SUIT YOURSELF MODERNISTS
INTERVIEW STONE FOUNDATION.
Stone Foundation - Interview, Brighton 6th May 2017
Alan Saunders – Suit Yourself - (AS)
Neil Sheasby – Bass – (NS)
Neil Jones - Guitar / Vocals – (NJ)
AS - So you guys have been about 10 Years?
NS – probably longer than that, it took us time to get the whole thing together. We’ve been writing songs 20 years, but it took us a long while to get a settled line up, it’s been a long journey.
AS – We last saw you at a free gig in a park in Brighton, things have moved on a bit since then! Where did the step change happen.
NS – it had been gradual, probably over 5 to 6 years, but the turning point was The Specials Tour. We played the Fiddlers Elbow in London and John Bradbury (The Specials drummer) saw us, it changed everything. He invited us to support the Specials on tour, their arena tour 2011.
NJ – like Neil says it was gradual, we started working with people I guess you’d class as Northern Soul artists, like Nolan Porter, Steve Calloway, so we’d started to do some collaborations, but we had also been writing new music for a long time. But then playing the Fiddlers Elbow, and John Bradbury, being a bit of a Soul Boy, just loved it. He came straight up after the gig and said we were exactly what he had been looking for. He didn’t want a Ska band, or some archetypal Mod band supporting, so he just gave us the support slot for that Tour, just like that. We ended up playing the Ricoh Arena, Alexander palace… It was mental.
NS – And from there it really opened up, especially regionally. It was 8,000 to 10,000 a night, so 10%, 20% of the crowd like it and latch on to what you are doing, it opened it up, and we started to build a good niche following of our own from that.
AS – Then Street Rituals. But going back one album, A Life Unlimited, it’s a similar sound and some of that could be on Street Rituals and not be out of place
NS – Yeah, you’re right, but we think Street Rituals does stand on it’s own, as it’s 10 songs that work cohesively as one piece. But yes, in saying that a lot of A Life Unlimited is played in the set, we were both really pleased with that record as well. We are really proud of the last couple of things.
NJ – I think from the album Find The Spirit onwards for me, it’s weird we just came together and gelled over styles of music. We started with a kind of Traffic(y) element, and a Soul Roots thing going on, but we went right round the houses and naturally came back to this place where we felt comfortable, which seemed to happen for Find The Spirit, and then records from that point really kicked on. That became us, the kind of sound we are now known for.
AS – So you guys mention Soul a lot. So how did that all happen, how did you get into that, and that whole Mod connection?
NS – Just like you I recon.! The Jam back in the day then read articles about Paul Weller’s influences and then go explore that, so it all came via the Mod connection for me.
AS – Like reading Smash Hits and Weller talks about Tamla Motown, and you’re off..!
NS - Exactly!! Then from there you get to Curtis Mayfield, you get to Stax and you just go deeper and deeper and it unfolds, and it still does to this day. There are still treasures to find. Both of us are Soul Boys, although Neil came to it in a different way and route.
NJ – Yeah, it more came from a Hip Hop angle, I was more into that as a kid, the real early stuff.
AS – And the story of early Hip Hop and how it started is brilliant.
NJ – yeah it's incredible, that Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix was just fantastic. But yeah it happened that way for me. Though one of my mates, his old man had an amazing record collection, old blues and soul. We used to sneak into his back room and have his records!
AS – So when you see articles about Stone Foundation, and it says ‘New Mod’ or something like that how do you feel?
NS – We are exactly the same as it was then, late 50’s early 60’s, kids who acquire their taste by Black American and Soul music, that’s never changed, right back to the original Modernists movement. That fascination was always prevalent, whether its Modern, RnB or Gino Washington. Its always there, it’s where we come from. So we are happy with the connection, but also conscious that we are not looking backwards too much. For us that is Modernism, we think, we hope we are doing it in the true essence of the word.
AS – that moves us on nicely to the Street Rituals album, we love it. Then obviously we have the Paul Weller connection, how did that come about?
NJ – well it came about as Paul had been passed the last couple of records by a mutual friend, who kept saying he should take a listen. Then it appears he commented on the last record, and we think he really liked the track Beverly, from Life Unlimited, he commented on a few things… and then I just got this call one Friday afternoon and it’s like “Hi, It’s Paul Weller” – so I’m thinking f@cking hell this is mad, it’s someone me a Sheas have always looked up to. Never met the man in my life but in a way kind of idolised him, he got me into music, the reason I bought a guitar, and had a certain look; although you have to mind my hair! (Neil has a bit of a 50’s flick back thing going on!)… But yeah he just got in touch, said some nice things about us, and said I sounded like Felix from the Young Rascals. One thing led to another and then he just said, I’m working on something, I have this backing track for a project I’m doing, I’ll send it to you and see what you can do with it…. And that is what became the basis for A Limit of a Man. We just worked on it, with Weller hinting at a few things in it.
