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nme_10/10/98
Since shifting 300,000 albums, Stereophonics have been schmoozing in London's trendy Met Bar and hanging with Kevin Spacey and Robbie Williams. So, kids, have the small-town rockers, those enemies of all things fashionable, like, sold out?
Evil media types: STEPHEN DALTON (words)EVA VERMANDEL (photos)

The stars are coming out over Cardiff, shining down on Kelly Jones. For once, the Stereophonics singer is off-duty, safely hidden backstage at Radio 1's end-of-summer live jamboree. Robbie Williams shares the bill with the Manics. And here stands Kelly, the perfect amalgam of both, half gritty Springsteen-esque rocker and half-pretty boy sex thimble. A pocket-sized Henry Rollins with the pixie features of Sinead O'Connor. Former boxer, film-maker, fruit and veg salesman. Future superstar.

It's becoming increasingly difficult for Kelly to play the small-town boyo at events like this. Sharing a pint with Cerys Catatonia, both stars agree that neither of them wants to risk the madness of the main arena without the cloak of nightfall. We are standing, remember, within spitting distance of Cardiff Castle, where Stereophonics played their biggest ever headlining show in June. All 10,000 tickets sold out in days. All 10,000 people sang along to every word of every song.
And this was merely the culmination of 18 hysterical months in Stereo-land. Barely a year since their debut album, 'Word Gets Around', took the Number Six slot on the day of its release, the trio have picked up Brats, Brits and plaudits galore. They have been profiled in two award-winning rockumentaries on Welsh TV and lauded by everyone from metal mags to teeny popzines. After years of sloggging away in obscurity, their Brit award for Best Newcomer in February represented more than the usual seal of industry approval. It marked a long overdue breakthrough, as Kelly made clear with his blunt acceptance speech:"About fucking time."

Now, after an astonishing 300,000 albums sale (180,000 in the UK alone) and an unbroken run of Top 30 singles, Stereophoncis are finally outgrowing the sub-Manics/worthy provincial snipes of their cruellesst critics. They're recording with Robbie, hanging out with Hollywood royalty, playing on an international stage. Their 'think globally, play locally' policy is paying off handsomely. Stereophonics are finally being taken seriously. Like the man says: about fucking time.

BACK IN THEIR NATIVE Wales, Stereophonics are already superstars. An HTV documentary charting their first months, Alright Or What?, picked up a BAFTA last year while a recent BBC production, A Family affair, interviewed the band's parents about their offspring's phenomenal success. Kelly now has to slip out the back door of his house in the tiny Valleys village Cwmaman to escape posses of female fans. Impending nuptials for various band members are curently shrouded in military secrecy to prevent tabloid intrusion.
And then there was Cardiff Castle, the first rock show there since Queen and Status Quo over 20 years ago. A triumhphant homecoming, by all accounts. Already a similar, but much bigger, bash is being planned for Port Talbot next summer.
"I've never been so shit scared in my entire life," gurgles Stuart Cable, Stereophonics' drummer and lusty-voiced Neil Kinnock impersonator. It's a week after Cardiff. Kelly, Stuart and taciturn, tattooed bass player Richard Jones are gathered outside a scabby south London pub, choking on the capital's traffic fumes. Life on the road takes its toll.
"All our village was there, James from the Manics, Cerys from Catatonia, Gruff from the Super Furries..."

