Kelly Jones: ‘I’ve never had a vocal coach before’

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Hitting the UK Number 1 spot in Business, Sports and Lifestyle in the Apple Podcast Charts, with over one million downloads, listeners in more than 50 countries, The High Performance Podcast speaks to world-class performers from the worlds of sport, business, arts and fashion to understand how they’ve dealt with failure, why they took brave decisions, how to build a successful team and create a high-performing culture. Hosted by broadcaster and entrepreneur Jake Humphrey and leading organisational psychologist Professor Damian Hughes.
Kelly Jones on the lessons he’s learned from U2, Tom Jones and David Bowie…

KJ: I remember we did the tour with U2 and I remember Bono sitting on a table with me once. And he said, if you look around the table at some point in your life and more than 70% are on your payroll, then you probably become a prick… David Bowie, I guess what I learned from him was, I mean watching that guy touring from one end of America to the other and crafting a set list. The way he played the setlist in the middle of America, compared to how he played it on the West Coast and East Coast was completely different. In the middle, it was all very let’s dance and do what you need to do, but then he became more left field everywhere he went. He was really good about knowing the audience. It was very interesting to see that… He just knew his audience really. I would write screenplays and I would give it to him and he would critique them and give me notes, because he was the reality too. I don’t think he was playing any character. He was just being himself and he would come and sit on a nice box and the dressing room and just talk to you and ask you about your family and stuff like that. He was very grounded at that time. We had a five a side football match and he was on the side of the pitch heckling us. When we lost, he brought the trophy down above our head on a piece of string and told the audience how crap we were at football… He was funny, man. He was. But yeah, I mean, what a privilege to have done that, he was obviously a legend. Tom Jones, what I learned from Tom is that how much he kind of loves life really. You’d land, it could be in Sweden or somewhere, Stockholm, landing 11 o’clock in the night everything’s closed and stuff would open up for him. And he’d always have a good dinner. He’d always do the things that you should be doing in your life, because he was always that relaxed. He didn’t really have an artistic brain in the sense of overthinking anything. He’s much more like this is what I do, and you know, and then I’ll go have my dinner and he was much more old school… The first time I ever met Tom was in a pub and I remember sitting down with him and he sat me and Stuart down for about three and a half hours. And every single name we threw at him, he had an anecdote for, and I came away from that thinking he could have had maybe two minutes with each one of those people. He could have had two weeks with each one of those people, it doesn’t really matter. He had an experience with everybody – Elvis, Muhammad Ali – and he would tell me jokes about all these different people. So as you go through life, you realize God, all these people, you meet, you’ve got a tiny element of a story of all these people, and you can carry that and use that, whether you’re on a dinner table or whatever it might be. I think these people, whether it’s Roger Daltrey… you meet all sorts of different people in this industry. At the end of the day, you’re learning something from everybody. You know, that’s one thing my mom told me as a kid, you can always learn from somebody and you can always learn from somebody what not to do as well. It’s the two things, it’s not always about stealing something. It’s like, well, I wouldn’t do that. You know, there’s a lot of things you can take.
Kelly Jones on having throat surgery and having to relearn how to sing…

KJ: A polyp, yeah. I went for just a regular checkup and they called it a one-off trauma polyp on my vocal chords, which could have been done by a bad cough or shouting at the football… I went and had the check and they said they found this thing and then said, go away, come back in a couple of weeks. And then I went back a couple of weeks and it’s still there. They said, come back in a couple of weeks and ended up coming back in on New Year’s Eve for the last check. And they said, it’s still there, I think we’re gonna have to operate. They said come back in on January 7th. And I went in and they took it off. And then I had to go to Wales for a recovery thing. I couldn’t speak for about three days and then I could speak for two minutes and then I could speak for five minutes. I was just reading like a chapter of a book out loud and then stopped talking. So it was quite a strange process. And then, it was about learning how to literally how to sing again. I’ve never had a vocal coach before. So I contacted this guy who Declan the surgeon put me in touch with, Joshua. He would teach me these things about blowing into straws and stuff like that first. So you strengthen the muscle without straining it, which is quite bizarre. And it looked like a bunch of drugs, straws and bottles and pipes everywhere. If anybody walked into my room, they probably thought I was having a good time. I just had to go through all this very, very slow process really, and try to regain the strength and the thing that’s going to give me my whole kind of life.
Kelly Jones on his relationship to his bandmate, Stuart…

KJ: The Stuart thing was interesting because, again, we are very private. We knew what was going on with Stuart in his life, and we knew he was getting a bit off track really. And, we’ve all went through things and all picked each other up at times when we had, but Stuart was going on this road where it didn’t look like any of us could pull him back from it and we had to let him go. It wasn’t like getting rid of a band member. As you know from the film, I lived six doors apart from Stuart, my whole life, you know? So I’d been in a band with him since I was 12. The first gig I did at 12, he was 15, so that’s how long I’d been with him. So when we parted ways, we didn’t talk for like a year or whatever. Then the press were giving me the outing about it because I fired Stuart because I wouldn’t tell the press what Stuart was getting up to in his private life, basically, because it’s his business. But then of course, when The Quarter goes to number one, which is the next single after Stuart had left, the first single was had go to number one, which I wrote and produced, the first text I get is off Stuart going, ‘Congratulations, man. What a fucking great song.’ Basically. And then the review in Q magazine, I always remember was, the first line said ‘Stuart who?’ So it was like, they’d given me the outing, but then when the song comes out, then it’s like, well, you didn’t really need him anyway. So that’s why I don’t get involved in it really. Cause it’s a bit like, well, what’s the point? You’re only taking one part of the story to the advantage of whatever cards you want to play there.
Kelly Jones on winning a Brit Award…

