Published on March 27th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Pontypridd rockers Lostprophets release their fifth studio album Weapons on 2nd April before embarking on a mammoth tour of the UK and Europe (dates here), so Rocksucker caught up with the band’s affable guitarist Mike Lewis for a hearty chinwag about the record, their proposed collaboration with Labrinth, spending the day with Batman’s boss and how he explains Wales to Americans…
“Bring ‘Em Down”
How did your show at KOKO go the other night?
It was good. It was being filmed for the T4 Chart Show, and it’s always a little bit weird doing a TV show because it makes you really self-conscious about playing well and whatever. It was a free ticket thing so it was rammed in there and I think they even had to turn people away as well. It was cool, a good atmosphere, our first British show this year. It was a good laugh.
What can we expect from Weapons? Feel free to be as abstract as you like.
It’s a big Lostprophets record. A lot of people have been saying that it’s going back to sounding like to Start Something or Liberation Transmission. We didn’t go into it thinking about writing a big rock record – we didn’t really think about it, just started writing and saw what naturally came out – and then it kind of evolved into this big rock record. Then we’re touring it, and hopefully people will come and join us in having some fun. One big party!
What was it like recording the album in Hollywood with Ken Andrews?
He’s a really cool guy. When you work with a producer you want him to inspire you and be creative, have some cool insight, and he definitely had that. He was in a band himself, and he’s a songwriter, so it was nice to have that bit of input as well, not that we need someone to write songs for us but it’s nice to have that objective view, someone who can give us an opinion when we’re stuck with something. We always seem to record in LA – obviously it’s where most of the studios are, and most of the producers that we work with – but it’s twenty minutes from my house so I don’t mind! It’s nice getting to go home every night.
Do you think Lostprophets would sound different if you recorded in Britain? Perhaps you’d wind up sounding more like Joy Division or some such…
Well, I can only dream of sounding like Joy Division! We’ve not done an album here but we have recorded other stuff here, and we write all over the place as well. I think the first writing session we did for Weapons was in Norfolk, October 2010, so the weather wasn’t great at that time. We don’t just decamp to the beach and write a load of summer hits! I know Ian always says that he writes his best stuff, lyrically and whatever, when he’s in Wales surrounded by the familiarity of home. We write anywhere so I don’t think it really matters where we record, to be honest.
Ian’s done something quite different on “Better Off Dead”, a sort of rap or spoken word bit in the verse. Do any other songs on Weapons feature this?
No, that’s the only song where he does that. He wrote it because at first we were going to have a guest vocalist come in and do it, then Ian came up with an idea and we said fuck it, it sounds good. To be honest though, it’s probably my least favourite song on the album.
“Better Off Dead”
Have you figured out what happened with Labrinth and “Earthquake”?
Before we went in with Ken, we were thinking about who we wanted to work with, whether we wanted to do the album with just one producer or with a couple of different producers, some of them a little outside of the box, like Labrinth or Diplo, see what one of the dance or hip-hop guys could bring to what we were doing, because we’d never really done that before.
Labrinth was one of the guys we spoke to and he was really up for it. He sent us a track which was the basis of “Earthquake”, no vocals on it and not arranged into verse and chorus or anything, and he said, “I’ve come up with this, see what you guys can do with it.” So we did our thing over that, arranged it and Ian wrote the lyrics, and then after we finished it our manager called us up and said that Labrinth had decided to use the stuff he sent us on his album rather than our album, and that he was going to do it with Tinie Tempah.
I hadn’t heard it and I was listening to the radio one day when it came on. It was weird because I’d only heard our incarnation of it, which wasn’t going to be called “Earthquake”; I took a step back expecting to hear our song, and then instead of Lostprophets it said Labrinth. (Laughs) We had this whole song done that kind of sounds like “Earthquake” but doesn’t totally, with different vocals, guitar riffs and live drums all over it.
We also did some stuff for another song on the Labrinth album but I don’t think anything happened with that in the end either. Maybe our version of “Earthquake” will surface one day.
Speaking of scrapped material, will you ever release the initial version of The Betrayed that you recorded? Or were the songs on it basically the same ones that made it onto the eventual album?
Some of it was the same songs. I think four or five of the songs that we scrapped were rerecorded and made it onto The Betrayed having been tweaked a little bit. Some parts of those songs have made it onto the new record actually; we wrote a bunch of new songs then went back to listen to the scrapped ones, because sometimes you get a bit lost in what you’re doing and you forget about them, push them aside, then you listen to them later and say, “That’s actually a great song/riff, it would be a shame not to use that.” So there are a couple of ideas that we kind of brought back to life a little bit from those sessions.
