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Feature: The Mission

| September 16, 2020 | 0 Comments
Wayne Hussey photo James Bacon

It was literally the last thing Wayne Hussey expected. His classic British goth-rock outfit, The Mission, had been on an extensive tour of Europe in March when the coronavirus started shutting down venue after venue until the situation got so desperate that he barely made it back to his new hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, with just one day to spare before the worldwide lockdown was rigidly enforced. Breathing a sigh of relief to be reunited with his actress-wife Cinthya and their five dogs, Hussey was surprised when he suddenly started getting unusual emails and messages on social media. Countless frontline NHS workers in England had adopted The Mission’s grandiose 1988 single “Tower of Strength” as a rallying anthem. And its inspiring lyrics like “You rescue me/ You are my faith, my hope, my liberty/ And when there’s darkness all around/ You shine bright for me” were really catching on with music-loving hospital staff.

“A lot of the NHS turned out to be Mission fans, and they kind of adopted “Tower of Strength” as their own, and they started playing it on their internal radio stations, recalls Hussey, proudly. “And I had been approached about doing a couple of things for charity, but I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with them, to be honest — I thought there was a little element of the self-serving in there. But I wanted to do SOMETHING, so my friend Michael Ciravolo (of Schecter Guitars) and I came up with the idea of doing a new version of “Tower,” because we thought it truly resonated with what was going on. “Tower” really says what we wanted it to say.”

But the just-released “TOS2020” is no paint-by-numbers re-sketch. The new song features a veritable cavalcade of cameos, including Budgie, Martin Gore, Gary Numan, Kevin Haskins, Rachel Goswell, Lol Tolhurst, Billy Duffy, Midge Ure, and both Aston brothers from Gene Loves Jezebel, – who hadn’t recorded together in years. And each contributor got to choose their own charity for the proceeds, which started with Frontline Workers of the World but grew to include NHS UK, MusiCares, Red Rover, Music Venue Trust UK, and the St. Judes Children’s Hospital. Hussey checked in to discuss the unexpected spotlight he found himself under in these dark post-pandemic times.

IE: So how did you assemble such a superstar “TOS2020” cast?

WAYNE HUSSEY: Basically, most people are friends or acquaintances that I’ve met over the years. So I sent out some invitations, some email E-vites on the 24th of April — that was the first batch. And they were all people that I was assuming would want to be involved, people like Gary Numan, Martin Gore, people who were longtime friends of mine. Then it just kind of snowballed from there, and there were only a couple of people that I never met, like Kevin Haskins from Bauhaus and James Alexander Graham from a band called The Twilight Sad. I heard from them through other people. But there were a lot of people who I got in touch with who declined, and there was an awful lot that just didn’t bother to reply. And that was par for the course. But as they say, you throw enough shit at the wall, and some of it will stick. So a lot of my time since April was spent chasing people.

IE: How did you assign parts to the various contributors?

WH: I’ll tell you what — here’s what I did. I recorded a basic little drum loop, and I put that down with a couple of acoustic guitars and chords, and then I did the guide vocal. And I sent that out to everybody and said, “Do what you want.” So basically, everybody submitted their parts without hearing what anyone else had done. It was quite an interesting part of the process. It was a bit like doing a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without knowing the front of the box. One guy sent me 14 tracks of a guitar going ‘Diddle-de-dee,’ which was great. But it took me a long time to sift through all that and find what worked where, and to pick what I presumed to be the best licks for the song. So I had to edit everything, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I didn’t realize was all the chasing you had to do, like, “You promised me you’d do a vocal, but that was a month ago! Are you still doing it?” So I think some of my friends may not be friends anymore because they’re still dreading the next email from me! But no, in fairness, everybody rallied around the cause. It just took a lot of organization and a lot of editing.

IE: Speaking of jigsaw puzzles, have you gotten into them yet, like a lot of folks have during lockdown?

WH: I know! My dad’s a big jigsaw puzzle fan! He loves doing them. So if you’re ever stuck for what to buy him for father’s day, buy him a jigsaw puzzle. But that was what this project was like for me — will this guitar part work with that one? So a lot of my time was spent editing. But right now, I personally don’t do jigsaw puzzles. That may come someday — I dunno. And it sounds cheesy, I suppose, but music is my hobby. And I was fortunate enough to make a living from it, and I have for many, many years. So I’m one of the lucky ones. So I guess my other hobby would be football, proper football, not what you call football. My team is Liverpool, and I love soccer — I’m just passionate about that. It’s more like an obsession than a hobby, actually.

