Interview: Simon Hinkler

By on 31 May 2011

When Simon Hinkler, the enigmatic guitarist from The Mission, announced his forthcoming return to the stage the music world gasped with excitement. In a year that sees The Mission celebrate twenty five years at the top of their game, Simon Hinkler’s supporting appearances throughout the summer can be seen as something of a prelude to the main event.

Having joined The Mission at its inception in 1985, Simon remained with the band until 1990. Prior to The Mission he played with Artery and Pulp and has appeared with Spear of Destiny as well as Flight Commander. In 1993, having finished Flight Commander’s second album, Simon collaborated with two fellow musicians on the project known as ‘Mindfeel’. Merging experimental synths and samplers with Simon’s new atmospheric ambient sounds, Mindfeel created some of the hottest electronic dancefloor music at that time, before leaving the band and jetting off to the USA in 1996.

This year sees The Mission celebrating 25 years in the business with a series of dates lined up to coincide with their anniversary. I asked Simon for a little insight into the early days for the band that sprung up amongst all the post-punk angst and the still fledgling goth scene of the early to mid eighties, even though it wasn’t called ‘goth’ back then. “It was a wild time. It’s true about the goth thing though. I’d been in bands pretty much from leaving school and was in my mid twenties when The Mission hit the headlines”, explains Simon, “nothing I’ve ever been involved in ever set out to belong to any style or genre. Actually, genres have become a much more pronounced thing since the internet came along. As for what it was like in the eighties for me, The Mission period was the typical life of a touring rock band in the mould of the big seventies rock bands. In fact everyone else I met along the way, even bands like Psychedelic Furs and Depeche Mode for example, all seemed to think of it the same way. Everyone certainly behaved that way. In a nutshell, it’s like being in Spinal Tap”.

As a teenager, growing up amid the political turmoil of 1970s Britain, Hinkler found influences in the ‘new wave’ culture of that era, but also favoured the playing styles of such greats as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Ronnie Wood and Mick Ronson. I asked if these influences incorporate well into his own style of playing and inspire the sound he’s created, both on the album as well as the acoustic material. “Yes, those are some of the old faves, there are several. I always say Hendrix belongs at the top of the list. The thing is; I don’t set out to play like any of them, I couldn’t really. The right way to be influenced by music is to listen to all of it, good and bad, and acquire your own taste, then play the original ideas in your head. That way you’ll hopefully be making music that is your own style without being terribly derivative. I think this is where ninety five percent of musicians go wrong”.

The whole goth debate is as old as goth itself, I asked him why he thought that such bands as the Mission, Sisters of Mercy, RLYL amongst others so vehemently distance themselves from being goth when the scene favors them so much? “I don’t mind The Mission being called that or anthing else really. Wayne Hussey did plenty to court the goth audience, so it’s to be expected. I get the impression a lot of fans, certainly the older ones, use the term ‘goth’ as a bit of a joke. I don’t think anyone could realistically call my solo material ‘goth’ though. I play guitar the way I play it, and if that is sometimes reminiscent of the fact I played guitar in The Mission, then there’s your connection. I’m beginning to think my songs done acoustically would fit well in a ‘sit-down-and-listen with the singer/songwriter’ environment. If and when I do the live electric band though, I know it’ll go down a storm with the goth crowd”.

Simon rejoined The Mission briefly in 1991, 1999 and again in 2008 but latterly has seen him concentrating on that solo material that heralded the release, in 2005, of the long-awaited album ‘Lose The Faith’. He now lives in the UK but the first album came together through many avenues of Simon’s life in New York around the time of 9/11. A series of personal tragedies added despair and weighed heavily on his resolve. For years he’d carried a dictaphone around, recording inspirational moments, ideas as they occurred or just strumming out a riff, however the eventual finished album took three years to complete.  “At the time of doing that album I was at a very low ebb indeed. I was working in New York and making the best money of my life, but for various good reasons I was completely depressed. Writing these songs not only kept my focus on something positive and creative, it also ‘got things off my chest’. Now that I’m writing and playing again I’m remembering the truth I discovered many years ago; that I’m at my happiest when I’m being creative”.

Back in 2006 Simon Hinkler was reported to have said that he wouldn’t tour the ‘Lose The Faith’ album but his life changed and he found himself in a position that enabled this. “In 2006 I was living out in the desert of New Mexico and had no plans to leave. Then we (my family and I) had another run of bad situations and decided to move back to England, which we did in 2009. Once we’d made the decision to come home, it was on my mind that I’d be able to get back into the music scene again. The initial idea was to finally tour the album material with a band, but as I’ve said, I had logistical problems making that work, and so I started going out on my own. I’ll continue to do this for a while as its all good experience as a performer”.

Hinkler’s live solo acoustic shows are something of a departure from playing as part of a band, so I wondered what the idea was behind this approach. “I spent a lot of time and effort in trying to put a four-piece band together. Where I live now, in Devon, I just don’t know people, so I started looking at my options and tried two sets of people in two different cities. Neither way worked out but I had already been booked to play the Whitby Festival last October and didn’t want to pull out altogether. They asked if I’d do a few songs as acoustic, and so I did. This was the first time I’d gone solo like that”.

‘Lose The Faith’ seems to capture so much of Simon’s apparent distaste for corruption, mind control or dumbing-down and goes beyond the berating of organized religion, almost condemning it as a fundamental obstacle in mankind’s development. An almost intentional theology lesson, the album features heavily layered guitars that both engineer and reinforces Simon’s lyrical expression of deep-rooted anger toward today’s world, and I wondered how the new acoustic sets compare in conveying the same level of emotion without the characteristics of the electric guitar? “They’re two things that both work well. Playing the songs with a band puts across the power and all the musical ideas that I put into the songs originally, which is a pretty rocking thing” he says.

“Stripping them down,” continues Simon, “to only acoustic and vocals really enables me to put the words, and the performance of them, up front and laid bare. I do enjoy the freedom of doing things at my own pace without all the noise from the band”. Hinkler is supporting both The March Violets and Anne-Marie Hurst as well as The Eden House, and he’ll be playing a cross-section of his material, not necessarily focusing on ‘Lose The Faith’. There has been some speculation that Simon is planning a new band for later this year and that has now been put on hold. “I don’t see it happening this year. I have a fair bit to do and won’t have the time to audition and rehearse a new band. It’s a shame having to do it this way actually”, he explains, “In the good old days you just drop in and out of bands because you knew them. I really do want to give my songs the chance of being played big and loud though, as many of them were conceived with this in mind, so maybe next year”.

Now focusing on the more pleasant things in life after living in the USA for fifteen years, Simon discovered that he was homesick for simple things like a proper English pub. Devon still has some unspoiled and traditional ale houses so he’s found pleasure in simply wandering off to the pub for the afternoon and then coming home and making something fantastic for dinner. Who can argue with that?

Simon Hinkler on Facebook

Simon Hinkler Official Site

Lose The Faith on Facebook

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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