Turning 60 made Paul Weller “reflective” and quieter — at least for the moment, as evidenced by True Meanings, the latest album from the former Jam and Style Council frontman.
The set, whose “White Horses” premieres exclusively below, is Weller’s first acoustic-based album, sporting string arrangements and a gentle, moody, pastoral flavor he’s never explored before. “It was just something different for me, very different from what I’ve done before,” Weller tells Billboard. “I thought it was a good age to do it; If I’m ever going to do an acoustic record, as such, I thought 60 was a good time for it. It seems the sort of thing a 60-year-old would do — get it out of my system, I suppose. There’s also a little part of me that just wanted to write some ‘normal’ sort of songs, I suppose.”
Ironically, acoustic guitar has long been part of Weller’s writing process even if the eventual songs wound up making considerably more noise. “All my songs, or most of them, were written on acoustic guitar,” Weller says. “I used to live in flats, and you can’t make too much noise so you did whatever worked. Way back in the Jam days I’d write at home on acoustic because it’s quieter and I try not to wake everyone up. I prefer electric guitar, but that was the way I wrote since way back at the beginning.”
Weller, who co-produced True Meanings mostly with Conor O’Brien, had actually been stockpiling songs for an acoustic album. The track “Gravity,” for instance, dates back about five years ago. “It wouldn’t have fit on any of the albums I’ve worked on subsequently, and there were other songs that were the same way,” he explains. “Gradually there were more and more of them, so I just built up these ideas along the way. It’s kind of been thought about off and on since that time, and this is the result of all that.”
In addition to the strings, True Meanings features guest appearances by Rod Argent, Noel Gallagher, Little Barrie, Lucy Rose and British folk icons Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy. More surprising is that four of the 14 tracks feature lyrics by others — including “White Horses,” one of three by Erland & the Carnival’s Erland Cooper. “I just wanted to get some different perspectives, really. I’ve been too uptight and selfish, or possessive in the past. But that’s a long time ago, and I don’t feel like that now. There was enough I wanted to say lyrically, but I found I was repeating myself sometimes, so Erland and Conor are just people I really admire as lyricists and songwriters. The album is called True Meanings, but I didn’t feel it had to be just my true meanings. It can be other people as well.”
Between the three them, Weller feels that True Meanings delivers a particular message.
“It’s that life can be beautiful,” he explains. “Whatever ups and downs, there’s always some beautiful moments in life. It’s reflective, ’cause you realize how quickly time goes, and the clock’s ticking. You learn to appreciate things more. I think you learn to see how very fleeting this physical life is, so enjoy it as much as you can.”
Weller will be presenting True Meanings, which comes out Sept. 14, with a pair of special orchestral shows on Oct. 11-12 at London’s Royal Festival Hall. No full tour is planned behind the album, however, and Weller expects to be back to his noisier pursuits in the near future. “It’s the new record, not a new direction or whatever,” he says. “I’ve sort of started on the next record; I think it’ll be really interesting but I can’t say too much about it because it might not turn up like that. I just feel like there’s so much to do, still, and so many possibilities musically and creatively. Maybe the older you get, the more you want to do. I don’t know, but I’m not thinking too much about it. I’m just doing it.”