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melody maker_13/02/99
Who better to help your Valentine's Day kick off than Stereophonics, Britain's most passionate band. We join Kelly and co. in Italy to talk rock, love, sex and soul.

Love is...
"...Hard work," laughs Kelly Jones, singer with Stereophonics, taking up the gauntlet that The Maker has thrown his way. "It's never like: ' We came into a room, our eyes glanced at each other and the rest is history.' It never works that way."

Rock's most smouldering/passionate/soulful (delete according to taste) frontman, and finest new lyricist of his generation, shakes his head before continuing.
"Trying to get together with someone is just f***ing horrible," he continues. "Having to make all those phone calls and that sort of thing. Don't get me wrong, I believe in it, but I always want to write about love the way it is in real life, not like how's portrayed in Hollywood. I want to make love gritty, uncomfortable and awkward, the way it really is."
"Actually," he adds, warming to the subject, "I'm writing a song at the moment which starts with a major argument, where you really want to f***ing strangle somebody and then, gradually, you calm down and by the end of the song you're acting completely differently. It's always going to be raunchy or have the twist. And that," concludes the blue-collar lothario, "is the closest I'll ever get to a love song." Passion is a horrible word. Not so much the word itself, but the way it's bandied about as an increasingly worthless adjective. Passion is not something to shout about, you don't go out of your way to advertise it. You have no control, it just happens, it bubbles from within.

Soul is another one. Soul is about ambition, integrity, it's about burning brighter. Soul is an unspoken life-force, it's not about strings or saxophones, it can't be pinned down. Love? Love is the worst of all. The more it's uttered, the more it loses its meaning. Passion-soul-love. Three words which never can truly do justice to the feeling that they represent.
But then Stereophonics know all this. They're passionate. They have soul. They love. But you won't hear them shouting about it. Why should they? They know how it works. They know the score.
It may be a coincidence, but on the eve of the release of their new single, their "difficult second album", "Performance and Cocktails", and St. Valentine's Day, we join Wales' national treasures in Italy when pheromones fill the air and where the art of seduction has just been added to the syllabus.
"We're definitely one of the more passionate bands around," admits drummer Stuart Cable, after much journalistic prodding, as we wander the old streets of Turin in search of pasta, the food of love. "And it's not false or postured. we give that little bit extra on stage. We've played live for so many years that every show is completely different, people have paid to be entertained, so it's them to fuels us."

And that's where Stereophonics rapid success seems to lie: true musical passion over aesthetic detail. They're one of us.
"You get bands like Blur and the whole Britpop thing who adopted false images," sneers Kelly, shaking his head. "People would see through that straight away. You've got to be genuine. Don't f***ing pretend you're from a different class, you can't get away with that type of thing, we've learnt about respect and how's earned. My dad was a singer for a while and he always said, 'Don't think you're anything special, it's the audience that's special.' That makes sense."
Even the band's manager (and, bizarrely, former producer of Bros), John Brand, finds time to take The Maker aside and gush about the power and soul that the band possesses. "This a life thing," he later confides on the hotel balcony. "As soon as I saw them, there was no doubt that they were the real deal. One look at Kelly and that was it, I knew they'd mean something to so many people."
After two years of intermittent chats with Stereophonic, the change is recognisable. Observing the Italian architecture and the numerous designer clothes shops, the band's true nature comes through. Kelly, originally quiet and cool, now possesses a sharper mind and the general demeanour of an international star, complimented by a new-found swagger. Stuart laughs louder than ever, but now jokes about "settling down". And what of enigmatic bass-player Richard Jones? Well, he talks a lot more and views everything with a small smile and detached bemusement, which is making him a star in his own right and proves him to be the stoic backbone of the band. All three of them have been hardened and honed by the road life, fuelled onwards by the growing adulation and the "f*** me!" moments which occur with increased regularity.

