“Revolution has to come from us, from inside of us, and that would be unstoppable...” hmv.com talks to Paul Weller
From the spiky, post-punk of The Jam, through the soulful grooves of The Style Council to a solo career that has already produced 12 albums since his eponymous solo LP arrived in 1992, there has often been a political element to Paul Weller's music down the years. But while the title of his 13th solo album A Kind Revolution might point towards some kind of manifesto for change, the man they call 'The Modfather' is keen to impress that this is a record about humanity first and foremost. It also happens to be one of his best in years.
Recorded at Weller's own Black Barn studios in Surrey, A Kind Revolution arrives in stores today and ahead of its release we sat down with the man himself to talk about the ideas behind the record, working on his first film soundtrack, and why it's useful to have your own studio and Boy George's phone number...
When did you start working on the new album?
“Well, there were a couple of songs left over from Saturn's Pattern, which was about two years ago, but I suppose it was around January last year when we started.”
Are you doing it all at Black Barn again?
“We are, yeah.”
Do you have the run of the place whenever you want? Because it's a commercial studio as well isn't it?
“We do let other bands in there, yeah, but I wouldn't really call it a commercial studio 'cause most of 'em haven't got any money! But I'd rather that than the place sitting empty. It's a brilliant place to have though, it's a pure luxury really because you haven't got to watch the clock or worry about how much money you're spending and all that sort of thing.”
“We tend to work very, very intensely for two or three days at a time, maybe a bit longer, record a lot of stuff, then we'll go away, think about it and talk about it, then go back and work on it. It's a constant process of refining it all the time until we finally think we've got it.”
How do you approach writing these days? Do you write a lot of songs and whittle it down?
“I suppose I work pretty much the same way as I've always done, up to a point. There's some songs that I'll write at home on a guitar or a piano, whatever it may be, then I'll bring that in and we'll work on it. But then there's other things, like with 'One Tear' or 'Woo Sé Mama' on this album, where my producer Stan Kybert will have a backing track idea, or take a riff I've played or something and mess around with it. Sometimes I'll get an idea from that and we'll work on it, rearrange it, so that's a bit more of an experimental way of writing I suppose.”
You've worked with Stan a few times now, when did you guys meet and what makes him a good fit for you?
“I met him when he was the house engineer at Noel Gallagher's studio and it just came from that really, we got on well and did a couple of records about 10 years ago that we recorded in Amsterdam, which was great.”
“He's a great engineer for a start, he's very, very good with mixes, but he's also a really creative person and he's really good with people generally. I think that's a really important part of being a good producer, he's always positive and encouraging, I think they're good qualities for a producer to have.”
When did you settle on the title and what's the idea behind it?
“It came towards the end of the album and it's a line from one of the songs, 'The Cranes are Back'. I just thought it felt right for the record, I don't know that it's making any particular statement. It's certainly not a political statement of any kind at all, it's a record that's more about people and humanity.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Are there any running themes?
“It's about the state of the world at the moment, really, and the sort of breakdown of a moral code I suppose. I mean, you see what's going on in Syria and all the people migrating from those places in tiny boats, you see these images like the one of the baby being washed up on the shore, or the state of things in North Korea. It's a mess, and I just can't see that any religion or any kind of politics is going to change anything or lead us out of it. The revolution has to come from us, from inside us, and that would be unstoppable if that happened.”
“So there's a few songs that allude to that, but it's quite varied really. There's a song about Edward Hopper, the painter, there's a song I wrote for my wife, there's all sorts of things on there, a lot of variety.”
Was there any particular track that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“No, I don't think there was this time, because it's so diverse it would be hard to pinpoint that.”
Can you talk us through the personnel on the new album? You've got guests like Robert Wyatt and Boy George, how did they get involved?
“I just called 'em up and said 'do you want to be on the record?'”
Right. I guess you can do that when you're Paul Weller...
“Yeah, it's handy, haha! But with that track 'She Moves With the Fayre', we got up to a certain point with it and I just thought 'Robert would be great on this'. Same with Boy George, I thought his voice would really work on that track ('One Tear'), so it just came out of that really.”
'One Tear' is quite different from anything else on the album, or anything we've heard you do before...
“Well, I have done that sort of thing before I guess, there's a bit of a deep house vibe about it and I have kind of done things similar to that, but that was one of those things that came from Stan, I think he'd done a rough backing track and we just improvised on that and built the song as we went along.”
You recently did your first soundtrack for Jawbone too – how did you find working on that compared to making a regular album?
“It was very different, more disciplined, in some ways anyway. Some of the music I did without picture, because that film has taken about four and a half years to really get finished, but I kind of started working on it about four years ago after Johnny Harris, who wrote the film and stars in it, outlined the story to me. I really liked the idea and I liked Johnny as a person as well, so I went away and did this very long piece called 'Jimmy/Blackout' which is the mainstay of the soundtrack.”
“It's a very long piece, about 20 minutes or more, and we just pulled little bits out of it here and there. Then after the film was finished I did some writing to picture as well. That was interesting because I'd never really done that sort of thing before, but it was just a great experience to do the entire score for the first time.”
Is it something you'd like to do more of?
“Definitely, yeah, if it's the right sort of film. I like the subject matter of the film and the fact that it's an independent British film as well, one that doesn't involve guns or gangsters and all that. I was kind of lucky as well because I was given carte blanche, pretty much, to do what I wanted, up to a point anyway. I had a very clear idea of the direction the music should go in, I heard it as being more abstract, not the obvious.”
“Sometimes it's jarring, sometimes it's in harmony with the picture, but I really enjoyed it. The director had a clear idea of what he wanted too and sometimes we differed over that, but it was just an interesting thing to do for me.”
What's next for you after this? We heard you're already halfway through your next album?
“I've written a lot of songs, yeah, but I probably won't get a chance to work on it properly until later this year, after the summer. I think it's that thing of when you're in that writing mode, once you turn that tap on, sometimes it can take a while to turn off. Even after we'd finished the record I was still writing and coming up with more ideas, which is a nice thing to have obviously, so I've just kind of stored them up until I get the chance to do it properly. But I also want to try and do some more co-writes on the next album with different artists, not just guest appearances but a more collaborative thing.”
You've got a big UK tour coming up next near, are you doing any UK shows in the meantime? Any festivals?
“Nah, we've kind of done all the festivals in the last few years, I don't know what's left for us to do really so we'll probably leave all that until next year. We're going to Europe twice this year, then we've got a month-long tour of America in October and then we go to the Far East in January next year, and an English tour in February.”
A Kind Revolution is available in hmv stores now. You can also find it in our online store here.