With his last album, Wake Up The Nation, scoring a Mercury Prize nomination and acclaim for his latest, Sonik Kicks (launched with a residency at the London Roundhouse which saw him perform the new record in full) Paul Weller is going through something of a creative purple patch. Get our current issue, Q310 on newsstands now, for a full feature on the creation of Sonik Kicks (plus check out our How To Buy… guide to his solo records), but in the meantime here’s an exclusive new Q&a chat with the Modfather on the reaction to Sonik Kicks, his London residency, his artistic motivations, plans for a new album and why it’s unlikely Paul Weller will ever play his classic albums live.
How the devil are you?
“I’m good mate, yeah.”
You’ve completed a residency at the London Roundhouse last month playing Sonik Kicks in full, why launch the record this way?
“I thought the record lent itself to that anyway, but I guess it’s also a statement against bands doing their classic album from 20 years ago and all that. There are exceptions, like the [Primal] ‘Scream or something, but it’s become a big business this whole nostalgia trip. It does my head in really. I just wanted to make something totally away from that so I thought, I won’t play my classic album I’ll play my fucking new one then! It was born out of that really and to give people something different. It’s all those things. I think the audience has risen to it.”
Do you see Sonik Kicks as an extended body of work then?
“Yeah I do. If people want to dip in and out of it that’s fine with me, but because of it flows and the way it segues to me it’s something you’d listen to from start to finish. The same the way I felt about 22 Dreams, maybe not the last record, but 22 Dreams was for me something you had to listen to from start to finish.”
That’s quite a defiant stance in an era of playlists and shuffling, are you presenting the album as an artwork?
“I think so yeah. Maybe it’s something to do with age groups because I look at my young kids and they’ll dart in and out, but I think if an album is good enough people are still up for that. I think people like the idea of going from start to finish through a body of work.”
Have you learned anything new about Sonik Kicks from performing it in full live?
“It’s been enough just to learn the new record really! I don’t know if I’ve learned any new things – I’m still making mistakes onstage, forgetting choruses and words and all that, but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, to be honest with you. The band has done their homework on it. We had some very intensive rehearsals and there were a few times where it was a bit of a brain fuck but generally it’s been good. The songs are really strong because of whatever experimental edges they have to them they have strong melodies going on, so it’s not too hard to grasp.”
In a few of your recent interviews you’ve spoken about giving up booze. As you once told me you went onstage sober once and hated it, how you’re coping playing live teetotal?
“I am doing the shows sober and I’m thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying it! It’s taken me a while to get over the self-consciousness of it. It will be two years this years that I’ve given up so I’ve obviously played in that time. At first it was a bit weird because you’re so conscious and aware – you’re looking at people’s cardigans and the buttons on their shirts – but I’ve got over that stage and I’m able to lose myself in the music. I don’t really miss it, man. I’m playing better and singing better as far as I’m concerned. I’m more aware of what I’m doing in a good way. With this record you need to be sober!”
Looking at your work at the moment, it does appear that you’re going through a creative patch at the moment – the last few albums are all progressive records and you seem to have a renewed energy as an artist. Is this something you recognise in yourself or is it business as usual as far as you’re concerned?
“I think they’re exciting records but I’ve had loads of other creative times, they might be different styles of music but they come and go. It’s a good time now but in a year’s time it might not be or it could be it’s just the way it is. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to it, though I think I’m much more open-minded in making music – writing and recording – I don’t feel any constraints. I don’t feel in any way constrained by what I should be doing. I don’t care about that, it’s whatever happens and if it feels right. I think that’s helped and added to the creativity.”
Has there been a shift or a change which means you’re not bothered about those perceptions?
“I’ve always followed my nose really, sometimes to my detriment, sometimes it’s been good, so that hasn’t changed too much. But I think stepping outside your own box sometimes is good and trying different methods of writing a song is good. I’ve done the traditional methods and I can still do that, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s been nice to find different ways of writing and different words to use. I think I’ve only just dipped into it, for me there’s a long way to go.”
Sounds like you’re even enjoying challenging those preconceptions?
“It’s difficult. I never thought 22 Dreams would get the reaction it did. To be honest I didn’t really care either, I was going to make this double album, this indulgent record, totally eclectic and just please myself… and people loved it. So who knows? You can’t make a record with that in mind. You have to make what you believe in at the time. You’ve got to please yourself first and foremost and then once you’ve pleased yourself, you’re next natural thing to do is you want to excite other people about it. I can’t say that was the same on Heliocentric or Illumination or certain records I’ve made along the line. Sometimes you feel good about a record, sometimes you don’t. You’ve made it the best you can and put all you’re energies into it but at the end you can’t quite get there. So who knows? There’s no pattern to it really, I accept that it’s a creative time and that’s it for me. Next year could be something else.”
What motivates that artistic risk taking? You could be safe Mr Classic Album if you wanted…
“But I couldn’t do that, my heart wouldn’t be into it. It wouldn’t work. I get bored easy you see. I never listen to my old records, not that I’m not proud of them – I am proud of my legacy and the tunes – but I’m just into what I’m doing at the time. I’ve always been like that it’s fair to say. So I don’t know if I could go out and do that [play classic albums]. Maybe I’ll have to one day because I need the work or something, who knows? I don’t at the moment so I’m doing this!”
So your motivation is always to keep thing interesting?
“Yeah. I get bored and I want to move on. In recent years I’ve learnt there’s no end to it. It’s an on going, unfolding thing and it can be whatever you want it to be if you’re open to it, which is liberating. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to only sound a certain way or write a certain song. I can take it anywhere really.”
Do you need or enjoy the sense of being on the tightrope? If you take risks you could fall…
“It could go wrong, the next record could be a complete fucking disaster but that’s part of the fun really, isn’t it? It’s what keeps me interested. It’s the same as playing a gig. One night it can be fantastic and you have great expectations for the next night and it’s horrible. You just never know. To try to make sense of it just doesn’t work. It’s in the ether.”
Talking of the next one, this album was pretty much in the bag as Wake Up The Nation was released, so have you thought about another album yet?
“I’m fucking dying to get in the studio and do something! I just physically haven’t had the time at the moment. I’m really looking forward to it because I really want to see where I’ll go next. I’m hot to trot, as they say. I’ve no idea where it will go to, I’m just exciting to try.”
Head to Paulweller.com for more, plus get Q310 now for our exclusive feature interview with Paul Weller.