It’s June 15, two weeks before the lostprophets’ third album, Libertation Transmission, is set to be released on Columbia Records. Members of the band are in New York City for a special one-day only press extravaganza. Vocalist Ian Watkins and guitarist Lee Gaze are running late for this interview, tied up at Billboard magazine. Inside the press room of Columbia Records, the television crew of NY360 scurries around to set up for their interview with the guys. The show’s immaculate host takes a seat on a comfy purple suede couch and stares at herself in the mirror, constantly touching up her make-up. This is, after all, a big day for everyone.
It’s been two years since these Kings of Wales have been back in the States, but it seems more like an eternity. The last we heard from them, their sophomore album, RIAA gold-certified Start Something, had just been released and they embarked on tours with My Chemical Romance and Head Automatica. Things were just heating up on our shores. But back home in the UK, the band was the target of massive backlash from fans who couldn’t accept that the lostprophets evolved musically. The band strayed from the aggressive, intelligent mix of metal, rock, punk, jazzy progression that consumed their debut album, thefakesoundofprogess, and began to incorporate (gasp!) more melodies. The move was risky, but worth it. After all, creating the same album over and over again with each new release would only waste the talent that thrashes through their veins.
Now all eyes are locked on lostprophets once again. With the album slated to be released June 27, ears are waiting, minds wondering just what they’ve done this time. Legendary producer Bob Rock (Metallica) was chosen to head the recording process. But what happened in the studio, is not what one may expect.
Liberation Transmission has punk attitude ala The Clash (“I’m sick of working all week for people I cannot stand,”- “Everybody’s Screaming”). It has what Watkins calls “big stadium rock choruses before American Idol ruined it all,” a throwback to the heyday of Bon Jovi (“You’ll never fall in love if you don’t fall at all,”- “Broken Hearts, Torn Up Letters and the Story of a Lonely Girl”) and a story-telling perspective on some tunes that are Butch Walker-worthy (“The haircut’s hot, but this has gotta stop, good shoes won’t save you this time” – “Can’t Stop, Gotta Date with Hate”). Basically, this album has all the ingredients to finally propel the lostprophets to rock star status in America, if we’ll accept them.
The aura already surrounds them. As Watkins and Gaze enter the press room with their publicists, they take it upon themselves to cordially greet each person awaiting them with a handshake. They’re the type of guys who will smile at you if you pass them on the street. Both are wearing black leather jackets. Though, Watkins tones down his look with a pair of beat up brown Converse, and Gaze dresses his up with a pair of painfully pointy white shoes. He is looking particularly thinner this time around. Both are modeling sleek new hairstyles that will make any scenester green with envy. They reek of coolness. But most importantly, their personalities lack any hint of arrogance.
Gaze takes a corner seat on a sofa and opens his brand new Sidekick, as Watkins asks the show’s producers “Are we playing any songs?” It is evident that no rehearsals for any would be last-minute acoustic performances are needed. There’s unprocessed talent for you!
Before taping begins, Watkins jokingly requests “a big silver chalice of ice,” which later turns into a plastic cup he fills with Coca-Cola.
The host drills them on the usual get-to-know-you questions: “What’s it like being signed to Sony?” (“A big soft bed, maybe with razors in it here and there,” reports Watkins).
And for all the stalkers, where can lostprophets be found hanging out in NYC? The Dior Store, 7A, and reveals the frontman, “I could sit in a dog park all day.”
Finally, it’s a wrap with the taping. Gaze retreats to a couch in the back of the room, while Watkins admirably explains to the host how to send a message on MySpace, without making her feel stupid (“Hit send message, type your message, then hit send and we’ll get it”).
He later admits to being the most MySpace addicted member of the band, signing on “Whenever I can get an Internet connection.” He justifies it with “The excuse is, it’s not a personal page. It’s our band page. I update tour dates, post blogs and do all that stuff.”
A few years back when the site made its debut, both Watkins and Gaze had their own pages, as well. But that soon ended because, as Gaze says, “It gets boring. Everyone says the same thing and everyone posts a comment on someone else’s page just to look cool, not because they give a shit about what they’re saying. It’s craving attention and we don’t really need to because we’re in a band.”
His band mate continues, “You get addicted to it and you’re like ‘Why am I going on MySpace every day when I’m in a band and we’re having this cool life?’ We should be enjoying it rather than being addicted to the Internet. If you go on it just to keep in touch with people and chill, that’s cool. If you go on it just to get as many friends as possible and be a celebrity….”
There you have it. Yes, the band does run its own page. And they are the ones writing the blogs telling you off. In a recent entry, Watkins hilariously confronts everyone who has thrown the dreaded “emo” word their way:
“So, I’ve noticed a lot of silly comments recently throwing inane accusations around, and accusing us of somehow 'selling out' and 'changing',” he begins, continuing, “The basis for this unrest seems to be the idea that we have somehow turned 'emo.’ Now ignoring for a second that most of these kid’s don’t even know what the real term 'emo' means, and even then it doesn’t really exist anyway, what makes them think that we have changed?”
They have however, had one massive change. During the writing process for Libertation Transmission, drummer Mike Chiplin left the band “to pursue other musical opportunities.” Watkins, Gaze and Chiplin, along with guitarist Mike Lewis and keyboardist/programmer Jamie Oliver, all grew up together and formed the band almost ten years ago. It contributed to the amicable split.
