U.K.'s Stereophonics Aim For Elusive Stateside Breakthrough

V2 Records wants to double its money on Stereophonics, and it needs America's help.

V2 Records wants to double its money on Stereophonics, and it needs America's help.

The Welsh band has built a redoubtable reputation in the vanguard of British rock, with worldwide sales of its 1999 opus, "Performance & Cocktails," at 2 million units, according to the label. Now, V2 hopes to increase that by 100% with Stereophonics' third collection, "Just Enough Education to Perform," due April 9 in the U.K. and April 17 in the U.S. For that to happen, everyone concerned knows the band must make a real imprint across the Atlantic.

The signs are encouraging, as the album -- produced by Bird & Bush at Real World Studios in Bath, England -- represents the first time that V2 U.K. and U.S. have achieved a near-simultaneous release for the act. The project also arrives in the slipstream of sold-out enthusiasm for Stereophonics' nine-date U.S. acoustic tour in February.

Of the nearly 1 million estimated global sales for the band's 1997 debut album, "Word Gets Around," the U.S. accounts for a mere 12,000, according to SoundScan. "Performance & Cocktails" enjoyed a proportional increase in America -- a rise to 36,000 units sold -- but that still leaves plenty of room for expansion, as lead singer and songwriter Kelly Jones points out.

"A lot of the time in America, people seem to think about things too much," Jones says. "Everything's so formatted and categorized. But everyone seems to like this record. Also, for the first time [the U.S.] likes one of our videos." That is the clip for "Mr. Writer," a slow, acoustic-based piece released in the U.K. March 19. It is also the lead radio track in the U.S.

Back home, "Mr. Writer" got off to a swift start, with widespread support from student radio, BBC Radio 1 (where it is A-listed), MTV, and the Box. The track is also in hot rotation at MTV Italy, Holland, and Spain. Stereophonics are booked for a Radio 1 live performance April 8 at London's Scala and will play the first show in the 17th season of BBC2's long-running live music show "Later With Jools Holland," for transmission April 13.

Sharon Lord, V2's U.S. head of product management, says the response to Stereophonics' recent acoustic shows was encouraging: "To have that interaction with the audience in small venues [of 500-1,000 capacity] was great." Lord adds that with a campaign driven by live appearances, the band is due back for more U.S. dates in May, following its British tour.

Stereophonics are due to play almost all the major U.K. and international festivals, according to Julia Connolly, V2's London-based international product manager, before a visit to Japan and yet another U.S. trip in August and September. But, she says, "they've just got to keep coming over."

Lord believes the tide of acceptance is moving back toward British rock in the U.S., partly because of the groundwork of bands like Stereophonics. "'Performance & Cocktails' was released at a hard time out here," she says. "Blur and Manic Street Preachers had not done well at all. We actually did better with Stereophonics than we ever had before. I think they paved the way for the Travis record ["The Man Who"] and Coldplay."

To Connolly, Stereophonics' progression over the past two records means the band's appeal is not as "localized," she says. "Kelly has traveled and seen so much. His views have changed, and his writing is not specific to any one town or country."

The band's acoustic U.S. dates followed a series of solo guitar/vocal shows by Jones last November in the U.K., to break in material from "Just Enough Education to Perform." These included a stop at Billboard's Atlantic Crossing industry event Nov. 9. "Everyone [in the U.K. press] was writing that we were splitting up because I did that tour," notes Jones. "Even though Richard [Jones, bassist] was going on honeymoon, and I get bored sitting around."

Jones says the acoustic nature of the shows also led to media misinterpretation. "People assumed the album was going to be that way, and it's not really, [although] it's a much warmer, more dynamic record."

Jones notes that there were times during the band's previous stateside treks when its efforts seemed to be without reward. "Being on a new label [like V2], there can be advantages and disadvantages," he says. "On the good side, you can be a priority. But you can also be a guinea pig. The label has grown more than last time, but it got a bit frustrating when we played a sold-out gig and the kids were going to the shops and the records were not on the shelf.

"It pissed us off a bit when they told us that themselves," Jones adds. "But I'm sure they'll get into shape. I think there's a feeling it can go a little more smoothly this time.