On the eve of his latest album, Paul Weller talks to Hamish MacBain about contentment, discovering Skrillex and why he won’t be voting for anyone
If you are one of those people who still thinks Paul Weller is retro/dad/whatever-rock music, then you really, truly just need to listen to anything he’s put out in the past decade. The five albums he has released in that time have been progressively more inspired, eclectic, exciting, fired-up and ‘mod’ in the truest sense.
As Is Now from 2005 began this renaissance, while the sprawling, pastoral double 22 Dreams three years later was ludicrously adventurous. The Mercury-nominated Wake Up The Nation from 2010 comprised 16 blasts of urgent, melodic, metallic noise (few of which lasted more than two minutes) and two years after that came Sonik Kicks, which encompassed motorik krautrock grooves, and kept David Guetta off the No1 album spot.
There have also been numerous reissues in this time of his work with The Jam, The Style Council and as a solo artist (a ‘part two’ of his solo greatest hits came out last spring) but, as ever, even as he hits 57 this month, Paul Weller is only interested in moving forward at the highest velocity possible. The nine songs on latest album Saturn’s Pattern are further testament to this, and proof that his purple patch is long from over.
Is it true you got the title Saturn’s Pattern from a website about Saturn’s actual pattern?
Nah. As far as I know – unless there’s a subconscious thing or something – I just made it up: I was writing one night, just aimlessly, and the title just rolled off the tongue. But I did find out afterward that there is an actual Saturn’s pattern, and it has its own website. And then there’s Saturn’s Return as well – I’ve only learnt this from journos. But Saturn’s pattern is in the same place only twice in your life from when you were born, at the age of 28 and 56. Which, at the time I wrote the tune last year, was the exact ages of me and my missus. That’s quite weird, innit?
There’s joy and contentment in these songs – one is called I’m Where I Should Be. Did you set out to make a positive album?
I don’t know if it was deliberate – I think those things come from the subconscious. I did want to make a record that had a joyfulness to it, because the world is so f*cked and so depressing.
The first song, White Sky, is really heavy. What’s the heaviest music you listen to?
I’m not a metal fan, if that’s what you mean. I love The Stooges’ early stuff…
But not Deep Purple or anything?
Not really my sort of thing. There’s always exceptions – there’s always a few tracks I like – but not really, man. I know people have said it sounds like Led Zeppelin, but I was thinking more Betty Davis and Funkadelic, really. And that’s pretty f*cking heavy, that music. I was watching some old black and white live footage of theirs on YouTube recently, actually – f*cking amazing.
Do you use the internet much to discover music?
My missus has Apple TV. I can’t work the internet, but I watch YouTube on Apple TV. That is one of the great sides of the technological revolution. It’s great for that – all of these amazing clips that I’ve never even heard of before.
You’ve said you used more modern, digital technology on the album as well…
Well, not me personally – I have trouble working my f*cking mobile. But there’s stuff we’re doing on this that you could just never have done on tape. But it’s just happened that digital recording has got so much better in the last five years – it’s the same with digital photography, I guess – so I’ve learnt to embrace technology.
Another really heavy song, Long Time, seems to refer back to a tougher period: “I thought I was somebody else”; “My feet did not fit my shoes”; “I felt so lost and confused”. Does that refer to a specific time in your life?
I’m a bit loathe to say it’s biographical, but there are lines that I relate to in it, yeah. It’s probably the time just before I met my wife, really – she makes everything seem as it should be. But I think it’s more just getting older generally – giving less of a f*ck about things.
So you’re OK with getting older now?
I am at the moment. F*ck knows what it’s going to be like the next 10 years, but at the moment – touch wood – I’m physically all right and, more importantly, I’m mentally very, very all right. I think it’s also not drinking and doing gear and all that stuff, and being more present and aware of life and all the good things in it.
How long have you been off the drink at this point?
Five years. But I had a good run: I had a good 35 years of it, or whatever it’s been, so I can’t really complain.
Have you been keeping tabs on the election?
I can’t be f*cked with it, really – and I’m not voting, either. Definitely not. I wouldn’t know who to vote for, ’cos I can’t stand any of them. I watched the debate a few weeks ago, and it was just laughable. How people can’t see through those politicians is beyond me. I was watching some of the election stuff yesterday, and I can’t get over how transparent it all is. Watching Ed Balls at a nursery, or f*cking George Osborne at a building site – it’s like, for f*ck’s sake, it’s 2015, and they’re still doing this bullsh*t: kissing babies’ heads and all that. Even doing a tactical vote against the Tories, which I would normally do, I can’t find it in myself to know who to vote for.
You haven’t, as some people have, been encouraged by Ed Miliband’s performance?
What, dragging out Tony Blair? They looked like two estate agents, and I just thought, “How can anyone think of them as leaders of anything?” I’m not having any of it. I think the system’s rotten, and they’re just the face of the system. I identify with the general apathy towards politicians, and I’m probably part of it. A lot of things that Russell Brand says, I think, are pretty spot on. I’d be more inclined to vote for him, really. He’s kind of doing what the bands were doing back in the Eighties, I guess. At least some form of dissent, anyway.
You don’t cover politics lyrically on this album, but you’ve obviously got a strong history of political songwriting. Would you ever be tempted to write those sort of songs again?
I do get angry with it all, but I’d just be saying the same things I said 35 years ago. I don’t think things have changed too much – I don’t think things will ever change too much. I said it all in The Jam and The Style Council. Maybe it always needs to be said, but I think that’s the job of people far younger than me.
There seem to be a few good young guitar bands knocking about at the minute, actually.
Good, we need it.
What new stuff are you listening to at the moment?
I bought some records at the weekend. I bought the Alabama Shakes album. What else? I like Villagers. I like the Young Fathers album, they’re good. My son played me a couple of tracks of Skrillex, as well, which I really liked.
The couple of tracks I heard, I thought were great – the sound was great. I like that track called Bangarang, I thought that was wicked. And another one he did with Damian Marley.
Counting The Jam and The Style Council, you’ve released 24 albums. Most of your peers now trade primarily on nostalgia – what keeps you pressing forward?
In my mind that’s what writers and artists should be doing: just keeping on doing it. The thing is, listening through that last greatest hits collection when I was putting it together, I liked the recent stuff most. And there’s also now an element for me – without in any way being morbid – of, “I’ve got to do as much as I can in the time I’ve got left.” Which will hopefully be plentiful, but who knows? Regardless of that body of work I’ve got – 40 years or whatever it is – I still feel like I’ve got so much to say and do in the next… well, however long I can do it.
Saturn’s Pattern is released on 18 May, with the title track released as a single on 11 May, and Weller will play an Amazon Music exclusive show on 16th May at Brighton’s The Great Escape festival.
(Images: Rex, Getty)