Over the course of a career that’s spanned nearly 40 years, Paul Weller has been a mod icon, a psychedelic pop-rocker, a soulboy and more, and most often some combination of each — and whether he was fronting The Jam, The Style Council or, as he’s done for the past 20-odd years, working as a solo artist, he hasn’t let any preconceptions about his bands or himself lock him in stylistically. Now 57, Weller has served up Saturns Pattern, perhaps his most stylistically diverse album to date, and one of his best in years. Billboard caught up with him on the set of CBS This Morning: Saturday, to talk about music, family and politics — the latter of which was the topic he seemed least enthused about, and yet warmed to the most.
Watch an exclusive preview of Weller’s performance on CBS This Morning: Saturday, which airs Saturday, June 26.
Saturns Pattern may be your most diverse album in terms of styles and sound. After all the records you’ve made, where do you find inspiration?
That’s a good question. I can only answer it by saying that the music is inspiration in itself. I get a feeling, I get an inkling to make the records, and then after that you’re just fishing, seeing where you can go with it and trying loads of different things until you hit upon something that you feel is different or takes you somewhere else, and then you follow that. I know I’m not answering your question [he smiles] because I don’t really know. There’s never a day when I’m not inspired by music.
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What are some things you’ve heard lately that you really like?
I love the Young Fathers record [White Men Are Black Men Too] — do you know them? They’re from Scotland. I quite like some of the Alabama Shakes new record [Sound & Color], that’s good. But I’ve been listening a lot to this pirate station in London. I don’t even know what it’s called. It’s on 88.4 if anyone is over in London. They play lots of really good old disco stuff and a lot of garage, sort of house/garage type things. There’s also some good pirate reggae stations as well.
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Your career got a big resurgence in the mid-1990s with your Wild Wood album. Do you think that was down to Britpop?
I think it helped but I don’t think it accounted for all of it, no. My records were getting better and better and by the time I’d hit on Wild Wood — that was a big record for me. I think it would have happened anyway.
What crystallized with Wild Wood?
I remember walking down Holland Park Avenue in London and it was summer and someone had an open-top car and Wild Wood was blastin’ out of it and I just thought it kinda made sense, really. But I don’t know. I come and I go over the years — who can make sense of it?
You’ve got seven kids, right? How many of them are musicians?
One of them, my daughter, she sings. She’s doing some demos at the moment and she’s hoping to put an EP out this year. Her stuff is really good, it’s really gotten more mature and sophisticated.
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Does she have any songs on Soundcloud or Bandcamp or anything?
Not yet, no. Hopefully she’ll have something out this year. But it’s good, her stuff. Her voice is great as well. My 10-year-old son is really, really into music and he’s started playing drums and guitar and singing as well. He’s into all sorts of things — skateboarding, he watches a lot of skateboarding videos, which have normally got good soundtracks to them. So he’ll be listening to the Meters, but also, he loves George Ezra.
Do you help your daughter with her music or leave her to it?
I don’t force it but if she comes and asks me, “How do you play this song?” or “What’s this chord?” then obviously I’ll encourage her. Me and my boy had a lovely moment a few weeks ago. It was down at my studio one night, and me and him was just jammin’ for hours. I was playing piano, he was playing drums — we just both got lost in it and played.
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Do you ever listen to your old music?
Not if I can help it, no. I like hearing it on the radio sometimes.
Are you playing old songs on this tour?
We play loads of old songs. “Changing Man” and some other songs before that — they’re over 20 years old. That’s an old song, right?
I meant pre-solo material, I heard you played “My Ever Changing Moods” recently.
No. Well I do sometimes — it depends how I feel, really, but not at the moment, no. We try and change [the setlist] every year if we can, at least a little bit to keep it interesting, so sometimes we put old tunes in. But I play the new stuff, man, my heart’s in that.
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How’s your clothing line, Real Stars Are Rare, doing?
The first collection came out last year, it’s a mail order thing. That’s a difficult one because I really enjoy doing it, although it costs a lot of money. We’re at that kind of crossroads where I want to keep it underground — it’s not like I want to be in competition with a brand, I just want to do my little thing and be left alone. The people I work with, who are great people, they’re talking about “how do we grow” and expansion and all these sorts of words which kind of freak me out a bit because I didn’t get into it do that, man. I just want to do my own little line of things that I like. I’m quite happy if it could just make enough money to pay for itself.
Is touring where most of your business gets done now?
Maybe in the U.K., but certainly not over here, man. Normally the U.K. kinda funds wherever else I play in the world because we don’t play big places anywhere else.
Are you still as politically involved as you were?
No, not at all. I don’t care about any of it.
You were so involved in the ‘80s.
Yeah. It was a different time then.
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It’s amazing how little some things have changed.
Nothing’s really changed — they just swap the public faces about. It doesn’t mean anything. Whether it’s Tony Blair or David Cameron or whoever it may be, they’re all the same. The system needs changing, not the public face.
Were you optimistic when Blair was voted in? Did it seem like things were going to change?
It did when he first got voted in, yeah, because we’d done 18 years of Thatcherism and the [Conservative] party by that time, and it totally decimated and changed our country. So yeah, there was a cause for celebration when [Blair and the Labour party] got in, but only to find it’s just “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” So that was kind of it for me and any kind of involvement. Those people don’t represent anyone except their own class and their own economic class.
It feels like a similar thing with Obama here, although I feel like he certainly tried to change things.
Yeah, I’m sure he’s a good man but I don’t know if you can change the system. Only revolution can change that system and I don’t think that’s gonna really happen. I think it would be more important anyway for some kind of social or spiritual revolution. That would be a much bigger thing really.
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How do you mean?
For us as people to realize that we don’t need this system and to take more responsibility for our lives. What is your political involvement, young man?
I’m a Democrat. I was excited when Obama was elected and it’s been very discouraging, especially in terms of gun control, to see how little he’s been able to change the system.
Same thing in England, man. That’s what I’m saying to you. The system is rotten. Unless you change the system, nothing really changes. For me personally I just look at how British people have changed in the past 20-25 years and I think as people generally we’ve made vast improvements: we’re far more modern, more open minded, less racist, less xenophobic. So I see that people are moving on, or potentially moving on, but the system stays where it is. The system drags everyone back into the same f—in’ hole, the same sewers. I’m waiting for the politics to catch up with the people.
You can see Paul Weller perform two songs from Saturns Pattern on Saturday, June 26 on CBS This Morning: Saturday. In addition, host Anthony Mason will talk with Weller about his career in music and more. Check your local listings for the show time.