business back in the 1970’s was a fucking crook, but there were a lot of them (laughter).

But wouldn’t you agree that the entire music business has been fraught with problems since its inception?

Entirely Kevin, ever since some fucker first made music the whole industry has simply attracted the wrong sort of person to oversee its development. Throughout the entire history of the music industry it has always been a beast that has generated a lot of money but unfortunately it tends not to anymore. I guess that it just attracts the wrong sort. That is what we are left with, exactly what the industry has allowed to happen to itself, which is that the industry is basically dead on its feet now. I personally feel that in terms of both creativity and commercially they let the whole thing of digitising music happen without attempting to protect the industry. The people who could have protected the music industry didn’t protect it simply because they didn’t care. All that they cared about was how could they make their last great big bit of money before they got out of the music business because they knew that is was fucked. It really is quite fucking depressing Kevin isn’t it (laughter).

You are fighting a losing battle when you also have the likes of U2 giving their material away free.

That’s right, you are spot on Kevin. Radiohead, Morrissey and U2 gave away their work which is all very nice when you can afford to do that but 99.9% of the rest of the artists on the planet can’t fucking do that. Those big bands set an example where you now have kids saying that if U2 can give their work away free, why the fuck do you want me to pay for the new Wonder Stuff album. Those bands are just arseholes basically. Their actions totally undermines everything that the other 99.9% of artists are trying to do.

Thinking back to when I first started buying albums, it was a big thing whereas now music has sadly become a disposable commodity.

The whole situation is dire. Someone wrote on our Facebook just how much the purchasing of a record took a period of between one or even two months. You would get to know via the music press, which happens to be just another part of our fabulous music business which is now dead as well, that your favourite band had a new album coming out. You heard that they were in the recording studio so you had something to look forward to. Then perhaps two weeks before the actual release you would hear a track or two on John Peel or Janice Long and then you may even get a DJ playing selected tracks on the radio.

Then you would start to see the ads in the press together with the interviews and then finally the record would be released. The whole thing was just this wonderful build-up, whereas now it’s all down to thirty seconds of listening to the first track on Spotify or fucking iTunes and that’s the whole experience over (hysterical laughter). Just who the fuck had this great idea to cheapen it all because nobody won; absolutely nobody won.

I have to say that I am old school and I still like to buy my music on vinyl whenever I can and perhaps the CD if the vinyl is not available. Don’t the kids realise that listening to their music on their iPhone or iPad it has been compressed so much that it sounds like shit anyway?

I totally agree with you Kevin but what you have to remember is that they fucking listen to their music on 5mm speakers on a phone (laughter). When we were in the studio mixing, I had heard and really liked the latest album by Future Islands. The vinyl wasn’t out at that time so I had bought a copy of the CD. However when I played it at home I was really disappointed with the production. I had seen them performing on YouTube and had thought that the album would sound brilliant when I got to play it at home, but in reality it was absolutely flat and terrible. Sometime later I was making a cup of tea at the studio and I thought that I would give the Future Island album a listen on my iPhone.

The main thing that I had hated about the production was that the vocals were buried but when I played it on my iPhone it sounded fucking perfect (laughter). The vocals were shining through, there they were in all of their glory and the mix sounded perfect. I went through the studio and asked Simon, who has been producing records for well over twenty years, if he thought that some of the modern producers of music which is specifically aimed at young people, were actually mixing and referencing on things such as iPhones and iPads and he simply said yes they certainly are because that is how the kids listen to it. I just thought Jesus Christ it’s over, let’s just shut up shop, it’s over. It’s all fucking pointless.

Despite all of the things that we both agree are currently wrong with the music industry, does making music still make you happy?

(Laughter) I’m very happy in my own little world really. I’m happy with my band (laughter). I’m happy with the way that we record and produce our records. What shocks me is that a lot of the younger artists think that mastering is a dark art (laughter). They think that they are being hoodwinked and that it is just one more guy in the chain who is trying to get money out of them (laughter). Yes that’s exactly what Bob Marley thought when he took every single one of his fucking albums that he had ever made to Kevin McCaughey to be mastered; you fucking idiots (laughter).

All of the great records that you have ever heard have been taken to people who had fucking talent, whether that was the producer, the mastering engineer, the studio engineers who know exactly where to put a fucking microphone for Christ’s sake. They even put a microphone on the bass drum so that it sounds amazing on your stereo. All of that is being lost. Fuck ‘em.

The band split in 1994. Looking back was it the right time; was it something that you as a band felt that you needed to do?

Oh yes Kevin, absolutely. As far as I was concerned back then, the band had got too big. It was a lot bigger than I had ever wanted it to be. So what it really was on a daily basis was me trying my best to look after a commercial interest. Once you have got something that is generating as much money as the band was back then, which let me say wasn’t a vast amount compared to what other bands have made, but it was a lot of money to us, we had a couple of guys in our crew who were on retainers. We had American Management; we bought our own recording studio which needed paying for all of the time of course, so basically all that we were doing day to day instead of thinking about music and all of the lovely things that go with that, it was simply how do you maintain a commercial interest.

Plus, we had been together for the best part of eight years and simply personality wise we had grown away from each other. We had all got very separate private lives which had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the band or involve each other. We never socialised, we never went out as a group for a drink since about 1991. So we weren’t particular friends as such Kevin, so I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t have to spend that much time with the rest of the band (laughter). So yes I feel that the timing was perfect. I have no regrets at all; I certainly didn’t want the band to get any bigger. And the way that it was going it certainly wasn’t getting any happier so no regrets whatsoever Kevin.

And you managed to keep yourself busy after the band split.

