Interview with Stephen Jones
Turn on your Radio on Valentine’s Day and you will know exactly who we are talking about. There is a lot more to the man who recorded ‘You’re Gorgeous.
So here’s the story. It’s 1995 and Stephen Jones is now living in Sheffield. He has now had his four track for seven years and has an enormous 400 songs recorded. He signs a publishing deal with Chrysalis whereby he can release material under his own label, Baby Bird Recordings.
The solo albums that followed generated some enthusiastic reviews, and due to their limited release and Babybird’s increasing cult fanbase, could be found fetching anything up to £50 in second hand shops:
“I was glad that the albums received a certain amount of cult status, but having said that I couldn’t believe that people were paying so much money for them. I think that’s wrong. I’m glad the prices of the earlier stuff have gone down now.” yet continues to record a number of four track and eight track albums, later re-recording many of these tracks for Babybird’s debut album as a band, ‘Ugly Beautiful’.
This album contained the hit single ‘You’re Gorgeous’, a song which, although misinterpreted by most of its purchasers, is the song that Stephen Jones is most likely to be remembered for.
“You’re Gorgeous’ sold 400 000 copies, and so I’m bound to be remembered for it,” admits Stephen, “I honestly didn’t expect it to happen, especially since the track was written 8 years before it was released. I enjoy the benefits now, though!” Then came single ‘Bad Old Man’ and subsequent album ‘There’s Something Going on’, seen by any as the backlash against the (the working title for the single was ‘Commercial Suicide’).
Gathering himself for what must be the umpteenth inquisition about the song, Stephen explains:
“‘Bad Old Man’ was a kind of backlash, but it was also an attempt to make a solid piece of work. It was definitely a lot darker, but the idea was also to show that we are not just a singles band, and I think we proved that with ‘There’s Something Going On’.”
Which leads us neatly into ‘The F-Word’. A single about swearing that’s currently winning the fight for Radio 1 airplay against a flood of US pop punk bands and a bunch of press baiting metal kids in masks.
It sounds like nothing Stephen has lent his name to in the past, and apparently like nothing else on the album, but its offbeat quirkiness has ensured it as a top 40 hit. The subject matter of the song is something that is close to Stephen’s heart: “It’ about the watershed for swearing. Most swear words that I know are very good little hammers! Everyone I know swears – even my Mum and Dad!”
The new material also shows a balance between the band format of ‘Ugly Beautiful’ and ‘There’s Something…’ and the lo-fi recording techniques of the five home recorded albums. “This is the third proper Baby Bird album, but in a lot of ways it’s similar to the first five. A lot of it is 4-8 track recordings that we’ve taken into the studio, so the work ethic was very similar to the early work.
The tracks were all written over the last year, and all the tracks are very similar to how I wanted them to sound when I made the 4 tracks. The only people working on the album were me, Luke Scott playing guitars and 1 guy mixing the tracks. I think it’s more concise than previous efforts. There are ten songs and I would consider them 10 hit singles. The album is called ‘Bugged’ due to how irritated I was. Basically I wanted the privacy to record the album. I didn’t want to be’bugged’!”
Stephen now enjoys the late morning benefits that come with being a musician, yet endlessly recording four tracks wasn’t always what he got up for in the morning: “Before I started making music I was working in a lot of different jobs. I was a bricklayer for about two weeks. I worked for a theatre company, acting and directing. That’s something I would definitely like to take up again.”
So, with this constantly changing musical backdrop to Stephen’s unique lyrical talent, where do the musical influences come from?
“I listen to a lot of hip-hop at the moment at the moment. Ice Cube and Rakim especially, and I like some of the Gangstarr stuff. The Verve were an all time favourite, but I’m not too sure about that Richard Ashcroft solo single, the backing track sounds like a Geri Halliwell song. I really like Belle and Sebastian too. It’s rare to find a band like that whose albums you can listen to all the way through. I am not sure whether I would call any of these direct influences, although I’m sure a lot of the music I listen to has an effect on what I write”
Stephen has channelled his creative talents into writing a book:
“It’s called ‘The Bad Book’. It’s about a child who loses his mother, and spends two days getting to know his father.”
The book revolves around a period of awakening for the child (‘Hit’). While he is searching for his mother, he has to keep tabs on his father – a man he realises he knows nothing about. Check mudmag competitions page soon for your chance to win Stephen’s book.
Babybird will be touring again soon, following the imminent success of ‘The F-Word’. During the ‘Ugly Beautiful’ years Stephen had the chance to play in Europe:
“The best moment I’ve had with Baby Bird was playing in front of 20,000 people in Portugal. We hadn’t played there before, but the crowd was absolutely mad for it. We’ve played in France a lot as well. Once we were there and they asked us for four encores! On the continent they are just less intellectual about their music – they enjoy it more. We always get good press out there”.
Stephen also recently worked on Sheffield combo The All Seeing Eye’s debut album, ‘Pickled Eggs and Sherbet’.
“I met Parrot, their programmer, a long time ago in Sheffield. I never actually saw them during the recording process. I just sang straight on to a four track for them. It was all just due to the Sheffield connection.”
‘The F-Word’ is out now.
by Nick Lisher
Which comic character do you most identify with?
Stimpy, the fat one. Or Cartman – he says what he feels!
What superpower would you most like to have?
What’s your favourite television programme?
Larry Sanders Show.
What was the last book you read?
I’m not a good reader – although I have just written a book.
What was the best film that you have seen in the last 12 months?
The Insider, Fight Club and American Beauty.
Have you always wanted to work in music?
What’s on your wall in your bedroom?
A mirror, although I rarely look in it.
Do you have any superstitions?
No. I don’t believe in God – is that a superstition?
What’s your favourite alcoholic drink?
There’s so many of them! A Belgian lager named Duvel. I like Sangria too.
Do you read your fan mail?
Yes, I try to reply to them all too. There is one woman who sends me about three a week. In that situation you don’t know whether to reply or not – it might encourage her!
What’s the best thing about working in the music industry?
You don’t have to get up too early.
What’s the worst thing about working in the music industry?
Having your manager build you up.
What’s your favourite Baby Bird album?
This one. And Dying Happy.