Keeping up with the Joneses

The Stereophonics. Photo: PA Photo/Hans-Peter van Velthoven.
The Stereophonics. Photo: PA Photo/Hans-Peter van Velthoven.

There couldn’t be a more fitting title for Stereophonics’ new album.

It’s called Keep The Village Alive, a nod to a saying frontman Kelly Jones and bass player Richard Jones (they’re not related) used to hear while growing up, in the small Welsh mining town of Cwmaman.

“We scavenged in the gravel to find this title,” says Kelly. “It was a phrase I heard when I was a kid which kind of means, you know, ‘Keep the spirit up, work hard, play hard’.

“I guess a lot of the smaller towns across the world have been in a little trouble. The work is being moved away, the pubs are being closed down, the communities are changing, so I guess it’s a nod to those people.”

Away from that small tribute, keeping the spirit up, working hard and playing hard is essentially what Stereophonics have been doing since they formed, way back in 1992.

After becoming the first band to sign to Richard Branson’s new V2 label in 1996, the trio - Jones, Jones and their other best friend, the late Stuart Cable - became the most talked-about in the country, cutting through the peak of Britpop with their short, sharp bar room rock’n’roll, topped off with Jones’ unique way with a story.

A promising scriptwriter, he’d been in talks with the BBC to become a writer when Stereophonics took off, but instead channelled his knack for spinning a yarn into songs inspired by his home town.

Since then, there have been seven more albums, a greatest hits, an unexpected number one single (Dakota in 2005) and countless gargantuan world tours, not to mention collaborations with their heroes, line-up changes and everything else you might associate with being one of Britain’s biggest bands.

“We’ve been around long enough to get past all that,” says Jones, 41. “We’ve been up, we’ve been down, and up and down again. The band’s brand, if you want to use that horrible word, is established, and we do what we do.

“We know that not everyone is going to follow the band with every record, they come in and out, they’ve bought one, two or three records of ours or whatever, there are people who heard our new single last week and are now fans, and there are people there since the beginning.

“After 20 years of doing it, there’s no complacency, but we’re more familiar with all of that being out of our control.”

To go back to Jones’ up-and-down description, it could be said Stereophonics are up at the moment.

Graffiti On The Train, their last album, went platinum in the UK, certifying sales of 300,000. In an era when fewer artists are selling the biggest slices of the pie - with sales behemoths like Taylor Swift shifting millions around the world, while everyone else makes up what’s left - Jones acknowledges that’s some achievement.

That record saw him return to the classic storytelling of the band’s first two albums, with a blend of characters, real-life events and imagined storylines making their way into the songs. The sales were deserved, and it seems to have rejuvenated Stereophonics, after the somewhat lacklustre Pull The Pin in 2007 and Keep Calm And Carry On two years later.

Many of the songs on the forthcoming Keep The Village Alive were written and recorded around the same time as its predecessor, but either not finished or not deemed appropriate for that album.

Jones likens his approach to choosing which songs go where to that of a football manager, picking the best players for a certain match, rather than being forced to put out his only 11.

“It’s a very nice way to work, and it means we don’t spend six months making an album, we just record a bank of songs and I’m always working. I prefer that.”

Work is largely done in their West London studio or, when they all need to play together, at ICT studios in Brussels, where they’ve decamped to on many occasions.

“It’s a few hours on the Eurostar, but it’s isolated so it feels a million miles away. And we’re taken care of so we don’t need to leave the studio to eat and drink. It’s just to work. I think the furthest I’ve strayed is to one of the cafes across the road for a coffee.”

They recently headlined the second stage at V Festival, drawing a sizeable chunk of fans away from main headliner, Calvin Harris.

After the new album’s release on September 11, there are European dates, and a UK tour in December, followed by American and Australian tours. Before long, it’ll be time to celebrate 20 years since they signed their record contract, and in 2017, it’ll be 20 years since their debut, Word Gets Around, was released.

“It would be nice to mark it in some way, with a special tour or something,” says Jones. “Quite an achievement, I think, 20 years.”

Often when a band reaches a milestone, whether faux humility or not, they say they had no idea they would last so long.

Jones, however, says Stereophonics were so ambitious even before they started, that 20 years doesn’t surprise him that much.

“We rehearsed every Thursday and Sunday for 10 years before we signed, always writing new songs and trying new things, so this is actually what we wanted,” he says.

“We were never really interested in being media darlings, and getting signed was a necessary thing, but by no means did it stop there. What we wanted was acceptance and respect from our peers, which seems to have happened too.

“We never had a long list of ambitions to tick off the list as such,” he adds, “but looking back, I don’t think we’ve done so bad.”