But Stereophonics are way beyond local heroes now. For all their London-bashing interviews and small-town origins, they have amassed quite a starry international fan club ove rhte past 18 months. Pete Townshend personally requested them as support for two Tommy shows at Earl's Court. Eric Clapton phoned up to get on their guest list in Hamburg. The Prodigy arranged for the trio to be moved up the bill at a Swiss festival and then allowed them stageside access during their own set: the rock'n'roll equivalent of an audience with the Pope.
Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, a personal 'Phonics fave, caught the band at the Viper Room in LA and invited them to a starlet-studded barbecue at David Niven's old Laurel Canyon mansion. And, erm, Mike Peters from The Alarm (Ask your mum - Ed) is also a fan. He asked them to play a benefit for the Anthony Hopkins-backed Save Snowdonia fund. They said yes.
Oh, and the trio are recording a version of Adam Ant's "Antmusic" with Robbie Williams for the soundtrack to the animated Disney film A Bug's Life. Yes, that Robbie Williams, the biggest star in Britain.
"A lot of people try and not like Robbie, but he's brilliant at what he does," gushes Kelly. "We've played a lot of festivals this year, and the only people that get a crowd like Robbie are people like Beck and Tony Bennett. I don't care what anybody says, nobody sings as loud as that."
All pretty earnest, great-rock mates stuff, of course. But you still wouldn't catch Stereophonics hanging out the Met Bar with Tamara Beckwith and Kevin Spacey, would you...?
"We've been out for dinner with Kevin Spacey," nods Kelly. "We got invited to St James' Palace because we'd had money off the Prince's Trust to buy equipment when we were kids, and about two months ago we were invited to play this thank-you thing. Joanna Lumley was there, Prince Naseem, Ben Elton, Ben Kingsley - and Kevin Spacey."
Spacey invited the band to see his acclaimed stage role in The Iceman Cometh. He put them on the guest list and took them out to an all-male dinner party afterwards. Did Kelly think it was a bit odd there were no women there?
"We were winding each other up about that, but it was cool. We went to watch the play, and we went out for dinner with him after. Then we went to the Met Bar with him..."
Urk! Hang on! Are these the London-bashing, fiercely anti-fashion Stereophonics speaking? Even your correspondent, evil agent of the "trendy" London media and something of a style icon to younger pub reporters at NME, has never set foot inside the sodding Met Bar.
"I didn't even know it was the Met Bar until we left, that was the funny thing," protests Kelly, feebly. "It was just part of his hotel where he was staying. But everybody in there was famous. The bass player from Ocean Colour Scene was in there, Tamara Beckwith was there. But nobody knew who we were, so we just left."

The idea of Stereophonics hanging out with Hollywood megastars is not as mad as it might initially sound. After all, Kelly was already a budding writer/director before chart success loomed. Having taken courses in filmmaking and scriptwriting, he even received BBC funding to try penning a screenplay.
Recently, while the band was in America, Kelly's parents received a phone call from HTV Wales about scripts the singer had submitted years before. After learning that the mystery author was away rocking the free world, the hapless caller enquired, "When will she be back?" Doh!
Kelly quotes Jimmy McGovern'S Hearts and Minds, Peter Flannery's Our Friends In The North, and John Sullivan's Only Fools And Horses as stronger influences on his songwriting than any rock lyricist. It certainly shows on 'Word Gets Around', which feels more like a short collection than the subjective monologues of most albums. If the band hadn't taken off, would Kelly be a full-time TV dramagist now?
"I dunno," he shrugs, "because I never finished anything I started. I had funding from the BBC but it may have turned into nothing. I could still be selling fruit and veg. I'd love to do it but there's a shitload of work involved, and what I was doing at the time I wouldn't want to do now. My ideas have changed. I've had offers for the same script but it's a bit naive for me now."

Film-making may eventually, in Jarvis Cocker's words, save Kelly from the trout farm. After all, Stereophonics have already made a few shorts on a Hi-8 camera borrowed from Kelly's HND course. Most were dialogue scenes pitched in different ways, standard film-school stuff.
"We did an advert for Yellow Pages as well," Kelly beams. "I filmed Stuart running through the house, carrying two shopping bags. He slings the bags in the air, goes to the bog and bangs on the door, but there's somebody inside reading the paper. He wants a shit and eventually gets in there, but there's no bog roll, so he runs around the house opening all the cupboards, finds something and runs to the bog. Then you see his face all relieved, pan down and there's the Yellow Pages all ripped up. "It's not just there for the silly things in life like a leaking drain and all that, you can wipe your arse on it!"" Subtle, highbrow stuff then? "Fucking brilliant it was, as well! But they wouldn't use it!" Shame. Can't think why not.

Just in case it's not clear by now, Stereophonics are shamelessly, heroically, magnificently uncool. At least, they are by the standards of most metropolitan scene-makers. Their conversation is peppered with irony-free references to Neil Sedaka and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They quote terminally naff bands like The Tragically Hip as key influences and recently formed a mutual fan club with the veteran Canadians.
"The guy is totally mesmerising!" gushes Stuart. "He does something onstage which makes you laugh, cry, shit and piss all at the same time."Which is obviously a good thing. Especially if you have the Yellow Pages handy. Stereophonics also idolise AC/DC. When Kelly met Angus Young at a recent metal awards bash, he was struck speechless. Which might explain why forthcoming Stereos single, "The Bartender And The Thief", out next month, is their most heavy metal tune yet.

