Stereophonics: Bringing It All Back Home

Kelly Jones of Stereophonics gets reflective on the personal Scream Above The Sounds

Kelly Jones still remembers exactly where he was on the March day when he got the stunning news. “I was just sitting at a piano in the studio when a friend texted me, saying, ‘Nice namecheck in The Guardian today. From Dylan!’ And I was like, ‘Fuck—this message has clearly been sent to the wrong person,” says the frontman for Welsh rockers Stereophonics, who grew up listening to Bob Dylan discs his older brothers would play around the family home in Cwmaman. But messages continued to flood his phone, confirming the report: The music legend was a fan of the band, and even when someone finally sent Jones proof via a link, he was afraid to forward it to friends and family, just in case it was a misprint.

“And I still can’t believe it—it was amazing to get a mention from the Man, just fucking unbelievable,” says the raspy-throated, 43-year-old singer, whose band—two decades after its 1997 Word Gets Around debut—had already found vindication in opening for U2 on its Elevation Tour, as well as Bruce Springsteen in Holland. (“He was at the side of the stage, watching our set, and he said hi to us in the dressing room and said he was really into the band,” Jones purrs.) Stereophonics were also reinvigorated through their last two efforts, 2013’s Graffiti On The Train and 2015’s Keep The Village Alive, albums that Jones wrote and self-released just to please himself that, ironically, placed high in the U.K. pop charts. He hopes the third record in the “indie” trilogy, the reflective new Scream Above The Sounds (Parlophone), will follow suit.

“I feel really blessed by the people who’ve followed us from Day One, as well as the new kids, who are 16, 17, and just discovering us,” he says.

Co-produced by Jones and longtime collaborator Jim Lowe, Scream starts on the Dylan-rustic “Caught By The Wind,” a cautionary tale that this father of three daughters penned after France’s Bataclan terrorist attack. “It starts off with some anxiety, talking about the wolves in the woods,” says Jones. “But then it goes into this really uplifting chorus—help yourself to what you want, celebrate everything—and I was talking about images from my youth, and how I’m not going to let these people take my innocence away from me, and not from my children, either. I wanted to write something very celebratory about the tiny things in life that we should be honoring sometimes.”

Given the newfound lyrical freedom he was feeling, post-Graffiti, Jones held nothing back, elaborating on his formative years on acoustic study “Boy On A Bike,” the chugging “Taken A Tumble” and “Before Anyone Knew Our Name,” a warm remembrance of his group’s early years and original drummer Stuart Cable, who passed away in 2010. Jones purposely closed the set with reverb-echoey anthem “Elevators,” an old number he’d been sitting on for a few years that’s reminiscent of another one of his heroes: the late Tom Petty. “It’s a very, very simple song, very raw and live in a room, recorded at 3 a.m.,” he says. “And I’ve been such a fan of Petty for such a long time, because I recognize a similarity in what he does and what I’ve always wanted to do.”

But Jones—and his craft—have matured in tandem. When Stereophonics first arrived on the U.K. scene, Britpop was in full Blur-vs.-Oasis swing, and a scrappy, American-influenced rock outfit from Wales was a peculiarity, to say the least. And once the band signed to the hip V2 imprint, Jones—a former boxer—developed quite a chip on his shoulder. “Being signed very young and becoming very successful in the public eye, there’s a period of time where you become a bit confused, and you’re not quite yourself,” he says. “But I feel more comfortable now in my own skin than I ever have, and I feel lucky to have proven myself, and I’ve always been true to the words I’ve written in my songs.”

And Jones is happy to have gotten a Dylan nod. “Because all I ever wanted to leave behind is a catalog of music that stands the test of time,” he says. “And Word Gets Around is now 20 years old, and people still want to hear those songs. And that gives me even more confidence.”

—Tom Lanham

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Water Tower” (And Punk-Rock Guilt)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: Punk, when it happened in the U.K. in 1976, had a year zero effect on us music fans. Suddenly, everything had to be on one side or the other. What this meant is that everyone would re-align their pre-year-zero tastes to fit better with what punk was meant to mean. So, as a massive Stooges fan, I was in the clear, but my love for the Grateful Dead had to be quietly put on hold.

I didn’t have a eureka moment seeing the Sex Pistols on cold Wednesday night at the Manor in Ipswich. I didn’t go. I almost went, but without my pal who went with me a few weeks previously to see the Pink Fairies, to hitch 20 miles to on a wet Wednesday at 16 was too much. The moment when I truly discovered the beauty of primal rock ‘n’ roll was on a summer’s evening a year or so earlier: when the Frankie Miller Band cancelled their show at Essex University and up-and-coming pub rockers the Count Bishops stepped in. And so it was that me and my friends Paul and Russell and Dave were the only four people up and dancing in front of the stage, while the rest of the seated and static crowd sat and stared.

