Having founded punk legends The Jam, fronted The Style Council, and gone on to great success in the '90s with his solo career, Paul Weller has earned the right to be called a living legend. No one would blame him for scaling back on touring and releasing new records like so many of his musical contemporaries. But instead, Weller has been re-energized over the last decade, releasing some of the best and most experimental albums of his career at a faster-paced rate than ever (I especially recommend 22 Dreams or the compilation More Modern Classics for anyone curious). We were barely through digesting 2015's excellent Saturns Pattern when he returned this year with the equally-good A Kind Revolution, which answers the question, "what if Rod Stewart made adventurous and challenging music in 2017?"
Weller and his band will play Irving Plaza Monday and Tuesday nights this week (you can get tickets here). We talked to him about his love for NYC, his lack of nostalgia for his old records, how mortality has affected his songwriting, what he's listening to right now, and those lovable Gallagher brothers.
If I'm not mistaken, this is the first pretty extensive tour you've had in America in a little while, isn't it? Yeah, I guess so. It's 20 dates anyway, so yeah. Someone else said that today as well, that they can't remember us doing such a long tour. I can't remember. But I'm looking forward to it. We've always loved playing the States.
Do you get excited about touring America? Do you feel like you have something different to prove here than in England or Europe? Yeah, anywhere we are and any night we're always out to prove how good we are. Now I'm not saying we always do that, but that's our intention. Our ideal is for the audience to take away the feeling they've really seen something and felt something. That's always the intention. That's what you're looking to get to.
But we're always buzzed to play America, man. We love the audiences there. Even on the level of like our new keyboard player, Tom, who's a younger guy. It's his first time in the States, so he's like beside himself. Because we're fans, American music has been a massive influence on us. Yeah, you know that story, man.
Is there something about New York in particular that excites you? You have a very romantic song on your latest album, A Kind Revolution, titled "New York." Well, I mean it's buzzing everywhere, isn't it? I think it's a little like London, it's got a couple of strong similar traits anyway. And I think the energy and maybe the rudeness [Laughs.] is similar to London, but it's really the buzz. Yeah.
Don't forget that for a lot of English people, we're all built up—not as much these days, because of the internet and that—but when I was growing up, you saw America through cinema or TV. And, for me, also DC Comics or Marvel Comics, so you build up that image of what it's going to be like. I think, for most English people, it's really exciting.
And also, that's where I met my missus. That's were I met my wife.
How did you guys meet? There's this bar, right. And it's called Faces and Names. It's in Manhattan, right, a few doors up from the London Hotel. So going up towards [Central Park], but not quite as far.
She was living there, and she'd been there for a couple of years or whatever. But she's from England. And it was just the most random way we met anyway. And, it would be boring to even explain it for everyone, I know the cliché of it all, a bar in New York and all that stuff. But I guess it holds a special place in my heart as well for that.
I would imagine so. Have you spent much time here in the past? Yeah, loads of time man. I've been coming there for 40 years. It's gotten cleaner and safer. I've spent an awful lot of time there, if you put it all together. But not like a holiday. It's always kind of been with work. Oh, I came over to see a fight as well at Madison Square. It's a good city, you know that.
You've always been pretty consistent in releasing new music throughout your career, but it seems like in the last decade, you've gotten even more prolific and experimental. Is there something that's different about your songwriting now? Do you feel like you've found another gear? Mainly it's just the feeling of mortality. I don't know, maybe the older you get you think, "Fuck." You know, you look around and someone says, "25 years ago this record was out" or, "It's 40 years you've been making records." And you're just like, wow, it goes by so quickly. So I think there's an element of that: I've just got to do as much as I can. Time's running out. And time goes so quickly. I've got to keep writing and keep trying to produce work.
But then I think also in lots of ways the pressure is kind off really. I mean, apart from my own self-competitiveness, I'm not trying to compete with a market, you know. I'm not in competition with other artists. I suppose, because I've been doing it for such a long time, you kind of feel comfortable, this is what I do. And people either dig it, or not dig it. And that's fine. I think there's a pressure that gets taken off.
I think without that pressure, it becomes a lot more enjoyable and there's more room to experiment and go places, whatever comes to me really. Whatever I sort of think it could be or want to try. Who knows what will happen in the future, but I think I've kind of earned the right to be able to do that. And I feel that's quite a fortunate position really.
Unless I make really bad, shit records, man, then no one likes them. But, you know, if I can try and keep on making good, if not great, records, then great.
So how do you judge for yourself what is a good or successful record at this point? I think probably just the feedback from people really. That's mainly through playing the songs live. But also, if people are lucky enough to hear it on radio, or hear the records, people will come up to me in the street or social media and just say how much they like the record.
So, I don't get quite as hung up about what is selling or not. Because them days are gone. So I think it's more just the general reaction from people.
