Kelly Jones has decided to watch the rugby this afternoon, and this interview isn’t getting in the way of things. Or at least, that’s the sense I get as he thanks Nat, his personal assistant, for making us both black coffee, and waves me over to the sofa without taking his eyes off the game. He won't be reading this, either: Jones hasn't read an interview he's done since the early 2000s. The coffees come in Stereophonics mugs and are placed on still shrink-wrapped CD copies of their 1997 debut album Word Gets Around.
“Alright buddy? Wait there, I’ll turn it down a bit,'' Jones says, stretching forward for his MacBook from the vintage suede sofa in his Sheperd’s Bush studio, which he bought for the band in 2012. He looks in good shape: the disciplined training from his promising childhood as a footballer and boxer hasn’t escaped him. Kelly is also a rare, well-groomed member of indie Britain’s glory days.
It may not be the glory days anymore, but Stereophonics’ new music, (which Jones is supposedly promoting, though hardly mentions) is very much a contemporary product. For Jones, the album is about “long-distance relationships. It’s me battling lifestyles, assessing whether the lifestyle I've been living for 25 years is still appropriate or not. I’m at a transition point. I want to move forward and I have a lot of things I need to change to get there, that’s the album.”
Upon listening, it’s introspective and meditative. It sounds like Jones is doing what he wants. It was recorded in 11 days, very organically, using a lot of live and extended takes. “It felt cathartic,” he admits.
I'm like a duck. Under the surface, my feet are flapping like fuck
“Ultimately, I do music for myself now. I enjoy writing songs. Touring was getting on my fucking nerves to be honest. I was fed up of hotel rooms and wasting 16 hours-a-day waiting to do the show. I wrote this album for myself, I'm not concerned about what people think about the songs. Of course, now they’re out there they’ve become other people’s songs, and we have a responsibility to perform them.”
There have been changes. He still dresses the same, swears an average of 42 ‘fucks’ per hour (based off our time together) and maintains an accent that has barely stepped beyond the hills of south west Wales. However he’s grown tired of touring, he’s had his lows, and he’s smashed up a mate’s car. Oh, and I suppose he is a father of three.
Instead of the normal ramble about the intricacies of a new album and its process, which, let’s face it, nobody cares about, we just watched the rugby and had a chat about where Jones has been, where he’s at and where he’s heading. It seems more ‘him’. Plus, Wales won, so he was in good spirits…
Why do you bother writing songs any more? Surely you can just retire?
Well, there's a song at the end of the record called 'Restless Mind', which summarises it well: I'm not very good when I'm still. I need to be doing something, whether it's music or a film or screenplay [he was in film school for five years], it keeps me settled. It might be because I've always done that. I've been in a band since I was 12, you know. So when I’m static, when there's no fucking shelves to put up... I just go fucking mad to be honest. I can't chill out to fucking daytime telly. I come from a working-class family and it's always been fucking: go go go.
I'm like a duck. I appear calm, but under the surface, my feet are flapping like fuck.
Which of the songs are you most proud of? I know you have a greatest hits, but if you had to make a personal one, what would be on there?
Local Boy in the Photograph is the main one. It's the first single, sure, but also it's about this kid who came up to me when I was working on the market and asked me what time the trains were running at. I used to play football with him, and I told him. He jumped in front of the train. So I wrote a celebration of his life. I remember writing that song on my brother's bedroom floor, I was 18 or 19. It didn't get released until I was 21, I never imagined people singing that on back to me in a field or meeting his family, and them taking it so well. That was powerful.
Maybe Tomorrow also meant a lot to me. That was me grieving after leaving Wales, and a relationship, and moving to London – not realising how lost I felt. Dakota was another one.
There's a lot of songs that I've felt as very personal moments but time moves on and they become fucking huge moments for other people. It's quite mad really. I try not to think about it like that, it's too much. It's a blessing and a curse to have been able to write about such universal emotions.
What are the wildest memories from the last 25 years?
Fuck, there’s a few.
There’s five-a-side-football with David Bowie as the coach. We were touring with Bowie on his last tour across America, the Reality album (2003), and on that album he didn't have any alter-egos, so he was just walking around being Bowie. The five-a-side came about because two years before we'd toured America with U2, and we got to know the crew, and we had a football match against them. A lot of that crew were also on the Bowie tour, so when we got there we had a rematch. We were in the middle of somewhere weird like Hershey, I remember having a massive bar of Hershey given to me by the Mayor. Bowie decided not to play, but he stood on the sidelines heckling me, shouting at our team, telling us what to do.
[There was also the time when Stuart Cable ate Keith Richards' Shepherd's Pie...]
