Stereophonics

STEREOPHONICS////KELLY JONES////JULY 2007

After over a decade of countless singles, a solid and highly regarded back catalogue of albums, plus umpteen world tours under their belts, Stereophonics are on the verge of releasing their new and sixth full studio album, ‘Pull the Pin’, which is being heavily touted as their best work to date. But before all this, maybe an explanation is in order…?

Hey Kelly, firstly I wondered what happened at the UEA in July when your show had to be cancelled at the very last minute?
It just one of those things really, we eh, we’d already done two weeks of gigs when we drove to Norwich. Then we were meant to be flying to Moscow the next day. With the two gigs before I’d had this respiratory infection, but I’d managed to get through those gigs. On the day of the Norwich show during the sound check it just wasn’t happening and unfortunately that had to be the first gig we’d cancelled in ten years.

It must have been a tricky decision to make, so close to show time?
You could go on and do it half assed but that’s not really the way I wanna play. I’ve never done that before, I’ve never really been the type of singer that suffers with his voice and we’ve never cancelled a single show, but we were due to fly to Moscow, we were then going to do a load of shows in Eastern Europe. It was a decision made around looking at the big picture really. If I’d done the (Norwich) show I would have just been chasing my tale for the next four days…it was just one of those. The reason the Norwich show was there was to do a warm up for Russia. It seemed a bit backwards to risk the whole thing by continuing when we can re-schedule the show.

‘Pull the Pin’, the pin is due out soon, so could you please tell us a little bit about it?
To me the album has got a really big sound. A lot of big songs and big chorus’s. In fact, some of the biggest since ‘Performance and Cocktails’. I really enjoyed making the record, it was all very relaxed and laid back for once. We were recording two weeks on and then a couple of weeks off, just out of circumstance. It was no big plan or anything. I produced it myself with Jim Lowe once again and we mixed it with Spike Stent – so it’s got a big old sound to it. We were really happy with the beginning process, going to Grass Lodge in Ireland with the aim of knocking out some demos. But we ended up coming back with ten songs in ten days which we continued to work on over the next few months. Whether by accident or not, after hearing opinions of those who’ve listened to it, I really feel we’ve captured the best parts of the band over the last ten years…

Regarding It’s debut single ‘It Means Nothing’, I’d read it was about the terrorist attacks in London and the re-connection of people through events like this?
It’s less about the attacks and less about politics, I don’t wanna comment about things like that in my songs. We were away on tour somewhere when the incident happened. On the news all over the world things tend to get exaggerated and dramatised in different countries, people treat it differently. At this point it kinda became obvious to me that people start to make a lot more phone calls to home before travelling and I guess when people wake up in the morning and say goodbye to their partners or parents or whatever that may be, they don’t really think anything bad is going to happen and you take things for granted. But in situations like 7/7 it makes you embrace the people in your life a lot more and I think that you also embrace life a lot more. I think the song was originally about me. I mean if you haven’t got the values in you, or in your life, then you haven’t really got anything whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever you might be, we all want the same thing back from our different faiths. It just became obvious in London that people united to create a sense of togetherness.

There is a track on the new album called ‘Drowning’ which has been described as ‘one of the most brutally raw expressions of emotional turmoil ever committed to record’. Can we talk a little regarding its subject matter ?
It’s just one of those songs that whether I know or don’t know what the song is about it was truly how I felt at the time. I didn’t really write the lyrics. It just kinda came out and then it was a case of just tracing back my steps and listening to the tape and trying to re-write them into some sort of form. I thought it’s quite an amazing thing to happen. It also happened on the solo record a few times. I’d walk into a vocal booth with an idea and a melody and then I’d come back out and listen back. I think about 80% of the words just came out of me. I think that’s the truest form of expression and I kinda love that. I’d never really experienced that much in the past. So I suppose it’s a case of less of what the song is about and more about the interpretation of the listener. But the actual way it comes out is the most honest a songwriter can be you know.

It’s been recently reported that it took the sickness of a close family member for you to change your whole approach to the band and re-assess where you wanted to take it?
For a long time I had been trying to think of ways of breaking the mould of touring or the cycles of records. Not because I was taking any of it for granted. I think for somebody to remain creative or for a band to remain happy and focused you have to throw a ball into the mix sometimes. But it was very hard for us to do that. Once you bring a record out, you are committed to touring and going to every country in the world for the next 16 or 18 months and you can’t get off that wheel because you owe everybody an equal amount of time. For me, it was about finding a way to stop that and re-assess it and see how we can change it. And with my family member getting ill, it kinda stopped me. So having that time, whether good or bad, it allowed me to be myself again and not the person in the band. It turned out to be a great opportunity for me to stop and think what is real, what is important and what is necessary, I suppose where my priorities lie really. In my case that was long overdue.

