Graham Coxon on reinventing the classics with Jaded Hearts Club: “It’s like these songs have been abducted, put in a spaceship and taken round the universe”
What do you get when a bunch of A-list friends, including Matt Bellamy and Graham Coxon, get together and make an album of scuzzed up Motown classics? You get The Jaded Hearts Club’s fun debut album, that’s what.
All images: Jaded Hearts Club
It feels like it’s been a while since we had a proper rock ‘n’ roll super group, doesn’t it? There was a time when they seemed to be everywhere, but it feels like years since a bunch of proper rock stars got together and formed a band for the sheer fun of smashing out some tunes together and celebrating the music they love. And that’s exactly what The Jaded Hearts Club is all about.
Formed as an impromptu Beatles covers band for a friend’s birthday in 2017, the concept instantly attracted attention for its all-star line-up – including Muse megastar Matt Bellamy on bass and Blur legend Graham Coxon on guitar.
It was the sort of fun that you want to do more of, and so the Jaded Hearts Club did what came naturally to these rock ‘n’ roll veterans – they became a proper band, albeit one playing much smaller gigs than anyone in the line-up was used to. Joining Bellamy and Coxon in the line-up were Sean Payne (The Zutons) on drums, singers Nic Cester (Jet) and Miles Kane (The Last Shadow Puppets) and guitarist Jamie Davies, the man whose birthday spawned the band’s first assemblage.
For the next few years the band played impromptu gigs in bars and clubs, plus the odd high-profile charity gig – even performing with Paul McCartney himself at an event in 2018 – before the idea formed last year that they should get into a studio and document all this…
The result is album of fuzzed out covers of classic songs and Motown gems featuring everything from I Put A Spell On You to Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again (no, really) – it’s like the world’s most A-list function band has turned up to your house and started scuzzing up the classics.
In an attempt to make sense of this brilliantly bonkers idea, we caught up, at a responsible distance, with the trifecta of Coxon, Kane and Cester in a tastefully appointed Hackney warehouse, to find out about the challenges of not only creating a full album during a global pandemic but doing so when your band members scattered around the world…
The lead single for the record, I’ll Be There sound’s huge. How did you go about recording something like this amidst a global pandemic?
Nic Cester: “That was the only one that happened during full lockdown, right? Where were you Graham?”
Graham Coxon: “I was in Los Angeles. We had a Zoom meeting about which kind of way we were going to do it. We thought we’d go after Morricone a bit on the intro.
Miles Kane: “That one for me sounds the best I think – I absolutely love it. When Jamie sent it to me it blew my mind. I had that on repeat when I was strutting around. It’s great!”
How did you approach it in terms of guitar?
GC: “I think I was hinting at the brass part in this case. Jamie is thrashing through the rhythm and I’m just putting a few toppings on the old basic margarita I suppose. Some olives and stuff. Because I’m supposed to do that in the job that I’m used to doing – which is a bit of rhythm and some lead-y bits, fingers that can’t stay still… all the hammer-ons!
“You know it’s kind of weird, when you grow up with The Beatles and stuff like that, psychedelic music becomes the norm so I can’t get through a song unless it’s tickling my earhole with some nice bits and bobs. I get very bored unless there are some things coming out so I was really into how that song sounded because we managed to get in some really great little backing vocal moments I wasn’t expecting.
“It’s great to see how seriously Matt gets in amongst it as a producer. For him these things have to sound frigging amazing – he’s not just doing this for a giggle, it’s serious stuff! The orchestration too, there’s woodwind in it, the backing vocals, so many textures. It’s great because we do the parts and it sounds good and then there’s a lot of magic sprinkled on it which is testament to Matt and Jamie really for getting all that in there. We’re basically amplifying what is already there in the originals.”
Your guitar work on I Put A Spell On You is extraordinary…
GC: “Yeah I Whammy’d it a bit, I think Matt put a [Mu-Tron] Octavider on it too, there’s lot’s of great big dive bombs all that kind of thing. I’d like to have gone a bit more nuts on that solo but there’s a moment where Nic does this fucking blood-curdling scream, and I wanted to support that. It’s such a rush, a real moment.