We were touring with the Rolling Stones, and Keith’s dressing room was where everyone hung out. Basically, you can do whatever you fucking want in Keith Richards' dressing room. There’s a professional snooker table, all the drink etc you can imagine, and anything goes. He also has a Shepherd's Pie on the rider, and anyone can have some pie – so long as Keith gets to bust the crust on it. So I went to get Stuart, who loved beer and snooker: He came barging in and bust the crust on the pie, so we had to send the pie back and get a new one made before Keith saw it. Keith didn’t find out, but he did tell me a story about where in Wales the dragons live.
Most of the carnage happened on the first two albums, because nobody knows who you are. You're running around shitty hotels and sharing rooms. It was just like a rugby tour. We had our mates as crew, and just got pissed in a van, really. The gig got in the way of the fun.
Who has starstruck you?
We’ve met practically everyone, we’ve been really lucky. After we got signed in 1996, our first gig was with The Who on their Quadrophenia tour; We then did the stadium tour with the Rolling Stones; That was then followed by the Californication tour with Red Hot Chilli Peppers; and then we were close with Oasis, too. Even fucking Bob Dylan was listening to us and telling us he liked the music. Personally though, the most starstruck I’ve been was when AC/DC’s Brian Johnson took me out for a Sunday Roast and we got pissed. That was surreal. They’ve always been my favourite band.
What's the most embarrassing thing you've done?
Oh, I've done plenty of embarrassing things, mate. I had a bad one in Japan a few years ago. We were out all night and got back in as they were serving breakfast, I fell over a table and twisted my ankle. Then we fell asleep but had to catch a plane to Singapore. I remember the tour manager helping us pack our shit, and then I remember being pushed through the airport on a trolley. On the plane, I took my boot off and my leg was black and blue. I then had loads of air hostesses handing me buckets of ice throughout the flight to make sure I didn't have a blood clot on their flight.
I was there thinking: this shit's gotta stop man. And then I couldn't walk during the gig. It wasn't a major disaster but it was one of those occurrences that made me question what the fuck I was thinking.
I also drove a BMX around my house at a party once, wooden floors are very slippery and the bike ended up on top of me.
What was a notable low point for you?
There are a few major flags in the sand. Leaving home to live in London was major. I had ended a long-term relationship and changed environment very quickly, so I didn't know what was going on, and I had no friends there. That was in 2000, just before Just Enough Education to Perform came out, so the band couldn't be bigger – we were on the front of every magazine, headlining Glastonbury. But I was living in a flat and didn't know what I was doing. So that was a low point, I think we cancelled the American tour on that album, as a result, actually.
When Stuart died [the drummer Stuart Cable died in 2010], that was fucking tragic. But you just have to keep climbing over the obstacles. I thought that one day I'd end up with a clear surface in front of me, but I'm not accepting that won't ever be the case. It takes a long time to understand that life is the obstacles, as opposed to the obstacles blocking out life.
There’s also the time I caught my mate in bed with my ex girlfriend… Obviously at the time that was fucking intense, but when you turn it into a story and people are laughing, but there's a release.
The encounter with his ex and (presumably ex) friend also spawned solo track Rainbows and Pots of Gold. The track details the story of Jones getting suspicious about the two after a few too many beers, driving to his friend’s house while drunk (don’t ever do this) smashing the living room window (or this), marching upstairs and catching his friend sleeping with his ex, and then proceeding to smash up his car until the police came (this isn't great either).
Jones’s solo work also prompted a solo tour. The tour is mentioned plenty through our conversation. It came as a signalling point: a glimpse into an idealised version of the music world Jones has inhabited since the age of 12. It was touring, yes, but the agenda and distractions were only his own. He speaks of it like the moment where a child leaves for university, and comes back as an adult.
These days, he is gravitating toward a tamer life, unwinding with the family; going on runs, taking the girls to school in the Porsche Cayenne; and cooking food perhaps with a glass of wine or two.
His house is described as shabby-chic by his wife. There are a lot of paintings by Steve Goddard (who did the album cover for Graffiti On The Train), along with a variety of artworks and trinkets Jones collected while travelling, such as a painting he saw on the wall in his hotel room in Glasgow on the solo tour. Of course, the mandatory piles of books and vinyl are also everywhere.
Seeing as all is a bit tamer, how do you think you’ll be able to find inspiration?
Life does that for me. Just as I'm doing alright something will trip, excite or fuck me up. I've never understood the people who feel they have nothing to say after their second album. They can't be doing much with their life, can they? If you're the same person at 20 as you are at 40, you've fucking wasted 20 years of your life. You have to grow and make mistakes. So I write about all of that, really.”
What's the most sentimental thing you own?
I'm sentimental about the shit the kids have given me. You know, the paintings and drawings and all that kinda shit. I carry that crap around with me all the time... Not that it's crap, but you know…
My eldest daughter actually did the artwork for the new album. She was bored at the end of a chemistry exam so she did a drawing, and I really liked it. I gave it to the record company to see if they liked it (I didn't tell them who did it) and they liked it, so we used it. I guess that ties where I’m at right now together nicely.
It certainly does.
For more info, see stereophonics.com