The Stereo MCs have a new album out.
In the early to mid 1990sthat statement would have prompted a stampede to the local record shop, butnowadays the band operate on a less obviously commercial platform.
The truefans will note a band that still have plenty to say however, and as I callNick Hallam to talk about the new album, it’s clear he does too.
Such aspondering if this album might be their most coherent to date? “Possibly, it’s difficult to say,” says Nick. “I guess it only sort of makes senseafter you put the tracks together, and it was done in a short space oftime. We almost didn’t have time to get sick of it! It represents a forwardmove for us; we’ve changed record company and management. We’d reached astagnation period with people we’d worked with for a long time, we werepretty much stuck.”
Not only stuck, but also caught up in several unpleasantries, not leastof which was a row with their manager. “The music business sausage machinerubbed us up the wrong way!” says Nick, cheery about it all now. “AfterConnected, everyone said “what did you do for nine years, where didyou go?” We just fucked up and stuff to be honest. And in a few ways it’sharder with the album now, there’s no promotional budget of 1/4 millionbehind us. The new album is a start of getting back on course, buildinginto a place where we can sell a lot of records, but under our own steam.We’re reinventing ourselves!”
– Stereo MCs’ Nick Hallam.
Nick co-writes most of the songs with principal vocalist RobBirch. “I think it’s been pretty strange a lot of the time, it justhappens. Often Rob will just do a track without me even being there, he’llstay up until 8 in the morning because he’s had an idea. We’re a couple ofmates who wanted to do this, we both have the same intention and love thisgroup!”
Such domestic bliss, but the album, in spite of its Paradise title,deals with lows as well as highs. “In general it’s just kind of, well,life. We wrote the lyrics to do with mentality, a bit about how Blair andBush are warmongering, and a lot on the general air of aggression that’saround these days. People just want to pick fights with you, there’s acomplete lack of tolerance going on. Technology’s moving on but there’sthis real animal instinct around. I think the Sun and all thosepapers really kind of enhance that, like when the whole Falklands thing wason, and now they’ve done it with Muslims.”
In the light of this current affairs observations, what counts as’paradise’ for Nick? “Well the idea of Paradise is on the cover – it’swhere we live, just down the road. And it’s saying, “stop sitting aroundmoaning about everything, don’t dream about winning the lottery or whatyou’re gonna do when you retire. Live for the moment, live for what’shappening now. It’s still great and exciting! There’s nothing ironic aboutthat either – we don’t really do ironic!”
– Stereo MCs’ Nick Hallam, bigging up Brixton.
The band head out on a European tour this Autumn, and both Nick and Robhave family to think about. “I have a daughter who’s fifteen, she’s intomusic. You’re almost listening to the same music, which is different towhen I was growing up. I wanted to listen to stuff my parents didn’t like!We try and pace things now so the band aren’t away too often. WhenConnected was out my daughter was one or two and we were away pretty muchsolidly for a year and a half. When we were back I consciously wanted togive her time, as I’d been away for so long. Rob’s kids, they’re stillpretty young too.”
We return to the music, exploring the possibility that Paradise looks tothe East more than in their previous work. “Well we work with a broad rangeof source material, listen to a lot of records to get samples and stuff.We’ve always had a bit of the Eastern/African thing though. I think thatgoes back to the ‘B’ side of Connected (Fever) where Steve Hillagedid a remix that had a Moroccan feel to it. We’re also influenced by thingslike in Brixton, where you walk down Atlantic Road and all the butchers’shops are blaring out a cross between R&B and house beats, with Bhangramixed in. I think what people used to call ‘world’ music has changed, itisn’t pigeon holed half so much now.”
– Stereo MCs’ Nick Hallam gets all humble.
I suggest the Stereo MCs have influenced quite a few of today’s newerbands, the Audio Bullys among them. “We’ve just done a gig withthem, actually. I kind of like what they’re doing. It’s just part of thechain really though, in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a wholechange in the music scene, there was the Stone Roses, HappyMondays, us, Public Enemy, Orbital, we were all part ofthe same thing that was changing. People didn’t know what we were exactly.I don’t think we’ve been all that influential though!”
Have they become more emotive though? “Er, yeah, I guess. There’sdefinitely aspects of that earlier on though, tracks like The End onConnected. With this one we needed to make ourselves go for it, and thesoulful side of us came out a bit more. We wanted to push the songwritingside of things, and Rob and me were muddling through. We’ve already starteda new album; we’re locked down with it and should be finished by the end ofthe summer. I’d like to get it out next year – it’s good to just keeprolling. We have more energy than we’ve ever had!” And modesty by thebucket load too, as the charming Hallam demonstrates. He has every right tofeel satisfied with the way the band are countering the critics, many ofwhom said they’d never recover from their nine years away.