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QRD #41 - Guitarist Interview Series Part I - June 2010
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews with:
Jason LaFarge
Aidan Baker
Jamie Stewart
Brian John Mitchell
Martin Newman
Mat Sweet
Robin Crutchfield
Darren Hayman
Anna-Lynne Williams
Larry Marotta
Andrew Weathers
Mike Cosper
Sibyll Kalff
Tam
Jamie Barnes
Nathan Amundson
Jenks Miller
Chris Olley
Don Campau
Colin Newman
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Guitarist Interview with Darren Hayman of Hefner
June 2010

Name: Darren Hayman
Bands: Hefner, The French, now solo
Websites: www.hefnet.com
Listen to "The Hymn for the Cigarettes"

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Darren – My first guitar was an Encore acoustic, swiftly followed by an Encore electric. The acoustic got trod on by a drunk student friend. The electric exists in my parents loft somewhere.

QRD – What’s your typical setup from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Darren – Fender Telecaster, lead, Fender Pro-Junior Amp. Beat that.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Darren – Now if someone didn’t say the guitar here wouldn’t you think that strange & slightly wrong?

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Darren – The Pro-Junior above. It has two knobs Tone & Volume. I only use one of them.

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Darren – I have three Telecasters; but despite owning a Fender Thinline, my main guitar has become a Squire Pro-Fat (?) by nature of the fact that I have had a B-bender fitted to it. A B-bender is a truly audacious guitar mod that allows you to move the pitch of the B-string by pushing the guitar down against the strap. It needs to be seen to be explained.

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Darren – It would look like a Fender Telecaster. It might have a B-bender.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Darren – Being the owner of a modular synthesizer pretty much all effects pedals look like miniature poodles next to my Rotweiller. Maybe I could design a pedal that makes promoters not be arseholes?

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Darren – 5.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Darren – In a music room/studio on hooks on the wall.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Darren – Are they a Telecaster?

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Darren – I bought a gimp, spare, Squire Telecaster recently for about £100 new & its fine, really good. I have paid £600 before. I think sometimes you have to be aware of the appropriateness of the expense of your guitar next to your songs. There is a British singer called Richard Hawley who plays songs of heartbreak on various £2000 Gretsches & it just kind of looks inauthentic. This is show business & the guitar you play does affect people’s impression & expectations.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Darren – I’ve done a few things. I usually put one humbucker pickup into a Telecaster if it doesn’t already have one. See also the B-bender mod I had put in my Telecaster mentioned above.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Darren – I like simple uncomplicated things because they work. I like small things because they are easy to carry & most of the size & hassle with guitar gear is unnecessary when you compare it to the sound people make. I know my taste so I don’t need to research much. Eclecticism is over-rated.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Darren – No.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Darren – I like a decent guitar, slightly overdriving four valve tubes. That’s it. Luckily so do most other people. In the studio it’s sometimes different (see modular synthesizer above) & I have some old funky items like a Watkins CopyCat but mostly it’s guitar & amp.

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Darren – If I had more money & people around me to carry shit I might be interested in having a Vox amp, an AC30 or more probably an AC15; but really I’m fine.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Darren – Well I think buying a really cheap piece of shit as your first guitar is obstructive to learning; but guitars are so good & cheap now, it’s hard to go wrong.

QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?

Darren – I bought a 12 string electric mandolin that is really unplayable & very one trick pony. I guess in terms of value my Fender Pro-Junior Amp has been an awesome purchase. Pretty much my only gigging amp for over ten years now.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Darren – Well, I guess, I’m kind of against the idea of effects at all really. I do see guitarists that use them well, but once again the secret, for me, seems to be a simplicity & directness in the approach that is often missing. Guitarists often fetishize gear & that can be their undoing as a musician. I really don’t like Marshall amps, they always sound loud without having any meaningful definition. I really don’t like the feel of playing a Stratocaster. They’ve never made sense to me.

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Darren – I don’t know. A G chord. Check it’s in tune.

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Darren – 16/17.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Darren – I stayed at the same level from about 25 to 35 & during that time was a really good rhythm guitarist, but terrible at lead or finger picking. Recently I have learnt another tuning & learnt to pick better. I even take a solo once in a while, so I honestly think I’ve started getting a little better again. In the grand scheme though I’m shit.

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Darren – Well it doesn’t. I’m a much better bass player.

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?

Darren – Not really, because it’s too singular &, as I said before, encourages a fetish with gear & less important matters. I understood a lot more about how music works after learning the piano. With piano it’s just easier to see how things fit together. It gives you a better frame of reference & theory when working with other musicians too.

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Darren – Both. It’s an instrument with so many tropes & stereotypes that you have to work around them. Everything has been done & at heart they are kind of boring. We have to make them interesting.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Darren – Wilko Johnson, Tom Verlaine, Alex Chilton, Sterling Morrison.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly?

Darren – Silly.

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Darren – I’ve thrown guitars around a stage. Various chips & gouges but telecasters are strong.

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Darren – I don’t really practice as such, but get better through writing.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Darren – I don’t know, 3 or 4. Sometimes none. It’s weird. Guitar is my main instrument even though I’m better at others. I write on all manner of strung instruments & pianos & drum machines. Sometimes I get to a gig & pick the guitar up & it’s like meeting a stranger. But it keeps it all interesting.

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Darren – I use the first pick I find, or my fingers.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Darren – Regular Slinkys because I’ve never thought about it. If something else is around, then I’ll use that. It doesn’t matter much to me.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Darren – Every two gigs.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Darren – No more. Never. I used to all the time. Does that mean I’ve got better or got old?

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Darren – Everything I do & love is ultimately based on rhythm & syncopation so I guess my strumming/picking hand is better. As you might be able to tell I am nervous of thrills & fussiness so it follows that as well.

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Darren – I have sent it to guitar tech once or twice, but not often. I can do a small amount of electrical maintenance myself, but that’s about it.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Darren – EADGBE as always & CGCGCE because they are all I know I guess.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Darren – I remember it or use a dictaphone.

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Darren – Christ I don’t know. Guitar length. You know so the guitar is near my crotch.

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Darren – Wow, if I knew there were 40 plus questions I wouldn’t have started this. Boy.

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?

Darren – As I said earlier piano affords perhaps the best overview of music in general.

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Darren – I’d like to be better on scales & stuff, but I manage fine & limitation is a gift to creativity.

QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?

Darren –?

QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?

Darren – Possibly the open C tuning.

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Darren – Perhaps some other picking techniques.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Darren – No.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Darren – Nothing, I’m not that good really. They should listen to no one & learn in a vacuum.

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Darren – Not play an F sharp minor properly.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Darren – That they get in the way & often make your guitar go out of tune.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Darren – Seriously? Well I think one prefers rhythm & plays in a more rhythmic style, but the other is more interested in melody so thus plays that way. I find the separation of the two jobs quite strange really. Most of the guitarists aren’t one or the other. They are just guitarists. They do both. I think to think in terms of a lead guitarist or a rhythm guitarist is very old fashioned & conservative.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Darren – No. & if somebody answers yes to this then they don’t really like music.

QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?

Darren – None. They’re just tools. Like hammers.

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Darren – I don’t know, Derek Bailey? You would certainly have to look away from rock.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Darren – At a show I guess. I’m better & more exciting live. I tend to find guitars boring on records, but they are very useful live.

QRD – Anything else?

Darren – God no. Thanks. That was my first guitar interview. It might have showed.

Other QRD interviews with Darren Hayman:
Hefner interview (February 2000)
Hefner interview (March 1999)