So at which point throughout your career have you felt under the most pressure or un-creative then?
I’ve never really felt any pressure making the records, I think for us it came at the tail end of the ‘You Gotta Go There to Come Back’ tour. That’s when we parted ways with a lot of old friends and crew members, management and band members. For me, it was like our family was changing, it was a bit of a strange transitional period. In hindsight, I think the band is a lot better off for it these days. The functioning of the whole operation is a lot smoother now. But it was a hard time to go through because you always have to do it while you are moving. So it’s not a very easy process. For me that was the hardest time, but the flip side of that is we came out of it with the first single, ‘Dakota’ and that was the beginning of a new chapter for us.

You recorded your solo album ‘Only the Names have been Changed’ simultaneously to Stereophonics recording ‘Pull the Pin’. This seems like unusual timing?
We’d been recording overdubs on ‘Pull the Pin’ in Eden Studios in Chiswick and it was literally, I would say, the last week of the album and I had these two songs. One called ‘Suzie’ and another called ‘Jayne’. While somebody was doing something in another room I asked Jim if I could put these ideas down in a new kinda way that I hadn’t tried before. I just wanted a close vocal with tremolo guitar in a Nick Cave ‘Murder Ballads’ vibe. So we put those two down live as they were. When we listened back to them, we just thought they had something about them, it was very hypnotic. We joked and said maybe we should record ten and call it all the names have been changed. So in the next few days I wrote another eight songs. We recorded them in less than two weeks, then we put some strings over them. We released them on i-Tunes. Thirty six hours later it was number one. It was an amazing little process of experimentation. To not use any marketing or any other record company tools, no posters or anything, to make non-chart eligible. To take every element of the music industry away from it, and to make a record for what a record is supposed to be for, without the pressure and expectation of what a Stereophonics record gets, and without it being a vanity project. I mean those bunch of songs could have been used for B-Sides. So it was great to do a little tour to back them up. I suppose if its not forced, it just kinda happens.

How did your record company feel about you wanting to keep it so low key?
They were quite alarmed that I had basically delivered them two albums (laughs). If you put a solo record out and you get all the press for that record, then they were worried about not getting press for the band record. So I was like let’s not do that then. Then David Steel in V2 said lets just release it digitally and less than 10,000 CDs. So that’s the kind of compromise we made really. We avoided a lot of press by doing it that way.

Was it a conscious decision to have every track named after a female’s name?
Yeah, once the first two happened it just became the theme really. It was a nice way of doing a solo record without it being ‘look what I can do on my own’. There was actually a point to do it. For me it was almost like doing a small play. I mean it only last for thirty three minutes. We have so much freedom within the band, that there is no real point to me doing a solo record, but those songs wouldn’t have fitted in with the ‘Pull the Pin’ vibe.

We’ve talked about your new music, so moving way from that, who else’s stuff are you currently enjoying?
I’ve been listening to a lot of things recently. I suppose the stand out stuff for me while we were doing the album was the Kooks album, I thought that was brilliant. It had consistent song writing from the beginning to end. The Kings of Leon, the Strokes stuff. I really like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In this band people are bringing in new stuff all the time, like Queens of the Stone Age or whatever else it might be. We listen to a lot of older stuff as well like Credence Clearwater Revival or whatever else it might be. It’s different every other week.

You have toured an awful lot in recent years, what do you most miss when you are away from home?
I guess it’s the simple things really. Like, meeting your mates down the pub. To actually be able to go out a eight o’ clock with everyone else and get pissed then, rather than doing it after a gig when everyone else is like six drinks in front of you. People don’t think of that but its all very fucking annoying (laughs)…

The Welsh are a very proud nation. For you, what’s the best thing about being from Wales?
I think probably the sarcasm and sense of humour that you are given when you are growing up. And the ability to smell bullshit from a mile away. I think we are a very good judge of character and I think being brought up in a working class village exposes you to some of the most amazing and interesting characters you’re ever likely to come across.  I mean we’ve been everywhere in the world and really the best characters are from our place (laughs)

Before the Stereophonics you were in a covers band called ‘Blind Faith’. Which tracks did you used to perform back then?
Everything from Bob Dylan to Bob Marley. The Beatles, the Stones, Neil Young, The Lemonheads, Green Day, The Sex Pistols, AC/DC, The Black Crowes, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana…fuckin’ everyone man…

Stereophonics have worked with a lot of big players in the music world. In an ideal world who else would you like to work record or perform with?
I mean everyone who we have ever worked with kinda happened off the cuff. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Ronnie Wood and the Stones, or Weller or Noel or whoever it might be. All those things happened by accident, so whatever comes our way in the future we’ll try and get involved with…

Finally, you’ve played in Norwich before, what memories were you left with from here?
When I did the sound check on the day we cancelled I realised that’s where we did the NME headline tour and Asian Dub Foundation, The Warm Jets and the Audience were on the same bill as us. The Audience lead singer was Sophie Ellis-Bextor, so that was going back some. That was my main memory of it and I didn’t get that memory until last week. And my second memory would be, it pissing it down and me trying to get on the bus and people being a bit pissed off outside cause we cancelled the show…    

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