Friday, 9 June 2006

total:spec - Lostprophets

Ian Watkins isn’t in the mood to be interviewed. The Lostprophets frontman has spent the day at his band’s record company offices doing a slew of phone interviews and TV spots and has, quite obviously, had enough of talking.

Sounds like you’re having a busy day today.

“Yeah, just a bit.”

Let’s talk about your new album Liberation Transmission then. How did you find the making of it compared to the previous two?

“I don’t know. It was a lot more stressful. But a lot more challenging as well.”

In what way?

“Just in working with [Metallica producer] Bob Rock.

He worked you quite hard?

“Yes, definitely.”

In different ways to how you’ve worked before?

“Um, yeah. He challenges you and pushes your buttons. And if he doesn’t like something then he’ll tell you.”

Was there a lot of arguments then?

“Yeah, all the time.”

He gets more chatty, thankfully, but it’s dramatically different to the last time I interviewed Watkins, straight after a triumphant show at Australia’s annual Big Day Out festival. He was so hyped up you couldn’t stop him talking, and he was infectiously enthusiastic about his band and his music. It just goes to show how Ian feels about the two sides of being in a band - the promotion is something to endure, the playing something to adore.

But then getting the media to talk about Lostprophets in anything other than a negative light has been an uphill struggle for Watkins and his bandmates - guitarist Mike Lewis, bassist Stuart Richardson, guitarist Lee Gaze, and keyboard player Jamie Oliver (drummer Mike Chiplin left the band in 2005) - ever since they first burst on to the music scene in 2000 with their debut album thefakesoundofprogress. It’s no wonder Watkins can sometimes be defensive with journalists when his band have weathered a backlash pretty much since they first started to have success.

It’s mostly been because they’ve always refused to play the game as others have thought they should. At the beginning it was the fans who took umbrage at the way they did things. Formed in the insular hardcore scene of south Wales, where other metal bands such as Funeral For A Friend sprung from, Lostprophets wore other influences, such as 80s pop (their name was taken form a bootleg Duran Duran album), on their sleeves.

“I grew up listening to pop music,” says Watkins. “Like everybody does. Nobody is born listening to underground music. Nobody is born listening to garage rock or thrash metal or punk. Everybody comes from pop.”

But this side of the band was met with sneering disdain from the hardcore fans who were their contemporaries. Playing in America as well as the UK, Lostprophets began to garner increasing levels of interest that side of the pond and were wined and dined by a handful of major record labels. At one point they apparently received $1000 worth of pornography in an attempt to win them over. They eventually signed with Sony BMG and, although they remained with indie label Visible Noise in the UK, accusations of ‘selling out’ were quickly levelled at them.

This backlash from fans soon seeped into the rock media as well, and eventually, as Lostprophets became more and more well-known through their relentless touring, the more mainstream music media. Derisive copy dismissing them as little more than a boy band who were probably put together by a record company was common, mainly because they’re good looking boys with a certain sense of style.

“That was strange,” says Ian now of the boy band tag. “It didn’t really last, but people can say what they want. Those who know, know that we toured for three years and we toured our asses off and we came up through the underground scene. We were on an independent label and you can trace our history right back there.”

Why do you think people started calling you a boy band?

“The irony is I think it was because boy bands started wearing alternative gear. Obviously they have stylists because most boy bands are completely clueless, and their stylists are thinking ‘What’s the new thing in fashion? Ooh, it’s punk and alternative’, and so they start wearing those clothes. And because these boy bands are highly saturated in the media, people see them more than they see us. People then look at us and think we look like a boy band, when it was actually them looking like us.”

These days things are a little different. Lostprophets sophomore album Start Something was a huge hit, reaching No 4 in the UK album chart in 2004. After the rough, albeit melodic, metal sound of thefakesoundofprogress, Start Something was a much more commercial effort. Working with Queens Of The Stone Age and Good Charlotte producer Eric Valentine, the band mixed a more polished radio-friendly sound with the crunching guitars that mark their roots in the hardcore scene.

Two years later, its follow-up, Liberation Transmission, sees the band developing yet further. But whether it’s more poppy or more rocky seems to be a matter of opinion. I suggest to Watkins it seems more rocky, retaining the pop sensibility of the second album but, with Metallica producer Bob Rock on board, the band seems to have developed a more grown-up rock sound.

“It’s so funny,” answers Watkins. “I’ve been doing interviews all day and every person says something different. The last interview I did said, ‘This album seems a lot more pop. Was that a conscious decision?’ It’s bizarre. It’s funny how different people read different things into it. But really, no, there wasn’t any conscious decision to go one way. I think if we did that then there’d be no question of what it was. I think the fact that people are reading different things into it just means that we did the same thing we always do - just focused on writing songs. What came out, came out.”

How do you feel it compares to the others in terms of sound?

“I just feel the songs are a lot stronger. The sound is slightly more stripped down. There’s a lot more attitude. It’s less metal, a lot less about cheesy obvious things. It’s a stronger record, more classic I think.”

