Richard Jones, The Feeling - Interview
The announcement that The Feeling are supporting ELO on their upcoming arena show and prior to that they are playing a series of small shows around the country to showcase their new album. We sat down with their bass player, Richard Jones, and talked about old school recording, planks of wood, learning to fly, Nick Mason and Bruce Dickinson...
Firstly congratulations on the birth of your fourth son Jesse. Thank you very much he's doing well, keeping us up but that's to be expected. How is the 11-year-old coping with this new arrival? He has actually been amazing, he is in secondary school now but in the last six months he has matured a massive amount and he is very good with babies and always has been, probably because he is the oldest.
Album number five, #album5, why did you decide to self title it? It was actually Steve Gullicks idea, he's the photographer that did all the press shots, the album cover and shot the video. He did all the iconic shots of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain and I was having lunch with Steve when I was talking to him about working with us on the album because I felt it was the right time to work with him. This album was cut live by the band in 10 days and was very truthful and honest as to how we play as musicians. In the past we have produced our own records and we have mainly used the more modern technique of rock production which involves layering - you put the drums down, then the bass down and you just build it up like you build a house. But the old school way, the way the Rolling Stones did it and the Beatles and a lot of our favourite bands was to just set up in the studio and play the song and have great engineers and microphones and capture the performance. When you really listen to those records you can hear that they are not perfect, there are little mistakes in there, there may be bits which are out of tune too. At the end of Hey Jude you can hear John Lennon shout fucking hell in the outro, if anything it adds to it, it's part of the reason why it sounds raw, real and passionate.
We were using this more modern technique because we were a bit insecure and not wanting to reveal what we do as a live band, it was more of a leap of confidence to set up, get a great engineer in the studio, have everything prepared so the songs were written and we had rehearsed them and them we recorded them with minimal overdubs.
So back to Steve Gullick, I was telling him all about this and he said did we have an album title and I said no not yet as they normally reveal themselves. Well have you done a self titled album? I hadn't realised this but apparently it is quite common for bands to have a self titled album on the fifth album. Metallica did it, the Beatles, there's quite a few examples. Because of the fact that it was just us in a room and that it was cut in such a fast and intense live way, it felt right that it was us, The Feeling, this is the record.
I have listened to the single Spiralling and it does have a very organic sound to it, it also harks back to the earlier sound of the band.
Yeah, maybe you're right, it's hard for us to really judge that stuff because we recorded that album such a long time ago. But with this album we are very proud of it and the main thing being that it is just totally honest. Dan wrote Spiralling about his struggles with relationships and as a band we just jammed it, we got the feel and we rehearsed it and we put it down live in the room together. We have never put an album out like that before.
One of the things people have always said to us is that seeing us at festivals or gigs that we always surprise people as to how less soft we were so to speak, more heavy rock. With our records we always produce them fairly pristine and people don't expect that so that was another reason why we wanted it to be a bit more raw.
I was lucky that I managed to see people like Elton John live in the late 70s and early 80s and his performances were so much heavier, his band really let rip on stage. And I've seen The Feeling half a dozen times now, the first time was at Academy 2 in Manchester just after the first album came out and that was a great gig. I was into the band straightaway because I recognised that sort of Supertramp/ELO/Elton John sound that you had and I found it really appealing.
Yeah, you can certainly hear the influences there because we are massive fans of all those bands, and we are very excited at the ELO tour that's coming up, we are going to pop down and see that. I saw them at Hyde Park a couple of years ago and Jeff Lynne was genuinely shocked at how any people had turned up to see them, were in awe and come to hear the songs and with every single song it is a big anthem.
I shied away from going to that gig, I was unsure as to whether it would live up to expectations as their albums were so good, and there was also the matter of the distance.
You are using PledgeMusic to sell the CD and vinyl, is this because you have moved away from the record company model?
The last album The Boy Cried Wolf we self released and licensed it to BMG who took it on and did the distribution, so this is the second time we have done it and we licensed it to Essential who are distribution company who my wife Sophie (Ellis Bextor) used for her last album, Wanderlust. The benefit is that you have 100% control so you don't need to have anyone else approve it.
The reason we use Pledge is the facility for pre-ordering the album and the vinyl even before you have finished it which you cannot do on Amazon and iTunes etc., just because of the way their systems work. With a company like Pledge it's clear that you are actually saying to people this isn't done, it will be done and you are going to get it. And you're going to get it signed and you're going to get it first. A lot of the major labels using Pledge now as well for pre-ordering; we share management with The Libertines who are on Parlaphone Records and they had their vinyl up on Pledge for pre-order way before it came out, they have a very good system in place for doing this.
Are you looking forward to the low-key tour that is coming up? Absolutely. We are really excited about that. You are playing at the Ruby Lounge here in Manchester which is a really cool little venue. That is what we are aiming at really, the reason we decided to do it is that we did a small show in Hackney as a way of announcing the album and we played the whole record. We only put it up on our website so it was just hard-core fans that came along, we loved it and the fans loved it. What we thought we would try and do is that because this is the fifth album and a new chapter for us in terms of what we are doing and rather than go and play in the biggest venues we might sell out, then people would expect to hear a show of hits and two or three off the new album which is perfectly reasonable and we will probably do a tour like that later in the year. But we want to go out and play this new record and it's a bit more exciting to us. From the feedback we had from the fans at Hackney it was exciting for them as well to see something a bit different from what we've been doing from the past 10 years or so. But obviously we will be playing all the old hits as well, it'll just be a more rough and ready and quite exciting.
