“Every song is very different, it’s almost like a mix tape…” - hmv.com talks to Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones
Few bands define staying power like Stereophonics do. Now in their 23rd year as a band, the group release their new album and the ninth LP of their career Keep The Village Alive today (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) and have spent the summer playing huge shows across Europe, including massive slots at many of the continent’s biggest festivals.
Their latest LP is the second to come out of a particularly prolific writing and recording session which spanned most of 2011 and 2012, there was talk of an album trilogy and the band were developing a screenplay with most of the songs that ended up on 2013’s Graffiti On The Train designed to be the soundtrack to the film. The film has yet to emerge, but the second set of songs from that period have now been condensed down into new record Keep The Village Alive.
To find out all about putting the album together, we sat down for a chat with frontman Kelly Jones…
After releasing eight albums on a Monday you’re releasing your ninth one on a Friday, how do you feel about the change?
“You know I actually brought to the attention of our record company that you’d get an extra day’s sales if you released it on a Friday, on a Sunday you get six full days, now you get seven, it makes sense to me. It’s pocket money day, it should have always been on a Friday, you work all week and you get something to treat yourself.”
When decide you work on this record? Because there was some talk of an album trilogy with your last record Graffiti On The Train being the first of them…
“Making this album was a very different process to most records. Most of the time you book out a block of time and you go in and work. With Graffiti On The Train and this one we basically went into the studio for quite a long time and made music. We compiled what we had and sorted the songs in groups together. There was some talk about an album trilogy but that was only based on the fact that we had about 35 songs.”
So do the songs all go back to that time?
“Some of them do. ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘Sunny’, songs like ‘Fight Or Flight’, they were all ready for Graffiti On The Train but they didn’t fit in that group of songs. It was like picking a football team, you get all your best players and then you pick the best 11 for that day.”
Was that an unusual way of doing things? A lot of bands hate the idea of going back...
“It’s not going back as such. You make the music and then it sits there on the hard drive, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t good enough. We just had a lot of material and we needed to find a way to release it in the best way. People’s attention span isn’t long enough to appreciate a double record, I think it’s bordering on a half-hour or 40 minutes of anything, I didn’t want lots of music to get missed.”
Sounds like that period was an immensely creative time...
“It was a creative time, but a lot of the songs on there are newer. I wrote ‘White Lies’ while I was mixing the album, ‘I Wanna Get Lost With You’ was written on tour in Australia, sometimes you just don’t get songs ready in time. Sometimes I go back and I realise a song isn’t any use any more because it’s past its due date, but I like to keep the tap dripping and keep recording. It was a very productive period of time, we took two years out of touring for the first time in our career and we basically went to work every day, it was great.”
Was it odd having two years away from the road? You’ve been touring constantly for most of your career…
“It didn’t feel weird or like we were sitting around waiting. A lot of things happened. Our record company got sold and we weren’t happy on that new label. We wanted to focus on Graffiti On The Train, which was a very cinematic album. We didn’t think it would sell that much, we didn’t think it would get played on the radio and we ended up with four hit singles and a platinum album. It was this dark cinematic record which we didn’t think would work on the radio and it turned out the radio loved it!”
You changed drummers during the record sessions for Graffiti On The Train, is this the first album with your new sticksman Jamie Morrison on?
“There are three drummers on this album. Javier plays on a few tracks on the deluxe version, a guy called Sanya, who played with us at the Olympics, he’s on ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Sunny’ and Jamie’s on the rest.”
What has Jamie brought to the band?
“Jamie’s been in the band for a while now, he’s settled in great and he’s brilliant live. He was a big fan of the band when he was a kid so he has a brilliant understanding of us and he fits in great. Changing line-up is always an unfortunate situation because it always stems from the fact that something isn’t working, you decide you need to make a change and you have to talk it all through and it’s a f***ing headache, but then you do get someone new coming in and an injection of freshness and it’s a new lease of life.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“I think it’s a very uplifting album, every song is very different, it’s almost like a mix tape, it’s a high-spirited album, big impactful songs, it’s an album full of stories.”
Do songs come to you in the same way they always did? Or have you changed how you write over the years?
“Songwriting is one of those things that I don’t really know where it comes from, one minute you’ve got nothing and the next there’s a song there. 'Song For The Summer’ came in under an hour, sometimes they just come like that. I don’t question it, I find if you empty your head, whether you’re jet-lagged or you’ve been consumed with something else then these ideas work their way out of you. I try to keep the tap dripping, but I can always tell within 10 minutes of starting something whether it’s going anywhere.”
Where did the title come from?
“It came last. I really don’t think it’s a nostalgic record, but the title is a nod to the past. It comes from when I first started going to bars and pubs and people who work in factories or on building sites would be in there drinking, and while bands would be playing they’d always shout out ‘Keep The Village Alive!’ I suppose it’s about keeping a community going and keeping your spirits up. Oddly enough I stumbled across it in the sleeve notes to our first album Word Gets Around when we learning a few of the songs to go on tour so it’s weird it’s come back 20 years later.”
You’ve got a big UK tour coming up at the end of the year, how on earth do you choose what to put in your setlist these days?
“The beauty of having 20 years is dipping in and out of that catalogue. It was great being on the bill with all these younger acts at the festival and we brought out our big hitters. We always do something from every record, some people discovered us yesterday and some people have been with us for our whole career.”
Is every track from your back catalogue still in the mix to be played live?
“There’s no song with an 'X' by them. We like switching things in and out, but we’ve always been a band that like giving people what they want. We always do the big hitters, people have paid forty quid for a ticket, they deserve a good night out.”
Does it surprise which songs have proved to be real fan favourites?
“A lot of them really. When I wrote ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ sitting on my bedroom floor when I was 18 years old I didn’t imagine I’d have 50,000 people singing it back to me, likewise with ‘The Bartender And The Thief’, it’s a strange thing. I did have a feeling when I wrote ‘Dakota’ that people would like it, but I could never have imagined how many people would or the reaction it would get, it just takes off.”
Finally, given how you put this record together, are there already songs you’ve got saved for the next record?
“There’s quite a few yeah, they’re very different groups of music, there’s one set which is quite piano-led and quite trippy, some which are more filmic, there’s plenty left on the old hard drive…”
Stereophonics’ new album Keep The Village Alive is out now.