“The process did push the boundaries of what is possible, especially Matt’s love of extremely fat and fuzzy bass. There’s got to be room for it in the mix. If people had been trying to use these sounds on vinyl in the mid 70s the needle would jump out of the groove straight away! It’s really like these songs have been abducted, put in a spaceship, taken round the universe and then returned.”
The cover of Peggy Lee’s Fever is pretty atmospheric too…
GC: “I don’t know that one?”
MK: “I think Matt’s just singing that one…”
GC: “Fever? Matt just does these things… like We’ll Meet Again and stuff…
MK: “I’m on that one. Basically we did the record and Matt bookended it with those two tunes. That was one of his ideas, I think.”
GC: “We’re doing press and we don’t even know what’s going on!”
MK: “Matt’s probably changing it again right now, it’ll be a different album now compared to the one you’ve heard!”
There’s some really interesting guitar tones and textures on the record as a whole…
NC: “I arrived at the sessions towards the end of recording so I could sing over them and I had the pleasure of watching Graham finishing off his parts which was a lot of fun.”
GC: “This is a Friedman, I saw these guitars at NAMM two years ago and I picked one up and plugged it into one of their small box amplifiers and I was in a sort of sonic bliss, and I’m not at all geeky like that, I’m not ‘Ooooh tone!’ obsessed or anything like that.
“I’ve always just got on with it really, but playing that guitar I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, yes, this is lovely!’ so I bought it and that amp on the spot and then I asked if they could put one of my paintings on a guitar, which is this one.
MK: “Is that an old guitar?”
GC: “It’s new, and they’re made by Grover Jackson, it’s got his signature on the back of the headstock, so they’re darn fine. I thought this was just a great stripped down, hotrod. Just a volume and tone for rocking and a rolling you know? This guitar was a bit relic’d, I wanted it to be more relic’d to be honest so that the painting was a bit more covered up.
“It’s got a maple top and I think mahogany body and neck although they were experimenting with a lot of different woods at the time. It’s Les Paul-ish, it’s got some really nice PAF style things going on and I love everything about it!
“The one I got without the pictures on is wonderful, it looks properly battered. On this one I had to scrape the bottom bit of the picture off as I didn’t like the way it worked with the carved top. I might put a little bit of stain on the bare wood too. It really needs to be thrashed around on a tour!”
Given Matt’s ownership of the brand now, it’s perhaps not surprising to see you with a Manson, but it’s a bit different to what you usually play…
“This is the other end of the scale! It’s très modern! This is the Manson GC-1 with a kill switch, Sustainiac, all sorts! I love a bit of noise making and sometimes the older guitars are ill-equipped – you can’t get some of that stuff with a Bigsby, but this is going to withstand all kinds of hideous treatment. Modern guitars that don’t fold up in your hand are good for that sort of abuse.
“It’s basically like a Tele, Matt has one with a Kaoss pad but this one has a Sustainiac pickup here and you just go ‘clink’ and off it goes. And you get three different variations of that sound.”
MK: “How do you feel about playing the new guitar? Do you like it? I never really like the feel of a new neck.
GC: “The neck is fine, it’s just a neck – have a feel! It’s great because I have a tonne of vintage style guitars but this one is a bit more high-gain – higher output pickups, that sort of thing.
“Matt had one that was a sort of olive khaki green that looked like a drone and I really liked the matte finish, so I got in touch with Adrian at Manson Guitars and he sorted me out. I told him where I wanted him to put the switches and stuff like that and I asked him to put GC-1 on it, hinting that there might be a GC-2!”
What other guitars featured on the record?
GC: “On the Jaded Hearts album I was also using a lovely Patrick Eggle electric, he made me something that’s kind of like a Telecaster with two wide range style humbuckers and a tremolo arm which is something I’m very comfortable with. You can do loads on one of them and especially if you can coil tap then you’ve got the best of a few worlds. The Friedman is completely un-tapped though, it’s extreme old school, just wood and wire.
