Q&A: Ian Hunter On His New Album, The Mott The Hoople Reunion, And Staying Angry In His 70s
You may have heard there's a new record coming out by a seventy-something rocker who gave voice to an angry, inarticulate audience decades ago. You know, the guy who sports dark shades and affects a corona of curly hair? Sings anthems in a raspy voice about all the inequities of life? You're right. Ian Hunter does have a new record: When I'm President (Slimstyle), recorded with his Rant Band, hits the streets today. And it may be the best thing Hunter has done since his storied work as leader of the legendary Mott The Hoople. Angry pub rockers like "What For" take turns with, uh, angry ballads about Chief Crazy Horse. We spoke to this 73-year-old dude on the eve of his new release.
So many people of your generation seem to be just going out and playing their hits. How do you account for this run of incredibly strong recent albums?
I just think that when I was growing up, nothing meant anything until I heard Elvis and Little Richard and Jerry Lee. And it gave me life. And to go and sit on a pier and play me greatest hits is not really repaying the debt. Repaying the debt is doin' the best you can with it before you pop off. That's repaying the debt. It happened for me at the right time. I was 15, 16, something like that when [rock and roll] all started.
There was a period there when I wasn't performing properly, I was just writin' songs like a songwriter would write songs. You know, a professional songwriter. And when Mick [Ronson, Hunter's bandmate] died, that went out the window. It was like, "Get back to business. You gotta do this."
Lots of good anger going on in your new songs ("Fatal Flaws," "What For"). Do you know how it is that you can be 70something and still be angry? Where does the pissed-offness come from?
It's a lotta things over the years. When I was doing (the 2007 album) Shrunken Heads, it would've been Bush, ya know. It's very hard to watch bad actors on television pretendin' they're something they're not. I've always had the underdog mentality and I'm very sympathetic to underdogs. That's where my area is. So, anything can piss me off. Just as anything can piss you off. I'm no different than anybody else. You sit and watch a bad actor long enough before, 'Shut up! We're supposed to vote for that?'
I noticed on the new record, there are three songs where you reference the James Brothers, Crazy Horse and The Wild Bunch. Were you aware there was some Western mythology going on, Ian?
I read a lot. I don't really listen to the radio. And where English history is vast, American history is recent. Some of these people died in the '20s. I was born in '39 and Wyatt Earp [died in] 1929; that's how recent this is. It's a rocker's romanticism. I've read a ton of books about The Civil War. I can't write about man and woman falling in love anymore. I'm 73. You're looking for lyrics and some of that is pretty inspirational stuff. Especially Crazy Horse. That's typical me. Rooting for the underdog.