It’s over 40 years since Paul Weller first burst into our lives with The Jam. Here the legendary front man discusses his latest album success and how he’s desperate to get back on the road after the longest sabbatical of his life.
T here are not many artists who are still making vibrant and relevant music over four decades into their career, but Paul Weller has always done things differently.
Since he first burst into the national consciousness with The Jam in 1977, up through The Style Council and beyond with his prolific solo endeavours, the 62-year-old has always been about one thing – moving forward. Never one to rest on his laurels or repeat himself, Weller has somehow managed to keep producing new material that holds its own with his ever-increasing back catalogue of classic albums while always exploring new ideas at the same time.
It was no great surprise then, when earlier this year, his latest release Fat Pop (Volume 1) went straight to number one and gave him his sixth top spot album as a solo artist.
It’s a typically diverse collection of songs, taking in influences and inspirations from across the board, but with every track sounding unmistakably like Paul Weller.
Even by his standards, it was a quick turnaround since the last album but it’s a record he had already started planning when lockdown kicked in last year. As far as he saw it, if you can’t get out and play music, what else is there to do than make some more?
Looking back at the genesis of what became Fat Pop (Volume 1), Weller said: “The prospect of all that time off meant I was going to have to utilise my time in other ways, so I just put all my energy into making a record.
He said: “In the first lockdown, I was just recording my vocal and a guitar or piano to a click track, then I’d send that to the various band members who’d do their part and send it back to me, so there was a bit of to-ing and
fro-ing, until we could all get together which was just a real f***ing joy.
“Just having us all back in the same room again, having a bit of banter and playing some music together. We’d really missed it; we’d missed each other, and we’d missed playing together.”
With a back catalogue and reputation like his, he could easily go down the heritage act route if he wanted to and just churn out the old hits for the rest of his life, but that’s not how he’s wired.
Paul said: “I just wanted every song to be strong on its own, like each one could be a single. I’m always just trying to keep my own interest and not repeat myself, which when you have been recording music as long as I have, can be difficult. In fact, it’s next to impossible to always come up with something different, but I’m always conscious of trying to reach somewhere else or get to some other place with it.
“I couldn’t do that heritage route easily, not with any sort of conviction at all. My attitude has always been ‘Well that was a good record, let’s crack on with the next one and try and make something a bit different.’ That’s always been in me, but I think the older I get, the less cautious I am about trying different things or seeing what works.”
Fat Pop (Volume 1) features some stellar guest collaborations, such as Amen Corner legend Andy Fairweather Low on the strutting groove that is Testify and Paul’s own daughter Leah, who co-wrote and performed on Shades Of Blue, the classic slice of 3-minute kitchen sink pop that was the first single released off the album.
Paul said: “It was so easy and natural doing the track with Leah and without doing the proud dad thing too much, she’s now starting to come up with some really good songs.”
Not that he would push any of his kids into the industry and the key to his happiness is very much their happiness.
He said: “I always tell them happiness is something you cannot buy. You just have to find what you really want to do in life. They don’t all have to be little copies of me and go into the music business. I never understand that thing with kids of well-known people, people in certain fields, who feel they have to follow in their mum’s or dad’s footsteps.
“You could just f**k off and be a chippy. Or you could go and work in a shop. If that makes you happy, that’s great.”
As the brash and angry front man of The Jam back in the 80s Weller was always quick to highlight the inequalities of Britain’s class system and 40 years on he thinks little has changed.
He said: “It still makes me very, very angry and it is still in force. I think it’s embedded in the fabric of this country, really. Because there’s the old working class, and now there’s that other sub-class of people who are even below that, living on food banks.
“So it’s very much still in place, isn’t it? You’ve only got to look at Boris and all his public school mates to see that. Covid is giving them an opportunity to pass a lot of laws, because everyone’s got their eye off the ball.”
Away from his recorded output, Weller has been a constant presence on the live circuit all these years, but his usually relentless touring schedule ground to a halt last year along with the entire live music industry.
He said: “It’s the longest I’ve gone without playing live since I started but we’re hopefully doing this tour in November, which will make it nearly two-and-a-half years since we’ve played live. That’s an awful long time to be off and it will be just such a joy to be onstage again and play with a band. I’m really looking forward to getting back properly.”
As for what the future might bring, Weller doesn’t have any big plans or desires and he’s content with what he has already, because when it comes down to it, that’s all he really needs.
He said: “My only ambition is to have more of what I’m having now; life, music, family, children and all that. I don’t really have any long-term plans because, as we’ve discovered in the last year, there ain’t no plan. As long as I get a bit more of this, I’m a happy man.”