But I’ll tell you what’s weird. Being at home — and we live in the Brazilian countryside, and we have an apartment in Sao Paulo, but we spend most of our time in the country. But my wife and I, we sit here and have breakfast and look out on the little bit of land that we have, and we’ve started feeding the birds. So we’ve been building a little bird table to put out back so we can watch the birds come ‘round in the morning, and we feed them fruit — banana and apple — and they love it. So that’s become a weird thing, and I was talking to my mom about it the other day, telling her that I was really getting into watching the birds. And how they come back, and they get braver and braver each day, and how they let us come out to the table now — you can almost feed them out of your hand. And I told my mom, “I think that’s got something to do with age. I’m 62, and I would not have dreamt of being interested in birds ten years ago!” So that’s one interest that I’ve developed recently like some people have taken up gardening. But I haven’t gotten to the jigsaw puzzle phase yet.

WH: I know! My dad’s a big jigsaw puzzle fan! He loves doing them. So if you’re ever stuck for what to buy him for father’s day, buy him a jigsaw puzzle. But that was what this project was like for me — will this guitar part work with that one? So a lot of my time was spent editing. But right now, I personally don’t do jigsaw puzzles. That may come someday — I dunno. And it sounds cheesy, I suppose, but music is my hobby. And I was fortunate enough to make a living from it, and I have for many, many years. So I’m one of the lucky ones. So I guess my other hobby would be football, proper football, not what you call football. My team is Liverpool, and I love soccer — I’m just passionate about that. It’s more like an obsession than a hobby, actually. But I’ll tell you what’s weird. Being at home — and we live in the Brazilian countryside, and we have an apartment in Sao Paulo, but we spend most of our time in the country. But my wife and I we sit here and have breakfast and look out on the little bit of land that we have, and we’ve started feeding the birds. So we’ve been building a little bird table to put out back so we can watch the birds come ‘round in the morning, and we feed them fruit — banana and apple — and they love it. So that’s become a weird thing, and I was talking to my mom about it the other day, telling her that I was really getting into watching the birds. And how they come back, and they get braver and braver each day, and how they let us come out to the table now — you can almost feed them out of your hand. And I told my mom, “I think that’s got something to do with age. I’m 62, and I would not have dreamt of being interested in birds ten years ago!” So that’s one interest that I’ve developed recently like some people have taken up gardening. But I haven’t gotten to the jigsaw puzzle phase yet.

IE: Do you ever lookout in the yard and go, “Waidaminnut! That’s a creature that was NOT invited”?

WH: Well, yes. We do have creatures like that. We do have the yellow-backed scorpions here, which sometimes can get into the house, which is a bit scary because we have five dogs and a couple of cats, and they can kill dogs with their sting, and they look really horrible, too. But — touch wood — I haven’t seen one for a little while. But they do occur. And where we live is out in the countryside, up in the hills, above a little town, and it’s basically a dirt road to get to our home. But we do have snakes here, and we have wild parrots and possums and giant lizards. But that’s all good — kept at a distance, of course. You don’t want to get TOO close to nature.

IE: I was thinking how tons of us — from the Velvet Underground to you and Siouxsie and the Banshees — all discovered cool, cutting-edge books at the same time, like Venus in Furs. And it just became a crucial part of our lexicon.

WH: Obviously, you and I are about the same age. So what becomes — I hate to use the word ‘fashionable’ — but books become fashionable at certain times, as does certain music. For instance, the Velvets weren’t very popular when they first came around — you had to wait ten years or so for the punks to come around and really get into the Velvets. They had their supporters, people in the know. But to me, it was the Velvet Underground first, and then the book Venus in Furs. And I was also living with a guy who was older than me, and he was well into all kinds of strange literature and music. He introduced me to early Iggy, The Doors, the Velvets, and a lot of French poets, like Verlaine and Baudelaire. So I consider that my education, actually, and it came after I left school, to be honest. But at the time, that was what was becoming trendy among the more Bohemian element. And I was in Liverpool at the time, but in any major city, those things were becoming fashionable and trendy to a certain demographic.

IE: What were some key movies that influenced you?

