Paul Weller typically avoids American guitar-gear-magazine interviews, so it was a thrill to get the Jam and Style Council star on the “blower” (telephone) to discuss his latest solo album, Saturns Pattern [Warner Bros.]. Constructed from rough backing tracks by Amorphous Androgynous—an off shoot of the musicians behind Future Sound of London—the new album is packed with wicked, twisted, and fierce guitars—all locked to propulsive, R&B-kissed grooves.
These are exquisitely crafted songs. Did you go into the studio with a strict concept?
Nothing was planned at all. My only brief to everyone was that I wanted big-sounding drums and grooves. That was as clear as it got. I’d give vague or abstract instructions, and it was up to Stan Kybert, my co-producer to make sense of everything [laughs]. The album was like a blank canvas, and we built up the picture as we went along.
How did you work with the backing tracks contributed by Amorphous Androgynous?
The songs were a mish-mash between their guitarist and me. It’s always conflict or collaboration, right? [Laughs.] I’d jam over the tracks, playing the first thing that came into my head. Sometimes, those first ideas are the best, and I usually wouldn’t do more than two or three takes. Then, we’d sift through my ideas and their ideas, and choose the best ones.
What guitars did you bring to the sessions?
My mainstays are a ’56 Gibson SG and my Epiphone Casino. But, sometimes, I’d pick up a Danelectro, a Vox Teardrop, or a Hofner semi-hollowbody because I wasn’t familiar with it, and that put me in a different place, which is always nice. I’d say, “Let’s try that one—I want to know what it sounds like.”
The guitars tones really catch your ear…
More than anything, I’ve gotten interested in hearing the guitars raw. The guitar sounds on old rock and roll and R&B records are usually the pure sound from the amp, and, learning that lesson, I tried to find that rough and real sound. I like a riff being broken up, or cracking, or whatever it may be—a bit of sh*t on the track. I spent time on the sounds, but not hours. If something didn’t work after a couple of takes, we’d stop and go on to something else. I get bored easily, so I’m always like, “Come on, let’s move it along.”
Your rhythm parts are right in the pocket. How did you develop your sense of time?
When I was a kid, I listened to black American music. I would try to copy a lot of those amazing soul and R&B tunes, and I would get them hopelessly, horribly wrong. When I got older, I could listen more critically, and I realized what those guys were doing—how they’d set those grooves up with all these subtleties and nuances. I could hear the little syncopations, the bass playing a bit behind the beat, the drums laying back, and then everyone playing together for the accents.
What’s your approach to guitar solos these days?
I like playing lead, because I find it quite like singing, but I don’t think I’m a great lead player. I’ve never studied technique—I don’t even know any f**king scales, man. I think I’m a pretty good guitarist, though. I’ve got a sound. There are thousands of guitarists who are very clever, playing loads of notes wiggly diddly. My older son is really into that, but it doesn’t move me. My soul is more affected by someone like Hubert Sumlin. Hearing him play three or four notes sends me off in another universe. That’s what I’m looking for. His sound is somewhere else—it’s so warm, and there are long notes here and there that are just fantastic. He’s definitely someone to check out if you don’t know him.