This rather English take on rocking rhythm and blues (say hello to the 101ers and a host of pub-rock others) was what went deep into my musical psyche. I no longer even bothered to pretend I liked or cared about Tales From Topographic Oceans. A new world had opened up.

And so, I come back round with something like “Water Tower.” I still feel like the punk police will arrest me if they hear me playing the (very, very vaguely) Chuck Berry-like riff. But now that year-zero stuff is gone—yes, the world is better. In this way, anyway!

“Water Tower” pub-rock DNA:

Essential New Music: Saicobab’s “Sab Se Purani Bab”

Saicobab is the newest project of Yoshimio (a.k.a. Yoshimi P-We), who helms OOIOO and sings/drums in the Boredoms. Both Saicobab’s and Sab Se Purani Bab’s names are fanciful translations from Japanese and Hindi, respectively, of the words “ancient baby.” But even if you have a complete command of both languages, you’ll likely be stymied if you try to deal with this music on a purely linguistic level. As in OOIOO, Yoshimio performs exactingly structured songs, but she often seems to be flinging syllables into elaborate shapes for musical rather than lyrical effect. The combination of acoustic instrumentation (double bass, sitar, hand percussion) with her electronically treated voice moves this material farther from rock music than OOIOO was willing to stray, but anyone who appreciated that combo’s giddy exuberance and arcane tunefulness will find plenty to like on this record’s seven intricately arranged tracks.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Alex Lahey’s “I Love You Like A Brother”

This feisty young Melburnian released a crackerjack, all-killer, five-song EP in last year’s B-Grade University, and she has now repeated the feat with, specifically, the front end of her full-length debut. It’s not that Brother’s back side—which tends toward more elaborate, polished and generically poppy arrangements—is particularly bad or even all that much of a stylistic departure. But none of it’s particularly memorable, either, especially next to all the fizzy, bounding energy and gonzo shout-along hooks crammed into side one. Picking up the ball from B-Grade’s brash, bratty standout “I Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” the album’s defiantly pop-punky first half touches on distance-challenged romance (love-blitzed opener “Every Day’s The Weekend,” the touching, expansive “Backpack”), self-care fails, siblinghood (the unexpectedly literal, bashed-out title track) and her love/hate for the city of Perth—all with characteristic witty, everygal charm. And gauche as it may seem for someone signed to a prestige indie like Dead Oceans, Lahey’s just way more compelling (and fun) when channeling Avril Lavigne (with a splash of prime Lily Allen in the attitude department) than she is rehashing Best Coast.

—K. Ross Hoffman

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Echo Bloom’s “Song For Steven”

On March 9, Echo Bloom will release Green, the final entry in a trilogy that also includes 2013’s Blue and 2016’s Red. The idea for a three-part series of albums came to frontman/founder Kyle Evans after realizing his three favorite songs from Echo Bloom’s 2008 Jamboree debut were each in a different style. So he decided to do an entire LP in each track’s “genre”: folk (Blue), rock (Red) and pop (Green). Evans is a bit of a “roads scholar,” having lived in the South, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City (currently), as well as a time in Berlin, and these different locales have provided much inspiration into his songwriting. One of Green‘s standouts is “Song For Steven,” which we’re proud to premiere today on magnetmagazine.com.

Says Evans of both the origins of “Song For Steven” and Echo Bloom in general, “I lived in D.C. for a few years, in a commune in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. It was filled with these brilliant, highly ambitious people—very unlike the people I grew up with in small-town Florida. I remember talking with a housemate once about being interested in music, but not really knowing what to do with the interest. That kind of confusion didn’t really register with them: If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a painter, paint. They encouraged me to just do it, so I built a primitive recording studio in our basement and recorded my first album. Steven lived in that house, and we both had similar experiences. He was from a small town in Texas, and we both felt equal parts intimidated and empowered by the atmosphere of the house, and the city—and being 22 and trying to be adults. We grew up a lot in four years, and that’s what this song is about.” Well, you can’t argue with the results. Check it out now, and check Echo Bloom out live on the East Cost in March.

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Walker” (Miles And Miles And Miles)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: My friend and Ellis Island Sound collaborator David Sheppard (boots on the right) is always the person that I look to when programming a record. He’s particularly good, I think, at nailing that all-important first song, the one that announces the record, the calling card. This time, he came up with “Walker,” and it felt right. Already at shows, this feels like an old favourite, like it’s always been there. Recently, a radio DJ introduced it as though it was an old song of mine that I was re-playing, which I think kind of proves the point.

Also, walking is the best. I rode a bike around London for 20 years, and that was great, too. But the slower and even-better walking has taken over. Good for your feet and good for your brain.

“Walker” DNA: