Like most of the hipper musicians who’ve been making music for more than a quarter century, Paul Weller isn’t the type to sit around and marvel at DVDs full of videoclips of his younger self. But it’s not that he fancies himself too cool to do so—Weller just didn’t own a DVD player until recently, he admits with a laugh.
That said, he did happen to run across a few vintage clips of The Jam recently, and they proved quite the eye-opener: “The whole energy of the band and the commitment between us and the audience was great, but what really kind of freaked me out was seeing how young the kids were in the audience—they were like 12 year olds. You tend to forget that. There were people my age, obviously, but it was also young kids, school kids.”
It’s ironic that Weller is awestruck with the young faces from long ago. Sitting in this bar off the lobby of Manhattan’s Rihga Royal Hotel, Weller is more handsome now than when he fronted The Jam or Style Council decades ago—his lined face more interesting, his hair a mix of silver, brown and blond.
At an appearance at Tower Records in Greenwich Village two nights ago—where turned-away fans clung to windowsills outside, mouthing the words to Weller songs new and old—an enthusiastic young woman remarked, “You think he looks in the mirror and says, ‘I look good!?’”
Ever the guy’s guy, and one of the most humble rock stars you could hope to meet, Weller laughs when he hears this. “Believe me, I don’t. I look in the mirror every morning and say, ‘You’re getting so f---ing old!’”
Like his face, Weller’s voice has aged with extreme grace, leaving the emotion of his songs truer and his words wiser. The sweaty energy and electric power of Weller’s youth has morphed into what is more often than not a sophisticated, consistently more resonant and wholly unique brand of British blue-eyed soul.
“It’s just gone on to a dižerent level,” he says of his voice. “And I can’t say why. Perhaps it’s reaching a peak and then it’s going to vanish,” he laughs. “I was talking with someone the other day and he played me Style Council’s version of ‘My Ever Changing Moods,’ and it’s just so weird to hear my voice, it just sounds like I’ve f---in’ been castrated or something.
“At that time I was much more self conscious about singing. I wanted to attain this certain sound, and in the process I was being too self-conscious, I guess. In the past 10 years or so, the less I thought about it, the better it’s gotten in a way. When you just open your mouth and sing it sounds better.”
Weller lets loose on his new covers album, Studio 150. Instead of delivering what fans would expect—Kinks and Zombies, classic soul—Weller covers songs by Gil Scott-Heron (“The Bottle”), Sister Sledge (“Thinking of You”), Neil Young (“Birds”) and even Burt Bacharach (“Close to You”). Some tunes have been kicking around for years, while others were spur-of-the-moment selections. “It made it more exciting to do it that way,” Weller says. “We didn’t know what we’d end up with.”
Initially, Weller cut about a half-dozen songs he’s loved since childhood. But the vibe wasn’t right: “To play songs that are so close to my heart, it would be kind of hard to get away from the blueprint of.” In the end, the selected songs were as good as any, he says. “If you look at them, they’re kind of stretched in two directions: There’s the R&B, soul tunes and then there’s singer/songwriter stuff. So I guess it’s as good as any sort of description of my music in some ways.”
Weller says Studio 150 catches him at a time when he’s more con½dent as an artist than ever before. “I still have my self doubts, like we all do, but there are some aspects of my talent that I don’t doubt anymore.”