When it came time to record the album, everybody’s favorite drummer-to-the-rescue, Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle), took his place behind the kit. The ‘prophets have yet to name a permanent replacement, but it looks like 17 year-old IIan Rubin will have the honor. After referrals from a few friends, the Welshmen decided to check out the lad at the tip of everyone’s tongues. “One day we were in LA, doing pre-production, and he lives in San Diego, so we were like ‘Hey, why don’t you come up for a day?’ We didn’t think anything of it. Lee was like ‘Why are we even doing this?’ But after playing with him for about an hour, it was kinda obvious that he was just amazing,” tells Watkins.
How does Rubin feel about joining an internationally acclaimed band? “He was the youngest person ever to play Woodstock. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records and he’s been on Warped Tour for the past six years, filling in for Good Charlotte and NOFX, so he’s had a lot of experience,” informs Watkins, who originally was the lostprophets drummer until he stepped up to the mic.
The band introduced Rubin, a protégé of Blink 182’s Travis Barker, to fans with a smashing drum solo during their comeback performance, headlining the Big Day Out festival in the UK. The set included the anthemic new single, “Rooftops."
The song, inspired by a scene in the movie Garden State, “Is one of the simplest songs we’ve written,” reveals Watkins, the sole lyricist of the band. It will also be released to radio, something that wasn’t done for any of the songs on Start Something. It was a conscious effort agreed by the band and its management,Q Prime (Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica), to keep them off the radar until they built up a big enough fanbase to make the jump to mainstream, and avoid any lumping with teeny bopper bands like Fall Out Boy.
Do they feel the pressure burning now? Not at all, according to the frontman. “We’re in a place where we’ve done the independent label and the indie records. We want to succeed for ourselves. We’ve always wanted to get our music out to as many people as possible.”
Visible Noise still distributes the lostprophets in the UK. Beginning on an indie, Gaze feels, is integral to a band’s success. “Major labels don’t have the time to let you grow.”
The lostprophets formed because they didn’t hear what they wanted to hear in other bands. “We don’t write for anybody other than ourselves. If other people like it, then cool,” they say.
“Fans who still moan don’t like change,” the quiet Gaze contributes.
The band had to confront change during the recording process, thanks to Rock. “Dealing with Bob Rock was a big challenge, but he was awesome,” admits Watkins. “Other than that, just focusing in on getting the best songs out,” was another obstacle. “We had a lot of ideas and it was about just stripping those ideas back to where it was more focused on real songs.”
Sought after producer Butch Walker was also considered for the role. “We actually had a meeting with him. He was a really cool guy. We hung out with him a few times when he was in LA. Ultimately, we decided to just go all out. He’s a songwriter more than a producer. We didn’t need anybody to write our songs, but he’s a really cool guy.”
With Rock, the album was recorded in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Hawaii. “A Town Called Hypocrisy,” “Everybody’s Screaming,” and possibly “Can’t Catch Tomorrow (Good Shoes Won’t Save You This Time)” are being thrown around as singles. The one track that will definitely shock old school fans upon its release is “4:AM Forever.” The ballad, like a few other tracks, reveal signs of heartbreak in Watkins’ recent past, as he pours out the lyrics “Yesterday I lost my closest friend… I just let you slip away.”
The lyrics also reflect other matters the band has dealt with. In the opening track, “Everyday Combat,” the first words spoken are “Bar fight, week night.” That’s something bassist Stuart Richardson can relate to, as he is the only member of the band who ventures out into the nightlife in their hometown of Pontypridd (Watkins, Gaze and Lewis refer to themselves as straight-edge). When jealous drunks tried to beat him up recently, he turned the tables on them and emerged victorious.
Then there are the feuds in the media, which UK journalists are well known for fabricating between bands. “I’m sick of watching my mouth with everybody looking at me,” sings Watkins in “Everybody’s Screaming.” Today he says “Whatever, I don’t really care about any of it to be honest.”
In “For All These Times Son, For All These Times,” (“Part of where you’re going is knowing where you’re coming from”) and “A Town Called Hypocrisy,” (“There’s no pride to be found when you follow sheep around”), lostprophets pretty much sum up what the band is all about. They are leaders, not followers, and have remained humble through all their success. It’s something Watkins feels you need to do until you prove yourself.
They have never let go of their working class roots, and have a hand in everything from designing merch to their Web site. Oliver and Watkins collaborated on the cover design for Liberation Transmission, and Lewis recently created signature sneakers that will available from sponsor Ordinary Clothing’s newest venture- Corinthian’s Shoes.
They may be jocks of all trades, but the lostprophets shine best on stage. They’ll be embarking on a US tour this October with Finnish superstars, HIM. But for now, it’s on to another interview. Watkins, who slept uncomfortably the night before and complains,
“I can’t even fuckin’ turn my head,” will pay a visit to a massage therapist first. Before leaving, he invites fans to “Check out our MySpace. Come and say hi.”
His final words of wisdom? Watkins reveals the biggest life lesson he’s learned since lostprophets became successful: “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”
* By Joelle, who has been hooked on Lostprophets upon first listen and was very excited when Lee used a picture she took of him as his main photo on MySpace back when MySpace was a little known site.