"The thing is now," says Kelly, supping on a beer, "everyone knows every f***ing word of every song, so we have to try harder. At Cardiff Castle, we were so nervous, because we couldn't afford to mess up."
"Walking to the stage after that build-up," murmurs Stuart, reliving his career highlight, "it was just unbelievable, you're almost relieved when it's over. I was shitting myself."
So while many lesser bands succumb to the perils of the road, Stereophonics have stripped down to a close-knit group - from friend/fanzine editor Julian's constant hand-held filming, to their hands-on approach and constant input into everything that they do. All international manoeuvres are executed with military precision.
"That's the big difference," adds the singer. "Beforehand, we used to have to drink to get up and play, and we knew that the audiences were as drunk as we were and now...." Now, as the man says, they're "watching every word he says".

Yes, we all know about Stereophonics. We know all about their village, their heavy metal, their fondness of a drink, their no-bullshit approach. we know all this because, piece by piece, the trio have stripped back the layers, scorched through the flesh to reveal big old beating hearts that pump to the same beat as the rest of us. It's their sense of adventure, their openness to come to a refined city like Turin, on the edge of the Alps, a place full of promise and culture and with a strong youth contingency looking to Britain for the latest sounds.
Until now, with one album, a clutch of classic singles and the rest that goes with it, these three men from Wales have outstretched their hands across this isle with the unspoken ups and downs of passion, love, soul. With their new single "Just Looking", they've translated it all to the international language of feeling. Stereophonics are set to go global.
"It's a record of my reactions to different things that I've seen for the first time," says Kelly, as we settle down with some red wine and breadsticks in one of the many backstreet family-run bistros. "The first record was me looking at things, relating funny or sad stories that I heard in the pub, it wasn't very personal. I've never really looked at it as a difficult process. 'Word Gets Around' was finished in January 1997 and by the time it was released, i already had five new songs. Then I just kept writing on promo trips, in hotel rooms, on the tour bus. We were doing well, so I didn't feel the pressure. It turned out to have loads of contrast, it starts off hard with loads of guitars and finishes on a song with no guitar at all. It sounds like an album rather than a bunch of songs."

If the first album was a montage of deceit, betrayal, love and curtain-twitching voyeurism, then every damn line in "Performance And Cocktails" is an eye-of-the-storm record of this mad-cap world. Media intrusion, the male psyche and false expectations are given the timeless soul-rock treatment at the hands of three men smirking at the hollowness of modern life in an attempt to assimilate their childhood dreams with reality.
"Definitely," says Kelly. "We've got a song called 'Pick A Part That's New', that's a perfect example of that. It's about going to New York for the first time and not being shocked. I thought that I was going to be really impressed, but then I realised I've already seen it all on the television. Every bar we went to had had some famous person there in the past - we went to get a sandwich and it was the place where they filmed 'When Harry Met Sally'. I had to try and find some part of it all that I hadn't seen before. I expected to get into it, but it was fake."
But that's a foreign land - you can expect it to be different from the village. Surely the strongest point of the new album though, is the way it's a diary of personal development, a lyrically poignant selection of snapshots of three men going out into the world. "True, I'd agree with that," nods Kelly. "The first record was me looking at things, relating funny or sad stories that I heard in the pub, it wasn't very personal. This time, it's my reactions to different things that I've seen for the first time, I'm recording things. It's not to the extent of f***ing self-pity on the road or something. We just wrote it on the road because that's where we were all the time. We've always wanted to appeal to the world anyway, and not just be successful in Britain."

