Weller Gets Back Into The Jam
Throughout most of the 1990s, Paul Weller kept his musical past at arm's length, determined to re-establish himself as a solo artist. But these days, he not only drops the occasional Jam or Style CounThroughout most of the 1990s, Paul Weller kept his musical past at arm's length, determined to re-establish himself as a solo artist. But these days, he not only drops the occasional Jam or Style Council tune into his sets, he's comfortable enough with his history to include it in his new material as well.
Weller's eighth solo album, "As Is Now," due Oct. 11 on Yep Roc, makes several nods to his previous work -- most explicitly on "Come On/Let's Go," which finds Britain's "Modfather" once again adopting the clipped singing and punky attack of the Jam.
"There's so many young bands, in the U.K. at least, where you catch all the references to the Jam," Weller says. "So if anyone's gonna nick a bit, I'm gonna do it! It's a little cheeky reference that puts a smile on my face."
However, "As Is Now" also draws on other parts of Weller's back catalog. Besides the R&B and jazz influences of the Style Council, the disc returns to the soulful, '60s-inspired rock and folk found on solo albums like "Wild Wood" and "Stanley Road."
"It's almost like a distillation of all the things I've done over the years," says Weller, who adds that he wasn't "overly conscious" of the past. "All those kinds of references, after a while, become you ... they're in your bones. It's a nice feeling, because you don't have to try too hard."
First single, "From the Floorboards Up," which hit the top 10 in England, might point the way to Weller's future. "A lot of people say, 'That really sounds like the old days,' but I think that's because it has loud electric guitars," he offers. "I think it's really different from what we've done before, in the angular style of the music. It sounds really fresh, really contemporary."
Recorded over just two weeks, "As Is Now" features Weller's longtime collaborators Steve Craddock on guitar and drummer Steve White, as well as bassist Damon Minchella. It was produced by Jan "Stan" Kybert, who oversaw Weller's last album, the all-covers "Studio 150."
That 2004 outing, Weller says, gave him a much-needed break from songwriting. However, after the artist cancelled some tour dates last year because of a throat infection, his muse returned during the unexpected vacation. "Having all that time on me hands, I picked up the guitar, and the songs just seemed to come," he says. "And I just thought, right, we're off again."
One of the new tunes, "Savages," was inspired by the Beslan school massacre a year ago, where terrorists held Russian students hostage and then shot some in the back as they tried to escape. The attack hit Weller, who has two teenage children and a new baby, particularly hard.
"There's always so many despicable things in the world happening, but I just thought that was particularly shocking," Weller says. "I don't know how much lower we can f*cking get as a human race. These people aren't freedom fighters, they're just cowards.
Elsewhere, the introspective closer, "The Pebble and the Boy," is a piano ballad sparked by "imagining a scene where a person met themselves as a child, on a beach. It's about getting older, and time, and age, which is a recurring theme in my songs, I suppose. But also just trying to retrace yourself -- can you find yourself back as that young boy?"
This summer's Live 8 concerts gave Weller another, uniquely nostalgic moment. Pete Townshend, whom Weller admired as a teenager, borrowed Minchella and White to complete the reconfigured Who. "Perhaps," Weller says with a laugh, "that's his way of getting back at me for nicking all his songs back in the early days. Which is fair enough."
Weller concludes a short North American tour Saturday (Sept. 24) in New York and the next night in Boston, before returning to Europe for more dates to support "As Is Now."