The Auteurs - Interview with Luke Haines

Randee Dawn Cohen and Lee Locke
Alternative Press

After Murder Park, the Auteurs' third album is dark. Claustrophobic,even. It contains songs about dead children, forced marriages and repudiating certain religions-an album's worth of harsh,abrasive pop songs about no escape. And lead singer and songwriter Luke Haines won't disagree with you. Haines, who in person is neither abrasive nor terribly melancholic, has an explanation.

"I was in a wheelchair when I wrote this album," Haines explains, downing a Guinness in a pub near his home in London. "I broke both of my ankles. I jumped off a fifteen-foot wall at a particular low point in our touring, in a bid to finish the tour and get the insurance. I was in Spain, and I was fed up, so I thought of the old-fashioned hobbling operation, and I figured I'd do it on myself. It gave me a chance to slow down and take stock. Sometimes you need to bring yourself into reality. It was a good way of getting the insurance paid off, and I really wanted to get out of the whole thing without doing anything really dramatic. So it was kind of a cop-out. I probably should have just killed myself."

And while the incident may shed new light into the methodology behind rock star suicides, Haines, who spent two months in the wheelchair, found that the songs he was writing were darker than anything the Auteurs-never before exactly known for their sweetness and light-had ever done before. "I was pretty paranoid while writing it," says Haines. "This is a record I ended up having to make to get on to the next stage of my life. What I did was a desperate thing to do. I'm aware of the fact that it was irrational. I didn't mean to make it sound like it was my master plan. The tour had even been going all right, but I was just kind of fed up with the situation as it was, playing the same old rock and roll crap that everyone goes through, the general moaning when you really should be grateful that you don't work in the checkout counter at the grocery."

All of which makes After Murder Park if not easier to swallow, at least more digestible, since it also retains elements of the skewed humor with which the Auteurs are more closely identified. But since they began, the Auteurs (who also include cellist/keyboardist James Banbury, bassist Alice Readman and drummer Barney C. Rockford) have always carefully eluded categorization. There is the rough Kinksian pop edge to their riffs, the glam-rock attitude they espouse, the grunge wallop to their live show that isn't heard on the records. The latter says Haines, is what sold producer Steve Albini on working with them. "He was into the idea that we sounded nothing like we did on record live,"recalls Haines. "We wanted the songs done in a live, direct way with the edge still on it. For this album all of the bad notes are left in. It's the way records should be made."

Though 1993's New Wave and 1994's Now I'm A Cowboy weren't exactly slick affairs, the Auteurs have never written traditional pop songs. Haines takes a naively belligerent tone when discussing how they try to market their own music. "We released 'Unsolved Child Murders' as our Christmas single," he says. "To me, that's a fucking pop song, and it should have been a big hit. I can see every reason why it wasn't, but...I had done it in a more contemporary [yet] archaic way just to soften it up a bit, so I figured it would be a hit." But the Auteurs have no hits. They sell approximately 20,000 records in England, another 20,000 in America, and another 20,000 in France. "It seems to be a cultural limit to how many any one country can get rid of," says Haines dryly. Originally from the suburbs that surround London, Haines and the rest of the Auteurs emerged in 1993 to high critical praise and low sales, both of which surprised Haines, who never expected either, and ran the Auteurs in a catch-as-catch-can manner. his previous experience in a signed band, the Servents, had already taught him the follies of consciously trying to succeed in the indie world. "We sounded tinny and rubbish, and the press loved it in England. Every few years there's a movement of tinny, rubbish bands, and we were one of that. The Auteurs is maybe a chance to rectify that." Two albums later, the movement is less towards tinny , rubbish bands and more into the territory the Auteurs staked and abandoned a few years ago-strings and an arty flair that signal the return of the concept album. But the change doesn't mean Haines likes today's sounds any better, insisting the way pop music is written today is dully out of date, with the Smashing Pumpkins as only the latest example.

"[The Pumpkins write] just a series of bad, bad, really bad poetry, put into mainstream sound. It's like Def Leppard with bad poetry," says Haines. "I'm much more into bad, trashy Belgian techno. I like that much more than rock bands. The whole idea of a rock band is so archaic. We've got to this point, getting towards the end of the '90's, and we're still sold on the idea of four or five moptop guys going over in a plane,'Hi, we're Oasis.' We are in the same position we were 30 years ago. The bands that sound like Gerry and The Pacemakers, or something like that. I don't want to take the usual British angle, but that guy, Billy Whatsisname [Corgan], comes off as a spoiled middle-class brat."

Class, as it might be expected, still obsesses Haines. Anyone calling him an intellectual or assuming he's well-read because his lyrics are literate and tell fine stories will find their heads politely severed. "I've always been into language, but I've never been academic. I rather resent academia in a big way. I'm often accused of being well-read. It's a typical sort of thing:'Oh,you use language, you play around with it,so therefore you must be academic,' which is completely insulting in some way. It's like,'Oh, you must have had some money behind your education.' And it's like,'No,I can just do it.' That just sounds patronizing."

But 60,000 albums sold worldwide consistently doesn't bother Haines. If the world is willing to take a song about dead kids and make it a hit, so be it; if not, there are always other walls to scale. Though, admits Haines, he has no intention of doing something stupid the next time. "The next album," he says, "wil definitely be lighter. I've gotten this out of my system now." Instead, the Auteurs are just planning on taking their see-how-it-goes approach to running a band as long as they can. Haines likes where they've ended up. "My approach, the casual approach, is not to the music. It's to how we as a band are. What we do is a little skewed, a little right-field. Nobody ever talks about right field. That's where we are."