"It rocks, doesn't it?" smiles Kelly, who bows to nobody in his love of Scorpions, Deep Purple and Whitesnake." In Wales, you just play all the old stuff. You become fashionable when you have to, when you go to college or whatever, but you've always got that background. That's why the Welsh bands are a lot more single-minded and original, in some ways, than bands based in London."
Stuart explains that the trio's music taste was shaped more by pub jukeboxes and working men's clubs than transient, city-based scenes.
"It was always our brothers' and sisters' record collection," he nods. "Basically you don't put nothing on except AC/DC, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. If you came back with an Adam And The Ants record you'd probably get beaten up."
This same tyranny of taste, it seems, is responsible for Stereophonics having almost no interest in dance music. Remixes were attempted on early singles, but never released. The trio remain rock to the core.

"We've done a few side projects though," nods Kelly. "I did a dance song with the band called Manchild who just signed to One Little Indian. Funnily enough, it was an AC/DC sample they wanted me to play because I was cheaper than Angus Young."
But you're all in your mid-to-late-20s. Surely rave culture reached Cwmaman? "Oh yeah. But if our brothers heard us playing that they'd smack our heads against the wall. We had to listen to Led Zeppelin until our ears bled. That's what the Valleys are like."
"You walk into the pub in the Valleys and you'll only find music from the '60s, '70s and the '90s on the jukebox," insists Richard. "Nothing from the '80s."
Stereophonics have no qualms about an entire decade being written out of rock history with Orwellian zeal.Surely they can't dismiss everything from the '80s. What about the Smiths? Blank faces. "No, I didn't get that one bit," scowls Stuart. "To be honest, I thought The Housemartins were a million times better than The Smiths."
"That's the difference with Welsh bands," adds Kelly. "They didn't feel like they had to listen to all that shit that everyone in London was listening to." This is bollocks, of course. The Smiths were a huge phenomenon, not a London media invention.
"But that argument works both ways," Kelly counters. "A lot of people who thought The Smiths were important have never listend to Neil Young or Bob Dylan records. Bob Dylan or Neil Young play a lot bigger places than Smiths ever did."
Stereophonics are always being lazily likened to their former touring partners, the Manic Street Preachers.
"That's just because we're a three-piece from Wales," sighs Kelly. "We sound a million miles away." It's true, 'Word Gets Around' sounds nothing like the Manics. It sounds like Buffalo Tom at their most gravelly and achingly tender.
"They were big a influence, early on," nods Kelly. "Just because they were a three-piece writing simple songs. But we like crossing over with our stuff, we like Pearl Jam and Brad (one-off project involving Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard - Rock Ed) but we like The Kinks as well. I think the energy of American bands is much better than the energy of British bands. All the best bands I've seen have been American, to be honest."
Which is perhaps the Stereos' secret weapon. Dismiss them as provincial stragglers if you want, but they will have the last laugh. Because they don't sound Welsh, and certainly not Britpop - they sound international. And this is no accident. When they signed to Richard Branson's V2 label in late 9 1996, the trio weren't dreaming of Camden clubland glory. They were already thinking globally.
"We did so much international work in the first year-and-the-half," Kelly recalls. "We always wanted to be an international band, not just a British band. The reason we signed to V2 is we knew they could do a good international job. As soon as we were signed we did a Scandinavian tour, a German tour, a French tour - France is probably our biggest market outside Britain. We went to America a month after the album came out last August. We went to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland. When you do that, you realise that music does work there."

