Tantalising taster lands on the doorstep as indie kings showcase their new LP
There's a warm and well-deserved buzz building about Stereophonics' new album Graffiti on a Train ahead of its release early next month.
Tantalising little snippets of it have whetted the appetites of diehard fans, and intrigued the more casual enthusiast. Examples of what is surely their most eclectic and ambitious soundscape to date have been shared on free download and video – the moody Violins and Tambourines and the dark In a Moment. And Radio 2 is currently wearing the grooves out of love song new single Indian Summer.
It is great news, then, that the band have chosen a Westcountry venue as one of the ten "intimate" stages around the UK where they will be roadtesting the album's songs with live audiences before an arena outing later in the year. They play Plymouth Pavilions on March 23.
Having been privileged to enjoy a sneak preview of the record in its entirety, I can confirm there is much to be excited about.
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The band's eighth studio LP, co-produced by guitarist, singer and songwriter Kelly Jones with Jim Lowe, it represents a blossoming, not only in the scope of the band's indie rock sound, but in the song arrangement, several of which are embellished by lush string and beautiful piano. There's even some blues thrown in. As a whole, it feels vaguely retro, but vibrantly fresh at the same time, and it reveals Kelly in rich, mature voice.
It's also the first LP release on the band's own Stylus Records label, a turn that bassist Richard Jones says has come at just the right time to allow their new work to develop.
"Our contract with Universal Music was up last year and we decided not to renew it. No disrespect to them at all, but we knew what we had in respect of this record and we wanted to give it a chance to breathe. We've gone to a place that we would not have gone in the past, but if you don't try it you will never know," says Rich, 38, who has shared every step of the journey with Kelly.
"I've known Kelly all my life; our mothers knew each other, we were born in the same hospital a week apart and we went to school together. Everything that has come along we were able to talk about as a friend talks to a friend. We don't even have to talk half the time now – we just know what the other one is thinking about something."
These deep, deep roots anchor the essence of Stereophonics, who were the first act signed to Richard Branson's V2 label in 1996. Kelly, Rich and original drummer and neighbour Stuart Cable had then been making music together for four years, drawn together by a mutual love of good old rock and roll, the songwriting of American artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and the 80s electronica of bands like Depeche Mode.
The trio burst onto the scene with their platinum-selling debut album Word Gets Around in August 1997. Their next five LPs all reached the top of the charts, spawning a raft of hit singles, Have A Nice Day, Dakota, the Bartender and the Thief, Local Boy in the Photograph, Just Looking, Maybe Tomorrow.
Time gradually shifted them out of bright, young upstart territory and into the land of established global artists on a rollercoaster ride of touring and recording. Stuart, dogged by addiction problems, departed the band in 2003 and died in 2010.
Kelly and Rich's friendship has held Stereophonics together throughout; with Rich more than happy for Kelly, as frontman and writer, to take the spotlight.
"I totally respect everything he does. The best thing about Stereophonics is that we were friends before the band even existed.
"We still have the same passion and excitement as we did when we were teenagers; it really doesn't seem like 20 years – we have always been focused on the next step, to be the best we can possibly be, and to have as many people as possible listening to our music," says Rich.
He and Kelly will be joined on tour by – Adam Zindani, the band's guitarist since 2007, drummer Jamie Morrison, who joined last summer, and Tony Kirkham, their live keyboard player since 1999.