What has definitely changed is how people - both the fans and the media - are talking about Lostprophets. Now on their third record, there’s a growing sense that this is a band that can no longer be dismissed. It’s becoming clear that this is a band with potential for longevity, especially as Liberation Transmission is not a record that lets them down.

“I think [the backlash] is just old and tired now,” says Watkins. “Hopefully by the end of this album we’ll have re-addressed all of that. It all comes down to the fact that we’re our on our third record and a lot of our peers who were critically acclaimed are nowhere to be seen. And I’m not saying that to gloat.
“The backlash was primarily the media, but because the media didn’t create us and the media didn’t build us up, it’s very hard for it to destroy us I think. We built the band on live shows and on the fans, on people. It wasn’t like we were a little band and all of a sudden a magazine decided we were cool and told everybody to listen to us. We just toured and people that were listening to us came to the shows. Then the magazines started talking about us. It worked the other way round, and because of that magazines could say we’re amazing one week and shit another, but I don’t think people really listened to it. I’m glad because that means we don’t live or die by that token. I think it’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

Have you noticed a change in way the band is written about?

“It varies, especially with the British press. One minute you’re lauded and the next everybody’s being snide and talking shit about you. Now the fact that we’re on our third record and people seem to like it, a lot of the critics are going, ‘Ah, okay, maybe’. But there’s still some people who are like, ‘Oh I don’t know, not sure’. Because we were never the cool band, the hip band. We’re just this band that are always around that just seem to survive and hopefully just grow.”

Why do you think you have survived?

“Because we never paid any attention to anything other than writing songs. We never cared about name-dropping cool bands or cool references. We never cared about fitting into any scene. We always looked different and dressed differently, even before we were in the band. I just think it doesn’t matter what people say, or what scenes come and go. We never really paid any attention to it, we just wrote songs that we love. And we have a genuine love of pop music, and rock music. It’s not like we’re trying to be something we’re not. This is genuinely us and people seem to connect with that.”

Lostprophets slow ascent to further and more success with each album harks back to a day when we grew to love bands slowly. When bands took two, three, maybe even four albums to really hit their stride and make their best work. We’re talking U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few. 

These days it’s all about instant financial gratification for record companies and they no longer seem willing to invest in bands and singers long term. If they don’t hit big straight away then the door is quickly shown. Reality shows such as Pop Idol and The X Factor are partly to blame, with new talent plucked from these shows who achieve huge record sales with their first releases because of the huge fame they have acquired.

Lostprophets have, to reference one of their songs, ‘killed the old way’, and it seems to be working in their favour. Not least when it comes to being able to deal with the fame and attention that comes with being a successful band. For example, when Watkins was thrust even further into the mainstream limelight during his short relationship with TV presenter Fearne Cotton in 2004, he remained completely unfazed by it all.

“It was fine,” he shrugs. “Unless you’re Madonna, the paparazzi are not everywhere. For most people it’s only when you go to certain places like certain clubs that you get your photo taken. If you’re at a celebrity event or if you go to Nobu to eat or if you go to the Met Bar, places like that, yeah you’re going to have your photo taken because there’s cameras there.

“But if you’re just down Tesco’s or at the local pub or going to the cinema or whatever, there’s nobody there. Unless they’re total A-list, it’s really easy to avoid all that. It’s just a load of bollocks when people complain about it. It didn’t really bother me at all.

“I don’t worry about any of it because the fame I have is not fame in the sense of the quickfire celebrity that you get in the UK, the reality TV stuff. It’s like they say, the light that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. You get all this intense fame that, for a few weeks or months or whatever, you’re in every magazine doing all this stuff. Then after six months it’s gone and no one gives a fuck. No one.

“But we’re on our third record now and I think that’s the way it should be. Nothing really much has changed for us. It’s not like we’ve suddenly been rocketed into this really different world of fame and fortune, it’s been a gradual thing. And we wake up every day and we’re still the same people.”

Thursday, 1 June 2006

My identity is, well, mine actually.

And I'm gonna keep it that way for as long as possible. Want to do the same?
Try renewing your passport. You can renew your passport at any time.

If you renew it now you can stay off the ID cards database until your passport or driving license are up for renewal and avoid the massive extra cost you will most likely have to pay for it.

Please read below & check the links attached. Please tell as many people as you can.

The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team have applied to renew their passports to prevent their details from being added to the ID cards database.

Once the Government has set up the National Identity Database, everyone who applies for a passport will have to attend an interview and have their fingerprints and irises scanned.
Passports issued now will be valid for 10 years, meaning people will be able to wait until 2016 before they have to register for an ID card.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP said:
"ID cards will be expensive, intrusive and ineffective.

"I urge everyone who is concerned about their introduction to join the NO2ID 'Renew for Freedom' campaign and renew their passport over the coming weeks.

"The Liberal Democrats were the only party to vote against the introduction of identity cards, and we're making our opposition clear today by buying ourselves 10 years of freedom from this unnecessary scheme."

You can sign the Liberal Democrat petition against ID cards at and see the passport renewal site from the No2ID campaign for how to avoid being on the National Identity Register yourself.