In the last issue of Uncut, I reviewed Paul Weller’s Classic Album Selection Volume 1; the first five solo albums in one handy box, in other words. It occurred to me, it might be a nice idea to subsequently post the full transcript of my interview with Weller, which formed the basis of our July 2014 cover story. The interview mostly took place in Weller’s favoured Maida Vale cafe, but we ended up sitting in his Mini Cooper Clubman next to Regent’s Canal, where he gave me a taster of his forthcoming projects. Anyway, the interview was ostensibly to tie-in with a compilation, More Modern Classics. Which is where the conversation begins…
Why this compilation now? Does it represent a particular chapter of your career?
I realised it had been 15 years since the last Modern Classics. Does it define a chapter? I’m not sure really, because it’s got the new song on it as well. I just thought there was so much material, I forgot how many songs there were. That’s a good enough reason, I suppose.
Do you find it easy to go back and select tracks for a compilation?
We just did it chronologically, so it wasn’t too difficult. It’s pretty much just all the A-sides. I don’t know if it’s all of them, because there’s been some one-off limited edition things as well. So it wasn’t too difficult.
The track listing is weighted towards the last three albums. Is there a reason for that?
Only because there’s more records in the last few years though, really. There’s been three albums in, what, five years or something like that? Which is probably more than I did in the whole ten years before that. There’s a lot of music, a lot of songs. It’s a good enough reason for me, anyway.
Do you think the earlier records featured here are undervalued?
Maybe, in press terms, I suppose. We got glowing reviews for the last three records, really, pretty much across the board. I can’t remember how the others were received.
But what did you think of them?
Well, there’s always good songs. There’s some albums I like better than others, but even the ones I don’t particularly care for, there’s always going to be a couple of good songs on there for me. But I did think probably from As Is Now up to Sonik Kicks there’s more of a richer stream of music. It just feels like its re-energised to me. But there was some good songs on Heliocentric. I have mixed feelings about records, because I also think about how I felt when I was making it. Heliocentric was like pulling teeth, a difficult record to make. I don’t know why. But there was always good bits on it. We had Robert Kirby arranging strings and orchestrations and stuff on it. It was great to work with him. Illumination? I can’t even remember it too well, really. But in the last few years, I’ve felt a lot more creative. There’s been a lot more music coming out of me. I suppose working with different people, different producers, different musicians, I think it’s a good place I’ve arrived at where I don’t really feel any constraints or shackles about what I should do with my music. I follow wherever it goes. I think with Heliocentric, it was almost like it was tacked onto the Nineties, so it was still following on from Heavy Soul and Stanley Road a little bit. I don’t really listen to the old records too much. I’ve had to, putting this compilation together, but I don’t generally go back and listen to them.
Why is that?
It’s just a general disappointment with a lot of it really. I always think it could be better. Not just the bass level and those fiddly little things, but just generally. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. It always leaves you slightly unsatisfied but is also the thing that drives you forward.
How important was Simon Dine in this part of your career?
My renaissance, you mean? [laughs] Yeah, it was good working with him. It was a different way of working. I always like working with people, definitely. I’m also not clever enough to do it all myself. But that isn’t just it. I like working with a band, I like working with people. I’m always open and receptive to other people’s ideas. I’ve got very set ideas about what we should be doing. But it’s not so tied in that I won’t listen to someone else’s ideas.
Do you have an example?
When I write a song, I can hear how I think it should be – how the drums could be or the instrumentation – but it’s not set in stone. Maybe it would have been at one time. But if it goes off and changes and becomes something else, then that’s fine as well.