Paul Weller in conversation: an influence and his own
** Paul Weller** was born 50 years ago last Sunday, just outside of Woking in Surrey. The frontman for The Jam, The Style Council and solo recording artist in his own right flew the suburbs in his teens and went on to preside over a career that's lasted more than 30 years, selling countless records (conservative estimate: an absolute shit-tonne), inspiring bands both great and so abysmal they make you want your teeth to explode. Subsequently, he's fallen in and out of fashion more times than London and the NME put together but still his steely stare endures, the failure of copycats highlighting how hard a task it is to detail the mundane while keeping cliché at a distance and songsmanship in mind.
Fraying and dizzy-reeling, still, from Pitchfork’s ATP, your writer didn’t even get a chance to drop his bruised body off for a few hours at home beforehand, rushing straight from Camber to DrownedinSound HQ in Paddington. Brains broke, guts all gone. In this situation, if I’m honest, there were few things that seemed less appealing than a verbal tussle with Paul Weller. Not that DrownedinSound holds Weller in any kind of contempt, understand – weeks’ worth of hours have been whiled away, tapping feet to Jam albums like Setting Sons and All Mod Cons, as well as tracks like ‘Long Hot Summer’ and ‘Speak Like a Child’, Style Council cuts in which a desire to wallow has crept, somewhat strangely, in recent weeks. But you get me, yeah? He’s a stern lad, all talk considered, and it's with a feary mind that eleven ominous digits are dialled to talk history, imitators and new record _22 Dreams, out through Island on June 2.
Hi Paul. What are you up to?
Waiting around as usual – hanging around backstage, we’re in Derby tonight. We’ve been on tour for about a week or something. It’s been top, really good ‘cause we’re playing tunes off this album that people haven’t heard – just getting people’s reactions.
Is it going down well?
It’s always hard playing new stuff to people obviously ‘cause they haven’t heard it and they’re checking it out for the first time, but I think it’s been good the reaction.
Yeah, I heard it earlier, it’s a solid record. Obviously you’ve tried your hand at a number of things over your career and it sounds like you tying up a load of loose ends.
Yeah, I mean I wasn’t conscious of doing that but it’s the way it’s turned out. I think it’s really strong – even though you’re playing the songs to people for the first time, there’s a certain amount of confidence in the tunes we’re playing to people as well and I think that comes over to people as well, hopefully.
Have you got much left to do?
We’ve got about another two weeks on this and then we’re playing all over – Japan, America, Australia, Europe. We’ve got another big tour here towards the end of the year and a few festivals so it’s pretty full on really. We’re just fucking starting really.
You’re making it sound like a bit of a slog – is it even worth asking if world tours can feel like a holiday or is it just work, work, work?
Well it is work, work, work, but we enjoy it all. I dunno, we’ve had a few days off and ‘cause the weather’s been like it is, that’s been quite nice. But I wouldn’t call it a holiday man.
It’s nice to be out in the sun.
Yeah, and the people I’m playing with are all good fellas so…
Yeah that always helps I guess. Do you mind if I ask about the Style Council?
No, not at all mate.
When people look back on the music you’ve made over your career , do you think the Style Council are maybe unfairly neglected in favour of the Jam?
Yeah, I definitely would’ve said that a while ago but I think it’s been slightly rectified in recent years, I think people have kind of taken a reappraisal of the Style Council. I mean the thing that people forget sometimes is that for the first three years of the Style Council we were a fucking big band, we sold lots of records and played big places – it wasn’t like we weren’t popular, do you know what I mean?
** Yeah, completely – I meant more retrospectively when rock critics or fans come to compile their lists or whatever.**
I think it was like that – I think we were kind of written off once, but I do think that’s been slightly rectified. I think in terms of the press and stuff and people reappraising the band.
I think it’s maybe become a bit more acceptable to just be in a pop band and combine different elements into your music – I wasn’t around then, but I get the impression it used to be more compartmentalised, you had your mod kids and your punk kids and all your other various camps. There are a lot of bands around at the moment whose songs, whether it’s conscious or not, recall what you were trying to do with the Style Council I think. **
I mean, do you look around and find yourself excited by much these days? **
I haven’t in recent weeks or months but over the last few years I have, yeah; there’s been loads of good music really. Starting from, like, The Strokes and The Libs – I know it’s going back a few years – and then from those two bands, The Arctics in recent years. I think The Enemy are really good, and there’s a lot of talent and good music around I think.
Yeah, I mean with the amount of cover songs you do and in other interviews I’ve read you always seem to come across first and foremost as a music fan rather than a solely a musician. **
Yeah, definitely. I mean I’m always listening to music – not just my own – but if I’m not working I will listen to someone else’s music. I’m always interested to see what else is out there, new and old.
