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Welsh wonders

Stereophonics are back on the road after a couple of years out of the limelight, promoting new album Graffiti on the Train. Singer Kelly Jones talks to Brian Campbell about the new album, playing Ireland and getting involved in film

STEREOPHONICS have been putting out albums since 1997 and have toured the world relentlessly ever since.

Singer Kelly Jones formed the band back in 1992 in the Welsh village of Cwmaman and little did they know back then that they would go on to play Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, travel the world and notch up five number one albums.

The band (Jones, Richard Jones, Adam Zindani and Jamie Morrison) took a well-deserved break after two years of touring 2009 album Keep Calm and Carry On, but now they're back on the road.

As well as writing screenplays in the past couple of years, Jones is particularly proud of new record Graffiti on the Train (the band's eighth studio album), which came out in March. One reviewer described it as "a tough and tender pop rock gem in which every track punches above its weight," while another said Jones's voice was "more cat-purringly perfect than ever".

With the band on their way to Belfast and Dublin this month, singer Jones tells Scene he's happy to be back on the road.

You recently did a tour of America, Canada and Mexico. Does the band do quite well across the Atlantic?

Yeah, we do ok. We were away for a month altogether. We started off on the east coast and worked our way across. We were playing theatres of about 2,000 people. It's a lot of work. You can do five gigs on the bounce and then overnight driving for the next one. So it was about 21 gigs in 28 days.

Then we did a festival in Mexico. We were there with Queens of the Stone Age and Vampire Weekend and a few other bands.

This month you're doing an arena tour that includes dates at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast and The O2 in Dublin - do you enjoy playing those kind of huge rooms?

You go wherever the album takes you. We've never been at the same level in every country, so one minute you're playing a club and then you're in a theatre or a field or an arena, so we take it as it comes. We never take it for granted that people are going to come to the shows or buy the records; we just put it out there. This has been a good year for us. People have really loved the album and we're looking forward to finishing off the year with these gigs. We've been everywhere - to Japan and Australia and all over Europe, so this is a good way to cap it all off.

Having started out in the early nineties playing small sweaty indie clubs, how do you make the show work for 10,000 or so capacity arenas? We put on the same show, but for arenas you need to have a few more tricks and more lights and push it out a bit further. But if we're playing to 500 people we'll still put the same energy into it.

Have you enjoyed gigging in Ireland over the years?

Yeah, we've always had a good time there. We've been going over since 1996, when we did the Inner City festival in Temple Bar and then went on to play Slane Castle. We've never had a bad time there and the people have always been great. The gigs in March [at the Waterfront in Belfast and the Olympia in Dublin] were brilliant.

Current album Graffiti on a Train comes four years after Keep Calm and Carry On. Did you decide as a group to take a break after a relentless touring schedule?

It was kind of off the cuff. We had been touring the two previous records for four years and it wasn't about taking a rest, it was more about going into our studio and taking a year doing the creative stuff and not travelling around the world. It was nice to let the songs brew a little bit longer and we ended up recording about 30 tracks. It was good. There's always a lot of ideas knocking about and it's a case of just stopping and recording them. So we finished that tour at the end of 2010 and then we were back in the studio by April. We thought about releasing a double-album but we'll probably release another volume next year.

Is it true that you're also developing a film loosely linked to the current album?

Yeah, I've been developing the Graffiti on the Train screenplay with people at BAFTA and Film Agency Wales, so we have meetings with producers and financers and all being well, with a few more rewrites, we'll try to get that into production next year. The film side of things is a slow process but it's going well. I've been directing videos and to me it's all a form of storytelling. I've always had a love of film and music and now I'm just combining the two. I had been writing story ideas and song ideas and they overlapped. The graffiti on the train thing came up after these kids were climbing over my house to graffiti the train and that sparked off a load of story ideas for me. It was a good way of separating the songwriting from myself and putting it on to something else.

Sticking with film, is it true that you've been in touch with director/screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Quantum of Solace).

Paul read another script of mine. He's a fan of the band and he put the song Maybe Tomorrow at the end of his movie Crash, so I just sent him a couple of ideas and he read them and sent me a bunch of notes back. I wasn't expecting that, so it was great. He's a really interesting guy.

Are you doing most of the new album on this tour?

We've been doing about eight of the songs, and there's only 10 on the album. And we've been averaging about 24 songs a night. So we fit in a lot of the older stuff too. We've been opening up with Catacomb and then going into Local Boy in the Photograph [from 1997 debut album Word Gets Around]. The new stuff has been going down well.

Do you have to look after your voice when you embark on a long run or tour dates?

Yeah, it's always been that way. Once touring starts you get on top of what you're able to do and not able to do and plan it around that as best you can.

You want to have a laugh and have the craic at the same time, so you just do what you can do. I think I've cancelled about two shows in 18 years, so we've done alright so far.

Do you have any particular methods or medicines for looking after your voice? Nah, just drinking water. That's all.

n Stereophonics play the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on Monday November 11. For tickets (£35.50/£38), visit OdysseyArena.com or call 028 9073 9074. Graffiti on the Train is out now on Stylus Records.

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