By Ean | September 8, 2012
Taking independent music to a whole new level, GINGER WILDHEART is at the forefront of a revolution determining the future of the music industry. Alison Bateman found out more.
LAST summer Ginger Wildheart called an end to his time on the international touring circuit with Michael Monroe’s band, and was seriously considering calling time on the musical career altogether. After twenty two years serving on guitar with Monroe, The Quireboys and Bides Of Destruction – and of course fronting The Wildhearts – the stalwart Brit rocker reasoned “maybe I just got to leave and get a job”. Now a family man, his thinking ran along the lines of “if I need to earn a little bit of money, I might as well be doing it at home.”
Fortunately for the straight world of 9-5 however, the fanbase who know Ginger’s hellraising history best staged an intervention before he could join the dole queue. He remembers it as being like the moment that “the Little Steven character in The Sopranos goes, ‘I tried to get out and they pulled me back in!’,” laughing as he adds: “it’s like my fans wouldn’t let me go – and I just felt such a sense of belonging and community at that point, from staring into chaos and confusion.”
In that time of confusion, Ginger had gone so far as to ask the career advice of a trusted friend, who said “‘I can’t think of anything for you to do, but whatever it is, for God’s sake, make sure it’s something you would do for nothing’,” he recalls: “The only thing I do for nothing is talk to the fans, and sure enough that became my job. They heard me out and said ‘Don’t get a job, play music! Here’s some money!’”
Specifically, fans reached for their wallets after viewing a video Ginger posted last August, in which he outlined plans to fund the recording of a triple album via Pledgemusic. An online service that has given artists a means of raising recording costs direct from fans since 2009, Pledgemusic is still very new next to the creaking old industry machinery it offers an alternative to. In internet years however, it’s already got a history – a new chapter in which opened the day Ginger posted his video. Such was the response from fans that only six hours later he had 100% of his recording budget, and held a new Pledge record.
With it being site policy to consider a campaign complete not when its target is met but when its time is up, the story doesn’t end there. On the day of writing, Ginger’s campaign has another month to run, and has already raised a jaw-dropping 575% over its target – a precedent for Pledge and quite possibly the wider industry. In immediate terms, the impact has been to enable Ginger to “afford nicer studios, new strings and to pay the musicians”, meaning it would be no hollow platitude for him to say it ‘couldn’t be done without the fans, man’.
Not that savvy fans-turned-investors would be easily fobbed off with such lines, when already they’re enjoying more tangible tokens of gratitude including exclusive updates on the project’s progress and exclusive access to the entire triple album. They’re also charged with selecting the songs to appear on ‘100%’ – a single disc which will constitute the only standard commercial release to come from the project – and they even inspire the three-disc version’s title of ‘555%’, a reference to the point at which Ginger broke with Pledge tradition and revealed the sums involved.
Translated into cold, hard cash terms, the project’s sheer scale becomes apparent. The original target was based on “what we normally use — twenty thousand”. Multiply that by 575% and you’re talking over a quarter of a million, and one immense album. “When the fans responded in such a positive way we thought ‘Wait ‘til you see what we’re going to give you in return for your investment!’” Ginger grins. With the wait nearly over, the exchange looks to have been a fair one – a curveball-crammed collection of thirty tracks, 555% would have been as hard to anticipate as the sum pledged to make it.
Amongst the mass of material is “the first song The Wildhearts ever wrote” – a six-minute epic titled ‘Deep In The Arms of Morpheus’, which Ginger resurrected in response to the fact “people had been asking, and the only versions out there are really bad bedroom bootlegs”. Coming almost thirty years after it was written, the tune’s first full studio recording features fellow Wildhearts CJ and Ritch Battersby, and is followed on the triple album’s first disc by another nostalgic nugget. ‘Baby Skies’ was so named by drummer Battersby because, in common with Wildhearts classic ‘Sky Babies’, it’s “a riff followed by another, followed by another,” says Ginger, who approved the title on grounds of it being “such a stupid idea, we should probably do it.”
That may well have been the governing principle for much of the triple album, which sees Ginger indulge not only fan nostalgia but his own weirdest whims. The jazz timings of disc one wildcard ‘Incidental Noises’ apparently set it to the tamer side of the strange, whilst still to come when Ginger speaks to VLR is ‘Another Fucking Spinning Rainbow (sic)’, a track included because it provoked “so many laughs” its writer figured: “it doesn’t really matter at this point if nobody likes this song, it’s still worth doing.” Then there are the tracks displaying an untraceable dance influence (“I don’t know, I like things that sounds like gay disco”) and “the one we never got a chance to record, which was an opera song.”
Is Ginger nervous about an imminent Pledgers’ listening party debuting the more ‘difficult’ second disc? “The songs on the first disc aren’t getting half the criticism I thought they would,” he shrugs, adding rightly that “it just goes to show how diplomatic my fans are, and how open-minded.” Indeed, in terms both of their devotion to their Idol and their tolerance for “gay disco”, the Wildhearts “community” – as Ginger likes to term them – are a polar opposite to fickle fans who dumped Judas Priest after Rob Halford came out. “People will show me pictures of their kid and say ‘I met his mam at a gig, and we walked down the aisle to one of your songs’,” Ginger tells, surmising: “That’s above and beyond music. I just provide the soundtrack to that community.”
Having already invested so much with his music, Ginger’s followers were perhaps always set to be the ones who’d take Pledgemusic’s model to extremes. The man himself however is adamant the site’s usefulness is not limited to ‘cult’ acts, and argues its full potential, and the potential implications for the broader industry, are yet to be realized. “You can have ten million fans who buy your records, but you’ve probably got the same number who love your records as I have.” he theorizes: “That’s roughly the number involved in the Pledge campaign.”
Ginger’s feeling is that “in every generation there’s further distortion of the pure reason why musicians and bands share this experience. In the ‘70s it all started getting blown out of proportion, and if something lasts for long enough people start buying the bullshit.” Is he saying that, where the ’70s had punk and the late ‘80s ostentation had grunge, this generation’s equivalent revolution will be to overthrow a self-important record industry? “I hope so,” Ginger nods: “Because for years people have been complaining about record labels and now, we got rid of the record labels. Now, it’s up to the bands.” VLR