BLOOD OUT OF THE STONES
For years, The Stone Roses have kept a low profile, frustrating their fans by refusing to talk to the music press. But now, with the release of their long-awaited second album, they’ve decided to break their silence – exclusively to The Big Issue. Gary Crossing landed the coveted job of meeting The Stone Roses.
Some things in life are worth waiting for. Five and a half years after their debut album, The Stone Roses finally delivered their follow-up opus, cheekily titled “The Second Coming”.
Its release has been shrouded in mystery. The first single lifted from it, Love Spreads, was delivered to Radio 1 with the kind of security reserved for a President and a strict embargo has been placed upon the album until its release. As I’m driven to the West London home of the Roses’ press agent for the exclusive world interview with the band, it occurs to me that some sort of blood oath of secrecy is in order. At the very least I should have been gagged with chloroform, blindfolded and bunged in the boot.
So, is this interview a scam? Is it a wind-up? Well no, it’s a big-hearted gesture actually. “Somebody’s going to make money off us coming back, so it was the best thing to do,” says lead singer Ian Brown. “The last time the NME had us on the cover it was one of the biggest selling issues of the year. We’d rather the money went to helping the homeless than into the coffers of a big organisation like IPC. We thought let’s put something back. If somebody gets a house just by the four of us talking then it’s got to be worth it. It works better for us as well because it’s away from the music press.”
“The NME and all those magazines come to expect the right to an interview,” adds bass player Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield. “Hopefully it will establish a trend and make all those comfy, complacent music journalists work a bit harder. After all, they’re just a bunch of sixth formers who’ve spent too long pogoing around their bedrooms with tennis rackets. Their views and opinions are no more important than anybody else’s.”
I’m promised a proper chat with the Roses later, but first I get to hear the album. The band shuffle off toward Oxford Street for a spot of sight-seeing, leaving me alone with the album. I’m not allowed a copy of the tape to take away, so this is my only chance. This is it. After years of speculation, rumour and heresay the moment of truth has arrived. Tense, nervous and sweating with anticipation I press ‘play’ and sink back into an armchair. Suddenly the room explodes into a rousing chorus of House Of Love by East 17. Is this all some kind of sick joke? Perhaps it’s a witty sample of the Walthamstow wastrels to kick off the album of the decade with a smile. Or perhaps the biggest loser in London has pressed the wrong button by mistake.
I find the right button. The Second Coming, take two. Reports that the Roses have opted for a harder, heavier sound are confirmed. The Second Coming, described playfully by guitarist John Squire as “neo-classical, homoerotic eclecticism”, has an earthy, spontaneous and exciting live feel to it. “This is more how we want to sound,” says Ian. “It’s much stronger and we sound like a proper live band.” Zeppelin, Floyd, Hendrix, The Stones, The Doors, Fleetwood Mac (circa Peter Green), Cream, Sly Stone and Sonny Boy Williamson have clearly all wormed their way into the band’s collective consciousness over the past few years. “There’s still a lot more room for improvement,” says Mani, “but we’re heading in the right direction. I’ve learned that part of the secret is opening yourself up to new types of musicz, not being so blinkered. I never listened to Hendrix or Zeppelin until much later on in life.”
The whole world and its great grandmother must know the Stone Roses’ story by now. In May ’89, four likely lads from ‘Madchester’ released their much-lauded eponymous album. It was a time when clothes only came in two sizes – baggy and extra baggy. A time when the fusion between indie and dance music spawned bands like the Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Inspiral Carpets, The Charlatans and James.
The Stone Roses were cool, confident, and just the right side of cocky. With their hypnotic blend of Sixties-flavoured, trippy, pop guitars and funky Eighties suss they promised to be more than just another passing trend. They wrote songs with fippant titles like I Wanna Be Adored and I Am The Resurrection and their pretty, pouting singer warbled arrogant lyrics like: “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past is yours but the future’s mine” and boldly proclaimed that they would be huge. During a dispute with their second label FM Revolver they attacked the company’s offices with paint, causing Ã‚Â£23,000 worth of damage. This was rock’n’roll. But, after a smattering of smashing singles, some intoxicating live shows and a cobbled-together compilation of singles and B-sides, things seemed to be going awry.