Do you prefer the small shows or the bigger shows? It's totally down to the show really, we are very privileged to have played both many times on different scales. When we played at Wembley Stadium for the Diana concert it was definitely a career highlight being on stage there looking out on 70-80,000 people. The first time we played in Manchester was at Academy 3 shortly after we signed and there were just four people there and two of those were selling T-shirts. The next time was at Academy 2 and that was sold out and that was equally a career highlight because the crowd only new one of our songs and they send along to every word of it and the energy you get from that is phenomenal. They can both be brilliant and they can both be rubbish.
You mention the Diana concert at Wembley how was it playing at the Olympics? Oh, that was another highlight for me! It is difficult to put into words walking out on stage with Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, Mike Rutherford from Genesis and Ed Sheeran and hearing the roar of the crowd in the stadium and looking across in the distance, the Olympic torch burning as we start playing Wish You Were Here. I am a lifelong Floyd fan and it is an incredible song. We were just doing the one song so I just tried to take it all in and not worry and get bogged down in being nervous because it was going to be such a short moment. I am really glad I did that and just absorbed it, an incredible experience.
I saw The Feeling at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manchester last summer and I was surprised at the number of cover versions you did, it was a great gig I really enjoyed it. A slightly smaller gig! It was down to the nature of the show as the HRC were celebrating their 50th anniversary. They actually saw us playing two or three years ago at the Coronation celebrations and we performed in Buckingham Palace Gardens. For my mother it was the proudest moment of my career as she got to come to Buckingham Palace and sit in the garden 10 feet from the Royal family in their little blue box. We were challenged into representing British pop music for the last 50 years and we had exactly 10 minutes to do it in! It really was quite a challenge but quite fun as well putting it all together. There was just so much. There were so many things we missed out that we wanted to put in there but for that we created this medley we started with The Beatles, into the Kinks, into The Who/Elton John's Pinball Wizard, into Under Pressure so there you have Queen and Bowie combined, into Floyd and Another Brick In The Wall, into Park Life by Blur, and finally one of our own songs Love It When You Call; they told us we had to finish with one our own songs. So when HRC booked us to do that show someone involved had seen that Palace show and that it would be a perfect for their celebration as the whole thing will be representing rock music for the last 50 years. In a gig like that where people having a drink and want to be entertained then we are more than happy to do that than bore them with our album track ballads, they are not there to see us do a gig, we are not precious like that.
Let's get technical for a minute… Is it a Guild bass you use on stage? I had one of their rubbishy electric guitars in the late 70s, they are not very common… It is, wow! I've had several professional bass players frown at me for using it because it's kind of a plank of wood, they are not expensive now, you can pick them up on eBay for a few hundred quid.
When I first met Dan when we were 16 we started the band together the day after we met and at that point I actually played guitar and so did he. He also had a Guild B-301 bass and he said borrow this as you much more suit being a bass player. As a kid I always wanted to be a bass player but as a teenager full of testosterone I learnt electric guitar but when he handed me that B-301 I felt that I was home, that I had found my instrument. When The Feeling got together and we were demoing and I was using that bass but I have been fortunate as a result of our success to have been able to buy many more bass guitars, all the classics, a ‘72 Precision, ’69 Jazz, and I have been in the studio time and time again and I plug in the old Guild and that is the one that has been on all The Feeling albums. I have two theories about this, firstly how something feels under your fingers because ultimately an instrument is a plank of wood with strings on it so it's what you are doing with it that creates the sound and if something feels right to you then you will probably play it better; secondly a lot of The Feeling stuff in the early days, the demos created using this bass, it's a slightly quirky bass as it is not uniform in its tone across all four strings so a lot of the bass lines were formed by what sounded good on that bass because of the notes and the tones that would come out and if I tried to play it on another bass the bass lines wouldn't fit in in quite the same way.
I found that you get used to your own instrument and you develop your own style around it. Yeah, I think that's what happened with that and I think it works for the band because of its tonal quality; it's not too modern sounding and it's not like an old McCartney or specifically old sound. It has an old woody thud to it that cuts through in the middle, I love it.
Going off on a bit of a curve ball here… It was reported that you were learning to fly.
I have learn’t to fly, I think someone needs to update my Wikipedia page! I’ve had a licence for four years and I've done over 200 hours now and I share an aeroplane with Nick Mason of Floyd, a little single propeller he bought in the mid-80s in which he learnt to fly, as did Gilmour. This aeroplane was no longer being used because Nick now flies a Squirrel helicopter mainly so this was languishing in a hangar along with his incredible car collection. It was quite an incredible day about four years ago he took me up to see his cars and said do you want to borrow this aeroplane? And then he said and I am putting a band together for the Olympic closing ceremony and do you want to play bass? It was a good day.
And I love flying. My wife Sophie bought me a couple of lessons as a birthday present for my 30th and I got hooked, totally hooked.
Do you fancy yourself as the next Bruce Dickinson? Gosh, he's a legend! I have flown the band to a few gigs, I don't have a rating for a twin but I have a friend up at Elstree Aerodrome who is an ex-BA Captain and is an instructor and examiner and I'm always looking on aeronautical charts to see if I can work it out to fly the band and if Tony is around then it works out. He comes along to the festivals and gigs and hangs out so works well for everyone.
What about a 747 for The Feeling? Oh my god, I’d bloody love that, Bruce lives the life. But you would have to take that upright piano the little mirrors all over it onto the plane and have Dan play it whilst your flying, yeah, we would certainly need a big plane for that!
Words: Anthony Firmin / Photos: Anthony Firmin (Live), Steve Gullick (Portraits c/o The Feeling)