Monday, May 05, 2008

Stereophonics interview

I interviewed Stereophonics before they arrived in Australia. Here is the version that appeared in Melbourne's Inpress:

STEREOPHONICS bassist Richard Jones talks to ROB TOWNSEND about the past, the present and the future

Because they slipped off the radar for a couple of years, it’s easy to forget just how popular Stereophonics are. Their last five albums have entered the British charts at number one, they’ve headlined Glastonbury and played huge shows all around the world. So it is little wonder that tickets for their upcoming shows at The Forum have been selling like particularly hot cakes. “It’s really good yeah,” bassist Richard Jones beams about the band’s popularity over here. “It’s always really good whenever we’ve been to Australia, and we’ve always wanted to tour as extensively as possible, but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to. So it is nice to know that, six albums in, we can still sell tickets.”

As seems to be the case with so many British bands, the Welshmen love heading over this way, and have fond memories of previous trips to this side of the planet. “I think we were there for about four weeks the first time we were out there and it was really cool,” Jones reminisces. “You know, women are crazy, men are crazy, booze is really good and everybody likes to get entertained. They’re all good ingredients for a band touring.”

The tour comes on the back of recent release Pull The Pin, meaning there will be plenty of new tunes on display. Yet, with such an extensive back-catalogue, there are bound to be a few oldies as well. When Jones talks about how much fun it is to throw in some older tracks, I ask him whether there are any songs the band is bored of having to wheel out at every single gig. “I suppose you get tired of playing the ones you get more known for, like Handbags and Gladrags, Have a Nice Day and to some extent Dakota. It’s such a popular song that everybody wants to hear it every time we do a gig. Sometimes you do want to be selfish and say: ‘Fuck it, we’re not gonna play that tonight.’” But a band doesn’t reach such a level of success without knowing how to please a crowd, so chances are that these live favourites will end up on the set-list. “At the end of the day it could be an audience that has never seen us before, so you’ve got to give them what they want.”

As Jones casually chats down a phone-line from his home in Wales about everything from the weather [“It was dry today, for a change,”] to the McCartney divorce case [“Who gives a flying fuck?”] it’s hard to believe this is a band that had a painfully tumultuous relationship with the press for so many years. “I just think it was our time to have that slating. You know what happens in the UK; they build someone up and put them on a pedestal and then try to take pot-shots at them to knock them off. That was just our time.” Their fractured relationship with the media wasn’t helped by their song, Mr. Writer, which many journalists saw as a personal attack from frontman Kelly Jones. “For us it was just a song, a moment in time, and after it was written and recorded we forgot about it. We only had to sing it every once in a while but a lot of journalists took it to heart, which says it all. If you think it is about you then I suppose it is about you. Everybody is over it. We just get on with doing what we do.”

The positive reviews that Pull The Pin has received suggest that journalists have indeed got over their animosity towards Stereophonics. The strength of the long-player seems to come from the fact that it plays like an amalgamation of all that was good about their previous recordings and is equally rocky, melodic, upbeat and contemplative. “That’s what we felt when we were recording it. We had the punk rock elements and the really dark elements which we took from bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and then country elements as well. I think we’ve got to that place where we’re really comfortable with doing all those types of music and if they do fit on the same album then we might as well just put them on there.”

It seems like it’s been ages since the release of their previous album, Language, Sex, Violence, Other? but Jones is keen to dispel any suggestions that the band spent a couple of years just chilling out with their feet up. While they may have been out of the public’s consciousness, they were busy times for Stereophonics. “I suppose from an outside point of view it must have seemed like we were away for a couple of years, but myself and Kelly made a documentary from 10 years worth of footage, we released a live album and we recorded Pull The Pin all in the time we were away from the public eye and then started releasing things the following year. So we were busy, but I suppose from a fan’s point of view it did look like we were doing nothing for two years,” he chuckles.

As well as keeping him busy, trawling through countless hours of footage for the documentary certainly brought back some happy memories for the Jones. “Just to actually watch yourselves play to 100,000 people at Glastonbury, you could tell that the band really did explode at that time. To watch it all back, it was a good laugh.”

With over ten years worth of releases under their belts, a greatest hits compilation is surely only a matter of time away and Jones admits that their record label is keen on the idea. Such a release often signals the end of the road for a group, so I ask whether his band have ever discussed their future in these terms. “Whenever we take any time off it always feels like I’m unemployed,” he laughs. “So for the band it’s whatever fits. Kelly and I are always telling each other that if one of us doesn’t want to do it or if it doesn’t feel good anymore then we shouldn’t really be doing it. We’ll do it as long as it feels good.”

With albums still hitting the top of the charts and fans still clambering for tickets all over the globe, one guesses that it will continue to feel good for quite some time.

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