Soul-funk band Stone Foundation have been in the business a fair while, receiving acclaim from plenty of soul music’s champions yet always managing to slip under the radar. This year their album Street Rituals reached 25 in the album chart, whilst their singles, one of which featured Paul Weller on vocals, (who also assisted in the making of the album) reached number 1 in the vinyl chart. I chatted to Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby about recording process, their most recent release “Live Rituals” as well as what’s next for soul music, and Stone Foundation.
Being from the Midlands, is it nice to play Birmingham and do you find home area gigs have a different atmosphere?
Jones: Yeah definitely. At the start of the year we played Coventry Empire which is about 900 people and we nearly sold out that gig but especially coming home we get a great atmosphere usually because it’s full of people who had followed us from day one really. There’s some hardcore fans of ours in the Midlands.
Sheasby: Yeah, from my perspective I personally never really get nervous doing a gig but I do when it’s on home turf a little bit
Your most recent album “Street Rituals” came out back in March, did you approach making it in the same way as your other albums?
Jones: Well we had a window for releasing it which depended on Paul’s (Weller, who worked on “Street Rituals” with them) release date and when he started to push his record out there.
Sheasby: We approached the recording much in the same way as the jazz records of the 60s, recording a lot of stuff like live sessions. It was made over a year period but the recordings were done in blocks of a couple of days at a time.
Jones: I think you can hear that when it’s all played back, and the refreshing thing about this record really was if something wasn’t working we just chucked it out, we didn’t mull it over or anything, we’d just move straight on to the next thing. We had that much stuff we just moved on quite quickly. It was really quite quick to make.
How does the response to the record make you feel?
J: Oh totally overwhelmed at first, it’s been so brilliant you know, I mean obviously a lot of it has come from working with Paul Weller and the weight that he brings in terms of supporters, but so many new fans have come along that want to buy the live record too and come to the gigs, and that’s really nice. It’s almost as if Paul’s said “here you go boys here’s a leg up, now keep them keen” and, well, we are doing!
You’ve had some chart success particularly in the vinyl charts. Is vinyl a format you feel especially faithful to?
Sheasby: Yeah well we are all obviously a band of music fans and we have our own record collections ourselves…
Jones: Vinyl is always a format we have produced and we obviously all grew up listening to soul on that format, so yes it was pretty important for us. It definitely more suits our style as a band and the Stone Foundation sound.
This album is more political compared to the others, did political soul musicians like Marvin Gaye influence you more with this record than others?
Jones: The big decision with this record was to bring social commentary right to the fore. We’d spoken about it in the past but we felt like now was absolutely the right time to highlight it. I mean, you couldn’t get any more volatile time to be living in. The nice thing was myself and Neil had also really spoken about the soundscape of this album in particular and where we wanted to take it, we were listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, revisiting some Syl Johnson and those kind of records.
Sheasby: There’s just so much happening, so much in the news, so much uncertainty that it would be silly not to observe that and put it into our music.
Your most recent release is a live album, is it the first thing you’ve done of this kind and is a live record something you’ve always wanted to produce?
Jones: We did a sort of bootleg record with Nolan Porter around 2010 but this is the first official live record, it’s quite an exciting thing to put out and we’re just really chuffed it’s come out the way it had because some live records can really miss the mark. But this we think has captured the band live perfectly really.
Sheasby: It’s something that other people were asking about as well like our supporters a few of them have always been saying we should put out a live record. They wanted it more than us probably but we felt like now was the right time to do it.
What’s next for you?
Sheasby: We have enough material already for another record and we just keep on writing, and we are pretty used to knowing now whether something will or will not work so hopefully another record soon-ish. We are very conscious that we want to make something different, there’s no need to go making the same record twice. Most likely we will go back to Black Barn Studios (where Street Rituals was made).
In terms of the writing process is it you two that do the bulk, and how do your ideas initially take form? Sheasby: Pretty much yeah, occasionally it could be a phrase that inspires us or a sound we’ve heard reflected in an album, but obviously nowadays we can send each other recordings of whatever we are doing through our phones.
Jones: We’re at the stage now as a band where we know whether or not something works straightaway anyway, but no one’s afraid of saying they don’t like an idea or they want a different sound.
Have you found Street Rituals has brought new fans of different backgrounds as well as new fans generally?
Jones: Oh yeah definitely I mean especially after we toured with The Specials we found a lot of older fans in our audiences but more and more, maybe because of Paul’s influence there’s younger people coming to the gigs and showing enthusiasm too.
Are there any more modern artists you’d recommend for those looking to explore beyond the sound?
Sheasby: Yeah, I recently went to watch Loyle Carner with my son and liked the soulful undertones to his music. There’s a fair few artists out at the minute with soulful backgrounds like Sampha and Kendrick Lamar, I love listening to a lot of new music actually, there’s plenty I enjoy. Jalen N’Gonda, the act supporting us tonight too plays really well and we really like his sound.