He came, he played, he left. Paul Weller’s recent tour of the United States was brief but fiery — kind of like his better songs. Weller, of course, is the legendary Brit who reignited the mod movement in the late 1970s with the beloved Jam, then went on to infuriate most of his fan base by turning his back on rock music as we know it with the Style Council (a group that, admittedly, now seems underrated). Eventually he settled into a groove in his solo career, putting out a cache of great CDs and becoming an elder statesman of sorts (his nickname in England is “The Modfather”). Weller turned 50 this year and put out his best album in years, 22 Dreams. Before he scuttled back to Europe to finish his tour, he talked with us about the album,
Was there a deliberate attempt to be eclectic on 22 Dreams?
We weren’t particularly conscious of making an eclectic record. It’s just kind of the way the record evolved. The only reference, really, is I guess that what I play at home is quite eclectic. Playing music on the road or wherever it may be — in a hotel room — it’s just kind of all right across the board, really. Despite all my reservations about the digital age, it is quite nice to put an iPod on shuffle, because there’s all sorts of different styles of music.
Were you surprised at the positive reaction the album received?
Quite surprised and elated. Because when I started making the record last year, I had no idea at all about the commercial aspects or where I fit in today’s marketplace. I thought I was gonna make the most indulgent record I could possibly make. And it’s just really kind of ironic — although in a lovely way — that people just seem to really like it. It’s really clicked with people, you know?
Does it ever bug you you’re still a cult figure in the U.S.?
It doesn’t bug me. Sometimes it’s frustrating. It’s more frustrating when I’m playing live because I just think especially what we’re doing live is so good. I want more people to see it, really. But at the same time, I’m not arsed about playing arenas or fucking stadium shows. But it would be nice to get across to a few more people, that’s for sure.
Are you finding that more people in the United States are getting into your music on the Internet?
I don’t know. I hope so. It would be nice if it was. It hasn’t made a difference to my record sales. But I’m kind of not really arsed about that. I’ve only done two shows on this tour so far, two shows in L.A., and it’s been quite a mixed audience. It’s people my age down to the 30s and 40s, but there’s also some young people there.
I was wondering if your impressions of America have grown any different over the years?
Well, it’s still very conservative, innit? And that’s being polite, really. Radio is conservative and the whole music scene, I find, is as well. I mean, maybe it’s changed. If I compare it now to when I first came over in ’77, which I know is a long time ago, I suppose maybe people hear more music over here now. But I still figure it’s very conservative. Radio is bad enough at home in England, but I think what is a shame is that there are a lot of American bands that I like right now that are doing a rough sort of cutting-edge music and they don’t mean shit in America. But they’re kind of respected in England. Bands like the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. All those bands kind of mean more in England. So to me, that’s a reflection to how straight and how conservative the radio is over here.
How come you stopped writing political songs?
I just grew so disillusioned with it all. If I wrote political songs now, they’d be exactly the same sentiments as what I was writing 20 years ago, and that’s quite depressing, really. That kind of put me off doing it. I have no burning desire to do it. I just grew too disenchanted with all of it. With the few dealings I had with politicians during the 1980s, it just sort of put me off it altogether. You could see most of those people — the majority — have got their own kind of agendas, and they’re just total careerists, really. They weren’t the sort of people I wanted to mix with or associate with. And at the end of the day, they’re not really about the world or the country anyway. They’re just a front for whoever is behind it all. It’s sort of a sad state of affairs, but it’s kind of actually how I feel about it.
You and Noel Gallagher of Oasis have played on each other’s albums. How did you get to know him?
I think we met at the Glastonbury Festival years ago, like in ’94 or something. We were both playing at Glastonbury and we just seemed to get on. I guess we’ve got a lot of things in common, a lot of the same influences and stuff, similar sort of backgrounds.
Are you playing any of the old fan favorites on your current tour?
We do a few old tunes, yeah. Not too many, I have to say, because it’s mainly new stuff. But there’s some old tunes in there. I don’t really want to say, because it might spoil it for people. The trouble is these days that nothing is a surprise anymore, because of the fucking Internet and all that stuff. So everyone kind of knows what we’re gonna play anyway. It takes a bit of the magic out of it for me, I have to say.
Your former bandmates in the Jam are now touring as From the Jam. But you seem to go out of your way to avoid revisiting your past. Why is that?
I’ve got no interest whatsoever in any way shape or form of the whole nostalgia thing. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what it is people are trying to recapture. Because whatever it is, you can’t recapture it. It’s gone. I don’t know what it’s like in America, but in England there are so many bands that regroup and reform, and I jut find it really sad. I think it’s a sad statement on the music, really. There’s loads of great new bands out there. Why do people get off on nostalgia? I don’t get it. I’m not a particularly nostalgic person, so maybe that’s it. But for me, if you’re a good musician, and a decent artist, then you should want to go forward, not backward. You should be trying to plow forward. So I don’t understand that scene, man.