You've already played the latest album live around Europe. What has the reaction to it been like, and was it different than other recent albums of yours? I think the reaction's been great really. And I think it's always different when you play brand new stuff to people, because they're just checking it out. They might have only just heard the record, maybe they haven't heard it yet. So they're just checking it out, which is fair enough. But you can tell by people's reactions at the end, or if you hold people's attention, to see whether it works or not. I think it's been great really, and the songs have started to breath a bit more live as well, as we kind of loosen up with them a little bit. We've got a great set anyway, man. We've got like 40 songs that we rehearsed, which we don't play every night obviously. But we like to swap them around, changing the sets up, just trying to keep it interesting or at least a little bit different every night. We're all buzzing at the moment.
Around the time of 22 Dreams and Wake Up The Nation, you started to really lean into being a bit more experimental and a bit more distorted. But it seems to me that with the last two records, you've pulled back a bit toward a soul sound again. Something a little more organic and natural. Have you felt similarly? Yeah, I guess that's a fair statement. Definitely more back to soul. Not to give it any sort of title really. I guess I've been drawn back to that, it's a big influence anyway, an early, early influence. And a constant influence as well. So I'm definitely drawn back to that.
I don't know, I suppose it's like any record really, it gets largely dictated by what the songs suggest. But there were things even on A Kind Revolution, like "Woo Se Mama" which just started off as an instrumental thing that my co-producer Stan [Jan 'Stan' Kybert] brought in. And I tried two or three different versions of it, trying to get the song right. So it was stuff like that which started off from nothing much really. A kind of beat and a few riffs. And then we just built it up, built it up. But it's not intentionally experimental or unexperimental. It's just all music really.
You mentioned before people saying things like, "this is the 25th anniversary of this album" or whatever. Are you someone who is nostalgic at all about your own work and back catalogue? Do you ever listen to the old albums? No, not if I can help it. Occasionally, if we're trying to put a set together and I think maybe we want to play some old songs. But apart from that I don't really, if I'm honest.
Because I always have mixed feelings around listening to my old records, you know? And I haven't done that for a long time. But sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised at a track, or some tracks, or an album. But often I'm disappointed as well. So I just think, "Oh, fuck that." Just proceed with the future. Keep my head in what I'm doing now, you know. But I think it's always been like that for me, I was always just thinking about what I was working on at that time. And that was kind of all it was really. It was always about the next record or the next batch of songs. So I don't think I'm too different really.
Between the new albums, the soundtrack work that you're now doing, the touring that you do regularly, your clothing line, and your family—congratulations on having your eighth child this summer—you seem very busy. What's your secret to time management?[Laughs.] I wish I had some secret to tell you, but I don't know, man. It's plate spinning, innit? It's just trying to keep everyone happy, as much as I can, which is fucking difficult at times. But as much as I possibly can. And then, in my spare time, trying to find a bit of time to do some writing or do some actual work. But I've got used to doing it like this over the years. I've some had some experience at it. I'm at the age where I can just about fit it all in, I reckon.
Do you think of yourself as a workaholic? No, not at all. I love it when I'm working, I love it. I love what I do. I really love being in the studio, making music. And I also love playing live. And when I'm not doing those things, when I'm just at home. I'm equally loving that as well, and I don't miss it. Though maybe after a few months I start to miss it. I miss just playing, not anything else. Even just to have a jam with the band. So I physically miss playing after a while. But I'm equally happy to be at home as well, man. There's enough going on here as it is.
A lot of your contemporaries don't seem very aware or interested in newer music, but you do. What are some of your favorite new groups and albums that you've heard recently? I like Savoy Motels, I really like their last record. They're from America, but I don't know where, maybe East Coast. I like Foxygen's record, I thought it was a really brave record, with some really beautiful arrangements and that sound. Hmm, who else now man? There's been loads of good records out this year, actually. I like this singer called Georgia Smith. She's got an EP out recently. She's a really good sort of soul singer.
And then this other young guy called Samm Henshaw, another English boy, I think East Londoner. But he's great, really great voice. He's had a couple of EP's out and I think he's working on an album. And then, I like that track, "Because I'm Me," by The Avalanches.
That record is fantastic. I'm so happy they're back. Yeah, they're Canadian right?
They're Australian! Australian, are they? That's interesting. Well, I didn't know that. Have you heard this record by Peppe Citarella, called "Organ Ride"? I don't know anything else about it. I just heard it on Pirate Radio a few months ago. That's really wicked. Sound like a sort of House-y, Latin groove thing. Really wicked. Man, there's fucking loads of stuff out there, fortunately. Oh yeah, Benjamin Booker. He's done a record, a wicked track with Mavis Staples called "Witness." That's what it's called. That's a really good tune.
And I like some of the songs from Kendrick Lamar's new album as well. You've got some really interesting music going on.
I was curious: I know Noel Gallagher is an old friend of yours, but Liam Gallagher said recently that you and Noel met to discuss breaking up Oasis. What do you make of their thing, where they snipe at each other in the press?[Laughs.] I don't know man. It's like a sort of comedy duo, isn't it? It's like a comedy duo, but with no straight man.
Did Noel talk to you about that? Obviously not, man, of course not. Absolutely not. I mean, he's not the sort of person that would ever do that. And I wouldn't fucking want to be the person to have to give him advice anyway. But, they're both, how should I put this...sort of liberal with the truth at times, bless them.