Yet Cwmaman is always there. A day and a night spent with Stereophonics is full of reminiscences. As we join them one month into four-month international promotional slog - Kelly informs us he has 12 interviews the following day alone - they keep sane by getting drunk and recalling their naive forays into London through a series of often-repeated anecdotes (Stuart kicking a sleeping Robbie Williams' arse in Groucho's, while Kelly annoyed Jarvis and Richard got forcibly ejected, is one of the current favourites) and retreading the path that lead from the Club, The Pool and various other old haunts to wrestling the likes of Steps out of the Top Five and largin' it in Hollywood. Turin is beautiful, but Wales provides salvation.
"We've been in so many strange situations, met loads of weird people," says Kelly. "The worst interview I ever had was this French guy going 'What iz that lights your one match Kelly? I hope you're going to zing for me personally, Kelly.'" "He couldn't take his eyes off you," grins Stuart. "He was in love. Thing is, he looked like Paul Stanley from Kiss!"
Poor chap. What do you make of this new-found status as a sex symbol, the sexiest man, as voted for by the readers of The Maker? "Strange one that, innit?" says the singer, as he clamps up. I remember reading a fanzine in which Stuart said, "I remember that c*** when he was ugly." "Did I?" guffaws Stuart. "No!"
Kelly: "I want to know why these two didn't feature in it, when Sean from the Manics was in there at number five in a previous poll! It's funny though, because whatever is written about me, everyone will take a piss. You know, I'll be sat there pissed and half-asleep on the bus and everyone will go, 'Ah, look at those doe eyes and the chiselled cheek bones!"
Have you ever had sex to your own music? All: "Never!" "I'd be too busy concentrating on whether the snare drum sounds right," says Kelly. "It's got to be a slow one, hasn't it?" says Stuart. "AC/DC's 'Back In Black' just wouldn't be right. Something moody to get down to is what you need." What's the best Stereophonics song for seduction? Stuart: "'A Minute Longer' from the new album, it sounds like The Faces, so can pretend you're Rod Stewart."

And what romantic touches do you recommend for wooing your love at this time of year? "Last year, we were in Amsterdam," says Kelly. "That was when we first met Cerys, she'd just lost her voice and was a bit upset. We all made a card for her which we signed and then we put a 10-pence piece in with the message saying: 'Phone your mother, tell her you're not coming home tonight.' Then later she got onstage and said: 'The Stereophonics are all gorgeous, but they're going to have to come to me.'" "Aye," agrees Stuart. "She's good crack. Nice girl."
"It's a shame that we're not going to be home for Valentine's Day," shrugs Richard. "That's the awkward thing about the job. I've still got my card from last year which I meant to send. Then again, so has my girlfriend, so we might get around to using them this year."
Then, of course, there's the small matter of a forthcoming marriage for Stuart, the elder statesman of the band. How did that happen? "I was on bended knee," he deadpans. "No, actually I was lying in bed, I think that maybe I'd had a bit too much to drink and I just said 'Do you fancy getting married?'" "Nah," interrupts Kelly, "you were that pissed, that she had to hold your cock when you went to the toilet and you asked her out of the gratitude!" "Anyway, the next day," continues Stuart earnestly, "she said, 'Did you mean what you said last night?' and ..." "And," grins Richard, "you said, 'Which bit? Aye, I did want gravy on those chips." yeah, true romantic these boys. Although the wedding wouldn't be too hard to track down, rubber-neckers are advised to stay away - Richard's big brother is doing the security. Don't mess.

With his feet up on the table back in the Italian hotel lobby and the concierge only vaguely aware that the star is in attendance, Kelly Jones is taking a quiet minute to muse about his mad life. " I bought my own house a year ago," he says. "A semi-detached in a nice street, front and back garden, four bedrooms.... nicely done out, it is. I've only f***ing been there three weeks. I still haven't got a car, though, I give my old man £60 for insurance and just use his when I'm back home. Thing is, he's got Stereophonics stickers on the back window, so I've got to try and cover them up. No one believes me when I say it's not mine.
The image of the little rock star cruising around the Welsh village upon his return from Hollywood, arm dangling out the window, gold discs in the back seat, kids waving, Bon Scott-era AC/DC blasting out, is one to be treasured. "I remember my dad told me that when he was singing, he had lots of record companies interested in him and they were taking him out. One night, he ordered four pints of lager and it was all free. He went, 'What? You mean I don't have to pay for it? Right, take these back, I'll have a couple of bottles from the top shelf, two of those, one of those...' And now, here we are doing exactly the same thing. It's f***ing great."
What's next? "Maybe I'll take a holiday," he continues. "Cyprus is meant to be nice at this time of year. Have a week away, hire a jeep, see the island .... bit of a rest."
He leans back in his chair, momentarily closes his eyes and jumps up, back onto his feet. After all, there's work to be done, countries to be conquered, situations to be observed. But then, that's dedication for you, not to mention passion and love.