Stereophonics have built their career in the traditional tortoise-and-hare way, with constant gigging. Fanbase always took priority over front covers. Almost before they were known over here, they were slogging around the US promo circuit which most bands despise.
"You take it with a pinch of salt," nods Kelly. "You go in there, put your Dave Lee Roth act on, pretend you're all smiles, then when you leave you can just laugh at them. Outside the major cities they're so dependent on radio, so there's a certain amount of arse-kissing you've got to do."
Kelly talks with determination about territories and market penetration. Which might sound cynical, but big rock stars have always been businessmen as much as performers. The day after our interview, Stereophonics begin their biggest French tour yet. They then jet to Thailand to play a TV show seen by five million people, followed by a Japanese mini-tour. Gruelling, perhaps, but this is how bands like U2 and REM built their success. The big prize is there for the taking, and Kelly Jones wants it bad.
So what makes Kelly run? Not class resentment or regional bitterness, he says, there are no chips on these young shoulders. Nor an appetite for chemical destruction - these boys are too smart and down-to-earth for that mouldy old rock'n'roll myth. In fact, their only serious brush with on-the-road excess so far occured after the 1997 Reading festival, when 18 months of touring finally caught up with Stuart.

"I came offstage and just went home and collapsed," he says. "I was taken into hospital, put into this room on my own for five days, having all these tests run on me. It ended up I had glandular fever and mild pneumonia. The doctor said it was through drinking, but I don't believe a word of it. I think it was something I ate. Hurgh hurgh!
"No, it was because where we come from you don't get something for nothing. Then all of a sudden we signed a record deal, going back and forward to London, you walk into a gig and open the fridge and there's 24 cans of lager and a bottle of wine. You say, 'How much is this then?' And they say 'It's yours. boys, it's free! That's what it was like at first: every night was a Saturday night! It was like kids being on permanent holiday!"
Kelly frowns. "Until you work out that you pay for your own rider." Ever the pragmatist, always counting the pennies...
"I think where that comes from is we've all been brought up with such a working-class ethic that we're a little bit afraid of losing it and going back to that," Kelly muses. "Just because you've been signed doesn't mean you're anything special, because you're not. You've still got to achieve what you want, and all the shit comes after. It's like being a footballer, if you fuck up when you're young you're not gonna get another chance."
How has your working-class background shaped what you do? "It just gives you a respect for money. You don't take anything for granted, you respect the people around you. I don't think you could find anybody in this industry that we've treated badly. We're genuine, to-the-point-people. That's the only way you can be in the industry, when so many people say they love you and then walk away call you a pile of shite."

Which is almost certainly the root of the image problem that Stereophonics have with the largely London-based, mostly middle-class music press. If we're honest, we generally prefer our working-class rock stars to be flashy, mouthy and self-destructive - see Oasis - or glamorous, intellectual and alienated - like the Manics.
But Kelly, Stuart and Richard lead a much more conventional working-class existence. They live around the corner from each other, know every person in their street and often leave their doors unlocked when they go away for weekends. They love Cwmaman and don't want to leave. Hardly sensational, but true all the same.
"I think 99 per cent of people who live in our village are totally happy," nods Stuart. "It is a beautiful place to live. Some people are on the dole, granted, but when you go out nobody ever moans about anything. That's why I love going back there and that's why I live there, because it is so down-to-earth."
AAAARGH! For fuck's sake, give us some working-class rage and small-town bitterness. Make it up if you have to!
"I've never met anyone who wants to leave," continues Kelly regardless. "When we started doing interviews, everybody thought we wanted to escape because we didn't like where we come from. That's completely not the case. Opportunities are crap, I've got to be honest, there's not a lot there. But for peace in mind, knowing you're safe in your house, having a good time, and a close community environment where everybody talks to you, it's brilliant."

Recently, a middle-aged stranger followed Kelly into a local pub toilet to inform him that his band are "a pile of fucking shit". But this isolated case aside, the singer insists that "nobody's ever been butter towards us for doing something, and I think that's because we haven't changed."
Stuart adds that, "I've sat in our local club with mates of mine and they've told me, hand on heart, that they think it's brilliant what we do but they'd never swap with us."
The traditional urge to flee to London, or even Cardiff, induces much mirth in all three Stereos.
"Oh you never want to move away from God's little green acre!" booms Stuart. "We never wanted to get out of Cwmaman."
Stereophonics want to rock the world from the comfort of their own village. An impossible ambition? Maybe, but Kevin Spacey, Robbie Williams, Pete Townshed and 300,000 album buyers might disagree. So Kelly watch the stars. Because that's where you're heading.