Paul Weller,
The TVD Interview

The Modernist spirit has remained contemporary for nearly sixty years, and so too has Paul Weller. It seems impossible, but there he is, sitting across the table with a cup of milky tea and a pack of cigarettes. He’s impeccably dressed in a black tee shirt, slender trousers, and dapper pair of shoes. That’s the thing about being a mod; it’s a sharp, timeless style (really, a way of life) that’s all about attention to detail, and it gives a snapshot of what Weller is all about. But that’s not where Weller ends.

While he may be difficult to describe to someone unfamiliar, the most important thing to know is that the authenticity he stands for mattered at a time when it was possible for musicians to really matter.

And he still matters. While music may feel as if it’s spiraling into a madding cacophony of styles, Weller has perched himself above it all as he usually does. His latest LP, Saturns Pattern, is another musical point of reflection for him. He has always stretched and twisted his sound, abruptly departing from expectations only to find him again, and Saturns Pattern follows that M.O. It’s a rush of cosmic soul, psychedelia, blues, dance, and myriad other sounds. It’s opinionated, soulful, rollicking, and so much Paul Weller.

Hours before his sold-out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, Paul talked about the importance of the new, being content with where he is, and even got a little wistful when talking about putting a record on a turntable for the first time.

On my way here, I was thinking about my college radio DJ days. I decided to start a mod music show and nobody had a clue what I was doing.

[Laughs] That was brave! Was that here in San Fran?

No, it was in a small town in Arkansas.  

Where is that, then? Midwest?

It’s in the south, right on top of Louisiana.

Ah, okay!

Mod culture follows you around in one way or another. You seem to embrace it. What do you think makes it so enduring?

Well, it’s just something that I’m really into, y’know? It’s kind of like any sort of code, philosophy, religion—whatever you want to call it. I think it’s something that once you’re into it, it’s integral to you. It’s really part of your life and the way you think and all that. But the reason why it’s endured so much is because it’s adaptable. I think because every generation comes along and discovers it, and kind of just adapts it and fills it and it becomes something else again, and mutates a little bit, and I think that’s why, really. It’s quite a concise way of living and thought, really.

There’s a famous old Pete Meaden quote that mod means “Clean living under difficult circumstances,” which is very apt, really.

There’s definitely a kind of mystique that drew me to it. In this day and age, the Internet has sort of demystified that whole scene…

The Internet has demystified everything.

Especially music. The sense of anticipation has changed dramatically or is gone all together. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to wait outside a store a midnight for a new album release or coveting magazines with your favorite band’s photos…

Well, that’s all old media now, isn’t it? There are definite pros and cons to modern technology, I suppose. But you can look on the other side and see that technology spreads things far and wide, you know? It makes the world smaller, but I don’t know if it makes us any closer.

Do you remember the first record you bought?

That I actually bought myself? Sgt. Pepper’s. But it took me a year to save up for it. I bought it in 1968, the year after it was released, because it took all that time for me to get the money together. That was my first one, yeah. But that sleeve, you know, I just looked at it all the time and read the lyrics—it was amazing to me.

The first single I ever bought was “Wonderboy” by The Kinks in 1968 as well. But my mum was really young when she had me, she was in her early 20s, so she bought records. But at the time, they were expensive. They were like a real luxury item, so people wouldn’t buy that many. But that’s how I really got into records, through my mum and dad’s collection. In their small collection, they had Little Richard, Chuck Berry—rock and roll, really.

Did they stay up on music?

My mum did, but Dad didn’t really. He was very good at jiving; they used to win jiving competitions when we were kids. But even up until fifteen years ago or so, Mum would get up and jive to Little Richard!

Given all of this technology and the possibilities, you still release everything you put out on vinyl. Why is that important to you?

Well, it’s so I’ve got a copy myself really. I wouldn’t like to think that I haven’t got a physical copy of one of my records. It’s not a great number of vinyl, but there’s still an audience for it. It’s kind of picked up a lot in the last few years, with a lot of young kids getting into it.

Why do you think they’re into it? Do kids who Snapchat all the time want their music to be tangible?

Well, I dunno, I think it’s that thing that you were saying about wanting something physical, you know? There’s the artwork… even just taking the record out and putting it on the deck…

It kind of commits you to the music, too.

I think it’s really difficult when it’s just floating around in space. But there are some good things about that; the other night, we were all talking about some tracks and Andy just found them on his phone just like this [snaps fingers], so we could hear them straight away. That’s pretty amazing, right?

But at the same time, for me personally—and maybe it’s because of my age and my generation—if I like a piece of music, I will go out and find it somehow. I will go out and buy a CD, a record, whatever it may be.

But I guess there’s a whole generation that’s not bothered about owning music. I’m bothered about the fact that no one’s paying for it, you know? That’s worrying, really.

It is worrying that we live in an age where Taylor Swift has more pull concerning pay than even record executives do. But compensation has never been favorable to artists.

