Paul Weller Discusses the Unusual Guitar Choices Behind His Latest LP

August 12th, 2015

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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Guitar Salon International, the Paul Reed Smith Dragon models, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

STRINGS OF SATURN: The unusual guitar choices that color Paul Weller’s latest album, ‘Saturns Pattern.’

By Joe Bosso | Photos by Justin Borucki

“Music and clothing have always gone together for me,” says Paul Weller. The Britpop icon is enjoying a mid-afternoon cappuccino in the tony lounge area of New York City’s Ink 48 Hotel. Although his well-pressed jeans and light-blue T-shirt might seem casual or even downright ordinary by rock star standards, his ultra-snazzy bowling shoe–style sneakers underscore his standing as a Dedicated Follower of Fashion.

“When I was a kid in the Sixties and then on into the Seventies, the way a band looked was just as important as how they sounded,” Weller says. “It was the whole package—the image, the music, the attitude, what kinds of guitars they played, what they said in interviews. I think the really great bands are the ones that know what they stand for and have it figured out on all levels.”

Right from the start, in 1977, Weller and the Jam (which also included bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler) seemed to know where they stood. Their music was brash, urgent, and melodic, and though they drew from a disparate array of sources—R&B colliding with psychedelic rock, dovetailing with sprightly pop, and ending ultimately in funk—they upheld the punk-rock/new-wave ethos that rejected the mid-Seventies mega-group tradition of elaborate song arrangements and elongated guitar solos.

Visually, however, Weller and the Jam drew their own line in the sand, rejecting the ripped clothes and safety pins worn by fellow British punk rockers in favor of the same sort of bespoke Savile Row black suits favored by London-based groups a decade earlier. “I was into the mod thing all the way,” Weller explains. “It was the Beatles’ influence and the entire mod scene. I always like when a band dressed the same. It’s like a gang mentality: ‘We belong to this club.’ To me, it’s just cool.”

In 1983, Weller carried this sartorial aesthetic over to his post-Jam outfit, the appropriately named Style Council. By this time, his musical and public stature had grown to such a point that rock critics and fans began to refer to him as “the Modfather.” Weller practically spit-takes his cappuccino and then chuckles good-naturedly at the notion that he’s any sort of Brit-pop figurehead.

“The ‘Modfather’ thing’s got nothing to do with me, mate,” he states. “I would never call myself that. I like compliments as much as anyone, but I can’t take it all too seriously. Being called a ‘Brit-pop legend’ or whatever—I’m nonplussed about it. You can get overwhelmed thinking that people look up to you to such a degree, and I’m sure I did when I was younger. But as I got older, I realized that you have to take the intent seriously—that’s the music—and everything else will eventually blow over.”

Weller collects all of his best intentions and brings them forth masterfully on his recently released, 12th solo album, Saturns Pattern. Continuing the daring “anything goes” production and songwriting approach of his past three albums—2008’s 22 Dreams, 2010’s Wake Up the Nation, and Sonik Kicks, from 2012—it’s a feisty and compelling nine-track affair, full of turbulent grooves and madcap sonic experimentation. From the grungy, tripped-out electro-blues of “White Skies” to the elegant, spacey soul update of “Phoenix” to a thoroughly whacked-out hodge-podge titled “In the Car,” one in which jazz piano, raunchy slide guitar, garage rock grooves and psychedelic soundscapes elbow one another for equal time, the album offers bold proof that Weller, at the age of 57, still craves a good adventure.

“I’m at the age now where I can stray from whatever might be expected,” he says. “When I was younger, I was a lot more closed-minded and only listened to certain types of music, which is fine—having firm beliefs helps to define who you are. The older I get, the more open-minded I am. I’m okay with straying musically, even to the point where I might get lost. The truth is, you’re still going somewhere, even if you don’t know the destination.

“I try to make sure that each track grabs you in a new and exciting way,” he continues, “but I don’t sit around and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this kind or that kind of record. I just try to make sure I’m not making the same kind of record I did last time. Nobody wants repetition. Whatever way it changes for me is what I’m looking for. ‘Where else can I go with this? What else is there to say?’ Those are the kinds of things I ask myself going in.”

So while he didn’t have a set agenda when entering the studio, Weller admits that he experienced a temporary hiccup at the outset. “I had six or seven songs written, all of them done the traditional way, rippin’ ’em out on guitar,” he says. “But then I listened to them, and I suddenly didn’t want to make an album with them. They just didn’t feel right.”

Weller set those songs aside and started again with a clean slate. The process was dodgy at first—“You’re sort of fishing around going, ‘What is this? Am I on to anything here?’”—but then, almost by magic, new and better songs emerged, and before he knew it, the album had already begun to take shape. “One day you realize, ‘Oh, look, I’ve got a record half finished. Great.’ And then you go on from there.”

Although a variety of sterling U.K. guitarists (Steve Brookes, Bill Wheeler, Andy Crofts, and longtime Weller comrade Steve Cradock), make contributions to Saturns Pattern, the bulk of the album’s gnarly, toothy rhythms and robust solos stem from the hands of the man himself. “I’m always very careful about what’s needed on any particular record,” Weller notes. “On this record, some things have more guitar than ever; some things you tend to back off a little bit. It depends on the track or what mood I’m in. The answer isn’t usually ‘more guitar’; the answer is always ‘whatever the song calls for.’”

Weller estimates his guitar collection “at around 40 or so” pieces, but on Saturns Pattern he limited himself to only a few models, mostly Hofners and Danelectros, along with a Vox Mark VI teardrop model. “Some people don’t like the way a Vox records in the studio, but it sounds all right to me,” he says. “It has one of those five-way switches, and that gives you a lot of tonal variations.” Also present on the new album is his cherry-red 1968 Gibson SG, which Weller flat-out calls the greatest guitar he’s ever owned. “It can be really sweet and warm, which I like a lot,” he says. “I’ve found it to be…”

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This is an excerpt from the all-new SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on Cheech Marin’s Blazing Chicano guitars art project, B.B. King and his Lucille guitars, Guitar Salon International, the Paul Reed Smith Dragon models, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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