You just mentioned The Enemy – I went to see them in Coventry and people adore them there, but do you not think that sometimes they take a bit too much influence from The Jam? **
Not from my point of view they don’t, no. I’m all for it. I don’t think it’s a bad influence to have at all…
No, I don’t mean that as much as sometimes it comes across as ridiculously heavy…**
I think that’s their first record though, it’s the same with any artist really. You’re naturally influenced by whoever it may be and that influence is much more apparent on your early work. I think after a while you develop and you find your feet and find your own sound I think. I think that’s true of everybody.
Yeah, it’s like Bob Dylan sounded exactly like Woody Guthrie and even looked like him on his first record, or his first two records. No-one comes sorta fully-formed.
The Jam backstage at the Michael Sobell Centre, Islington, North London, 13th December 1981. Photo by Neil 'Twink' Tinning
Back to the new album – how difficult is it to keep the enthusiasm and to keep things fresh? Is it easy to do? **
It’s not easy to do, I think you’ve got to try and sort of push yourself forward and break up the puzzle and put it back together in a different way. Which isn’t easy to do but I’m very conscious of trying to do that on this record, that’s for sure. I wanted to try and make something that sounded different and has moved away from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.
It is fairly varied, stylistically – in regard to what you’ve been peddling for the last few years and from song to song on the album. **
I think it’s definitely different from the last few records I’ve made even though I liked them; I thought As Is Now was a great record, but I didn’t wanna make As Is Now part two. I was very conscious of trying to do something very different from that. The way the tracks have come out, they vary a lot from track to track. I think that’s just the way it developed, but that wasn’t conscious at all.
So was the approach more to write a set of singles than an album? **
No, the approach was to make a double album and put loads of information on it, something that people could keep going back to and finding new things in the music. Just to make it more interesting and enlightening for people – I think every time you go back and listen to this record you hear something else and because it’s 21 songs, and it’s quite a lot of information to take in the first time you hear it. But I think that’s a good thing, and it’s a proper album y’know…
Talking about information, is there maybe a coherent – well not a coherent – but is there any one kind of message or concept that you’re trying to put across with the album? **
I don’t think there’s any kind of message man, to be honest with you, but I think there’s a musical message about trying to take people on a musical trip or a musical journey… ‘cause where you start off is where you finish up on the record. So it isn’t a concept record or any of that stuff, but it is a musical journey I think.
Do you prefer writing in that way? Does having one central concept, like there was supposed to be on something like Setting Sons, bog you down at all as you have to keep referring back to it? **
I think it’s the just way it turned out – most records, whatever you first think of you can forget, because by the end it’s become something else. I think that’s true of most records really.
You worked with Graham Coxon and Noel Gallagher on the record – how did that come about? **
Just by me calling them up and asking, y’know, “Do you wanna do some writing or some playing together?”_ Me and Graham co-wrote a single last year so that kind of came from that. I asked him if he had any ideas for a tune and just jammed on that and got it together.
Do you still rate what those two are doing at the moment? **
Yeah I do, very much so yeah. I really liked Graham’s last solo record.
Did you ever have a favourite when it came to Blur and Oasis? **
_(laughs) _They’re all my children, I love all of them.
Is that how you see yourself then, with this ‘modfather’ tag? **
No… no, listen I don’t have favourites. It was all record company hype. I think they both made great records in their time so it’d be hard to pick a favourite.
You’re doing charity work with Crisis at the moment, and you’ve been vocal on other social issues in the past – do you think there’s a lack of social and political concern in modern music? **
I think it’s harder to write about it in these days ‘cause it’s all so fucking mainstream and they’re all so interchangeable, these politicians.
Yeah, I think it’s hard to write sensibly without coming across all sloganeering. **
Yeah, I think The Enemy are good at doing it, I think their lyrics are really good.
I guess it comes back to this idea of social observation. **
Yeah, well I think that’s stronger sometimes than just being that specific about things. At least people relate to that better, anyway.
You must have seen so many bands come and go over the years…**
Yeah, fucking hundreds man, loads…
With that in mind do you ever think about your role in that kind of British social-commentary, story-telling tradition within pop music? How do you see yourself in that sense?**
I dunno mate, I don’t know how I see myself. I hope I’m just a good writer and that I’m able to convey images, emotions, whatever across to people. I don’t sit around thinking about it too much to be honest with you mate, I’m too busy getting on with it and doing it.
Paul Weller might be an old man amongst young pretenders, but he, too, has a MySpace. He tours later this year:
6 Crawley K2
8 Southend Cliffs Pavilion
10 Dublin RDS Sommonscourt
11 Belfast Odyssey
13 Aberdeen Press & Journal Arena
14 Glasgow SECC
15 Newcastle Metro Radio Arena
17 Liverpool Echo Arena
18 Manchester Evening News Arena
20 Cardiff International Arena
21 Birmingham NEC
22 Nottingham Arena
24 London Brixton Academy
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