NS – so he was just testing the water we think, see what you can do, and he loved it when we sent it back. So he shelved the project thing for us, and asked us to come down and we set a date. We went to the Barn Studios. We didn't even know what we’d be doing, we had no idea we’d be recording anything – let alone with Paul playing or production! But we got to the session with the basis of 3 / 4 /5 songs and we just worked on them, he just joined in, joined the band. He was jumping on piano, the guitar. He seems to be loving it and we loved the experience. Then that was it we left that first session. But Paul said, go away take a couple of months off, write some more songs and come back, I think we’ve got a record here… And it unfolded from there, it was just really organic.
NJ – yes totally from the moment we made the record to what’s been happening to us since. It’s weird something has changed, a guy we know saw us last night who has seen us hundreds of times and he said, something had changed. A mix of the material, self-confidence maybe, and the conscious effort we made on the record to write songs about society, the world we are living in. Some of those great old Soul records, like Back to the World, take you back like you are walking through a city and experiencing everything that’s going on, and we consciously tried to do that, make the listener fell like it was a journey with us.
NS – So much has happened to us over the last 2 years, we just thought it was pointless writing the classic Soul record, he loves her, she loves him, broken hearts and all that. Let’s comment about what’s going on out there.
NJ – yeah, there is so much division, everyone is told to hate everyone, driving a wedge between people, everyone is a politician on Social Media and people get shot down. Then that comes back to the Modernism thing, a big attraction to me finding my way was that it was a broad church that could spin out into all sorts, from Blue Note to Psychedelic but under on big umbrella of people coming together. That seems to be have got a bit lost somewhere down the line.
GROUP DISCUSSION – at this point we all just start to ramble about all things Modernist, and have a bit of a Paul Weller love in. What we do all agree on though is that being nostalgic is great, but as a reference point. It’s about the future now and we all need to look forward and push it along.
AS - So working with Paul Weller, what was that like from a production point of view, and the process used.
NJ – it was just the most warm and wonderful experience, especially for recording a record. We walked in and set up, then off we go. But as a musician you have to earn respect from another musicians, doesn’t matter who it is, and the respect was there, it was mutual from the moment we started playing, and we are all just vibing off each other. There were 5 of us rocking up, and just Paul, he didn’t know us really and he took a real big leap of faith, and it was all great.
NS – It was so organic, so very natural, so relaxed
AS – So what next for you guys then?
NS – Well, still on tour, a few festivals and we’re going to Japan, we’re really looking forward to that. And a gig later in the year at Sheppard’s Bush Empire, that’s going to be a big one. We’re also writing again now, so around Christmas we should start recording again.
AS – Are there any other collaborations you'd like to do?
NS – (straight away without hesitation) Stevie Winwood.
NJ – I’d love to work with Al Green, but Stevie yeah, especially given the local connection, and because we are essentially a British Soul band.
That’s us done; we all shake hands and get ready for the gig. A massive thank you to both the Neil’s for carving out time for Suit Yourself. Really nice guys, friendly and welcoming and despite their recent successes and exposure they know where they come from and you can tell they are proud of it. So they should be, hard work and talent will always pay off in the end; well done Stone Foundation.!
Stone Foundation – The Gig
Suit Yourself then go back to our friends to watch the gig, and what a gig it was. The sound was bang on, filled the venue and the guys on stage are clearly loving it, and the audience are enthusiastically joining in. It goes on and on and just keeps on giving, great gig and great value. After a rousing encore I turn to my old friend and top Modernist Chris Dale, to see him mumble ‘brilliant’ as he watches the guys exit the stage! As they do Stone Foundation tell the crowd to stay there as they are coming out for a beer; what a touch of class, as we said they know where they come from, there are no barriers. We take a quick dash back stage to say our goodbyes only to find them all stripping down from their drenched stage clothes, but all is good, a quick handshake in their boxer shorts! Unfortunately the camera wasn’t on hand, but we got some great pics earlier.
Album - Stone Foundation – Street Rituals
Its Brilliant, we love it, it hangs together so well as a whole piece, it flows better than any album we have heard the last few years. Not much more to be said, just a must have album.