“I guess I do like guitars that are versatile – I still sit and stroke my 1966 Gibson ES-330 and all the rest, my old SG special, my 335. I like the idea that the guitars are evolving, just like this music where we are dragging beautiful old-school songs kicking and screaming into a wider bandwidth of sound. In some ways it makes sense to me to use instruments that can back that concept up.
“It’s not just me though, Matt’s got this new bass all the secret weaponry in it. It’s mad, he’s got all these crazy fucking things.”
MK: “Is that the one that glows in the dark?”
GC: “It’s very conceptual.”
NC: “It’s functional too, it’s not just crazy shit for the sake of it, there’s a purpose behind everything.”
GC: “Absolutely, Matt has these concepts and ideas and he makes them a reality and that’s an amazing quality of the man really. He has a thought and he just does it, whereas I’d be sitting there biting my nails – he just sorts it out.”
From an effects standpoint, there are some mind-blowing moments, too…
GC: “I’ve never been too geeky about that sort of thing. In the old days you had your Boss pedals and I also had a Watson fuzz and that was about it. I’ve had the Marshalls and I’ve recently been messing around with other amps, and effects have obviously come a long way recently with people making really cool stuff. There’s that mad Third Man [Plasma] fuzz pedal by Gamechanger Audio – I’ve got one of those going on.
NC: “The Tesla looking one?”
GC: “Yes, the one with the electric looking thing in the middle. Jack White was responsible for this version. Matt has some other groovy things, there was a Pete Cornish treble booster knocking about and we were splitting the signal in all kinds of directions and going into a priceless old Marshall.”
Graham, you’ve been doing a lot of acoustic stuff recently, was there any acoustic laid down for the record?
GC: “I am entirely electric with this project but I’ve been doing tonnes of acoustic tunes recently. Sort of old-time Roger Miller, Burl Ives-type stuff for the soundtracks I’ve been doing.
“It seems that people are now coming to me a little bit for that fingerpick-y acoustic soundtrack stuff. I worked on I Am Not Okay With This that series on Netflix – and there’s some stuff – not the Bloodwitch album [a fictional band featured in the show that Coxon ended up recording an entire album for] – but the things that people probably didn’t notice, as it sounded pretty old. There’s a scene in a bowling alley with a little country song playing in the background, and that’s something I did.
MK: “For that sort of thing do they send you the video first and you watch it and write the music or do you just write the tunes and they put it in?”
GC: “Actually they made that series pretty quick, so that was all filmed beforehand – I’d watch things and go to meetings in Hollywood and sort it out. With [Bafta-winning Channel 4/Netflix black comedy] The End of the F***ing World, I got a head start on that just from reading the script so they were filming it as I was going and I was getting bits. It was a different work ethic, which was new to me, but you have to get used to it as you’ve got to get stuff done every day. You have to approach it as a nine to five, and at the end of each day you’ll have three or four things ready to send off and forget all about the next day.
MK: “Did you quite like working like that? I know I do…”
GK: “I did actually! I was like, ‘Shit, there’s 120 songs!’ And after a few weeks of working like that, bloody Nora! And not everything you send through is going to be in it, but some of my favourite songs I’ve written are in those soundtracks, because they’re quick and you write the lyrics quick. You realise where the lyrics came from a little further down the line or when someone asks you what the fuck that song was about. You think ‘Oh, actually I know now!’ I still love playing the acoustic, I’m not going to get any better, but I like a bit of drop D fingerstyle that sort of thing.”
As we round thing off then, is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
GC: “Well you’re only our second interview, we haven’t been asked lots of stuff yet!
MK: “There’s no questions been put to us really!”
GC: “Who is the last to get out of bed on tour? We can’t answer that. What’s on the turntable in the tour bus? We haven’t had that one yet! There’s so much still to find out!”
You’ve Always Been Here by The Jaded Hearts Club is out now.