Youre just about to release your 6th studio album My Way, which everyone involved is really excited about how do you feel about it?
I feel its my best work, yeah, I certainly put the hours in. I started writing it about this time last year, not constantly, but on and off. We worked right through the winter, started recording it in early spring and finished it on July 7th, so weve gone through all seasons.
Its quite a personal album-how was it writing about those sorts of themes?
The first song we wrote was Vanity Kills and Dave McCracken who co-wrote it, who I co-wrote Dolphins Were Monkeys with as well, he was signed by Roc Nation and was asked to write a song for Kanye West. Amanda Ghost wrote the melody, Dave wrote the music and they wanted me to write some lyrics and it had to be a sort of autobiographical song for Kanye. So we had a few pow wows and Amanda told me about him cos she knew him and Amanda text him while I was there and said Kanye, Ive got Ian Brown to do the lyrics and I was made up cos he text straight back and said Ian Brown-Stone Roses, hell yes and I was like, fantastic. So we wrote him a song but we were a little bit late with sending it in and Amanda had said its gotta be like a My Way for Kanye, so I took that and thought, right, Im gonna keep that for myself, I really like it. So that gave me the brief to make the album like My Way.
Me and Dave were also asked to write a song for Rihanna and after finishing it [Stellify], even though she could probably sing it better, I thought Im gonna keep this, so I kept it. That set us off then, we thought, right its gonna be a My Way album-Im gonna write about my life in music. Im gonna write about coming off the dole, going into music, what happened along the way-that was my brief.
Youve said youre anti-nostalgia so how does that work with singing about those themes?
Its not nostalgia to me, its my life and all things come around. Theres a point to everything and everything comes around in a circle eventually. By nostalgia I mean repackaging, remastering, reselling, squeezing a lemon. That made me think about the Roses, as Ive never addressed them in songs before.
Was that difficult for you, or did you feel like it was the right time?
It was easy-I feel great about the Roses, I dont feel bad about it.
Theres a couple of mentions of them throughout the album-did it just happen or did you think, right Im going to sing about them now?
Oh yeah, everythings deliberate.
Youve mentioned Dave McCracken who worked on most of the tracks with you, but was there anyone else you worked with, who you havent before?
I worked with a Japanese guy called Naoto and hes in a band called Orange Range, hes a superstar in Japan, hes sold like millions of records. Hes a friend of a friend of mine, Kazuki Kuraishi, whos designed the album sleeve. Hes a clothes designer and all the clothes youve seen me in over the last ten or eleven years, hes designed them. I met him in Tokyo and he sends me a box of clothes every six weeks. He introduced me when I was at his birthday party in Tokyo a few years ago to his friend Naoto who offered me his studio on the island of Okinawa. Then we met up again the next day and it turned out Naoto was a guitar player and he was alright. He said Id like to work with you so I said send us something. The guitar part of Always Remember Me is what he sent me. So we added some keyboards, added some drums, I did a melody and some lyrics, sent it over. He e-mailed me back and said we sat with tears in our eyes listening to it! So we both loved it and that was it.
Do you get many requests from people to work with them? You mentioned Kanye and Rihanna
If I like the music, then Ill do it. At the moment Im working with a band called Sohodolls. I met them on the M6 about 2 months ago. I told them I was a bit busy with my own album but give it a couple of months and well get it on. Ive just written some songs for a Muslim singer called Sami Yusuf, whos an Islamic singer who sings in Arabic and hes really big in the Middle East. He wants to write an album in English, so hes written the music and the melodies and Ive just got to do the lyrics.
Im always happy to collaborate. Im supposed to have done something with Scratch Perverts for the last five years, but theyve not got it together yet. Coldcut are supposed to be sending me a song, Unkle have asked me to come and do something on their next album. So if someones got talent and some sort of work and theyre a little bit different, Im there.
Youve included a cover on this album, what made you choose In the Year 2525?
I wanted to write a song about global warming cos Ive not heard anyone sing a proper song about global warming or the effect that its going to have being the end and everything. So I then had to come up with a song thats better than In The Year 2525. Them lyrics were written 40 years ago but they still resonate as powerfully today as they would have done then. I couldnt manage it and didnt come up with a tune that was better than that, so I thought Well, you know what? Ive got a Mariachi sound sometimes anyway, so if I got a trumpet on it I could make it sound like one of my own songs anyway. And I was lucky because Dave [McCracken] worked on the last Mr Hudson single so I got Mr Hudson playing guitar on it as well. He came down and put flamenco guitar on it. So its my tune now.
How did you decide on the album title?
Well it autobiographical and the brief was a kind of My Way so we just though you know what, lets call it My Way.
You said you were aiming to make an album of singles, so with so many tracks to choose from how did you pick Stellify as the lead single?
Stellify was like the benchmark for the album cos it was the first tune we wrote. As we played it I thought Wow this is the first tune Ive got since FEAR thats up there with it. I end every show with FEAR but now Ive got a track that I can come on with after FEAR. Stellify was always the benchmark, but it was also the trickiest to mix and we had to do it about seven times to get it right. Id been laughing at stories about Kanye West mixing his last tune thirty times, but Im starting to understand how you can, so you can get it exactly how you want it. That was the benchmark so it was always really going to be the first single.