Well, it’s definitely better. Even though you were being ripped off, still it was kind of… you were getting paid, at least, something.

And there was investment in developing the artist, which pretty much doesn’t exist now. You had better have exactly what a major label is looking for.

Yeah, that’s gone, isn’t it? They want it all on a plate straight away, with so many hits, and all the rest of it. But, the beat goes on, doesn’t it? Circumstances change, but music goes on.

You’ve always evolved and always tried different things. Your new record, Saturns Pattern, is in that tradition of musical experimentation for you. I feel like you’re the sort of artist for whom the newest music you put out is closest to your heart. Is that true?  

Yeah, when it’s a good record, yeah. [Laughs] It could be something that I don’t feel that close to, but I’d still have to go out and promote it!

But I think yeah, for us… we started touring this year back in March, so we did UK and European tours before the record was out, and we were playing some of the new songs. But I think you could tell that the reaction was good straight away, and there was a definite positive reaction to the songs the audiences hadn’t heard before.

But yeah, I’m always close to what I’m doing at the time, definitely. I mean, I love playing all the new stuff at the moment in the set; we do lots of different things in the set, but I always like the new stuff better. It’s more of a challenge.

Saturns Pattern sounds like kind of a mash of everything that you’re interested in. The title track reminds me of a sort of Crosby, Stills and Nash song a little bit, and there are so many different styles peppered throughout, from psychedelia to blues and rock. What surprised you about the way the songs turned out for this album?

Well… that they got made at all? [Laughs] I don’t know! Because I had got six or seven songs I’d written before—that I’d written at home more traditionally on a guitar or piano or whatever—so I kind of knew I didn’t want to make a record like that, so I put them aside and started again from scratch.

So, I just sort of jammed and improvised and saw what happened. For the new songs to develop into such a stage, that was kind of surprising, really, because it was just… blank… and had all been made up as I went along. That was quite surprising—that it was successful!

Does it feel like it’s a different process every time?

Well, it’s not possible; I try to change it as much as I can, but there’s only a few ways you can write a song, really. So, I guess it’s like a mixture for me these days. There are still songs that I bring along with me that I’ve written at home and play on the guitar that I’ve got a set arrangement for, and chords. But at the same time, I kind of like to leave it open to see what happens as well, you know. Sometimes we start a day off and we’re just fooling around with bits and pieces, and after a few hours something forms, and by the evening there’s a song there. I’ve always found that quite magical, really, that you start with nothing in the morning and in the evening time, there’s something going on—there’s a song emerging.

It’s wonderful that you have the freedom and the space to do that. So many artists, and yourself for that matter, have to wear the marketer or salesman or entrepreneur hat for a lot longer, and it becomes a different experience…

But I’ve very lucky as well. I’m very lucky that I’ve got my own studio that’s just outside London, so I never have to watch the clock. We work for as long as it takes, really. There’s not that kind of pressure. And I mean… I don’t have pressure from a record company, so that’s all good. But maybe you have to earn the right to do that; I don’t know how it works, really.

So yeah, we really do make the records in isolation in some ways, but there comes the moment of truth and you have to put it out to the rest of the world.

What you said reminds me of “I’m Where I Should Be,” this song of contentment that’s almost rebellious in a world where we are pressured to want more. Do you feel content as an artist?

You know, I’m really, really happy with what I do, you know? I’m so blessed and so lucky that I’m still able to play music, and there are still people who turn up and see it. So, I don’t really have any ambitions beyond just keep on doing it, to just be allowed to do it. That’s kind of ambition in itself, really, to go on living and playing music. Beyond that, I don’t really want anything else, I don’t think. I’m not craving success as such. I mean, it’s nice that we’ve sold out here [The Fillmore] tonight. So, it’s a good position I’m in. I’m really happy with where I am in the world. I don’t feel like I’m owed anything more or less; I think wherever I am in life, I’ve kind of led myself there, and that’s good enough for me, really, you know? It’s taken me a long time to say that! It’s taken a good part of fifty years!

I’ve been listening to your music for a long time, and what you said just proves the authenticity that runs through it. Sometimes it feels like music is increasingly treated like “content,” as something to fill space…

But hasn’t it always been like that? Hasn’t there always been music that’s just filled up airspace or people’s minds, and hasn’t there always been music that gets through to your bones and your soul and stays with you?

That’s, of course, true; there’s always been pop music and commercial music…

Yeah, and there’s always been some great pop music as well, you know, and there still is. And there’s a lot of shit as well! You know full well there are songs you’ll listen to on the radio now that you won’t listen to in two years time, or ten or fifty or whatever. But there are things that are gonna stick around forever, you know? I think it’s always been like that. I think you can get that kind of… what is that called? You think of a time when every song was great, every record was great… selective memory. [Laughs]

Paul Weller’s latest, Saturns Pattern is in stores now. On vinyl.
Paul Weller Official | Facebook | Twitter | Tour

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text