Welsh rockers Stereophonics were once on the brink of becoming one of the great stadium bands. Back in 2002, they headlined Glastonbury after finding fame off the back of two superb early albums. They’d produced a succession of lightly snarling radio hits, lyrically smart and evocative, and took asides into subtle, touching love songs.
Things went off the rails slightly over the years. Former drummer Stuart Cable died. Albums slipped from platinum to gold, and the venues got that little bit smaller as guitar music fell out of fashion. Sticking to their distinctive vocal style and observational songwriting, however, the band maintained a passionate hardcore of fans, and proved their longevity: their still filling fields, if not quite the ones they were nearly two decades ago.
Latest single ‘Chaos From The Top Down’, is an example of their class. Oddly reminiscent of memorable early single ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, it references a knife attack that took place at the end of lead man Kelly Jones’ street, and is crammed with lightly abstract points and intelligent lyrics.
“For Kelly, it’s personal because of where it happened,” Jones’ brother Rich, guitarist, explains of the single. “It’s a lack of policing, the politics behind the funding, stuff like that. We always write about what goes on around us, our experiences. I think a lot of our work is along the same lines. It’s not overly political, but there’s always something going on that leads back to politics and politicians.”
“For me, I’ve been listening to Kelly’s lyrics for 25 years, and obviously being brothers we come from very similar backgrounds. He just writes what he believes in, and I think that’s always stood to us.”
It’s certainly served the band, and comes with its own minor issues, such is the depth of their catalogue today. “We’re getting to the point where it’s very difficult to pick setlists,” Jones laughs. “There are some must have songs, some new songs. We have this kind of greatest hits skeleton that we work from, and a few songs that we’ll nearly always play. Tracks like ‘Dakota’ and ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’.”
“Every time we do the shows, though, we try to give something different, something else, some new ideas. After ten albums, sometimes it is what it is. I’d guess eight out of ten songs start out from Kelly’s acoustic, so they can usually be stripped back to that.”
Things have expanded now, too, with a fifth touring member, and Stereophonics now firmly a four-piece even in a recording setting, as opposed to the original trio. “Things are very professional now, and a lot of people are involved. We have really good relationships, and we’re at the point where nobody takes it personally if their ideas aren’t used. The songs get a life of their own when we tour,” Jones explains. “Sometimes we change them quite a bit, changing to piano or guitar, and the way they’re performed. I can’t really imagine a time when we won’t be doing this”
The latest in a long line of albums is just around the corner, and some of the tracks are getting an airing at shows, as Stereophonics indulge their usual summer touring schedule. “It has a couple of days of processing left,” Jones says. “It’ll be over to the label then. For us, it’s about showing a different side musically. We had a break in September and October of last year, and a lot of this stuff just started popping out.”
“We’ve been doing this since I was 16 or 17 and we’ve always religious produced and released music. Even in our downtime we play at home, record things and wait until we’re all together. It’s quite natural. We still love it all, we’re still great friends. And it’s still about songs. Great collections of songs.”
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.