Hard to believe it's so long since the Stereophonics first arrived on the scene - and they’re still doing the business. Last year they released their highly acclaimed eighth studio album Graffiti on the Train on their new label - Stylus.
This year will mark the third year at their very own self-built studio in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. “It’s our little pad,” says Richard Jones, one of the group’s founders and bassist since they started back in 1992. “We’ve turned the two lower floors into a recording space. It keeps the pressure off us. Usually, the clocks are ticking when you’re with the big labels. Now, we can work on something and come back to it if we don’t feel it the first time. We’re working at our own pace now,” he adds cheerfully.
There’s something very friendly about Richard. It’s been 15 years since I last had a chance to speak to the shy Welshman. The last time I saw him was backstage at a charity gig to raise money to save Mount Snowdon in 1998. “It was a great day. Mike Peters asked us to play. I’m a big fan of The Alarm – it’s hard not to like other bands from Wales!” Undoubtedly, 1998 was a vintage year for Welsh music and Richard was in his element as he reminisced about that special time. “It was very exciting, there were so many names flying the flag for Wales: Catatonia, The Furries, The Manics of course and the 60ft Dolls too. “It’s great that we’re still recording music. It would be ace if that type of thing happened again.”
I could have talked to Richard about the 90s all day but time was pressing so I asked about their last big gig in Cardiff. “We always love playing Cardiff. It’s always a mad night whenever we play anywhere in Wales.”
And, what’s the usual set these days? “Well, we play all the new stuff and also play the old favourites to keep everyone happy.” And as far as playing live goes - is there one specific time or a special gig that he remembers more than any other? “That’s a difficult one,” He pauses for a few seconds. “Well, we’ve played massive ones like Glastonbury and Live8. But, during the big gigs, it’s like I’m zoning out and I can’t enjoy myself as much as I should. Maybe the best ones for me have been the Fuji Rock events in Japan… The ones where I’ve got to play with some of my favourite artists like Neil Young, U2 and the Chillies.”
All these music “heroes” were an influence on the last album. “There’s so many influences. The main influence behind the last album was the film that Kelly’s been writing.” Richard is referring to a script that the Stereophonics’ lead singer Kelly Jones has been writing after recently completing the scriptwriting course at college. It’s likely the film will also be called Graffiti on the Train. But will it get made? “There’s a few producers that have shown interest,” says Richard. “It’s an exciting story that tells of two friends from Wales that go on a life-changing journey after losing a friend in an accident.”
So is he a film buff himself? “I like all sorts. I’ve got a favourite. My favourite ever is an old film with Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine called Emperor of the North. It’s a story about a security guard in the 1930s who’s trying to protect a train from all the hobos that are trying to catch a free ride. There’s something really sweet and memorable about it.”
With Kelly realising a dream with writing a film, does Richard have any harboured ambitions? “I’m living the dream with the band, the only thing I ever dreamed about was to be in a band,” and he is smiling. “I loved listening to music when I was growing up, it’s always been about music. And as I watched the groups on the telly playing live, I always thought – that would be great; entertaining people and getting paid for it!”
Over the years, Richard’s responsibility with the group has grown... the band not only have their own label but also an impressive back catalogue of hits to preserve. “We need to protect the integrity of our music, so the last thing we’re going to do is sell one of our songs so it can be played on a crappy old advert or something that we just don’t agree with. We need to be careful with things like that,” he says.
Richard has come a long way. I wonder what kind of life he had growing up in the sleepy village of Cwmaman. It must have been very different. “I grew up in a big family. I’m one of six. I’ve got a big brother - I guess I learnt all my bad habits from him. The village was a quaint – idyllic place, there were plenty of places to go out and play,” he recalls. “We’d go to the mountains, build dens and make dams from old bricks and stones. We’d hang ropes from trees to make swings. We’d always find some kind of way of entertaining ourselves and getting into trouble at the same time,” he adds.
So, who has he learnt the most from on the journey from little Welsh village to rock stardom? “Ourselves. I learn most of life’s lessons from the other guys in the band. And as far as other people in the business go, I’d have to say Tom Jones. I’d always listen to Tom’s advice. Tom’s a cool guy, he doesn’t worry about a thing in the world, he’s just great!”
As I say farewell to Richard he has some words of advice for me: “Take care, take one day at a time and make the most out of life – enjoy the ride!”
Graffiti on the Train is out now. Look out for a new Stereophonics album later this year
For more details, check out: www.stereophonics.com