Paul Weller on Playing Live Aid, Britpop, and Releasing His New Album During the Pandemic | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Paul Weller on Playing Live Aid, Britpop, and Releasing His New Album During the Pandemic

Music Lives On

Jun 30, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

From collaborating with Oasis to playing Live Aid, it might seem like Paul Weller has seen and done it all in his near 50-year career. Yet the ever-debonair, silver-haired elder English rock statesman, with a penchant for blue-eyed soul and a fixation on The Beatles, currently faces an unprecedented predicament. The summer release of his fifteenth solo album, On Sunset, was meant to capitalize on the warm weather that would match his new music’s equally sunny vibes. Instead, much of the world is overcast by a pandemic. However, Weller has remained determined to brighten up these grim and gloomy times with On Sunset’s radiant synths and stadium-sized choruses. He also pretty much stuck to the original release date (apart from a slight adjustment), even as throngs of other musicians continue to delay their new albums until the pandemic dies down, in an effort to safeguard their touring grosses.

Below, Weller tells us why live music will always live on, despite temporary social distancing rules and a looming, concert hobbling economic crash. He also tells us about reuniting with his old The Style Council bandmate, Mick Talbot, for On Sunset, recalling The Britpop team-ups that revived his career in the ’90s and revealing how he reacted to his Oasis mates’ beliefs on being better than The Beatles.

Kyle Mullin (Under the Radar): On Sunset has lots of lovely surprises, including Jim Lea of the veteran British band Slade playing violin on “Equanimity.” What was it like to work with him?

Paul Weller: He played his part and sent it to me, and that was it. We didn’t get to meet until afterwards. Still, that was a big deal for me.

Why so?

Well, if you’re British and of a certain age, you’ll remember hearing that violin playing of his at every dance you’d go to throughout the ’70s. The minute I heard what he played for On Sunset I excitedly thought to myself “Ahh I remember that!”

Did working apart from him make you nostalgic for the old days, when everyone recorded together in the same studio?

It’s only one part of the song that he’s playing on. So, to travel down to my studio from somewhere in the midlands, wherever he was, just to play that part, to carry on like that would be completely inconvenient for everyone. It was pretty quick for him to just send it. And we had the track down anyway, so his part was just a nice embellishment. But if you have a band playing together, that’s different. Most of the tracks on the album just had the backing track down, and then I played live together with my band.

What was it like to create On Sunset live with your band?

It’s like a blank canvas, and you’re just slapping coats of paint on, enjoying the colors. I like creating the music I set out to make, realizing that vision. And I also enjoy when the music veers into unexpected places as you work on it. The later process, of mixing and finalizing, is more painstaking. But the actual recording process is always fun.

What about keyboardist Mick Talbot’s contribution? Was he sending you music digitally as well? If so, did that make you pine for the days when you two worked on hits together as The Style Council duo in the ’80s?

No, he actually physically came down. He did it quick, one or two takes. We didn’t spend time talking about the old days. We just concentrated on the job at hand. I shouldn’t speak for him, but we weren’t trying to relive anything—we were just people working on a song.

What do you admire most about him as a musician?

A lot of people do shit first takes and get carried away. By the second take, they’ll give you something usable. But Mick plays what’s required. That’s what a good musician does: serves the song, rather than showing off.

Is that a tendency you both have in common? Or did you have to learn that from him over time?

For me, that’s most definitely been something I had to learn over time. I had to shave off elements of my ego. Now I look at what the song needs, and I do that.

Regarding you and Mick—I read that you both played Live Aid and were on the same bill as elder English band Status Quo. What was that like for you, considering Status Quo was apparently a huge inspiration for you to form your first band, The Jam?

I don’t know about starting The Jam because of Status Quo. If any band inspired me, it was The Beatles. They were the first spark that lit everything. But Status Quo was the first proper concert I ever saw. And it was so fucking loud, I’d never heard songs that loud. And my friends and I were just like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I don’t remember anything much about Live Aid though. Because it was so nerve-wracking, so “get on, get off” in its vibe, and so many people milling about backstage, that you couldn’t really pick a moment out. It was very, very quick.

How do The Beatles still inform your musical style today?

What, The Beatles? They always color what I do. They’ll always, always be my biggest inspiration.

I’m a fan of your work with Oasis, like how you played on “Champagne Supernova” and how Noel Gallagher played on your album Stanley Road. But, as a Beatles diehard fan, what did you think of them infamously saying they were bigger than The Beatles?

[Laughs] Well, quite clearly, it’s not true. But they say a lot of things, don’t they, man? God bless them. They’ve always got some sort of quote. So, I don’t really pay it much credence. They know they’re not bigger than The Beatles, it’s not possible. The Beatles were the pioneers. That’s not to say Oasis weren’t great, they were. But for one band to have that much impact, as The Beatles did, I don’t think it was possible in the ’90s or now.

Even if Oasis and the Britpop era can’t compare to The Beatles, it must have been an exciting time for you to get involved with them and experience a mid-career revival?

It was a fun time, yeah. It was a messy time though. Because everyone was on load of booze and the rest of it, me included. It was a lot of fun, for a little bit. Then, like any hangover, it becomes sort of depressing. I thought the early ’90s were quite good. Lots of great Britpop, and also hip-hop, R&B, and jazz, too. It seemed like everyone was going out to see bands live again, and it felt like the last boom time for that in Britain. People wanting to go out was inspiring in itself.

That isn’t the case these days? Pre-pandemic, of course.

Enthusiasm for gigs comes and goes. Up until this lockdown, it felt like there was a resurgence starting. Then of course all this happens and puts a stop to that. But I think it always comes back around. In my lifetime I’ve seen it peak and trail off, sometimes because of economics. It just comes and goes, and might change shape, but that’s the way it’ll always be, it’ll always come back, because seeing live music is so primal.

Why did you still release On Sunset in [the summer], rather than delaying, like other musicians who are hoping to wait the pandemic out?

It’s a summer record really, despite the times we’re going through. It’s got a lot of joy in it, and a lot of life as well. So, I think it’s a good time for it to come out.

Were there particular aspects of your life spurring on that joyful sound?

Apart from the pandemic, there are still people dying of starvation, and there are still wars going on, and still refugees. So, I just wanted to make a record that was joyous and happy. And I hope it will inspire joy as well.

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