Record Overplayed
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The French interview | July 2003

"I think it says more about the English really..."

Interview by Don

Aliens landing in Dagenham, big girls bereft of birthday friends and pensioners on the pull - Darren Hayman certainly has a healthy imagination. Telling tales of everyday urban folk became Darren's motif in Hefner and he's back again with a brand new band, The French, (formed with John Morrison), and they've enough suburban odes to ordinariness to twitch a curtain at.

The five track Dagenham EP is the first of a series of EP's dedicated to Essex towns that The French plan to release. Darren explains his fascination with all things Essex, "I was born there, it's where my family still live. I pretend London is my home but I suppose ultimately Essex is my real home."

Hayman's offbeat observations on modern life add to the charm of The French but he's characteristically coy about his talent, "I just notice things, I guess, I just pick up on things I see, make them rhyme, stick them in songs. I'm glad this is what I do and I try my hardest to be a bit different or present something in songs that you wouldn't ordinarily find."

Like The Day The Aliens Came, where Dagenham is invaded by two-headed beings but the mediocrity of small-town life means the locals are more interested in lottery tickets than the martians amongst them!

"Well I love the city, and I love the country too. It's those small towns where it gets weird but I do have an affection for Essex and will stick up for it..." says Darren.

Suggestions that The French are just an incarnation of Hefner are quickly refuted. "The difference is that Jack and Ant aren't there. I think when people see one person writing the majority of the songs they think that something like that wouldn't change things much, but to me it does. It's more intricate, more melancholic."

There's not a whiff of the Gallic, garlic or the grape about him so what's a fine Brentwood bloke doing in a band called 'The French' anyway? "We think it's funny. I had the name a few years ago and wondered if I had the front to use it because it's 'The French' as opposed to 'La Francaise'. I think it says more about the English really..."

Hayman helped Hefner gain indie-cred on albums like We Love The City and Dead Media and also penned the perfect anti-anthem, The Day That Thatcher Dies, but it's something entirely different that makes him most proud...

"I've been in Dukes in Chelmsford, and Raquel's in Basildon - are they still there? That's quite an achievement, going to those places and living to tell the tale!"

There is one venue Darren would like to visit again. He's fond of the Colchester Arts Centre. "I'd like to play there again, though they give you an 'interesting' veggie stew which always makes you feel bad during the gig..."

Darren says that forming The French means it's just au revoir not goodbye to Hefner. He admits, "All sorts of things happened, none of which were a falling out. We haven't officially split up and there may well be more Hefner records in the future."

For now we can all savour the wry style of The French and enjoy Hayman's homage to all the "short-sleeved cotton shirt men" and "chubby legged girls" of Essex on the Dagenham EP. Perhaps if Colchester's catering improves we may even see The French add some live lyrical flavour to Hayman's home county soon.

Thanks to Darren Hayman and to Don.


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