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