Lengthy contractual wrangles ensued before the High Court freed the band from their third label Silvertone. This was followed by an acrimonious split from their manager of six years, Gareth Evans. This in 1992 they signed a reported multi-million dollar contract with the mighty Geffen Records and promptly disappeared into deepest, darkest Wales to record new material. They haven’t been seen or heard from since. Until now.
The Second Coming is very much a personal affair for John. As with the previous LP, he designed the sleeve artwork. In a change of style from its Jackson-Pollock influenced predecessor the latest sleeve is said to be a “sort of collage” with a “special surprise on the inside”. He also did the bulk of the songwriting, although he won’t talk about the lyrical content. “It’s confidential,” he says, “but there are definitely some raw nerves touched here. It’s up to the listener to make of it what they will. When I listen to other people’s music, half my pleasure is making my own mind up.”
The Roses are all affable, down-to-earth blokes but in an interview situation they are all guarded and reticent, almost scared to say too much. This reserve endows them with an air of mystery. They speak in lullaby Mancunian whispers, which seem to get softer as the interview progresses. Pregnant pauses breed like rabbits. It’s not that they’re unco-operative, it’s just that, as John says, “We get bored with talking about ourselves. Anyway, I know myself pretty well, I’m more interested in finding out about other people.” Ian doesn’t even enjoy listening to his own voice on record. “I don’t get a kick out of it,” he says. “The best thing I’ve heard it on is that Run DMC song What’s It All About which samples Fools Gold.”
Settled into comfy chairs, with coffee and fags, the Roses look healthy. Stories about them wrestling with obesity have been greatly exaggerated. Ian, the Jagger-lipped frontman was recently said to be so amply proportioned that his “arse would flatten Hampshire”. In fact the lad is more slender than ever. His face is positively gaunt, beneath his freshly-shaven head. John is also trim and wide-eyed, with his great shiny peepers gazing sleepily from beneath his finely tousled black barnet. Mani meanwhile looks a tad tired, a stubbly, warm grin emanating from under a shaggy bob. The fourth band member Alan ‘Reni’ Wren couldn’t make it today – he’s back in Manchester “sorting something out for his mum”.
On a sartorial note, the new-look Roses are now a totally flare-free outfit, the flapping Wranglers just a fading memory. Rising from their chairs they stand side by side to compare trousers. Ian’s are just a “regular cut”, Mani’s are “moleskin parallels” and John’s are “boot cut Levi corduroys”.
Apart from updating their image what have the Roses been doing all this time? The Smiths recorded ALL their albums in less than five years. “Well,” says Mani, “what with all the time wasted by the court case, we didn’t actually start making the album until ’92, and it was hard to get the momentum kicked in for a while there.”
“Then we had to find a new producer,” says Ian. “John Leckie (who produced the first LP) said his heart wasn’t big enough for the job, so he packed it in. He used to worry a lot. He told us we weren’t ready to record but we knew we were. He first heard our music when we were on the dole. He loved us and he couldn’t do enough for us. He’s changed. He reckons he’s getting on in life and time is money to him now. That’s not the way to work.”
A new production team of Paul Schroeder (engineer on the first LP) and local boy Simon Dawson was drafted in and work started afresh. “After such a wacking delay we thought ‘why rush it?’,” whispers John from a far-flung corner of the settee. “We were going to be criticised anyway so we thought we might as well make a good album.”
While the Roses were taking their time and getting it right, a frustrated music press was kept in the dark. Articles speculated about the band’s future. Journalists loitered outside recording studios in hope of some gossip. As Mani says: “The journalists couldn’t find out anything so they made things up.” Like how the band ordered an entire fleet of Ford Fiestas? “Absolute nonsense,” says Ian. “We only bought one.” What about how you raced cars around Welsh country lanes with the headlights turned off? “That’s absolute bollocks!” says Mani, shaking his head. “They also said that the first batch of songs that John wrote for the album were rejected by us because they weren’t quite up to scratch. That’s rubbish.”
John finds all these stories amusing. “Everyone seems to be taking this moral high ground, asking what all the fuss is about. But, in writing the articles themselves, the journalists are perpetuating the myth.”
Despite stories to the contrary, Geffen Records wasn’t worried about the progress its new young charges were making. “We hardly heard a note out of them for two and a half years,” says Ian. “They just kept sending the cheques over.”
