Paul Weller Interviewed: "Not All Of Noel's Stories About Me Are True"

Social commentator, blue eyed soul singer, fashion icon, Modfather. At the end of the day, nearly 40 years after The Jam burst onto the music scene, Paul Weller is still Paul Weller, and he's not one for turning.
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Social commentator, blue eyed soul singer, fashion icon, Modfather. At the end of the day, nearly 40 years after The Jam burst onto the music scene, Paul Weller is still Paul Weller, and he's not one for turning.

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Paul Weller has spent his career defying peoples expectations. After disbanding the politically charged, punkish new wave of The Jam, which saw him given the much maligned "voice of a generation" tag, he went into the studio with Hammond organist Mick Talbot, and soul revivalists The Style Council were born. Even now his sound is still changing and evolving, his latest record Sonik Kicks playing with broad, almost housey instrumentation, carried by Weller's sweet, soulful voice, which seems to be getting even better as The Modfather ages.

However, upon talking to him you get the feeling that this defiance comes not from a desire to antagonise or shock, but rather it comes from a need to evolve, to learn, to discover and to experiment with new sounds, new styles, new movements. Why? Because Paul Weller, throughout his 40 year career, has never lost that youthful, life-giving love of music, purely and simply. Earlier this year at The Roundhouse Weller played Sonik Kicks in its entirety, start to finish, showcasing the album as it was meant to be listened to, a massively bold statement at a live show when you have such a huge and varied back catalogue you can delve into. I asked him whether he thought that one of the biggest consequences of music downloading and the iPod generation was the death of "the album", and whether he's still fighting against that:

"Yeah, I guess so. Young people just take a track here and there don't they? It's probably different for people of my generation, or those slightly younger than me. We grew up on records. Nowadays people take a song here and there and be happy with that"

So, were you trying to make Sonik Kicks iPod proof?

"Well, I'd much prefer people to listen to it from start to finish yeah, because that's how we made it. But that's how I make all my records, they all work like that"

Is this one up there with your best work?

"For me, yeah"

I'd be inclined to agree. Lyrically strong, musically bold, and vocally he's as good as ever. The songs flow seamlessly from one to the next, allowing little time for the listener to draw breath. It really is a whole sequence of music, not just a collection of disparate tracks. I asked Paul how long goes into the sequencing of a record, after all the writing and recording has been done.

"I think those things develop as they go along. As we work and do different tracks we're always compiling them and trying to work out a sequence from the early days, because obviously you know what your vision for the album is, and so you can see what else you might need on it - a different dynamic or whatever. A lot of the writing is done in the studio, especially on the last record."

So how does the album work in a live setting then?

"Well we're very self contained on stage. It's not something I want to keep doing because it's quite limited in a way, but it was interesting to do it as a band and as a musician, it was interesting to play the whole thing in sequence and try and replicate the sound as much as possible. It was more about ensemble playing and hoping the crowd would be digging it"

Would you think about doing it with any of your older records? Setting Sons or Stanley Road?

"It's probably different for people of my generation, or those slightly younger than me. We grew up on records. Nowadays people take a song here and there and be happy with that"

"No I wouldn't. So many people are doing it now...it bugs the shit out of me to be honest"

Do you think these acts are resting on their laurels?

"Yeah it's all gone that way hasn't it? Bands reforming and playing old records and stuff, I don't get it, I don't understand it. I went to see Paul McCartney recently and he was fucking amazing, he played all his old tunes and y'know, they were great, but I'd have liked to hear some of the stuff of his last album. I guess that's the difference between me and the rest of the population."

So what's your perfect album?

"The Zombies Odyssey and Oracle, didn't do fuck all at the time but it's been rediscovered in recent years. I must have heard it in the early 70s, they did a reissue and it blew me away. It had an overall...I'd say concept, but y'know, just an overall musical sound, there was something very magical, very musical, very melancholic about it, and very English too."

Hold up, concept? Paul Weller likes concept albums? No, surely not. I better clarify this.

"No no, not a 'concept album', no, I didn't get into any of that, I always thought there was more of a concept in the 3 minute single, stuff like Ray Davies in his early days, that was far more conceptual to me. But no, I was never a fan of it, it was all overblown and, well, a load of bollocks really. Albums about the war of the worlds and all that shite. I never got Tommy either to be honest with you, I know that's probably sacrilege, but there you go"

Ah that's more like it. This is a man who called Freddie Mercury a cunt remember, for "wanting to bring ballet to the working class". I can't coalesce that version of Weller with one that listens to Rick Wakeman. Thank fuck for that.

I also can't seem to coalesce this version of Weller with the one that Noel Gallagher speaks so colourfully of, at every opportunity it seems. The ex-Oasis front man once said "There's an unwritten law that I never go out with Paul Weller, he's a nightmare. He's hardcore - if you go out with him, if you come home at all, there's bumps and bruises. There's been scuffles in the street and you've probably fallen out with him". So, is he really that much of a loose cannon?

"Well I probably was back in the day, but y'know, not all of Noel's stories are true. He's prone to exaggeration, bless his heart"

So, would you leave your keys with Noel Gallagher if you were going away?

"Umm, I would do but it's not like he'd go and check on my flat or anything so there'd be no fucking point really. He'd probably lose them or something"

What's a night out with you like now?

It's not like I'm trying to get people's backs up, I'm just trying to deliver something new y'know? And you gotta stick by your guns and see it through.

"Well, I rarely go out at all these days, I don't drink so I'm not arsed about it. These days if I do go out it's a meal with the Mrs, or going to the pictures, or going for a walk or something"

So it seems the rock and roll excess has firmly been replaced by an idyllic family life, so much so that his gig calendar is much sparser this year, with his closing set at Latitude one of his only UK festival appearances. Why did he choose the Norfolk festival above all others?

"I've never done it before, and I've heard good things about it. I've done pretty much every other one, and I'm trying to do something different. It seems like a real music festival, y'know?"

Will you get a chance to check out any of the other bands?

"I usually try to, depending on when I get there. I think Alabama Shakes are playing on my day, I'd love to see them"

Do you approach festival sets in a different way to your own gigs?

"I don't really, perhaps we should but we just play what we play. I've had it up to here with bands doing the crowd pleasing stuff. It's not like I'm trying to get people's backs up, I'm just trying to deliver something new y'know? And you gotta stick by your guns and see it through. So y'know, I appreciate there's a kind of sing-along thing at festivals, but there's plenty of other bands who can do that...there'll be a couple of old tunes in there, but we just do what we do...and anyway, I think you can sing along to my new stuff"

Paul Weller will be closing the Latitude Festival on 15th July. Check the website for the full Latitude lineup.

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