Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Family reunion for The Verve

Simon Jones knew something was up the moment he picked up the phone and heard Richard Ashcroft on the other end of the line. The two didn’t talk on a regular basis particularly since their band The Verve went through a rather ugly split in the late 90s.

“It was weird at first, obviously,” Jones said about hearing from Ashcroft. “I hadn’t spoke to Richard in a long time; 10 years or something.”

The Britpop band’s lead singer didn’t call bassist Jones to catch up on old times and reminisce about the past. That would come later. He first wanted to know how Jones felt about playing together again. Ashcroft not only called Jones. He also reached out to fellow bandmates, drummer Peter Salisbury and even guitarist Nick McCabe, who feuded with Ashcroft before the band broke up in 1999.

“Within a couple of weeks we met up in a studio in London in Richmond, had a coffee and a chat and within the hour, we were recording the record,” Jones said. “So, you know, it was a massive turn of events really after all that time. It’s something I thought would never happen. It’s amazing to have been granted this opportunity, making the record and playing our material around the world again. What a joy, you know.”

It seemed that, at the moment The Verve hit its peak, things ended. McCabe left the band shortly after touring commenced for the worldwide smash, Urban Hymns, which produced the top single “Bittersweet Symphony.”

“I think Urban Hymns took us off guard a little. The pressures that came with that success put an end to the band really,” Jones said. “Urban Hymns took on a life of its own. What we’ve learned from the fact that we did split up for 10 years is how precious this is, really, and to learn from our past experiences. We’re a little more wise, more mature, and more equipped to say ‘no’ to the people who forced us to tour our asses off for two years.”

During the band’s hiatus, each member kept busy. Jones and Simon Tong worked on The Shining project and McCabe released several one-off recordings with various artists. Tong also joined Blur and Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn on Gorillaz Demon Days mini-tour and also featured on the album. Ashcroft recorded three solo albums with help from Salisbury, who also joined Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as their part-time touring drummer.

Jones had kept in touch with the other members of The Verve. He said that when Ashcroft asked how he felt about getting the band back together, Jones didn’t hesitate to join in on the reunion.

“Me and Nick started working together before this thing happened. We started writing some material with the prospect of doing something,” Jones said. “Pete phoned me to ask for Nick’s phone number (one day) because he lost his phone number and hadn’t spoken to him in a while. Then I think Richard got wind that Pete had been speaking to him and said, ‘Ah, you know, maybe we’ll do some gigs; maybe do a bit of recording.’ This thing, having been such a big part of our lives, you didn’t even have to think about it for a second really.”

When the foursome started jamming in the studio, Jones said it felt like the days of old, despite the fact the four hadn’t been in a recording environment in more than a decade. The sessions produced Forth, the band’s fourth studio album and first since Urban Hymns. Shortly after its late-August release, the new record hit number one on the UK Albums chart and number 23 on the Billboard 200 chart here in the States.

“It all felt quite normal,” Jones said of the band’s return. “I guess it’s we’re like a sort of dysfunctional family, and this is like a family reunion. The amazing thing was, within an hour or so, we were recording, and it was blatantly obvious that the chemistry was intact right from the offing. It was amazing. We got so much material. The things we did the first week are on the record.”

Before The Verve entered the studio, none of the band members had prepared arrangements, written lyrics, or thought about what they did or did not want on the album. They started from scratch.

“We went in without any material, and I think the only sort of preconceived notion was to make a record like that, to go in and be free and to jam and to capture spontaneity and to capture the human element onto the record,” Jones said. “And to me, I think we achieved that. It’s the one Verve record that is the most true. It’s very self indulgent, but it’s got to be when you’re in that recording process. It’s got to be selfish, and you’ve got to be true to yourself and true to your own vibe. We’re not the sort of band that goes in and says, ‘Oh s***, we need a single. What are we going to do?’ It just reveals itself.”

What the band didn’t want was to come into the studio without the entire crew on board. Jones, McCabe, Salisbury, and Ashcroft all had to fully commit for it to work, Jones said. Everyone put the past behind them, starting fresh, including McCabe. McCabe left the band twice – the first on his own after having creative differences with Ashcroft, and then for the second time when the entire band split over power struggles and quite simply, exhaustion.

“When Nick left the first time, we brought Simon Tong in, and he’s this cool friend of ours who helped us with the recording of Urban Hymns, and then Nick came back, and he sort of stayed in the band,” Jones said. “When we put the band back together this time, it was a conscious thing to get back together to the original four members because we have the chemistry. There’s no point in doing it without the original members, I don’t think. It’s not the Real McCoy, you know.”

The past is the past, Jones said. The nights of playing shows hopped up on ecstasy, as well as the drug-fueled studio sessions, stayed in the 90s and didn’t tag along for this ride.

“We’re lucky that we’re all intact and there are no casualties, and the fact that I still feel young,” Jones said. “I started when I was 17, and I’m only 35 now. There are bands just making it at my age. I’m just glad that we’ve not decided to do this when we’re 60, and we look a disgrace. We’re not all fat and aging and balding. We’re a totally relevant band, as far as I’m concerned.”

Jones said he feels privileged to record with The Verve for a second go-round, particularly seeing the band started fresh and how every member put their entire heart and soul into making what Jones said is a classic album.

“It was a gift to feel you can make the greatest record of your career,” Jones said. “To have that opportunity because of a 10-year gap is a quite unique thing really. What an amazing experience to go back and make that record you always felt you wanted to make. It is the most definitive Verve record. To me it captures the essence of the band – where we came from, how we started, how we learned to play together as a band.”

The Verve plan to tour in support of Forth. Nothing is set in stone yet. The band played a number of festivals over the summer and should hit the road either by the end of the year or early 2009.

“I can’t wait to tour it and play these new songs in a live environment,” Jones said. “It’s still amazing to play those songs to people – the new generation of fans and all the people who had been with us until the split. It’s a really humbling experience, to be honest. It’s just unbelievable that 10 years on, you’re playing Germany and there are people singing along in a German accent and know every word to every song.”

Ten years of silence from The Verve has ended, and Jones couldn’t be happier.

“If we’d have done this a year later or a year earlier or a month later or even two weeks later, it would’ve been a different record. It would’ve sounded completely different because we go in without too much preparation, and that’s how our band works,” Jones said. “We didn’t compromise ourselves for the sake of commercialism. It was about making the record we wanted to make. This is happiness. This is what it’s all about.”

Source: Ryan Wood, Wicked Local Rochester