Was it your idea to film the video for Stellify in Manchester?
No I had a different idea, but Colin OToole whos done my last four videos came up with Manchester. Hes from Manchester and wanted to keep it really simple and had found a marching band, which fitted in with the idea, who wear a star on their chests as part of their uniform which goes with Stellify. So I was like, thats great then, lets go with that.
For my first four albums I either made the video, co-made the video or came up with the idea for the video, but I realised I wasnt getting any joy out of making film like I was with the music. It was a bit laborious and didnt excite me like the music. So I was pretty lucky really when I met Colin and it was for the All Ablaze song, which was a great experience. Obviously All Ablaze he said lets get fire and I went down and hed made lines of flamethrowers and all that and being a lad Im still attracted to fire so that was great and then it kind of took the pressure off me cos I didnt have to come up with the ideas myself, or make it, or spend days editing it. I just wasnt getting the joy off it that I get off music. I was lucky to meet Colin and hes made my last four films and we sit and talk in detail about it, but the last four have been his ideas.
To move on to the live side of things, you played Reading & Leeds the other weekend-is it good to be back on the stage?
At Leeds I looked out at the crowd and there was hardly anyone of my generation there-it was all 16 year olds and up to about 25 and I thought Im old enough to be their Dad and Im on the main stage, its great!
Your next live date is the Dubai Sound City launch party, which will be your first time playing in the Middle East?
Yeah it is. Ive had two offers before but they fell through. Ive played Tel Aviv in Israel but this will be my first time in the Middle East.
How did that come about?
It was just an offer through my agent. Like I said Id had a couple of offers before but this one seemed pretty solid so we gave it a go.
The Sound City organisers want to have a Middle East focused debate during the conference-thinking about the anti-war message in your last album, do you think its important for music and politics to crossover?
I think solidarity of every kind is important, however that comes, be it music and politics. I think that no matter where you live in the world, weve got governments above us who control us, who we cant control. Were no different to the people in Iran or Israel and I think its important that we all link up and share everything and musics the best space for doing that. It crosses all borders, all languages, all genders, race, religion-it crosses all of that.
After that youre going to be doing a pretty extensive UK tour-are there any cities that youre particularly looking forward to playing?
Manchester most definitely. Its going to be my fourteenth appearance at Brixton Academy. I did two with Roses, so the second night of this tour will make it my twelfth time at Brixton Academy, which is big news for me.
Anywhere really, its great to go and meet people anywhere. Im looking forward to Ipswich cos Ive never played there. Southend because Ive never played in Southend. Im looking forward to all of them.
Do you have any stand out gigs from past tours?
Glastonbury 05 was probably my favourite show because it was the biggest crowd Ive ever played to. It was pretty emotional and everyone was singing along. There were thousands of people bobbing up and down and we played really well that night.
Usually I do a show, I feel great about it and the next day Ive forgotten it. But one day, if I make it, when Im 90 and Im sat out in the back chair with my Filipino nurse putting a blanket over me, maybe Ill think about when I played Nottingham Rock City on my birthday, or my first Brixton Academy, but Glastonburys the show that I think about every few weeks and think Wow, that was ace.
Other than Manchester do you have links to any of the places youre playing?
I love Liverpool and Glasgow. Liverpools probably the best place to play. Crowd and atmosphere wise its definitely been the best show on the last few tours. Maybe I shouldnt say that in case the Mancunians dont buy tickets!
Also Dublin, its amazing to play Dublin, its beautiful. Youd think Dublin was a thousand miles away from England from how different people are over there-so warm spirited and friendly. Glasgow is probably one of the best places to play in the world. Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Dublin are the best places to play. Theres something very similar about all them places.
Have you got anything special planned for the gigs? The Manchester date is the last night of the tour and just before Christmas
Thats right, its only the week before Christmas so that will be a big party, yeah.
Ive got no plans for fire-eaters or jugglers or anything. Im just gonna get a lot of new songs out cos I think a lot of these new songs sound great live and mix it up with the best of what Ive got.
Do you always take the same band out with you?
I used to change it up every tour to keep it fresh with different line-ups, but the last five and a half years Ive had the same line-up and they never let me down. Drummers never dropped a beat, guitarist has never hit the wrong note-theyre super reliable and great, great players and we gel really well so Ive got no reason to change it at the moment. These guys still sound fresh.
To finish on a slightly different note, the big news at the moment is Noel leaving Oasis-do you think this is really the end for them?
Yeah I think it probably is, which is a bit of a shame really. I think its been coming for quite a while hasnt it? Their very first NME feature they were scrapping and their last one they were scrapping, so they came in scrapping and theyve gone out scrapping. Bit of a shame but no surprise really. Id heard a few rumours myself this year and I think its run its course.
UK TOUR DATES
22-Nov-09 Belfast St George's Market
Text by Holly Wild, Chuff Media