Stones Talk With Keef

The Rolling Stones' first studio album in eight years, "A Bigger Bang," is due Sept. 6 via Virgin. The band's iconic frontman, Mick Jagger, and guitarist, Keith Richards, talked to Billboard first abo

The Rolling Stones' first studio album in eight years, "A Bigger Bang," is due Sept. 6 via Virgin. The band's iconic frontman, Mick Jagger, and guitarist, Keith Richards, talked to Billboard first about the new project, life after drummer Charlie Watts' cancer scare and hitting the road again for an article that ran in the Aug. 6 issue of the magazine.

The separate phone conversations took place as the band was gathered in Toronto to rehearse for its latest world tour, which opens Aug. 21 in Boston.

Today's (Aug. 17) Q&A with Richards and yesterday's with Jagger are exclusively available on


How's rehearsal going?

It's going great. I mean, what can I really say, you know, except, hey, it's a great band and we're having fun working out on the new material. People keep saying to me, how come you keep still doing this? And I say, if you had a band like this you wouldn't want to leave.

How did you and Mick work differently this time?

It's so difficult to sort of analyze this stuff. In a weird way, albums take on their own character.

It started in June last year, I went to Mick's house in France, and we sat around. And at the time Charlie was pretty ill, and we didn't know, and we were looking at each other across the couches going, "Look this is it" -– I go, "Mick you're on drums and I'll double on bass." (laughs)

In a way we had to strip it down, and as it went along we realized that we had something going there and so we'd cut it all in Mick's house. There was a point I'm sure where he wanted to kick us out. But as I said to Mick, "Listen, once upon a time, we cut a record in the south of France in my house, and it's called 'Exile on Main Street,' and now its your turn."

And that one turned out OK, didn't it.

Yeah, exactly. I said maybe we're good in French houses.

Mick said he felt there was just a better vibe this time.

I really, I quite agree with Mick. We got so used to sort of being apart when we're not on the road and we sort of write stuff separately while we're, I mean, I might be in Jamaica, he might be in Madagascar or something, you know what I mean? But at the same time, there is a sort of a point where you pool everything you've got together and that's the point where I guess I look at Mick and I say, "You know, here's this one. What've you got?"

You do that every record, right?

Yeah, but at the same time, I would say that yeah, Mick's quite... The vibe is a lot better. We've been doing this so long, Mick and I are looking at each other and going, "Oh, come on, I'm not going to argue about this. Come on." There's too many plusses for an odd minus to get in the way. Maybe it's called growing up.

Let me know if you get there.

I don't think we're all the way there. I'll send you a postcard when I do.

Last June, you said you didn't know what was going to happen with Charlie. In a weird way, did that put a new fire in the band?

I think, actually, yeah, it brought Mick right down to the solid ground again, that's my take on it. Is just that there's suddenly Mick and I looking at each other and going, possibly we're the only two left of the originals, you know what I mean? And I think that gave, without us ever actually talking about that -- you don't talk about that s***, you know? Count on Charlie to be all right, and, fantastically enough, Charlie is incredibly on form. So that sort of softened that. But at the same time I think it was, like, "Well, this is it pal, this is the Everly Brothers."

But at the same time none of us had any doubt that Charlie wouldn't... I mean he's made of cast iron. Charlie came back and he played every rehearsal like it was a show. Amazing, yeah.

Mick and I talked about how quotidian the lyrics are. They are about everyday heartbreak, which everyone can relate to.

I know. Maybe that's something about this band that I've always... nobody's ever wanted to be... I mean including even Mick, a super superstar, and all of that. It's something between us all that says, "Hey, you can go up so far pal, but coming down's harder." And it's like, "Keep one foot on the ground, at least."

I guess no matter what your station in life?

Exactly. It doesn't matter if you're a king or a queen or a peasant or a slave. All that stuff goes on anyway.

The first single, "Rough Justice," is a quintessential Stones song.

Bless you... That came to me in my sleep. It's almost like "Satisfaction," Yeah, I almost sort of woke up and said, "Where's my guitar?" Sometimes you do dream a riff, you know? I had to get up, and it's really hard to get me up. Once I go down, I go down, you know?

But, I mean, it's only a song that could get me up and start running around the room, "Where's my guitar, where did I put my guitar, before I forget it?" I don't often remember dreams, only when they're musical.

One of the tracks you sing lead on, "This Place is Empty," is very heavy at times. Were you scared that the album was getting too heavy?

Yeah there’s some deep stuff in there but at the same time, humor is absolutely important to a rock and roll record. When you think about the first rock and roll records, you hear “Great Balls of Fire” and “Poison Ivy” and “Along Came Jones” and a lot of Chuck Berry, and there’s a lot of humor in it. And it has to sort of balance out. I mean, I really hate the dirges. I like it better to make you laugh in one line and make you cry in the next.

What's the best part about recording for you?

Some of it is just cutting the first track and you know that there's something there, and that's just one of the buzzes. The other buzz is towards the end when you start to hear it come together and you're looking around at everybody else because when you write a song, you don't know quite what you're hearing. And then to see everybody, their input, their give and take, and to see it come out the other end... It's going in, and coming out. It's called sex. But it's the same thing as making a record.

Now you're getting ready to go on the road. That still seems to me to your favorite part.

In a way, yeah. Charlie and I were just talking just now about it. Yeah, you want to get on the road, you want to play, cause that's what we do, we love it. But then you forget about all the other stuff. About all the cheesy cameras, about going into rehearsal and it's half of Canada back there. And you forget all about that and then you have to do the meet-and-greets and this and that. But somehow that all dissipates in your mind, and then all you want to do is get on stage and play.