Antony Harding: I’ve always been quite happy being on my own
We came to know songwriter Antony ‘ANT’ Harding as the drummer of the much-loved (to say the least) band ‘Hefner’.
A band that was rightly described as "Hefner, Britain’s Largest Small Band" and –personally speaking – a band that certainly deserved much more recognition.
Hefner formed as a band in the early 90's, when Antony met what was later to become the band’s frontman Darren Hayman, an encounter that eventually led to the release of 4 studio albums and a large number of singles and Eps from 1996 until 2002 when the band officially broke up (with the sole exception of course their appearance in the tribute to John Peel on 2004, who has always been a big fan of theirs).
However, even when the band was at its peak and received much praise from fans (including me), Antony had started to officially release, albeit at sparse intervals, samples of his personal work, a low-key melancholic folk (?) - pop, that first appeared on the now hard to find EP of his "Where Happiness Begins". More releases followed, sometimes using his own name, sometimes under the abbreviation ANT and also under the side-project Lonely Boy (this in collaboration with Eivind Kirkeby).
His latest official release - or perhaps it would be better to say a re-release - is the EP "Kisses On A Plate" in September '21 under the small Italian independent record label "We Were Never Being Boring". On the occasion of this reappearance, I grabbed the opportunity to narrow down our years of communication with Antony into a discussion / interview via a series of questions regarding his personal work, his life in Sweden where he now resides permanently, the band that we came to know him with, the gig they did in Athens (at the “House of Art” venue) and more.
So here is what the anti-hero ANT kindly replied to us:
Hello Antony.Can you give us a quick history lesson on how you got started as a drummer?
My first memory of drumming was setting up all of my mum’s Tupperware tubs and hitting them with a pair of wooden chopsticks. I was obsessed with Adam and the Ants and can remember going to the cubs’ fancy dress party dressed as Merrick instead of the more obvious choice of Adam Ant. I started pestering my parents every birthday and Christmas to buy me a snare drum, which I finally got aged 11. I loved it. It was second hand, wooden, very thin and on a spindly stand and came with loads of used drumsticks and a Play Like Buddy Rich book. That book served me well and I played my first gig on drums aged 12 at a theatre on the Isle of Wight, backing 4 of my classmates all of whom strummed acoustic guitars.
What would you mention as your musical influences as a teenager?
I really loved The Jam and had been a mod up to the age of 13, walking around in a giant fishtail parka I had swapped for a Madness picture disc with a classmate’s older brother. After The Jam had broken up I looked for another band to follow and for some reason chose U2. But luckily a couple of years later a school friend introduced me to the radio shows of Janice Long and John Peel and I realised it was OK to like more than one band. I grew a long fringe and started taping loads of music off the radio and collecting records by The Woodentops, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Smiths.
Have you ever experienced the so called feeling of “drummer’s loneliness”? If so, how did you fight it?
I‘m not sure what that is! On stage I did sometimes push the drum riser forwards to be closer to my band-mates, if that counts?
Why did you make the switch to being independent and why does it work for you?
I was always independent but just happened to end up playing drums in a band at the same time. Being quiet and passive, I really don’t like telling people what to do, so it would have been impossible to have my own band and boss people around. It just seemed logical to be solo, although having to go on stage alone has always been a nightmare even after a few drinks.
Do you miss the sense of belonging in a band?
Those days were a lot of fun and there are many funny stories to tell but I’ve always been quite happy being on my own.
What’s your relationship with the music industry nowadays?
I’m not exactly bombarded with offers and those that do occasionally come through tend to just talk the talk and never show any signs of actually being able to walk the walk.
I’ve noticed that you collaborate with smaller not British labels, (I do enjoy & support every “We Were Never Being Boring” release).
It’s nice to work with a label like WWNBB who are (almost) as chilled out as I am about releasing music.
What effects have social media and streaming services had on music sharing and consumption?
These days it feels increasingly like tossing songs into the middle of an ocean and watching them sink without a trace! If you’re lucky one might wash up somewhere one day.
Do you benefit as an artist from the streaming sales?
My last royalty payment from Spotify was just about enough for me to buy a chocolate bar! I did surprisingly amass over 3 million streams on a Chinese music site but of course the site went bust last year and that was the end of that.
What has been your best selling solo release to date? Why do you think it sold better than the others?
The Cures For Broken Hearts CD is the only one that has made a profit. I think largely due to it being played on the John Peel show, getting reviews in Q and Melody Maker and, judging by some of the reviews, the novelty of a drummer making their own record. But probably because I sold loads of them on Hefner tours.
What are your future plans?
Are there new ANT songs or an album “waiting” to be released?
I make no plans but I do have around 30 unfinished songs on my hard drive that I have been working on (and off) for the last 5 years. Since switching from 8-track to PC I seem to have become obsessed with the endless possibilities of editing, coupled with a reluctance/fear to actually finish anything. So I tend to spend an awfully long time creating the backing tracks so I can put off doing the singing until the very last minute. I once went so long without singing it took 6 months with a speech therapist (and no tea) to train my voice back.
Shall we wait for a sequel to the “Lonely Boy” project besides the ANT recordings?