What’s going on in the video for “Bring ‘Em Down”?
It was actually one of the most fun videos we’ve done. We’ve always done performance videos where we’re just playing the song, and this time we made a conscious effort not to do that because it’s so boring. We wanted to do something a little more cinematic, something a bit different, so the director came up with this idea and we said, “It sounds a bit ambitious,” but I think it came out really well. The feedback from it has been pretty awesome.
We shot it all in a day, which was pretty ambitious in itself, and we spent the day before working with a stunt coordinator because the fight scene at the end had to be mapped out. The guy we worked with did a lot of the stunts on The Dark Knight, so it was pretty cool talking to him.
He tells Batman what to do!
Yeah, exactly! I was like, “Tell me about Christian Bale, then,” geeking out on stuff like that. (Laughs) It was a really fun video to shoot and we got to do something that we’d never done before, which is always nice as well.
Since you live in the States, I must ask: in general, do Americans understand what Wales is?
Yes and no. I still have to explain a lot. Everybody knows Scotland and Ireland, even if they don’t know it’s a different country…
Perhaps Wales needs a character on The Simpsons.
Yeah! It’s a bit difficult sometimes. “So you’re British?” “Yeah.” “But you’re not English?” “No.” “You’re Welsh, but you’re British?” “Yeah. Right.” “So what are Scottish people, then?” “They’re Scottish.” “Are they British?” “Yeah.” “But they’re not English?” “No.” That’s how the conversation tends to go!
I find myself having to say, “Imagine if California was its own country within a country. So you’re Californian, and you’re also American, but you’re not from Nevada or wherever.” That’s the best way I can describe it. Wales is a small country so I suppose I understand to a certain degree why people find it confusing. Like I say, everyone knows Scotland; probably because of Groundskeeper Willie and Braveheart, but they still know it!
Surely they know Tom Jones…
They do, and as soon as you start reeling off some of the Welsh greats, they start to nod; “Oh, Tom Jones, yeah…Anthony Hopkins…Catherine Zeta-Jones…Richard Burton…”
And Christian Bale!
Christian Bale, yeah, exactly! And now Katherine Jenkins is on Dancing With the Stars, so I think she’s getting a lot more publicity over there now. It’s getting a bit more football now as well; “Oh, you’re from Wales? Ah, Gareth Bale!” and so on.
A series of thirty-second teasers from Weapons
You’re taking Young Guns, who shall very soon be fellow Rocksucker interviewees, as support on your European dates. Are you familiar with their stuff?
Yeah, we’ve been on tour loads with them. Their drummer Ben is a Liverpool fan whose second team is Swansea, while I’m an Everton fan whose second team is Cardiff, so we couldn’t be any more polar opposites! When we played with them at the Newport Centre, I got the stage manager to go up to Ben and say, “Mike said that you’re not allowed to play tonight unless you play in an Everton shirt.” Ben was like, “Good one,” and he said, “No seriously, you’re not getting onstage unless you’re in an Everton shirt.”
So Ben wore an Everton shirt! They did get the whole crowd to chant “Everton are shit”, but I didn’t have to have my skin tarnished by a Liverpool jersey! Their manager’s a good mate of mine and a big blue as well – he came to the derby with me last season [when Everton beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield] – so there’s always a bit of banter when we play together, especially between me and Ben.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming bands that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
There’s a band on tour with Young Guns at the moment called Marmozets. I think they’ve played with Enter Shikari as well. Marmozets are really cool, pretty eclectic, pretty all over the place; I’m not sure what they’ve got out yet but I’ve heard quite a few of their songs, and it’s pretty interesting stuff.
We just played Soundwave Festival in Australia and I got to see a few bands there that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time, like Mastodon, who I’m a big fan of, and there was a band there called Kvelertak who were pretty rad, a Norwegian metal band with three guitarists.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement, but were allowed to take the entire works of five different musical artists to tide you over, whose would you pick?
The Clash – I want to say Joy Division but I don’t think they’d send you to a very good place if you were in solitary confinement, so I won’t – Metallica, LCD Soundsystem so I could have one-man dance parties…(pause in deliberation)…I dunno. Can I keep it at three?
Oh, go on then! Mike Lewis, thank you.
Weapons, the brand new album by Lostprophets, will be released April 2nd by Visible Noise. For more information, including a list of live dates, please visit lostprophets.com or the band’s Facebook page.