The band’s advance for The Second Coming was rumoured to be Ã‚Â£1.5 million. In a recent Observer article Tony Wilson of Manchester’s Factory Two label was quoted as saying that: “Working class bands don’t have the work ethic that middle-class acts do. When they got the advance for the record they went away and spent it.” “Yeah, that’s true,” agrees Ian. But don’t they feel guilty about earning that amount of money? “All those figures are over-inflated,” says John.
“I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what we spend our money on quite frankly,” chips in Mani, who liked Wales so much that he moved down to Monmouth, where he occasionally plays football for the town’s B-team. Ian and Mani both retired their mums and Ian also bought a house in the Welsh mountains by the sea.
So the album’s in the can and about to be unleashed but will the fans still be there? Some lose interest, others switch their allegiances to fresh, up-and-coming bands. Are the Roses worried that, after all this time, people won’t be interested; that it won’t be a success? “No, because we make music for ourselves,” says John. “We’re pleased with what we’ve done so there ends the story. Anything else is a bonus.”
“We like it,” says Ian. “So there’s going to be plenty more who do. Whatever response it gets is irrelevant to us. When we first started out I knew we were going to do it. I knew our first LP was going to attract attention, inspire people, give them a buzz. I think this will do the same thing but the scale of what it does is out of our hands. Success is writing dynamic tunes for people and having peace of mind no matter what you do.”
The Roses don’t seem particularly worried about competition from the likes of Oasis, Blur, Suede and Elastica either. “Personally,” says Mani, “I don’t think the music scene has been as weak as this – ever.”
“What I’m more worried about,” adds Ian, “is that there are a lot of bands making great records but aren’t getting the attention they deserve.” He cites acts like the hip-hop outfit Leaders Of The New School, ragga man Cutty Ranks, Newport rap-punksters Dub War, and reggae outfit Burning Spear as some of his current favourites. “Winston Rodney (Burning Spear’s mainman) has got some presence, he’s the biggest granddad on the planet.” Mani’s a massive Spear fan too. “I always go and see the man when he’s playing. But the last thing that really excited me was seeing Huggy Bear on The Word.”
John never goes anywhere without his copy of ‘Albatross’ by Corrosion Of Conformity, while the last live band to excite him was a blues outfit from Burnley called The Ducks.
And what of the future? Well, the chaps are still looking for a new manager. Ian is adamant that “we want a character who makes us laugh”. And, as they miss playing live, they’re keen to tour in the new year. This time though, they’ll be concentrating on small clubs and more intimate venues. There won’t be any massive 30,000-capacity events like the legendary Spike Island show in Cheshire back in March 1990. “We’d like to be able to charge people 50p or nothing to get in,” says Mani. “Concert tickets are getting really overpriced these days.” “And we want to do shows in a marquee like we did at our last show in Glasgow,” says Ian. “Where it’s so hot that the sweat goes up to the roof and comes down like rain. Proper times they were.”
Judging by the Roses’ enthusiasm, it doesn’t look as though fans will be waiting quite as long for their next album. Ian’s modest ambition is to “make the best LP of all time”, while John wants to make the definitive Stone Roses live album. “It’s just that sometimes we get to a special place on stage that we never achieve on record and I’d like to hear that properly, from outside.”
Mani can’t wait to start on the third album – “I think it’ll be much better, we’re getting much better in the studio and we’re much better musically too. Everyone is au fait with each other’s quirks and techniques.” “We’ve still a long way to go,” says John. “That’s what I enjoy so much about the guitar, there’s always something new to learn. The permutations for writing songs must be finite, after all, there’s only a certain number of notes to experiment with. We’ve got a few years left yet.”
It may sound like a clichÃ© coming from the lips of lesser bands, but when the Roses say that they never want to forget their working-class roots, you believe them. “The aim is to do as much for people as you can,” says Ian. “And not become a martyr to the cause. We’ll never lose touch. And we’ll never sell out and play Wembley either.” “I definitely won’t,” says Mani. “Not unless Manchester United sign me on.”
The past was theirs and, judging by their new material, a mighty slab of the future is coming their way.
There seems to be different versions of this interview available – which are attributable to regional variations of the Big Issue. This version is an amalgamation of the various version to create the most comprehnsive edition available.