01 May 2008

Simon Jones interview - Eye Weekly

Richard Ashcroft may be the public face (and cheekbones) of The Verve, but as the UK psych-rockers’ tumultuous history has shown, guitarist Nick McCabe is its heart and soul.

In 1995, following the release of A Northern Soul, the visionary but notoriously reclusive guitarist fell out with Ashcroft, prompting the band’s temporary dissolution.

He reconciled with the singer in time to complete 1997’s Britpop valedictory statement Urban Hymns, only to depart in the wake of that album’s multi-­platinum success, leaving The Verve to flounder on what should’ve been a triumphant 1998 North American arena tour.

After a nine-year absence that saw Ashcroft struggle to establish himself as a solo artist, The Verve mounted a reunion last fall that was as unexpected as their break-up, leaking a new 10-minute jam, titled “The Thaw Session,” that harkened back to the acid-rock odysseys of the band’s 1992 debut, A Storm in Heaven.

Whether that exploratory ethos will inform the band’s as yet untitled new album (due out later this year) remains to be seen; but on the phone from his home outside Chester, UK, bassist Simon Jones is quite happy to provide the early prognosis: it’s their best album yet, natch. 

On The Verve’s last tour in ’98, you had to get three people playing guitar — BJ Cole, Simon Tong and Richard Ashcroft himself — to replace Nick McCabe. And then you broke up shortly thereafter. Is it safe to say then: no Nick, no Verve?

It’s safe to say, yeah. To me, he’s the greatest guitarist of our generation. No one else can do what that guy does. It’s like an orchestra, what comes out of his amplifiers. We’ve been rehearsing all day and it’s such a joy to play music with these guys. It just works — that’s why we’re back together again. It’s such an outlet for all of us. You’re in a marriage with people and you have arguments, and that’s just the way it’s always been with us, but being a bit older now, we can better deal with the idiosyncrasies. 

Was pulling the plug at the height of your success the smartest or dumbest thing you ever did?

I’ve had a great time since the band broke up. The first year [after] was the hardest, losing something that big, but life goes on. You can’t dwell on it or it’s going to drag you down. 

There’s something to be said for only getting together when you’ve got something to say, rather than it becoming your job.

Totally. If we had just carried on for the last 10 years, it’d be like, “well, how vital are you?” Like Oasis — they were around the same time as us, but we’re not the kind of band that could keep putting records out, we’d burn ourselves out. And now, after such a long time, you’re full of that energy you have when you first start a band. I think this new one’s the best record we’ve ever made. It’s the most true representation of what The Verve’s music is about: it’s got a great balance of songs, jams, experimental things. The hardcore Verve fan will be very satisfied. 

Are you working with a big producer again like John Leckie?

No, it’s self-produced. We had a pure vision of what we wanted, and to put someone else in, you end up having music you don’t necessarily think is valid. We’ve been working in a private studio in Richmond. The guy who owns it, Terry Britten, is quite a well-known songwriter here — he’s got an old EMI desk that used to belong to the Stones in the ’70s… 

Are there any cocaine deposits on the board?

Oh, no, no, the times have changed — I have a few kids now…. 

No, I meant the Stones’ cocaine deposits…

Oh! I thought you were implying it was us! Actually, it’s funny, there are names etched into the board with a compass — you can see “Keith” and “Mick” and “Charlie.” It’s quite a novelty. But it’s an amazing place — the studio is full of old vintage gear, it’s bit of a musician’s paradise. It’s like stepping back into the past. 

Source: Eye Weekly, Written by Stuart Berman