POP / Time off for bad behaviour: Want to lose friends and influence people? Then take some unsound advice from Luke Haines of the Auteurs. Interview by Andy Gill

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The Independent Online
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Luke Haines, louche frontman of the Auteurs, had just written 'New French Girlfriend', and figured that what he really needed to set it off was a French girl to sing backing vocals. And who better to approach than the pocket-sized Gallic pop goddess Vanessa Paradis, who seemed to operate to pretty lax standards of collaboration. Well, she'd worked with Lenny Kravitz, anyway.

So Haines sent off a letter and a demo of the song to Vanessa's 'people', and suddenly found himself invited to duet with the diminutive coquette on her French television special. We're in here, thought Haines, and, emboldened, started to pester Vanessa's people about a possible contribution to the next Auteurs album. Whereupon the shutters abruptly slammed down on any collaboration whatever. 'It was one of those things,' he muses in a bar in north London. 'The idea was more appealing than the end product would have been. Though that's just sour grapes, maybe.'

What can have happened, between the invitation to appear on Vanessa's show and the eventual snub? Perhaps, initially attracted by the apparent Francophilia of the group's name and their debut album title New Wave, someone eventually got round to listening to the record - they would have stumbled on a deliciously spiteful poison-pen letter to the edifice of fame of which Vanessa is the pre- eminent Gallic representative. Or perhaps they learnt of Haines's relations with his peers, a catalogue of sneers and put-downs to gladden the heart of anyone tired of the chummy back-slapping of the pop business in the Nineties.

There was, for instance, the notorious occasion of the Mercury Awards prize-giving bash, when, liberally lubricated, the Auteurs failed to disguise their disappointment at losing in quite the manner expected, protesting that they could really have used the pounds 25,000 which Suede eventually donated to charity and offering, by the by, to fight the members of New Order at a nearby table.

Then there was the time they managed to rile Matt Johnson so much he booted them out as support on a The The tour.

'We didn't get off to a terribly good start,' recalls Haines, 'because I didn't like The The very much. But I thought, 'We'll make the best of this.' We got more and more nasty - there's really no point in playing at seven o'clock. Nobody's there, so why bother?

'The final straw was at Brixton Academy, where I cracked a few jokes about Matt Johnson. I was trying to get us thrown off the tour, so we could get paid for the remaining gigs, and I knew Matt wasn't going to take lightly to being insulted from the stage. He takes himself very, very seriously - he's a terrible songwriter, but he's got good management, and he's made a bit of money from it, which is a shame. It could have gone to a more deserving cause.

'It took him two days to realise what I'd said, then he pinned me to a wall and asked if I was going to apologise. I said, 'No, Matt, will you throw me off the tour?' I even had to put that idea into his head, because he's not that bright. But it was quite a happy night when the penny finally dropped.'

Haines's hauteur wouldn't be so annoying to his detractors were he not quite so good at what he does. While lesser talents would have built slowly upon the modest success of their debut, the new Auteurs album, Now I'm a Cowboy, is a very different beast from its predecessor. Instead of the basic acoustic guitar which gave New Wave something of a folk-rock aspect, multi-tracked electric guitars thrust steely sinews through these songs, while James Banbury's cello and Haines's occasional vibes lend a deceptive air of gentility to lyrics every bit as spiteful as those on the debut.

There's the bitter 'I'm a Rich Man's Toy', which Haines once claimed to have offered to Kylie Minogue ('That was a lie. Sorry. Some journalist from Sky was lapping up anything . . .'). Then there's the sardonic 'Chinese Bakery', with its acid little digs at the New York Bohemian bourgeoisie, and the less-than-rose-tinted view of Tinseltown life which underpins 'Lenny Valentino' and 'Underground Movies'. In the album's centrepiece, 'The Upper Classes', the ambivalent fringe position Haines adopted for much of New Wave - at once vilifying, adoring and envious - is applied to the British class system.

'It's about hierarchy, about people with inherited wealth who are more Bohemian than the most lovingly existential New York idiot, without even knowing it,' he explains. 'But it's very hateful about those people, because they don't even know what they are. It's a basic class-hatred song, but from the point of view of a middle-class person - I have no working-class credo.'

That, of course, could be a drawback if the 'new wave of New Wave' punk revival championed by a desperate music press gathers enough momentum to become the dominant strain of 1994. Haines doesn't seem too worried. 'Oh dear] How sad, not to be part of the new wave of New Wave,' he offers with withering sarcasm.

He seems determined to block any attempts to corral his group into a scene, though it was a close thing last year when the disparate talents of the Auteurs, St Etienne, Pulp and Suede were half- heartedly lumped together under a 'neo-glam' banner which they all despised. 'When we started out, I thought of us as just a marginal kind of band who were never going to sell any records,' he claims. 'But then all this stuff started, and I thought, we're going to go down like that, so there were some deliberate moves to step outside it. Because if you live by the media, you die by it - says he after doing four days of promotional interviews]'

Whatever happens to the Auteurs, it will happen on Haines's terms or not at all, and it will probably not make much of a dent in the ambivalence towards the very notion of celebrity which makes his songs so interesting. Fame will doubtless remain, for Haines, both an appalling, absurd joke and a fascinating ambition.

'You just get fed up of having this compulsion, this inexplicable mania to stand in front of three people in a pub and pour out rubbish. It's like the idiot at the end of the bar who can't take his drink and is just shouting at no one.'

(Photographs omitted)