16 October 2008

Catching up with...The Verve

Until this summer's Forth, The Verve hadn't released an album since 1997's critically acclaimed Urban Hymns, and many of the band members hadn't seen each other since that period of time.

But now, over a decade later, the band is back to try and recapture the momentum of what was once considered one of the biggest forces in music, though they're now playing largely to audiences that were just discovering the radio when “Bitter Sweet Symphony” ruled the airwaves. Paste recently caught up with bassist Simon Jones to talk about The Verve's new music, the ever-present rumors and how the reunion came about.

Paste: I want to get your take on the new record. I've been through it a few times and I will say that I was really impressed with how cohesive it sounded for it being the first thing [the band] had recorded in eleven years. Give me your take on the new record and the process that went into it.

Jones: Well, I think when we first went in to record, which was back last year, I think we were all conscious of wanting to make a very sort of live-feeling record. “Get the band in the [studio], record the band live” was kind of what we were working toward with [1995's] A Northern Soul more so than Urban Hymns, I would say. And really, I wouldn't say it was a conscious decision not to make Urban Hymns 2, but we definitely wanted to get back to being a functioning band and playing live in the studio.

When we did Urban Hymns, Nick kind of joined us late and a lot of the tracks were already laid down for that, so I think there was a definite consensus to get the live feeling of the band because we are a great live band, to just record the jams and everything and have the tape on record at all times when we're in the studio.

I mean, not having seen each other for ten years, the first time we all met all together was actually in the studio. [We] kind of had a bit of a chat with each other, and coffee, and then we went straight into recording, and so even things from the first day are on the record. I think what's happened over time as well, now, with the technology and the use of ProTools and stuff. In the past, on A Northern Soul, we'd have these big jams, we'd be editing them physically, like slicing the tape with razor-blades. But now we have this whole technology in place where we could edit ourselves on the computer, which was really a godsend for us.

So there's lots and lots of jamming, really, and that's kind of the band that we started from when we were 16, when we learned to play our instruments together back in Wigan, you know. It's just a lot of sort of learning to play with each other, and you get that sort of intuitiveness where you know what the other musicians are going to do. And I think what amazed us all on the first couple of days [back in the studio] is that we hadn't lost that element at all. We still intuitively knew where to take the music and how to play together as a band.

Even with something that's a bit more polished, like "Love Is Noise”-- that came out as a 40-minute jam and we took an eight-bar loop out of it and then built onto that. So we're always looking for elements within the jams and stuff to see where we could take it further and a major part of the process of this record was actually done when we'd play back what we'd done the previous day or the previous week and go into and find the magic moments.

Paste: You said the first time you were all back together was, in fact, [in] the studio. Who made the first phone call, who really put the pieces in place for this to happen?

Jones: Well, I think I've been in touch with Pete, the drummer, off and on over the years, you know, from a distance. He'd not been in touch with Nick for years and he, just to see how Nick was doing, [gave] him a call, blah blah blah, and they had a chat with each other. And I think Richard got wind of the fact that Pete had talked to me, and said, “Oh, you think they'd be up for doing a few gigs or whatever?” And Pete, having talked to us, knew that we always would be if there was that chance.

So then Richard kinda did the right thing and then called everyone up and sort of put it to us, you know, “How would you feel about doing some gigs and some recordings?” Having this been such big part of all our lives since we were at school together, really, it was something none of us could say no to, really. So it was Richard picking up the phone really and doing the right thing [that sparked the reunion.]

Paste: Is it sort of strange to be at a point in your life where decisions like that, conversations with your friends, automatically become tabloid news and back-page news and things like that? Little reunion quips and money jokes and stuff?

