Richard Jones discusses the importance of positivity in art, what it’s like to receive a compliment from Bob Dylan, and the band’s new album
For just over two decades, Stereophonics has dominated the U.K. charts. The Welsh rockers debut LP, Word Gets Around, peaked at number 6 back in 1997, and they followed that up with a run of five straight number one records. In 2016, they released Keep the Village Alive, which saw the band once again climb to the top of the charts. Now they have returned with their tenth studio album, Scream Above the Sounds.
Scream Above the Sounds finds the band searching for light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a positive record that hopes to provide listeners with an escape from the struggles of their everyday lives and the 24-hour news cycle that continues to bombard our society.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with bassist Richard Jones to discuss the importance of positivity in art, what it’s like to receive a compliment from Bob Dylan, and the band’s new album.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you’re about to release your new album, Scream Above the Sounds. Just to start, how is the mood in camp?
Richard Jones: I’m very excited. It’s always an exciting time, releasing a new album. We finished it back in January, so we’ve been sitting on it for the last several months. Finally, it’s here.
CF: It always seems that there is such a long time between these things. How do you fill that time?
RJ: A lot of it has been getting all the artwork together, videos, and then generally planning the creative side of things, like which countries to go to and do promotion. And generally, all the planning takes more time than the actual recording of the album.
CF: Your last album, Keep the Village Alive, went number one in the U.K. Did that add any pressure to the creation of this album?
RJ: Not so much when we were in the studio. I think what we usually do is we write for ourselves, first and foremost. Like when you’re gathering all the ideas together you try to find the best, and then when they collectively form into an album, and you finish the project, that’s kind of when, once you start playing it for everybody, you’re getting the feedback and then you can get that sense of where, like, everybody thinks it’s going to fit within the market and what have you. People always put all the pressure on ourselves, rather than it coming from outside, as we always want it to be the best it can possibly be, and you know the saying, “You are only as good as your last album,” so we would love for it to go to number one and obviously we’d be disappointed if it doesn’t, but it’s not gonna be the end of the world.
CF: The album seems mostly positive and hopeful. Why is it important to deliver an encouraging message in these uncertain times?
RJ: I think a lot of people are bombarded with a lot of news. There are 24-hour news channels on the TV, everybody’s got a smartphone with the apps and social media bombarding you with so much – usually negative – information.
There’s a lot of positivity out there and you gotta remember that’s the stuff that usually gets you through the bad days. When it comes to a lot of the feel, this album has got that very uplifting… it’s got that drama, but it’s got that positivity at the end. We’re always trying to make sure there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
CF: There are certainly tons of positive things out there, but as you were saying, with the barrage of negativity we are hit with, it can often be difficult to find those things. Can you take us through a bit of your songwriting process and where you grab your ideas from and how that sort of comes together for you?
RJ: Kelly has been the lyricist and he kind of gathers all the ideas for the lyrics. Usually, a lot goes on around us, like stories we’ve shared and things we’ve seen, and there are tracks on this album that are about our hometown, and the memories, alley drunks, and the feeling you kept remembering all those times. When the music comes together that’s sometimes just before the lyrics happen, sometimes the lyrics come first. It’s generally like the idea forms, like, for 60 percent of this album Kelly brought the ideas into the studio and then we formed all the other parts around his ideas. The other bits, the other 40 percent, usually come from jam sessions we’ve had either while touring or while in the studio.
CF: You once again worked with Jim Lowe on this album. How did your relationship with Jim begin, and what makes you keep coming back?
RJ: Well, Jim first started working with us back on, I think it was, the juke album. He didn’t do any recording with us, but he came up and recorded us while we were playing live, and we went in to do You Gotta Go There to Come Back. We just hit off with Jim while he was on the road with us and he’s really, really quick, and when it comes to recording in the studio, sometimes you need that spontaneity, and Jim just fits right in with how quick we work.
He’s got everything set up exactly how we work, like sometimes we like to do it live and sometimes it’s got to be tracked, and he’s just a terrific man. He’s got the right vibe and he’s really funny, and he has been around forever. He’s been there since I’d say about 2003 and I think we’ve only ever done one album without him since then, so he is a good guy. He always comes up with new sounds that we haven’t hit upon before. He’s just in the moment with us when we are in the studio, and we saw his passion for working with us, as well, which is great.
CF: Was there a moment in the studio that kind of summed up the entire recording process, or one where you hit the note that day and you were like, “That’s it”?
RJ: It kind of happens on every album. If you start the recording process, it’s usually about the third or fourth track you start recording, and you just hit upon either a sound or a vibe that you’re doing, and it just all kicks into place and you know instantly. There’s like an unspoken thing when you are in that process that everybody knows that’s the path you’re going to go down and that’s kind of the flavor of the album.
I think with this album it was the tracks “All in One Night” and “Caught by the Wind”, as well. The kind of sound of “All in One Night” kind of paved the way for a lot of the vibe for the album. I think the positivity of “Caught by the Wind” was another moment that kind of got the feel of what we can do throughout this. That kind of paved the way for that.
CF: Scream Above The Sound certainly makes allusions to the current challenges the world is facing. How do you view the voice of the artist in 2017?
RJ: I think the artist, usually, the job is to write positively, like the light at the end of the tunnel, and be entertainment for people. Like people deal with enough in their daily lives, and when it comes to music, movies, books, that’s the escape. That’s what people do to forget about if they’ve had a bad day. They go to those places to get away from it all, and I think being musicians and artists, that’s kind of the main job really, is to make people lose themselves and dream away.
CF: Earlier this year, Bob Dylan said he’s a fan of Stereophonics. Do you have any connection with Bob and how did that feel?
RJ: Well, we were massive Bob Dylan fans. Still are. Growing up, being teenagers we always used to play Bob Dylan after we’d do rehearsal every Thursday and Sunday. I think Kelly takes a lot of his kind of inspiration, lyrically and story-wise, from Bob Dylan. He’s a massive influence in the way Kelly writes. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Bob Dylan is enough praise for us, but for it to come from him is a bit of a shock. It was one of those moments where we couldn’t quite believe it.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
RJ: I think for me, being in the band, the best thing is stepping on the stage and entertaining people, and seeing that reaction people give you. There’s times that I’ve seen the band, and generally the crowds are absolutely amazing, and there’s no greater satisfaction than getting the praise from an audience right in front of you. I think the most grounding thing is when we hear fans tell us how much songs helped them through bad times and perhaps picked them up off their lowest moments. It’s very satisfying to know that you can help people in that way, even when you know you didn’t intend to do it like that. We’ve heard a lot of stories from people now, like whatever things they’re going through in their life that they thought they couldn’t get through, and like we just find them very humbling. People have all these stories about how our music has helped them, so yeah.