Rock band Lostprophets talk to Angharad Welsh about growing up in the South Wales Valleys, the influences behind their new album and what they really think of the music scene today…
The Lostprophets are no strangers to Hawthorn High School near Pontypridd – Mike Lewis and Ian Watkins are former pupils and the band have played here before – but still the room erupts with applause as they walk in, welcoming Valleys boys done good.
Looking shy as they move to their seats the band seem humbled by what has been described as their homecoming – a private gig to launch the Heart and Soul of Wales campaign – and they seem genuinely pleased to be there.
The band has slowly but surely carved a name for themselves worldwide since they first began and Ian (lead singer), Lee (lead guitar), Mike (rhythm guitar), Stuart (bass), Jamie (synth/turntables/backing vocals) and Luke (drums/percussion) have definitely not let it change them.
Their new album ‘The Betrayed’ is, by their own admissions darker than anything they have done before. Mike explains how they wanted to move away from singing about how ‘awesome’ everything is and produce something real. Having Stuart produce it also helped them make what they describe as a record that ‘sounds more like us than any of the others’. And fans seem to agree – many citing The Betrayed as their best album to date.
Talking about their influences for the record Lee credits Stuart for convincing Ian to embrace what he was going through and use it. ‘He was in a bit of a dark spot and this is what came out…Stuart bullied him into it!’ But when the laughter dies down the rest of the band are full of praise for their member turned producer saying working with their best mate helped them produce a great album.
But beware getting the Lostprophets onto the subject on reality television and, in particular, the effect Simon Cowell is having on the charts. Unsure whether to let loose with their opinions they eventually settle for diplomatic answers – but with inevitable, and obvious, undertones. ‘Real bands are still good, but the music scene is way worse thanks to like American Idol and X Factor and all that crap.’
Lee agrees but thinks nowadays it is harder for bands to do new things with music. ‘Bands like The Clash, Duran Duran, The Jam – those kind of bands were hugely influential. They were new, doing something new. But it’s harder to do that now.’
Despite the problems with the charts the band are adamant that the scene in South Wales is better than ever. And who can blame them? With a plethora of talent coming out of the Valleys and surrounding areas every year music fans are spoilt for choice. Bands like Funeral for a Friend, Attack! Attack!, Kids In Glass Houses, The Blackout and Save Your Breath are just a small sample of people making an impact across the country.
‘There’s a great scene in South Wales, and a great camaraderie between bands. Everyone helps everyone out and everyone is friends. There’s no competition, it’s a good time to be a band around here.’
Talk moves on to the bands experiences since they made it in the world of music. Lee launches into a story about their first time in Los Angeles when they saw celebrities for the first time. After hearing it I will never be able to watch Friends the same way again…
‘The first time we went to LA we drove past Chandler from Friends (actor Matthew Perry) and we were smashing on the window shouting ‘Chandler Boy!’ At first he was like alright but then we were like screaming it at him and he looked a bit freaked out.’
Mike immediately joins in and starts talking about the first time they went to a major record label in New York. ‘I think it was like Epic Records and whenever you go they try to schmooze you and say you can take anything you want out of their cupboards. So being Welsh we go in and rinse them! We had Beyonce records we didn’t even want but they were free! So we leave the label with like two carrier bags each and we’re walking across Madison Avenue or something, like five lanes of traffic, mostly taxis, and Lee’s bag bursts! He’s kicking all these CD’s across the road trying to save them and everyone watching is laughing – we can’t help him because we’ve got too much swagger!’
These stories emphasis even more the fact that, despite their success, they are still Valleys boys with strong Welsh accents who have never forgotten where they came from. Ian is keen to stress that everything they have achieved is due to the values instilled in them from their working class upbringing and it is something he loves coming home to. ‘No matter what praise or adulation you get…you come back here and it’s like no airs or graces everyone’s just like ‘Oh still in that band then butt?’ and ‘Still doing that music then?’ And that’s what’s real about it, people take you for who you are and that’s such a refreshing change.’
I ask them if this is why their UK tour dates are always so, for lack of a better word, random considering their success.
‘When we tour the UK we try to take in as many smaller towns as we can. Like Doncaster, Carlise, Preston, Yeovil, towns like Pontypridd where we grew up. The small satellite towns that are hungry for it because there’s nothing in them. They’re hungry for bands, for anything and when we go the enthusiasm from the people who come to our gigs is incredible.’
The final thing I have to ask them is why they love the Valleys – but I start to see it is a little bit of a stupid question as Ian answers. ‘For me it’s instinctive…I love it because it’s where I’m from.’ Fair point but thankfully Mikes’ answer redeems my journalistic ability a little bit. ‘The upbringing we had here made us who we are. There’s something about being away for a few months and then driving up the A470 and seeing Castel Coch that feels nice.’
And with that the band head off to play their gig for a couple of hundred screaming teenage fans. Perhaps not their biggest crowd, but definitely their proudest.
Lostprophets The Betrayed is out now.