Jones: I guess it does, but to me, even on Urban Hymns-- I think the success of that record took us all a bit off. I didn't read reviews, I don't read reviews, I've not read any reviews since we've got back together. I like to maintain a clear head in that sense, 'cause I don't like to be swayed by anyone else's opinion, 'cause when I'm doing it I know how I feel and I know how good it is and I don't really need to look to see what someone else thinks. I keep all that stuff-- I got copies of all the magazines, the reviews, and one day I might go back and do it, you know what I mean. But me, personally, I'm not the sort of person that gets tangled up in that, you know.

I left London about five years ago to get away from the constant, day-to-day sort of music business thing, and now I live back up north near my family. So I try and keep my head out of the head-spin as much as I can by keeping away from all that stuff, really. But yeah, it is strange, you know.

To me, it's just four people making a phone call, making a record, getting it together and it sounds so simple. And yeah, in the media a fuss is made about it, but to me its just about the people I was at school with and its not that big a deal to me. I've always kinda kept my feet on the ground in that sense. Planted firmly on the ground 'cause its so easy to get carried away with it all, you know. It just messes with your head, to be honest, so I steer clear.

Paste: You find loads of information [online] about the band and history, but then you seem to find just as many almost tabloid stories about Nick probably quitting the band, or about the reunion just being for the money, and it almost becomes hard to separate the fake from the things based in any sort of reality.

Jones: Oh totally. When we were on tour in Japan, Richard smashed his guitar up, and all that, and there was a big story and all that in the media that we'd split up and that was our last gig just because somebody smashed his guitar up. Everything's under a microscope like that, and the slightest little show of anything out of the ordinary and they're jumping on it like, “Oh, they're going to split up.” It's always been like that with our band, and I just have to ignore it as long as I know how us four feel about it.

Paste: You mentioned that Richard is still contractually obliged to make solo albums. When one of his solo albums does come out, is that something you go out and listen to and notice different artistic directions he's going in and think about [The Verve], or is it just something you listen to as a completely separate piece of art?

Jones: Well, in the past I don't think I've ever-- I've never actually listened to one of Richard's solo records. It was too painful after the split-up of the band, really. Now, I believe it wouldn't affect me as much. I wouldn't sit there as a critic going, “Oh, it's not as good as if he were playing with us,” you know? I think I'm old enough and mature enough now to let it sound, as you said, like its own piece of art. I'm not going to criticize what Richard does. He's a great songwriter. But I'm not too familiar with all of his solo records. I'll have to go back and see what he was up to at some point. (laughs)

Paste: What's next for the band for now?

Jones: Yeah, I think it was just a mission to get through all this at first, because we'd never done the whole circus and doing all the festivals. So that was the first plan, to do the summer, and then I guess we'll be promoting the record and then doing some shows at maybe the end of the year and early next year as well, without a doubt.

This is just a pause or a sigh after doing all those gigs. There were 27 gigs including the American tour, which is quite a lot for us. But yeah, [we'll] definitely [be back on the road] the end of this year, early next year. We'd all miss it too much. The gigs have been so fantastic. I've actually really started to miss doing club gigs after doing all these festivals. I miss doing sound checks and stuff like that because that's what we used to really use to write new material together.
Paste: What's it like for you at, say, Coachella, when you know there's tons of people there just to see a three-day music festival that may not know a single thing about you and may not have even cared about music when your last album was out? Do you approach that differently at all?

Jones: Well, I think that's part of the mission, to get those people on board who totally aren't expecting an experience, you know what I mean. They've just sort of stumbled into a field and they're going “Who the fuck is this?” You know? I think that's the buzz, for me. Doing those festivals is knowing that it's not your hardcore fans, like you said, it's people who bought a ticket for three days of music and they're just kind of wandering around and, you know, that's happened to us in the past, back in the early '90s.

We've done Glastonbury in the middle of the day sort of thing and have so many memories of people coming up from other gigs and going “Oh, I've never heard of you before. Fuckin' ahh, it was amazing!” So that's kind of the buzz of the festivals, to turn on the people that haven't listened to you before, who haven't heard you or have maybe disregarded you.