Thirty-plus years into your career, what is it about music that still excites you and makes you want to keep on doing it?
Paul Weller: I’m still so much in love with what I do — playing music and not just being a musician but being a fan and just the whole trip really. It’s in my blood and it’s my whole life and I think that kinda counts for an awful lot as well. I never get bored. If I get bored of my own music, I just go and listen to other people’s music for a little bit, do you know what I mean? It’s remained a source of wonderment to me.
Is it still intimidating or stressful after all this time to put out an album and to, quite frankly, be judged by the public and by critics?
Yeah I think so. We had so much fun making that record — every day we would try something different and we all thought we were making something really special. But then it still comes time where you’ve got to let go of it and give it out to people in the world, but that’s all part of the magic, really, especially when people respond to it, and how much people have loved this record makes it all worthwhile as well. You never know how people are going to react to it. You can have all the faith in it and love for it.
What’s your feeling when a record is recorded and mixed and ready to be released – is it a feeling of satisfaction about a job well done, or is it sometimes a feeling of frustration because there’s things you would have liked to change, or maybe a song or idea you were reaching for but never quite got there all the way?
It’s hard to answer that because every record is different. With 22 Dreams, I thought it was pretty much as perfect as it could be. There’s other albums I’ve made where I’ve kinda…we’ve finished it all and listened back to it and there’s been bits I’ve liked but I’ve never had a whole, 100% feeling about it. But sometimes it works and you capture what you set out to do, and other times you only get halfway, but you’ve still gotta cast it out there because that’s just where you are at that point in time.
I guess in a way songs are living things anyway that can change and mutate when you go out and play them live.
Well, when you play any song live it always takes on a life of its own anyway. I don’t slavishly try to reproduce what we’ve done on a record, so a song naturally takes on a different life.
Are there certain songs of yours that you’ve grown to love more as the years have gone by?
I suppose I feel more affinity toward the ones I can remember [laughs]. There’s hundreds of them, and there’s quite a few I’ve forgotten.
Did you go into making 22 Dreams with ideas that you’d previously had sitting around, maybe from earlier recording sessions or playing them live or during soundchecks, or did you start completely from scratch?
It was all pretty much from scratch, I had maybe a half a dozen songs arranged before we went into the studio, and then the rest we just made up as we went along.
Really? So a lot of the album was just written in the studio?
Oh yeah. And you know when it’s flowing because there’s a certain mood within the room, within the studio and the people you’re working with are all buzzing as well. I think you know, really. It seemed to come fairly easily, but with 22 Dreams, the more we recorded, the more we wanted to do. It was kind of…there weren’t too many preconceived ideas. The only idea I had was that I wanted to make it a double album because I’ve never made a double album before. We had a big list up on the studio wall of the song titles, and by the end there were 26 or 27 songs. It was like, “Let’s just keep on going,” really, and we probably could have kept on going if we didn’t give ourselves some sort of cut-off time. It was just, the more we made the more we wanted to make. We were sorta sequencing it as we went along as well and I think that helped — we kinda saw what else we needed, what was missing.
Is it generally difficult to transfer the ideas and sounds in your head to tape? Do songs often end up the way you initially envisioned them?
Well, you just never really know, do you know what I mean? You have an idea, and you have a good feeling about something, but until you record it and make it…until you actually do it you never know how it’s gonna turn out. Sometimes it turns out even better than you’d imagined, and other times it doesn’t work at all. It’s the very slow, tenuous nature of making music.
A lot of people dream about becoming a musician and putting out albums and touring the world and all the rest, but few people actually go and do it. What was it that compelled you to take the leap all those years ago from dreaming about it to actually doing it?
I never really considered anything else. There was nothing else I wanted to do in life, and there was nothing else I could do, so there wasn’t any other option but to forge ahead and try to make it. And I guess if I hadn’t have made it, which is always a possibility, I guess I would’ve just still played clubs and pubs in Woking, where I come from, or London or wherever. I’d still be making music, I’d just be doing it as a job. But there was never any consideration of doing anything else, from the time I was ten years old it’s all I ever thought about was just bein’ in a band and trying to make music.
Did you have friends or teachers show you how to play?
Well I had a few guitar lessons, people that showed me the rudiments of the instrument. But then after that I just played along to records, really, and even with writing, as soon as I learned three chords – soon as I learned C, F, and G – I put myself down right there and tried to write songs. So it was kind of like, it felt like a natural thing to do, I never really sat down and considered it too much, that was just the next step. One, learn to play, and two, start writin’ your own tunes.
What’s it like nowadays when other musicians, especially younger bands and whatnot, come up to you and tell you how much you’ve influenced them or how much your music has meant to them?
Yeah, that’s probably one of the biggest compliments you can get. A lot of young bands, they want to talk about the Jam or the recent stuff. It’s pretty amazing, really.
Were you one to say stuff like that to your musical idols when you were younger?
I would’ve, but I never met the people I really love. I’ve only ever met the people that influenced me in recent years, really – sometimes they let me into those sort of circles [laughs]. You know, Ray Davies or Paul McCartney or Pete and Roger from the Who. I’ve only met those people in recent years. I do feel I’ve earned my stripes along the way, but for me, meeting Macca or Ray Davies, I’m transported back to 1968 and being a ten-year-old kid and in awe of the Beatles and the Kinks. That’s how much their music has meant to me, and I wouldn’t have picked up a guitar without them so…I still feel like I’m a fan as well.
What is it that makes a live show especially memorable for you nowadays?
Well I suppose it’s that sense of communion between you and the audience, really. When it all clicks and you’re all on the same level and you feel united in that feeling of singing and doing and playing.
Is there any way you can put into words the feeling of being up there onstage playing and being into it and creating that sense of communion?
No! [laughs] It’s a little bit of magic, really. It’s just something that’s in the air, it’s unquantifiable, really. It’s just one of the best feelings – it’s a high, it’s a very addictive high. But a very healthy one.
From The Seattle Weekly