WH: Well, Death in Venice is one, I know that, and The Night Porter was another one. And then there was The Warriors — I remember loving The Warriors, although watching it now, I’d probably go, “What was I thinking?” And Zombie Flesh Eaters was another one, and all the John Waters films, like Pink Flamingoes. I mean, I haven’t seen any of these movies in years, probably decades now. But when I moved to Liverpool, that’s what I was introduced to by the more Bohemian artist people that I was starting to hang around with. And that’s how a lot of us evolved as people back then. But it’s a weird thing, because what talks to us, what resonates with us, doesn’t necessarily resonate with everybody else, does it? So I look back and think that we kind of gravitated toward like-minded souls, people that just shared an interest in more esoteric stuff that was going around at the time.

IE: Which, of course, was where Sisters of Mercy came in, probably the most definitive Gothic group of all-time. And you wrote most of its First and Last and Always debut album yourself.

WH: Well, I didn’t write every single song. I wrote the first side and a couple of songs on the second.

IE: But you wrote the all-time classic “Marian.”

WH: Yeah. “Marian.” That’s a favorite, isn’t it? But I’ll tell you — and I wrote about it in my book, Salad Daze, how that came about. I’d just had some time in the studio, there was no one else around, so I just set the drum machine going ‘BOOM-chit, BOOM-chit.’ And then I came up with that bassline, put some guitars on it, and within the space of two hours, I had that backing track. It was like a work of alchemy. I listen to “Marian” now, and I cannot for the life of me work out exactly what I played. It’s just the way those sounds combined together and that aura…that aura of…I don’t know. It’s just got that music in it, and it was one of those moments that you just capture. And I still have no idea how it happened.

IE: Researching your autobiography, were there things you dug up that surprised you?

WH: Yeah, of course! I had to do a lot of research, and I spoke with a lot of people that were around. I mean, I actually interviewed my mother, which was interesting. There was a bit of my family history that I wasn’t too well-versed in, which was interesting to me.

IE: And you were actually raised Mormon?

WH: Yeah. My parents are still Mormon. They went on their mission ten years ago and went to the Philippines for a couple of years. They were 70 years old when they went, but hey — good for them. And one of my sisters is still active in the church — the rest of us, though, are all damned sons of perdition. So I was raised as a Mormon, and this was at the end of the ‘50s, and my mom left home at an early age, and she got pregnant by an American serviceman, who then went back to America, not ever knowing that I even existed. At first, I was up for adoption, but my mom changed her mind at the last minute. And of course, I couldn’t remember any of this; I wasn’t aware of the whole story. So at first, I was up for adoption, but my mom changed her mind at the last minute. And of course, I couldn’t remember any of this, I wasn’t really aware of the whole story. I just knew that the dad who I’d always considered to be my dad wasn’t my paternal dad. I knew that much. So that was an interesting revelation. 

IE: Has any new Mission material been surfacing during lockdown?

WH: Not so much. And obviously, a lot of my time has been spent on the “Tower” thing. But one thing that I DID do when I got home was, I’ve got boxes and boxes of unlabeled cassettes. And some of them just have one song on them, so you have to find it in a load of guitar whinging, so that takes ages. So I was going through them, and I found a lot of old demos with all these bits and pieces, and there some real gems there, even going back to ’79 and ’80. So I’ve been kind of compiling all that, and I don’t know what we’ll do with it. But it’s been a fun little journey. And as to new work, I can feel something coming. But I just don’t know what.

IE: How has COVID-19 changed you?

WH: In the long run, I don’t know. But in the short term, one thing that I’ve enjoyed is that my wife — who, being an actress, is often in Sao Paulo for a couple of months — has been home for the last months, which was one of the benefits of this. And we’ve played a lot of backgammon, and she’s been painting, and we’ve actually been recording together. Five or six years ago, I bought her a ukulele as an anniversary present, and she taught herself to play it, and now she’s started writing her own songs, which we’ve started recording. And amazingly, she can really sing — there’s no autotune on her voice at all. I mean, I KNEW she could sing — I’d hear her singing around the house, but whenever I walked in, she’d get real quiet. So this has been a lot of fun.

IE: How are you feeling, then, at 62?

WH: When I hit 50, that was a tough time. But hitting 60 has actually been really good. And you think, “Fuck yeah! I hit 60 — I survived!” And when you turn 60 in Brazil, you get a card that lets you into the cinema for half price. And I love films, so I was like, “Yes! I’m gonna start going to the cinema!” And you also get a card for preferred parking, like disabled parking. So it has its benefits, hitting 60. And I just feel a lot more comfortable with who I am now than I was when I hit 50.

-Tom Lanham

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