We did do some new demos years ago. There was a good one about being hit by a coconut. But I wanted somebody else to sing the songs, possibly a girl, which proved problematic!
I know that you used to write and release your own songs since almost the mid 90’s.
Actually I wrote my first songs aged 16. I had a little black and white portable T.V at the foot of my bed and I would watch the late night films. So all the first songs I wrote were about my favourite actresses. The only one I can still vaguely remember was about Victoria Principle.
Do you think that guitar is your “language” nowadays? Would you describe your music as “indie folk”?
I’m not sure what I would call it. In China they call me a folk singer, which I like because I’m not.
I don’t think I play guitar well enough for it to be my language, maybe if I compared it to my Swedish… Most of the new recordings I have done are based around electric pianos and Solinas and I have grown to love the sound of droning and fake strings.
Did playing other instruments come naturally?
I once spent a summer learning to play Danny Boy on a very cheap violin. I had this stupid idea I could play all my own string parts. Luckily it was stolen, along with all my power tools, probably by the long suffering neighbours.
Was it a surprise for you to see John Peel’s support continue when you were out from behind the kit?
Yes. The 15 year old me’s tiny mind would have been blown to pieces! Alas Peel soon stopped playing my records after I told him I supported Arsenal, which I think is fair enough for a Liverpool supporter.
Where does the inspiration for a new song come from?
Unfortunately my song writing brain has always been stuck in automatic love song mode.
Are you concerned with social and political issues?
Of course and more than ever, but whenever I try to write anything political it always sounds really trite to me. For example, and staying with the drummer as songwriter/solo artist theme, if I had written the lyrics to, Another Day In Paradise, I would have cringed with embarrassment, puked up over my desk and very quickly erased all trace of it. At no point would I have looked at that song and thought – hit! Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.
These past years you’ve been living and working in Sweden. How’s life there for an ‘immigrant’? Have you fitted in with the Swedish way of life and/or the local music scene?
I am now a Swedish citizen and no one can tell I’m an immigrant unless I open my mouth, which isn’t often! I have a bicycle with a basket on the front and can clear the snow from a pathway in a matter of seconds.
Is the fact that we are now middle aged good for an artist?
Does ageing make us more mature or just less sharp/edgy? (“The temper grows quicker and the shoulder colder”).
I think I probably wrote all my best stuff back in my prolific early twenties. I find I get bored much quicker now so I have trouble finishing anything I start.
How have the last 2 ‘pandemic’ years affected you?
Luckily I got to spend far less time squeezing onto busy trains and a lot more time watching Black Woodpeckers in the forest. I actually like being able to hide behind a mask in public.
Have you adopted a different creative process?
I’m less reliant on microphones and tend to cut and paste a lot more when recording a song instead of trying to record a track in one take without making a mistake. But this technique only encourages me to keep changing the arrangement each time I listen to a recording.
How easy is it for someone who is used to playing drums to orchestrate his own songs?
I never really saw myself as a proper drummer, hence the absence of any toms or crash cymbals. I saw myself more as a songwriter who was helping to keep the beat for my far more outgoing and talented song writing friend.
Has this need of self-expression become bigger after the Hefner breakup?
No I don’t think so. I just ended up with a lot more time on my hands.
How does it feel to confront the audience as a solo artist after having spent years behind the drum kit?
Terrifying and I really suck at it! I haven’t played a solo show in over 9 years now and it becomes more and more puzzling to me that I was ever able to find the courage to do such an alien thing.
Were there any Hefner recordings in which you sang the lead vocals?
If so, which ones?
If I remember rightly I sang some of the chorus on The Librarian, the intro to Don’t Flake Out On Me and the chorus to GLR.
Did your songwriting find its space on Hefner records?
No but I do remember once in the early days the record label suggesting that my songs could be used as b-sides!
What’s your relationship with the other members of Hefner?
I’ve played drums on some of Jack’s songs, recorded an album with Darren (which featured all 4 of us) and recently succeeded in getting John to play bass again for the first time in nearly 20 years!
Hefner at House of Art, Athens 15.Dec.2000 (Photographs by Vasilis Gonis)
Is there a chance we’ll get a new Hefner release sometime?
Fat chance of that!
Hefner’s gig at House of Art in Athens was a very special moment for us. We were not so many but we still happily consider ourselves a …cult. What do you remember/recall from the House of Art gig in Athens?
I did see some photos from that gig online, however, like most of the gigs we did, it tends to only be the after show antics that stick in my mind. I recall that Jack was eager to fly home as one of his sons had had a skiing accident, Darren fell asleep somewhere in the upstairs bar at the after show, our Greek roadie popped some pills and danced all night long and I puked up in the taxi on the way back to the hotel.
Have you visited Athens since then?
Yes a few times but only passing through on the way to and from visiting some of the Greek islands.
Would you suggest to us some new artists/albums that you enjoy listening to lately?
Recently I’ve been listening to the new releases from Yuppie Flu and a band from Malmö called And The Broken as well as a three album double CD by an English singer-songwriter from the seventies called Dave Cartwright.
Thank you very much Antony for taking time to answer. I hope my tens of questions weren’t exhausting for you.
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