KJ: The first time I won a Brit award, my speech was, you know, ‘About time for some recognition.’ It was the Best Newcomer Award. And Ben Elton’s like, you’ve only just got here. And in my head I’m going, ‘I’ve been doing this for 13 years, man.’ But then you look back and go, well they don’t know that. So you’d always be craving somebody to say, ‘you’re doing a good job there, mate.’ That comes from, when you’re a kid, you wanted your old man to say something or whatever it is, you know, we’ve all got our reasons for it.
Kelly Jones on not being able to shake his ties to Stereophonics and getting fulfilment from other projects…

KJ: I’ve clearly started to show people other elements of my talent, personality, whatever you want to call it, even though I’ve been trying to do that through the brand of Stereophonics for 25 years, by making every album completely different and trying to change the sound. I think I came to the realization that it doesn’t matter what I do in change, it’ll always be under the brand of Stereophonics, you know, whether it is Coco Pops or Cornflakes, it’s Kellogg’s. No matter how hard I try, it’s still an amazing job, and there’s 15 year old kids come into the gigs… It’s an amazing thing. But I thought I was needing to walk away from it at one point, because I couldn’t work out. I’m not quite fulfilled, what’s going on? I realized, I think, in the last few years, it’s more about dividing that kind of pie chart up with, well, I can still do the Stereophonics, but like the Malcolm Gladwell thing, I don’t need to put a hundred thousand hours into it. It’s there, and I can go over there and do this other project with these guys from Texas. Or I can go over here and do this other thing. I can grow and get fulfillment from these other projects, which will only ignite the main gig.

Kelly Jones on the difference between starting out and becoming more professional…

KJ: In the beginning, it was all mates and brothers. We took everybody from the village. The first time a tour bus pulled up outside my house, it’s a one way street, it’s got a bus stop at the end. And this big tour bus pulled up outside and my brother walked across the street, my brother Lee, and he looked inside and he saw there was bunk beds, there was bottles of vodka in the fridge, beer everywhere. He said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Scandinavia.’ He said, ‘Fuck this, I’m getting my bag.’ And he walked back across to the house and he grabbed his bag and he came on the tour with us… It was like the queen coming to town. Everybody was out the curtains. It was ridiculous. We took as many mates as we could and it lasted for maybe two, three years. It was like a bender, really. It was like a rugby tour and the gig just happened to get in the way of the good time. And after a while, I think it got to Live Eight, and when we did Live Eight, we had a phone call. I was in Australia and Bob Geldof was organizing the show and we had a call saying, would you do it? And we said, yeah, we gotta fly back. And then we’d a flight to Australia. It was a mental three days. But they said each act is a seven-minute change over. And we thought, now we can’t do it. So we can’t do it. And then me and Richard sat in the two of us and thought, well, we can do it. It’s the crew that can’t do it because they’re all our mates and they’re all pissed or they’re not prepped up, they can’t do it. So that’s when we realized that we’ve gone to one level, but the boys from back home are just still thinking we’re playing in a boozer. We were just about to turn down the biggest gig in the world because we couldn’t do a seven-minute change over, which is not actually our job. So then you start getting a bit more professional. When we toured with U2 I remember we were talking to the Edge and he said, if I want to be the best guitar player in the world, then I want my tech to be the best tech in the world. When you’re touring with U2, you’re touring with Rolling Stones, you start seeing all these different levels of people and you start, seeing how comfortable the artists are on stage because all they have to do is concentrate on their job, not worrying about everybody else’s job. Then you start thinking, well, maybe we should take a bit of this on board.

Kelly Jones on what he’s learned from his transgender son…

KJ: I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve learned a lot from all my kids. I’ve just been walking around a park with my 13 year old because she’s going through stuff as well. You can’t stop learning from them really. I mean Colby’s episode was, you got a young kid telling you something’s not right. And you think it’s about a sexuality thing, and it slowly trickles into a gender situation. And then I look around and I’m thinking, well, who can I talk to you about this? I don’t know one single person in all the people I know in my life that has ever been through this. I can talk to people about having kids from different mothers. I can talk to people about most things, but this is like, I’ve got no idea what’s going on here. Once I realized that was actually happening, it was a case of, I have to do my research and go and talk to some therapist to get help, to get him therapists, because he’s at an age where you’re not an adult, but you’re not a child and this in between. But as you say, I mean, I went to watch a carol service at the school last summer, and people are going, ‘It’s just a phase, he’ll grow out of it.’ I went to this carol service and watching all these teenage girls singing with long hair and the little spots and all the stuff they’re doing. And he walked down with a short cropped haircut, like David Bowie, waring trousers and a shirt. And he’s like, I look like a bartender and he couldn’t look more different from the rest of the girls there. And I’m thinking, well, that takes a lot of balls that. And there’s no way you would be doing that if it wasn’t something for real, you know? So there’s a lot of courage involved in that whole thing. Yeah. It’s incredible.

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