"Even now, the scene is so amazing in Cardiff."
Fifteen years ago, Lostprophets rose out of the underground music scene in Cardiff, Wales with a melodic, aggressive sound influenced by metal and hardcore punk. Today they are one of the most successful bands to come out of the city, with a string of Top 40 Hits and loyal fans all over the world. But the mighty six piece met their match when it came to record their third album, 2010′s The Betrayed. The project was plagued with problems that saw the band scrapping the first version and producing a second one themselves.
The was a difficult time for the band, but their exuberant new album Weapons shows those days are behind them. Currently touring extensively behind it, with big plans that include stints on the US Warped Tour and the inaugural UK Warped Tour, Lostprophets seem reinvigorated by the new addition to their discography.
Today, though the members are scattered with singer Ian Watkins remaining in Cardiff, while guitarist Lee Gaze resides in London and the other members having settled in Los Angeles, they all stay close to Cardiff in many other ways. Guitarist Mike Lewis, talked to us from his Los Angeles home about the band’s longstanding connection to the city’s music scene and how writing Weapons made them love making music again.
You all live in different cities. How do you get together to work on stuff?
We’re so busy anyway, it’s not like we’re at home for months on end. When it comes to going on tour, we’ll get together for a week to rehearse. And then when it comes to doing an album, we’ll kind of all get together somewhere for like a month, whether it’s L.A. or London or someplace neutral.
You’ve been a band for more than a decade now. What was the scene like in Cardiff when you started?
We’re all from a small town outside Cardiff where there’s not very much going on. So, Cardiff was where you would go see bands. The scene in Wales when we started was very indie rock. The big bands were Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals. All great bands but not our thing, not what we were doing.
But then there was a great underground scene with a lot of metal bands, hardcore bands, punk bands, ska bands. We would put shows on and all our friends would put shows on. It was just a pretty amazing community really. And it was just really diverse. Metal bands would play with like ska bands or punk bands. It was really cool actually because we just built it ourselves with our friends and it was very kind of DIY.
And when I look back now, you know, at the time you bitch and you moan maybe that maybe your scene isn’t quite as good as anywhere else. But now when I look back I realize that it was really good. There were a lot of really cool people and really cool bands. And since that started in the late ’90s there’s been so many bands to come out of that scene that we started with our friends. It’s really great to see South Wales on the map musically.
How has the scene changed?
It definitely moved from kind of an indie based scene, to a hotbed for rock bands. We broke out like 2008. And then the bands that followed us that broke out, Funeral for a Friend, The Black Out, Kids in Glass Houses, to name just a few, were kind of more of our ilk, post-hardcore or punk or whatever you want to call it. Even now, the scene is so amazing in Cardiff, so many new bands coming up.
Are there new bands there that you feel a connection with?
The Black Out and Kids in Glass Houses, they’re all really good friends of ours. We’ve taken them on tour and they’re doing really well. And there are other younger bands that have cited us as an influence, not even necessarily musically. See, South Wales isn’t a very big place, but we’ve shown that it doesn’t matter where you’re from that you can still get your music out there.
Is there a younger generation getting into your music now?
Definitely. We really noticed it because we just finished a UK and European tour a week ago. We talked about it quite a bit. You see the older generation who remember our first album, which came out twelve years ago.
We meet people who have seen us live like forty or fifty times, but then we meet people who are like “this is my first time seeing you, or I started listening to you from The Betrayed, which is amazing for us. I think for us as a band we want to remain relevant. After being a band for fifteen years, we want to stay relevant. There’s so many new bands, so for us to play shows and have fourteen year old kids coming, where it might be their first show and only got into us two months ago, that says to us that we are still relevant.
Speaking to that, how do you keep things fresh while still staying the band that you are?
We kind of do it unconsciously. We don’t really think about it because if you start thinking “Oh, you know, dubstep is big,” when you start to say “Well, everybody is doing this,” then you start to screw it up because you start to become something that you’re not. And the people who were into your band and liked you for what you are lose interest.
When we wrote Liberation Transmission we went into it saying we wanted to make a poppier record than Start Something and when we went in to write The Betrayed we wanted to make a heavier record, to take it darker. With the new one, the only game plan we had when we went into writing it was to not have a game plan, like, “let’s just make a Lostprophets record and write what we want to write.”
Staying relevant by doing what you are doing is cool. Trying to stay relevant by being something you are not is going to come across as contrived and people are going to smell the bullshit.
So, you went into making Weapons with an open mind. How did it take shape?
We spent a month in this house in the English countryside where we all got in a room and just kind of jammed. We were like “Let’s just go in a room and write music, go back to why we started writing music to begin with, you know, for fun.”
There was a lot of stuff we didn’t use because it wasn’t a Lostprophets song. We spent a day writing this big prog number that sounded like Tool. When we were writing it we we’re like “This is never going to make the record,” but it was fun to write this song that was in all these weird time signatures. And then we would go past that and write a pop song. But it was just going in and not stressing about it that enabled us to write those songs.
It came together very naturally, which was cool. Our last album was a fucking nightmare, so this one was a breath of fresh air. It made us love being a band again.
What was nightmarish about that last album?
We started writing the record and we went in to record with John Feldman and it didn’t end up sounding how we envisaged it. I don’t even know if we really knew at that point what we wanted the record to sound like. And then we ended up scrapping that and we were battling with our record label and it just made us all bitter and very pissed off.
When we started working with John we knew we wanted to write a heavier record and it didn’t kind of work out that way, which was nobody’s fault. When we scrapped it we we’re all kind of pissed off, just at the situation, not at anybody. So we we’re like “Aw, fuck it, let’s just do it ourselves” and in some ways it was kind of cathartic but in other ways it was really frustrating.
I’m glad we did it, but it definitely hindered the band and we lost a lot of momentum. It took us four years between albums. But then I am really proud of The Betrayed because we did do it ourselves. And the way it did come together, we definitely had an us-versus-them mentality, which makes me even more proud of it. As a band we’ve always had a “We’re a gang” mentality, because we all grew up together. We’re very protective of each other and of our band as well. It definitely got our backs up and made us kind of rally.
Do you feel like that experience is reflected in the album itself?
In The Betrayed it is. It comes across in Ian’s lyrics for sure, there’s a lot of bitter and angry lyrics on that album, but our first three albums were very positive.
How about Weapons, is the experience of writing it also reflected in the album?
I think so. It’s more anthemic, maybe more back toward the early Lostprophets sound. The songs feel a lot bigger, and that definitely comes from having fun when we made this one. If you listen to the lyrics, Ian’s definitely in a different place now than he was with the first three records. There’s still some dark lyrics and an us-versus-them mentality, but we always had that.