The Mission frontman on the hedonism of the 1980s, enjoying being back on the road, and bringing some colour to the Sisters of Mercy
Wayne Hussey is talking about the second instalment of his autobiography, Heady Daze — due to be published in September — and the Mission frontman grimaces when recounting some of the stuff he felt compelled to write about.
“Rock ‘n’ roll for us, in the 1980s, was quite mucky and messy and morally dubious.”
It is quite an admission. “I think if we were to look now at some of our behaviour then,” he says, pausing to choose his words carefully, “well, we would think we shouldn’t have been doing those kind of things.”
He is thinking primarily about groupies and the imbalance between rock star and fan. “Yeah, there were [groupies],” he says, somewhat sheepishly. “We were a good-looking band — not the best-looking — but we looked good. We had that whole rock rebels thing about us and that’s attractive to some people.
“It’s the times, you know,” he adds, a little uneasily, “but that doesn’t excuse it. I don’t think we were as bad as some people, but there was definitely some morally dubious behaviour on occasion.”
Hussey quips that he was glad that smartphones and social media were not around when the Mission were in their pomp. “I think the whole situation is a minefield. We wouldn’t be able to get away with a lot of what we did if social media had been there then. I understand why it’s not quite as hedonistic as it used to be — or maybe [today’s bands] are being hedonistic, but they’re doing it behind closed doors.”
Like so many musicians of his generation, Hussey is a remarkably open interviewee. He is content to chat about everything and anything. He has had quite an innings — not only did he help make gothic rock a popular and enduring genre thanks to his membership of both the Mission and Sisters of Mercy, but he is also an important part of the Dead or Alive story, having been a key member of the new wave band.
He has lived in Rio de Janairio for more than 20 years — his Brazilian wife, Cinthya, is an actress — and when he chats by Zoom to Review, he is on the UK leg of a tour with the Mission. The veteran band play Dublin next month. He’s still very much the rock star — the dark shades don’t come off once during our interview.
“It’s been great to be on the road again,” he says, “there were times over the past couple of years where it felt as though it would never happen.” Brazil, under the autocratic rule of Jair Bolsonaro, felt the weight of the pandemic especially hard, but Hussey says he was largely cocooned from all of that.
He chuckles when asked what he would have thought in 1986, when he formed the Mission, that his band would still be a going concern in 2022. “We barely looked forward more than a couple of months when we started out,” he says. “Back then, I would have been surprised if all of us were still alive in 2022.
Dead or Alive
“Even now, we don’t do that [think long into the future]. We have plans for the next year but we know that after what happened over the past couple of years, anything can change, and that change can happen quickly.”
Hussey grew up in Bristol but moved to Liverpool as a teenager. It was there that he met a pop star-in-waiting, Pete Burns, and their band, Dead or Alive, would make quite an impact in the fertile British pop landscape of the early 1980s. Today, Hussey believes his life might have turned out very different had he not met Burns and followed a career in pop and its various tributaries.
“Pete was a face around town at the tail-end of the 70s when I moved to Liverpool,” he says. “He was always at Eric’s, a club which was quite famous for supporting bands that went on to be successful like the Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, all the people in Big in Japan — it’s a long list.
“Pete was a living, walking work of art. That’s how he saw himself. Dead or Alive fans might not appreciate me saying this, but while I don’t think he was a particularly good-looking bloke — no Brad Pitt — he could look amazing.”
Hussey loved his time on Merseyside. He is a devoted follower of Liverpool FC and says he is enthralled by the season the club is having: an unprecedented quadruple of titles is still possible. When asked if he would take winning the Champions League over the Premier League, there is no equivocation: “I’d go for the Premier League title every time. The Champions League? It would be [Manchester] City’s first — we’ve won it a fair few times. The league is the holy grail for us. We’d been waiting 30 years to win it [in 2020] and then [thanks to pandemic lockdowns] we couldn’t celebrate it anyway.”
He says he dreamed about being a professional footballer as a kid although he acknowledges that music has given him a rich and colourful life. He wishes more footballers knew of his music, though.
“Everton — of all teams — had a player called Craig Short and I remember reading in one of those football magazines, like Shoot, that when he was asked what his favourite music was he put in Neil Young, the Mission and Cher. Cher? Bloody hell.”
Hussey is also associated with Leeds thanks to his membership of Sisters of Mercy. “The Leeds scene was already well-established, with Soft Cell up and running, and I walked into a band that was on the verge of being successful anyway. I didn’t have to schlep up the motorway in a Transit van with the Sisters. The first gig I did with them was a warm-up show in Birmingham and then we went off to America to tour.
“It’s an easy thing to be wise in retrospect, but I think what they wanted me for was to bring a bit of colour musically to what they were doing. Songs like Temple of Love were great but it was very monochrome and what Andrew [Eldritch, frontman] wanted was someone who would help take the band to the next level.”
Just as Sisters of Mercy were reaching their apogee, Hussey and bassist Craig Adams quit. Their new band, the Mission, attracted huge record industry attention before they eventually signed a seven-album deal with Phonogram. Along with the Cult, they are credited with bringing gothic music to the mainstream.
“Punk came along and then you had the New Romantics and that broke off into tangents and one of the tangents of that was goth. There wasn’t a uniform as such back in the early days — the look evolved. You couldn’t know at the time if something like goth would endure — you’re just living in the moment — but it has proved to be very enduring.”
Despite considerable substance abuse, Hussey, too, has survived. He knew his limits. Many of his peers weren’t as lucky.
“We were excessive, but generally we were excessive all together,” he muses. “It wasn’t like I’d go to my room and do all my drugs alone. Doing drugs with a group of friends can be huge amounts of fun. That was the thing about being in a band back then. It’s supposed to be about fun.”
Hussey turns 64 the day after the Mission play Dublin and he says with age comes new responsibilities. The wildness of the past seems to be consigned to history. “When you’re on tour now,” he says, with a grin, “It’s early to bed with a cup of Horlicks and then up again early the next day.” His tongue is only partly in cheek.
The Mission play Dublin’s Button Factory on May 25