I did Kevin yes. I managed to get myself a position presenting on the radio with the fledgling XFM, and then I got a position for two years presenting on MTV Europe. One of the best things that I did was to tour for a couple of years acoustically throughout the USA and Canada. In fact I had a fucking fantastic time (laughter).

So just what was the catalyst for you getting the band back together?

I really wasn’t doing that much musically in England as I was doing most of it over in the USA, and during that time I had a couple of agents call me up saying we see that you are touring with the original guitarist from The Wonder Stuff, is it time for you to put the band back together. I just said no because I was having such a wonderful time being out there alone. I continued having a great time until late 2000 when my agent asked me the same question and this time I thought that it would probably be a good idea to get the guys back together. I called everyone and they couldn’t think of a reason not to do it so that’s why we did it (laughter).

Who would you say has inspired you along the way?

Lots of people, I love the fact that John Lyndon is still as passionate about making new music, he’s had two new albums out in the last couple of years. We had the pleasure and the honour of supporting Public Image two years ago now which was just amazing. It was great to be able to speak to John who had been an idol of mine since I was a kid. There were points in the late 80’s and early 90’s where I sort of lost what it was that he was doing musically but if I liked everything by him then that would just be sycophantic (laughter).

I love the fact that Mike Scott of The Waterboys is still as passionate about getting the next new sound for The Waterboys and how he is going to present it next. So I would have to say that those two guys have been a huge inspiration for me. There have been others but those two would have to be right up there.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s simple, just the fact that it is ongoing.

And what single moment would you say changed your life forever?

I have always been around pop music as my uncle was in Wizard with Roy Wood. I can’t remember ever thinking that I wasn’t somehow connected to pop and rock music. But I suppose seeing my first ever live concert which was Slade at The Town Hall Birmingham back in 1977. Seeing your first rock light show together with smelling your first can of dry ice left me feeling like, ok this needs to be done again (laughter). And then after that when I went to see the next act live in concert I started thinking yes, I quite like this (laughter). Basically I am still hooked on it.

So looking back, what was the first record that you bought?

That would have been Radar Love by Golden Earring. I actually bought it from Boots The Chemist in Chelmsley Wood in Birmingham when they used to sell singles (laughter).

In October 1991 The Wonder Stuff together with a certain Vic Reeves reached number one in the UK Singles Chart with a cover of Tommy Roe’s Dizzy which stayed at number one for two weeks. Looking back was it a good or bad move?

From my point of view it was a great move. After all of these years Vic is still a very dear friend and that’s the way that I look at it Kevin (laughter). We had such a good time making the record. We had met a couple of times but I never thought that we would still be really good friends some twenty-five years later. I lived with Vic for four months back in 1999 when my house flooded; he was the first person to come to my rescue. Fuck it, come and live with me was the call from Vic (laughter). He is still a very dear friend and someone who has always been there for me. I have never seen him either angry or fed-up. He is one of those people who doesn’t have a down side and whenever I do either of those, he is great at talking me through it and giving me some buoyancy again.

I think that the track was great fun and it is still probably being played on the radio somewhere in the UK at this very moment in time (laughter). It made a lot of people happy and I think that it is genuinely a great tune I really do (laughter).

After the release of the new album together with the tour, what next for Miles Hunt, how far ahead do you plan?

We will be touring right up unto the end of this year really. We will do this tour and then play a bunch of festivals, the last one being in October or November of this year. By that time we will have decided whether or not we are going to play any more dates around Christmas, which has become rather traditional for us. We usually play a gig in the Midlands and one in London over Christmas and I think that we will decided sometime in the summer whether or not we want to do that. So we may be going right up until Christmas or we may simply knock it on the head after the last festival Kevin (laughter).

A lot of my free time will be taken up with me writing my second book. The first book, The Wonder Stuff Diaries only goes up to the end of 1989 so I have already transcribed most of my diaries ready for that to the point where the band broke up in 1994. However I still have to research the photographs for that. So that will take me two or three months so if I start that in May I may be able to get that out before Christmas. Plus I have been planning my research into a fictional book, which I suppose I will start writing that at the end of the year. I have no idea just how long that will take but I would probably like to have it finished in a three month period. After that I honestly don’t know what we will do then (laughter).

I do know that Erica (Nockalls) is planning an instrumental album of her own. I guess that we will just have to see how things go this year. You simply have to try and work out exactly how much Wonder Stuff the people want (hysterical laughter). I will never put the lid on it, for as long as I can physically do it I will always do it. It simply isn’t the only thing in my life. There are other things that I want to do and there are other things that every other member of the band wants to do.

You have mentioned that you will be playing some of the larger festivals this summer so I have to ask you, which do you prefer festivals or the smaller intimate gigs?

I honestly don’t mind Kevin. When I go out with the acoustic tour I can sometimes play to a hundred people or less. I like all gigs. Playing a gig somewhere like Rock City is more within my comfort zone because I feel as though I know the character of the type of audience that you get there. Plus you have sound checked in the afternoon so you go out onto the stage with a certain amount of confidence, knowing that it is going to sound good at least to our ears on stage. You don’t have that comfort at festivals so you walk out onto the stage and when you hit that first note, you have no fucking idea at all as to what you are going to hear which can be frustrating but it can also be exhilarating of course (laughter).

I think that every type of gig that we do, whether it’s my solo acoustic gigs to band festivals I truly like them all. I enjoy them all otherwise I simply wouldn’t do them.

On that note Miles thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I hope to catch up with you here in Nottingham.

That’s been great Kevin, thank you and we will get a drink over there in Nottingham.